Ukraine 2018

Ukraine 2018

On Tuesday evening, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman took to Facebook to accuse Russia of murdering dissident journalist Arkady Babchenko in Kyiv. Hours later, Babchenko (pictured above) walked into a press conference to announce that Ukrainian security services had, in fact, staged his “murder” to flush out a Russian hit squad operating in Kyiv.


The government’s story makes little sense — did they really need to fake a murder to catch a would-be killer? — and media organizations have roundly condemned the Ukrainian government for this stunt. But the Babchenko story highlights the confusion, deception, and (often justified) paranoia that still make Ukrainian politics so colorful.

As it happens, your Friday author has just returned from 10 days travelling around Ukraine. A few trip highlights underline other aspects of life in today’s Ukraine:

Courting Europe: The Maidan, Kyiv’s central square, still features improvised shrines to dozens of civilians killed there during the 2014 protests that ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych. But the battle-cries heard last weekend came from football fans in town to support Liverpool and Real Madrid at the UEFA Champions League Final. As with last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, Kyiv continues to host major European events in hopes of strengthening tieswith the EU.

Urban Promise: We saw countless active construction sites in the capital, the well-preserved pre-Bolshevik beauty of Odesa, and the buzz of young people filling restaurants every evening in Kyiv, Odesa, and Lviv.

Rural poverty and alcoholism: “Ukrainian Sheriffs” is an award-winning documentary that offers a sad and funny account of daily life in the rural village of Stara Zburyevka as Russian-backed militias wage war in the country’s east. Spoiler alert: poverty and alcoholism, not Russians, are the biggest threats. See a trailer here.

Corruption: Yanukovych’s Mezhyhirya palace, where the former president hid his stolen wealth and questionable taste, sits on an estate outside Kyiv. Visitors can enjoy Yanukovych’s hidden mansion, his ostrich enclosurethe reservoir where his men dumped damning documents during the protests, and the guesthouse sauna protesters used to dry them out after Yanukovych fled to Moscow. Unfortunately, corruption is a thing of the present. In 2017, Transparency International ranked Ukraine #130 in the world for corruption, just five places higher than Russia.

Internal tensions: We passed the trade union building in Odesa consumed by fire on May 2, 2014. Russia’s push into Crimea weeks earlier had begun with “spontaneous” pro-Russian demonstrations in Crimean streets. A similar attempt to stir trouble provoked gunplay in Odesa — and 42 pro-Russian protesters burned alive in this building where they sought refuge. Four years later, an investigation of the incident grinds on.

Nationalism: We enjoyed dumplings in an unmarked restaurant in Lviv, which you enter only with a password (Glory to the Heroes!). The maître d’ carries a machine gun, you dine inside a bunker that once housed Ukrainian fighters battling both Nazis and Soviets, and you pay extra to shoot pellets at a picture of Putin. The restaurant, open 24 hours, is pure kitsch, and everyone is smiling, but it reflects an underlying nationalism, particularly in Western Ukraine, that sometimes treats “others” as suspect.

This week’s phony assassination story helps Russians question the credibility of Ukraine’s government and security services, reinforcing a message I heard from Ukrainian friends during my visit: “The Russians want to carve us up, but it’s the corruption and ineptitude of our own leaders that really stand in our way.”

Bottom-line: Too many of Ukraine’s wounds are still self-inflicted.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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