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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine Live Day 379

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Savchenko May End Hunger Strike, Could Be Transferred To Hospital If Health Worsens
Alex King, who started the #FreeSavchenko campaign and has been campaigning for the imprisoned Ukrainian pilot, reports that Nadiya Savchenko may soon end her hunger strike:

Meanwhile, UNIAN reports that Savchenko could be transferred to a hospital if her health worsens:

A representative of the Federal Penitentiary Service has said that Ukrainian pilot, MP and member of the Ukrainian delegation to PACE Nadia Savchenko, now in jail in Moscow, may be transferred to a hospital if her state of health deteriorates, according to the BBC’s Russian service...

Anatoliy Rudiy, first deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, said that there were no pathological changes in Savchenko’s state of health.

"Her weight is stable, and various indicators of her state are stable and acceptable... We’re doing our best to control the situation. Almost every day we submit information about her state to the management service," he said.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine's 'Most Important Negotiating Partner is Not Vladimir Putin, or Angela Merkel, it's IMF's Christine Lagarde'

Ukrainian parliament has weathered more fist-fights and has passed a reform bill which cut pensions, raised gas taxes, and made other changes to the budget in order that Ukraine meet the requirements for the next tranche of the loan from the International Monetary Fund. UA Today reports:

One of the most debated bills was on pension reform, which passed on the fifth attempt. It includes reducing pensions by 15% for the elderly who have a full time or part time job. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenuyk underlined that if a person's monthly pension is USD 56 or less, the new law will not affect them.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukrainian Prime Minister: "I know that this is not the best law. We don't have a lot of good solutions right now. We will have good solutions when we will adopt reforms and stabilize the situation in the country. When we will win, when we will stop the war and when we will end corruption."

The problem -- meeting the requirements of the IMF loan, Europe's main strategy for ending Ukraine's financial crisis, is also killing Ukraine's economy. Bloomberg explains that the value of the hryvnia has collapsed since the Central Bank decided to free-float the currency, another key requirement of the IMF loan, which has prompted Ukraine's Central Bank to jump into action today:

The National Bank of Ukraine raised its refinancing rate to 30 percent from 19.5 percent, effective Wednesday, to “stabilize the situation on the money and lending markets,” Governor Valeriya Gontareva told reporters in Kiev. The regulator also retained a requirement for exporters to convert 75 percent of their foreign-currency revenue, helping the hryvnia strengthen 9.3 percent against the dollar.

Ukraine is working to access an International Monetary fund loan to stay afloat after the war with pro-Russian separatists in the country’s east helped wipe 15.2 percent off the economy last quarter compared with a year earlier. Authorities are also trying to prevent capital flight and stabilize the hryvnia, which has lost 60 percent against the dollar in the past year to become the world’s worst-performing currency.

“The rate hike will increase the appeal of holding hryvnias, so it will be a positive factor, but I’m not sure that it alone will be enough to fix a rather acute deficit of dollar supply,” Fyodor Bagnenko, a Kiev-based trader at Dragon Capital, said by e-mail. “What’s really needed in this situation is a combination of administrative and monetary measures -- and it seems like this is exactly what the central bank is doing.”

The experts on Bloomberg TV were extremely pessimistic, noting that a refinancing rate to 30% is "not a typo." One of the members of Bloomberg's panel said that according to Johns Hopkins professor Steve Hanke, the unofficial inflation rate is an incredible 270%, while the official rate is 28.5%, "painful in and of itself." Another summed up Ukraine's situation with this:

"Their most important negotiating partner is not Vladimir Putin, or Angela Merkel, it's Christine Lagarde [Managing Director of the IMF]."

As part of the loan, Ukraine has to free-float the currency, cut gas usage, raise gas prices, and cut government spending -- all while simultaneously raising defense spending (for obvious reasons), providing support for those who have been hurt by the economic crisis, caring for internally displaced persons who have fled the fighting in eastern Ukraine, and repairing infrastructure destroyed by the war. While this is ongoing, Russia's actions have robbed Ukraine of Crimea and parts of the Donbass, hurt Ukraine's supplies of metals, coal, and natural gas, and have raised doubts among international investors. The collapse of the currency has made foreign investors even more skittish.

While Ukraine needs the infusion of cash which the IMF is going to provide, it's hard to see how the IMF loan conditions address any of the underlying causes of Ukraine's economic crisis. In fact, the conditions of the IMF loan actually exacerbate many of these problems. 

Reuters reports on another key underlying problem -- Ukraine is still struggling to weed out and reform a legacy of corruption which has sparked two revolutions in a decade:

Foreign governments and international financing institutions are not willing to pour money into a dysfunctional state. Only this week the businessman brought in by the new authorities to clean up the tax service was himself suspended pending a corruption inquiry.
Donors say the former Soviet republic, crippled by war and corruption, is unable or unwilling even to identify how many roads, power plants and schools its 45 million people need, let alone meet new European standards for farms and factories.

"There's strong resistance because many people in various ways benefited from the old, inefficient and largely corrupt system," said Kalman Mizsei, the head of the EU's advisory mission to Ukraine.

The IMF loan is not the only aid package Ukraine has received.The United States, for its part, has offered Ukraine $355 million in aid and a $1 billion loan guarantee. and the EU has promised an 11.1 billion euro ($15.5 billion) aid package.

According to the U.S. government's website on foreign aid, more than $125 million has been allocated to Ukraine in 2015, and at least 23 countries are set to receive more aid. For the most part, however, that aid is not allocated directly to governments but in specific projects which usually include education, health care, and social services. While Ukraine has received aid from Europe and the United States to address problems like internally-displaced refugees and other important issues which may help heal some of the damage that Ukraine has incurred over the last year, it's not clear how any of those projects will specifically address the underlying causes of these problems.

Furthermore, last week NATO's top general told U.S. Congress that the current plan to deal with the crisis in Ukraine is inadequate. Wall Street Journal summarizes:

Gen. Breedlove left lawmakers with the impression that he believes the status quo isn’t helping Ukrainians gain control of their country. At the Pentagon news conference, he said that while NATO doesn’t know what Mr. Putin ultimately will do in Ukraine, the Russians already are escalating, even in the absence of U.S. lethal aid.

“What is clear is it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day,” Gen. Breedlove said at the Pentagon. “We see Mr. Putin is all-in, and they will proceed till their objectives are accomplished.”

He said Mr. Putin’s main goal is to divide the West, expand his control in Ukraine, and possibly position himself to increase Moscow’s influence even among NATO member nations.

NATO membership provides military protection to Baltic countries, but Gen. Breedlove said he didn’t rule out the possibility of Russian interference there.

-- James Miller

The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
3 Ukrianian Servicemen Killed, 9 Wounded Over Last 24 Hours
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Despite Calm Across Much Of Front Line, Attacks Continue North Of Both Donetsk And Debaltsevo
Ukrainska Pravda reported this morning that Anatoly Stelmakh, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military, had announced that last night passed "relatively quietly," however, there were several areas where this was not the case.

Stelmakh himself noted that Ukrainian-held settlements and positions north of Donetsk came under fire.

The Interpreter translates:

"Starting from 21:00 (19:00 GMT), our positions came under chaotic and largely provocative fire, mainly with small arms."

Stelmakh said that Ukrainian positions near the Dutovskaya mine, near Donetsk, had come under fire twice. In Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk, there was what Stelmakh called "harassing fire" from mortars.

Meanwhile, the villages of Mironosvky and Luganskoye, on the front line on the Debaltsevo-Artyomovsk highway, and Mayorsk, north of Gorlovka, were attacked. To the north east of Mironovsky, the town of Troitskoye was shelled, causing extensive damage to a school.

The press office of the governor of the Lugansk region, Hennadiy Moskal, published photos of the aftermath:




Novosti Donbassa reported that Moskal's office had also announced the an attack in Stanitsa Luganskaya, north-east of the separatist-held city of Lugansk. According Moskal's office, two policemen were wounded when militants opened fire from a car.

Vladislav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the General Staff, reported that there had been four attacks recorded towards Artyomovsk, carried out with small arms, a ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft gun and automatic grenade launchers. Further east, near the Bakhmutka highway,  there had been two attacks with small arms near Krymskoye. 

Not far to the east of Krymskoye, there had been an engagement with enemy fighters near Sokolniki.

Earlier in the evening, Stelmakh said, there had been heavier attacks north of Donetsk, with mortar fire on Pisky (Peski) and anti-aircraft artillery and tank fire on Avdeyevka. A rocket-propelled grenade was fired towards the nearby village of Optytnoye.

Seleznyov reported that the south of Donetsk, Ukrainian positions near separatist-held Beryozovoye, right on the front line of the divided Donetsk-Mariupol highway, had come under mortar fire.

On the coast, Ukrainian troops in Shirokino (Shyrokyne), just east of Mariupol, were attacked with an automatic grenade launcher, while to the north, there was an armed engagement near separatist-held Pavlopol.

Meanwhile, today, there was a report of shelling audible in the industrial town of Lysychansk, north-west of the Bakhmutka highway, on the southern bank of the Seversky Donets river.

Translation: #Lysychansk Video for those who still don't believe that I can clearly hear shelling. The sound on the video is far quieter than it is in reality.

Here is a map with the locations of the attacks highlighted:


-- Pierre Vaux