Slovak PM’s Sputnik Procurement Erodes Solidarity with Ukraine and EU

Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matovic offered the Ukrainian Transcarpathian region in return for Russian vaccines prompting conversations about warming relations between Bratislava and Moscow. Matovic is considering resignation amidst coalition criticisms.

In a radio interview on March 4th, Matovic said in return for the Sputnik V vaccine he would give Kremlin the Ukrainian Zakarpatiia region, which has a 95-kilometer-border with Slovakia. Matovic disregarded the security and EU concerns associated with Russian jab, purchasing two million doses to be delivered by June.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba condemned Matovic’s insensitive comment, reinforcing that no external power can determine Ukrainian territorial integrity under international law. In turn, Matovic issued a Twitter apology for “undermining” Ukrainian efforts in the international community to regain control of Donbas and annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

The Slovak prime minister kept the deal a secret until the first shipment with 200,000 doses arrived at the Kosice Airport on March 1st. Matovic disregarded any disagreements voiced by his coalition and refused to wait for the EU approval by the European Medicines Agency. Matovic’s coalition originally rejected the procurement of Russian jabs in late February.

On March 23, Matovic announced that he would resign amidst a lack of communication criticisms relating to secret Sputnik V procurement. Earlier last week, Slovak Minister of Health Marek Krajci resigned after Slovakia’s four-party governing coalition condemned his management of the pandemic and Sputnik V crisis.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok criticized the vaccine purchase, labeling it as a “political tool” aimed to divide the society and distance them from full European integration. Ukrainian officials voiced a similar concern, banning the jab to prevent Russian state propaganda against the West. The Russian Direct Investment Fund, a company responsible for Sputnik V distribution abroad, immediately announced their growing cooperation with Slovakia, Hungary, SanMarino, Serbia, Montenegro, Republika Srpska, and Belarus.

Slovak-Ukrainian relations developed in the late 1990s after Bratislava turned towards Western integration in 1998. In the early 2000s, the Dzurinda governments continued to neglect relations with Eastern Europe, focusing on NATO and EU negotiations. In 2006, Robert Fico’s government, like most of the West, underwent the period of “Partnership” supporting Viktor Yushchenko’s Orange Revolution. By 2010, Slovakia joined the “Ukraine fatigue” period due to disillusionment with Ukrainian political instability between Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Viktor Yanukovych.

Slovakia began to slow trade relations with Russia before the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Although blaming Ukraine for the gas crisis in 2009, Slovakia limited the dependence on Russian gas by cutting all supplies by 40% to 50%. Despite economic disaffiliation from Russia, 2018 polling showed that 41% supported Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy. Only 10% of surveyed Slovaks noted the importance of building relations with other Eastern European nations. In 2019, Ukrainian think tanks expressed concern with Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini who remained silent on the Ukrainian issue.

Slovakia continues to be an important trade partner to Ukraine constituting 65% of gas imports to Ukraine especially after Ukraine launched an independent gas transportation company in 2020. However, compared to

Matovic’s recent comment mirrors Fico’s flirtatious relations with Russia. In 2014, Fico criticized the EU sanctions, announcing that they will be harmful to the Slovak economy and gas supply to Europe. Defending his argument, Fico critiqued France for continuing to sell military vessels to Russia and the construction of South Stream. France and other EU states shortly postponed these agreements. Two years later, Fico augmented his argument by suggesting that Russian implements more of Minsk Agreements than Ukraine.

Slovakia’s foreign policy is “self-promoting” and seeks to maintain beneficial economic relations between the EU and Russia. Some Slovak officials seek to reestablish “self-confidence and regain the respect of international players.” Ukrainian foreign policy falls short of recognizing the importance of Bratislava in the West, often relying on Brussels, Berlin, and Warsaw. Russia, in turn, offers international recognition and shows appeals to pan-Slavism.

Earlier in the pandemic, Matovic’s government finally expelled three Russian diplomats from Slovak territories. In August, Russian authorities were linked to submitting fake IDs for Schengen visa consideration at the Slovak Consulate in St Petersburg, prompting Slovak diplomatic response. Unlike other EU member states, Slovakia did not banish diplomats in solidarity with the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergey Skripal investigation in 2018. Former Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak announced that Slovakia will wait for “reactions from the Russian Federation” to take further action.

EU states of Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary often pursuit a multi-vector foreign policy to benefit both from the West and Russia. Sputnik V procurement disrupts EU solidarity regarding Russia’s power in Europe as five central European and Baltic countries condemn the EU for unequal vaccine distribution. Matovic’s distasteful remark toward Ukrainian territorial integrity is only the beginning of Russia’s destabilization of Western institutions.

Image Source: DW

Read More

The Vaccine Waiting Game: Why Ukraine Banned Sputnik V

The Ukrainian government bans the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in hopes to limit Russian geopolitical leverage over the region. Meanwhile, the EU’s slow vaccine roll-out, disinformation, and internal challenges leave Ukraine without a concrete vaccine supply. 

Ukrainian authorities prohibited the registration and production of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine on February 10th. Officials expressed concern that Russian jabs are a form of “hybrid weapon against Ukraine.” Ukraine enforced the official ban shortly after approving the special vaccine registration law, which can inhibit approval of an individual vaccine, on January 29th. 

The Russian vaccine, controversially the first success in the vaccination race, has the highest percent of skepticism among Russians. The Levada Center, a polling organization, concluded that only 38 percent of surveyed Russians claimed they will be vaccinated. Russia also has a disproportionally low vaccination rate of 2 percent of the 146 million population. 

However, the Kremlin began an intense international vaccination campaign, planning to administer its version to Mexico, Hungary, Belarus, and others. Russian importers offered the African Union up to 300,000 doses. The New York Times reported that over 50 countries in Asia and Latin America ordered more than a billion Russian doses. Despite high demand, Russia is incapable of high-volume production of vaccines for export even if it ignores domestic vaccination needs. The European Union officials frequently express their distrust for Russia’s readiness to distribute the vaccine while Russian COVID-19 infection numbers surpass 4.1 million.  

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a TV interview on January 12th that Ukraine will not obtain Sputnik V even if the vaccine is internationally approved, calling it a “propaganda factor.” Kuleba said by accepting vaccines from an aggressor-state, Ukraine will contribute to the Russian narrative that Western states did not provide adequate assistance to Ukraine in a time of need.  

In the evaluation of Russian donorship, the charitable organization Oxfam reported that Russia often overestimates the scale of their humanitarian help abroad, providing only 51.6 million dollars in 2012 compared to U.S.’s 3,922.1 million. Oxfam noted that the Russian humanitarian agenda is motivated by a goal of becoming a ‘great power,’ erasing the history of receiving humanitarian help from the West and forming a forced relationship with the aid recipients. The organization highlights that Russia seeks to publicly demean countries accepting their offer. 

Alliance for Securing Democracy researcher Thomas Morley wrote that since last spring, Russia was no stranger to “mask diplomacy” or donation of medical goods for combatting COVID-19. On March 22, Russia sent military ‘specialists’ and supplies to Italy to portray the EU’s response to the outbreak as weak in the media. Reportedly only 20 percent of medical goods were effective. 

Last April, Russia also sent an AN-124 Russian military plane to New York full of protective equipment and ventilators. The Kremlin’s propaganda deemed Russian humanitarian help as an act of kindness until the Foreign Ministry in Moscow announced that the U.S. paid for the supplies. The U.S. sent back the Russian ventilators due to reports of the machines catching on fire in Russia. The U.S. also sent over 200 ventilators to Russia in May when the country’s COVID-19 cases skyrocketed.  

Pavil Kovtoniuk, head of the Health Economics Center in Kyiv warns that accepting Russian vaccines will further define the geopolitical vector towards Russia or the West. Kovtoniuk said although Ukraine only secured eight million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, opting for a Russian vaccine could inhibit any other Western vaccine supply. Currently, 13 EU member-states in Central Europe and the Baltics urged for immediate allocation of vaccines to Ukraine. Similarly, Moldova was able to procure Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines via Romania.  

By banning Russian vaccines, Ukraine retains leverage to petition the EU for vaccinations. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal called on the EU to supply Ukraine with Western jabs to combat Russian political influence in the region. Although many publications claim that Ukraine will be left without Russian and EU vaccines, there is no guarantee that Ukraine would receive Sputnik V faster given its slow production and distribution rates. Furthermore, Russia’s COVID-19 humanitarian campaigns to Italy and the U.S. confirm propaganda and espionage objectives alongside poor medical quality records.  

Sputnik V already inherently violates Ukrainian nationhood as it is allegedly administered in non-government-controlled regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and annexed the Crimean Peninsula. Although the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), a Sputnik V vaccine sponsor abroad, claims that Donbas did not receive any dosages, self-proclaimed leader of Donetsk Denis Pushilin said the region receives new supplies daily. Russian occupation officials did confirm that residents of Crimea will be vaccinated. Ukrainians in Crimea, Luhansk, and Donetsk as well as Moldovans in Transnistria are deprived of an opportunity to attain European vaccinations. 

It is also important to note the credibility of Ukrainian officials in procuring the Russian shot. Russia-leaning opposition leader Viktor Medvechuk petitioned the Ukrainian government to approve Sputnik V in January. The Ukrainian government recently sanctioned Medvechuk, who financially supports the pharmaceutical company Biolik, for his role in the proliferation of Russian disinformation through three TV channels. That he allegedly owns. The National Security and Defense Council and Ukraine’s state security service (SBU) is investigating Medvechuk for the alleged illegal sale of coal from non-government-controlled regions in Luhansk and the supposed privatization of the state PrykarpatZakhidtrans oil product pipeline.  

Vaccines are becoming a geopolitical weapon separating countries into regional and economic blocks. For Ukraine, Sputnik V bares no effectiveness despite recent studies proving 91.6 percent success. Instead, it is a way to uphold Ukrainian dignity on the international level and remain consistent in its foreign policy towards aggressor-states.  

Image Source: Pharmaceutical Technology 

Read More

Zelenskyy’s “Boldest Move” Yet: Why Ukraine Banned Three Pro-Russian Channels

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a five-year ban on three pro-Russian channels on February 2nd. Although the United States embassy and Ukrainian journalists welcomed this move, the ban carries greater domestic and geopolitical implications.

Zelenskyy sanctioned channels 112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and Zik TV following a decision made by the National Security and Defense Council. The Council advised the termination of broadcasting licensing for three channels legally belonging to Taras Kozak, a member of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform For Life (OPZZh) party. Kozak, who owns two houses in annexed Crimea, is linked to the alleged owner of the three channels, Viktor Medvedchuk. Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian oligarch, the head OPZZh’s political council, and has personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The pro-Kremlin politician denies any media ownership in Ukraine.

The Minister of Culture and Information Policy, Oleksandr Tkachenko further called on YouTube to remove the joint “Stop Censorship of 112 Ukraine, NewsOne and ZIK TV” channel. Roman Lozinsky, a member of the Holos party pushed for the exclusion of politicians, journalists, and cameramen affiliated with the banned channels. 

112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and ZIK TV continue to have a large online presence, where they equate Zelenskyy’s decision to ban them with the kind of media censorship seen in North Korea. The channels accused the Ukrainian government of restricting freedom of the press and violating journalists’ constitutional rights. Russian Permanent Representative to the Council of Europe Ivan Soltanovsky criticized Ukrainians and Latvians, the latter banning five Russian channels back on February 1st, for “mass human rights violations.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the Ukrainian decision, and the West’s subsequent support, as hypocritical, and in contradiction with international norms regarding freedom of press.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell expressed concern for Ukraine’s abrupt termination of the channels. He noted that although Ukraine is defending its “territorial integrity and national security” against Russian “manipulation,” the act might have negative repercussions on freedom in Ukrainian media.

In a joint statement, Ukrainian civil society organizations said Ukraine did not violate press rights, citing the Office of the President of Ukraine’s information about the foreign financing of the channels. The press release accused the channels of using anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western rhetoric, supporting Russian aggression in Donbas, unlawfully firing journalists with different political views, and being a political platform for OPZZh.

Unlike the EU, the U.S. Embassy publicly backed Ukraine stating that those efforts are justified given “Russia’s malign influence” over Ukrainian media.

Starting in 2014, Ukraine has embraced a “cultural revival” trajectory as a form of national security. For example, radio stations adopted a Ukrainian-language quota, which boosted the Ukrainian music industry. In August 2014, Ukraine banned 14 Russian television channels such as Russia Today and Life News. The Russian Foreign Ministry also has issued a statement noting that the West and Ukraine blatantly support censorship. Furthermore, Ukraine terminated the broadcast of Russian opposition channel Dozhd (TV Rain) following their remarks on Russian legal possession of Crimea.

Atlantic Council Nonresident Fellow Taras Kuzio highlights that the ban of three channels was significant for Ukrainian national sovereignty as OPZZh has growing ratings. Kuzio notes that Zelenskyy’s ban came at a perfect time when the U.S. President Joe Biden began to shape his foreign policies. Appealing to the U.S. could secure more financial or military support for Ukraine.  

Moldova is a prime example of why Russian channels pose a political threat in Eastern European countries. Moldova’s ex-President Igor Dodon, like Ukrainian Taras Kozak, was allegedly closely affiliated with Accent TV. The television network allowed for broadcasting Russia’s main channel, Perviy Kanal. Russian channels are preferred among 31 percent of Moldovans, which imposes foreign influence over Moldovan elections.

112 Ukraine, NewsOne, and Zik TV censor anti-Kremlin news making them not a reliable source of information. The Institute of Mass Media in Ukraine (IMI) found that alleged Medvedchuk channels refrained from covering Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s investigation into his poisoners. A similar approach was echoed by Kremlin-sponsored channels. 

112 Ukraine could be potentially destabilizing for Ukrainian image in the West. The channel’s website is among the first English-language news outlets that appear when searching for “Ukraine news.” Therefore, their narratives can affect both eastern regions of Ukraine and the public abroad. 

112 Ukraine online publication also has a limited number of ads and no subscriptions. Its ad-free platform may signify that the channel obtains financial support from other sources. Ukraine will have to prove that the channels received Russian funding from abroad to invalidate claims of censorship and violations of freedom of the press.


Many publications claim that the termination of the three channels in addition to Zelenskyy’s recent Axios interview, where he rhetorically asks Biden why Ukraine is still not part of NATO, signifies a bold move towards the West. His traditionally centrist position, interested in normalizing relations with Russia, has won him overwhelming support across the country. However, it is important to note that “nationalist” ex-President Petro Poroshenko did not ban these TV stations, perhaps fearing the damage to his presidential ratings. Presidential elections in 2024 may reflect what Zelensky’s recent switch in alignment might imply for his reelection.

Image Source: DW

Read More

Ukrainian-Hungarian Relations Worsen, Implications for Territorial Sovereignty and Minority Rights

Ukrainian and Hungarian Foreign Ministers, Dmytro Kuleba and Peter Szijjarto will meet on February 3rd to normalize the situation in the Transcarpathian region. 

Kuebla and Szijjiarto will discuss the minority and education rights of 150,000 ethnic Hungarians residing in the Ukrainian Zakarpattia oblast. The region formally belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until its collapse following the end of World War I. The area on the Ukrainian-Hungarian border inherited Hungarian primary and secondary schools, where Hungarian remains the dominant language of instruction. As a result, the Jamestown Foundation reports that Transcarpathian students perform the lowest on Ukrainian state examinations.  

Szijjarto said Ukrainian “patriots” allegedly threatened Hungarian diplomats aiming to prevent the upcoming diplomatic discussions in Kyiv. Kuebla stated that Ukrainian police are investigating the incident but alleged that foreign actors are responsible for threats against the Hungarian delegation. 

The relationship between Kyiv and Budapest originally soured in 2017 when President Petro Poroshenko’s administration introduced the controversial language law prohibiting school instruction in minority languages such as Russian, Hungarian, Belarusian, and Polish. Although the law was targeted at the widely-used Russian language, Budapest responded by blocking Ukrainian aspirations to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Hungarian officials also extended Hungarian passports to Zakarpattia region, violating the Ukrainian prohibition of dual citizenship. Shortly after, alleged Ukrainian nationalists vandalized the Hungarian Culture Center. Without any proof, Poroshenko claimed Russian involvement in the incident.

In 2020, the Siurte United Territorial Community played the Hungarian national anthem during elections for the Ukrainian local government. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) launched an investigation under suspicion of Hungarian agitation for the Party of Hungarians in the Ukrainian election. On November 30th, SBU raided the Hungarian Cultural Association in Transcarpathia and other foundations investigating foreign sponsorship and potential damage to Ukrainian territorial sovereignty. 

Szijjarto criticized Ukrainian raids, undermining Kyiv’s intentions to join NATO. Hungarian diplomats also requested the immediate presence of the Ukrainian ambassador. On December 12th, Hungary requested expansion of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine to Zakarpatiia. 

Hungarian officials assure that Hungary will not disturb the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine or stain its relations with NATO. They demand a provision for the national minority law under the advisory of the Council of Europe. Additionally, they seek to invest 56.5 million dollars into Transcarpathian infrastructure. In turn, Ukraine reinstates that it will not push assimilation onto ethnic Hungarians but seeks to supplement Hungarian education with the Ukrainian language necessary for college and career development.

However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban contradicts the official state position. In 2014, Orban called for Transcarpathian autonomy while pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk compromised the Ukrainian national sovereignty. Orban opposes EU sanctions against Russia, supporting purchases of Russian gas, oil, and supply of controversial Sputnik V vaccine. He stated that Hungary will join the Russian TurkStream gas pipeline. Russia also assists Orban’s government in developing a nuclear power plant.

Additionally, Hungarian passport distribution to Ukrainian citizens resembles Russia’s “passportization” policy, a term coined by Toru Nagashima. In the early 2000s, Russia administered passports to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As a result, Russians were able to claim that they were defending Russian citizens and intervene in Georgian affairs. A similar “passportization” strategy encompasses residents of Transnistria, Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

Unlike Russia, Hungary does not occupy Ukrainian territory and operates by EU and NATO principles. However, “passportization” could lead to separatism or influence local governance. With the most recent language law requiring all services to be provided in Ukrainian unless otherwise asked, the law was scrutinized by Russian media outlets for “discrimination” against minority languages. Similar disinformation could reach ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia. Most importantly, it can lead to brain drain. Ukraine ranks 129 out of 137 countries in its ability to keep talented citizens from leaving the country.

Kuleba noted that both sides must rid themselves of suspicions to achieve a successful discussion next Wednesday. Ukrainian FM said at a press conference, “There is no reason to believe that Ukrainian Hungarians are prone to separatism, just as there is no reason to believe that the Ukrainian state wants to cause any harm to the Ukrainian Hungarians of Zakarpattia.”

Image Source: UNIAN

Read More

Election Update: What to Expect from Newly Elected Moldovan President?

Pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu won the Moldovan presidential run-off elections on November 15th with goals to end corruption, scandals, and favoritism towards the Kremlin.  

Rebranding the Pro-Western Parties 

Sandu secured 57.7 percent of the vote by positioning herself against both pro-Russian groups and unpopular pro-Western parties. Her anti-Russia stance revolves around Russian peacekeeping in Transnistria, which prevents Moldova from unifying with Romania or joining the EU. However, her disassociation from other pro-Western groups stems from 2016 when the U.S. government sponsored political parties connected to a corrupt banking tycoon, Vlad Plahotniuc. The U.S. formally ended their support for Plahotniuc in 2019 by refusing to grant him refuge after his inditement on corruption charges. In 2016 presidential and 2019 parliamentary elections, pro-Russian parties discouraged the Moldovan voter base from supporting the EU-platforms by publishing images of Plahotniuc’s meeting with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria J. Nuland, linking Western-backing to further corruption in Moldova. Sandu’s anti-corruption campaign and her subsequent land-slide victory signify a new image for the pro-Western movement.  

Potential New Parliamentary Elections 

President-elect Sandu proposed snap parliamentary elections stating, “Parliament has proven that it doesn’t work for people.” Previous Moldovan officials such as 2018 appointed President Pavel Filip dissolved the parliament and called for snap elections after the Constitutional Court suspended pro-Russian President Igor Dodon from his presidency. Moldovan parliament is often torn between association with the West and Russia. 

Day of the Election and After 

On November 15th, Moldovan veterans blocked the Transnistrian border to prevent voter fraud stemming from Transnistria. In the 2016 and 2019 elections, 70,000 Transnistrian voters were bribed and bussed to Moldova, giving a lead to pro-Russian incumbent President Igor Dodon and his party. Veterans enforced Moldova’s ban on vehicles carrying more than eight people entering from the breakaway state by monitoring how many people cross the border and registering cars. Approximately 14,000 Moldovan citizens from Transnistria voted and police recorded 173 voter violations in the first round of the elections on November 1st. Although Transnistrians can vote in the Moldovan elections, they do not have access to non-Russian mass media. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the run-off elections were well-managed but were full of unfair campaigning involving personal attacks and lack of impartiality in available information. 

After losing with 42.2% of the votes, Dodon congratulated Sandu on winning the election. However, Dodon alleged that there were several electoral violations involving Western participation. A record-breaking 1.2 million members of the Moldovan diaspora voted in consulates across Russia and EU countries. The incumbent discouraged any street riots and protests regarding his loss. Dodon also criticized Sandu’s statement regarding withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping mission from Transnistria. In an interview with a Russian broadcaster NTV Moldova, he said the Transnistrian conflict has not been resolved and thus needs peacekeeping to protect the interests of an alleged 35 to 50 percent Russian population. In conversations with Ukrainian publications, Sandu announced a departure from the Russian alliance, focusing on improving relations with neighboring Ukraine. The President-elect said she believes Moldova and Ukraine both aim to achieve rapprochement with the EU and share a “bilateral agenda” due to Russian influence. Presidents of Ukraine, Russia and Romania congratulated Sandu on her landslide victory, stating their hopes for cooperation with the new administration. 

Sources: New York Times, 112 InternationalTASSEuronewsOSCEFrance 24 

Read More

Pandemic Across Closed Checkpoints: Donetsk and Luhansk

Amidst the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, self-proclaimed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions block openings of new border crossing points complicating humanitarian relief efforts.

As of November 7th, there are 13,907 recorded COVID-19 cases in the Donetsk region and 177 deaths. Luhansk reported 4,539 active cases and 109 deaths. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the infection rates in the region to be one confirmed case for every 14 tests, compared to the world average of one case for every 20 tests. Since the start of the pandemic, government officials recorded 4,540 cases in the Ukrainian army. COVID-19 presents a severe threat to the significant ageing population, and patients suffering from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, hearth disease, and diabetes in Ukraine. Both regions are separated between government-controlled territories in the west and non-government-controlled areas, which include the densely populated cities of Donetsk and Luhansk bordering the Russian Federation. 

Since Kyiv does not control the entire region, the official count by the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University does not include the separatist-held territories. The Russian local media servicing Donetsk and Luhansk has been accused of misreporting pandemic statistics. Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Lyudmyla Denisova stated human rights activists can provide only approximate infection data. Denisova urged the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), responsible for ceasefire-monitoring in the region, to investigate the real number of COVID-19 patients. 

In an assessment of 824 households in Luhansk and Donetsk published by UN-affiliated organizations, four out of 10 residents said there is little to no compliance with social distancing. Approximately 25% of respondents were not aware that COVID-19 is a contagious disease, and eight out of 10 did not believe they had a high risk of contracting the virus. Although 63% reported using masks and 68% noted handwashing, six percent of responders cited that they were unable to obtain hand sanitizers and masks. Most residents were concerned about problems with transportation, inability to see family or blocked crossing at Entry-Exit Checkpoints (EECPs). People living on the eastern side of the border often rely on pension payments, social work, and hospital care on the Ukrainian side, resulting in 10% stating that they have no access to healthcare. Ukrainian humanitarian organizations and media approximate an occupancy of over 70% in non-government-controlled hospitals.

As of November 10, EECPs of Zolote, Stanytsia, Luhanska, and Schastia in Luhansk and Hnutove, Novotroitske, Maryinka, and Mayorske in Donetsk would open for daily transit of passengers. The crossing points would operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with COVID-19 restrictions such as temperature screening, enforcement of masks, and social distancing. Although TCG negotiated the opening of checkpoints, militants refused to open EECPs in Schastia and Zolote, accusing Ukraine of changing their negotiating position. Self-proclaimed officials in Luhansk allege that Ukraine refused to equip one of the checkpoints with a vehicle crossing point. The Foreign Ministries of France and Germany issued a joint statement condemning the separatists’ breach of agreement and called on Russia to influence the opening of crossings. The international community also welcomed the creation of two new EECPs by the Ukrainian side, which abides by the December 9, 2019 resolutions of the Normandy-format Summit between Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany.

The Special Representative of the OSCE, Ambassador Heidi Grau, raised concern about repeated ceasefire violations near water infrastructure in Donetsk. Grau said the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observed that 44% of all violations took place near the Donetsk Filtering Station (DFS), which supplies water to 380,000 people. Destruction or damage of the water supply endangers the civilian population and prevents them from following COVID-19 precautions. Other concerns included economic devastation of the region due to the pandemic. Roughly 40% of families said that at least one member lost a job during the pandemic, according to a UN humanitarian report. The Norwegian Refugee Council concluded that food prices in the region have increased by 30% and only one third reported receiving humanitarian assistance. Restricted movement impedes the free flow of commerce and transportation business in the region.

Composing 32% of the Ukrainian population, the Donetsk and Luhansk conflicts are one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. On October 29th, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) hosted the first-ever discussion between Ukrainian donor community and the local “authorities” in Luhansk. Several international humanitarian organizations expressed their concerns for the COVID-19 situation in the region, which was previously exacerbated by a series of wildfires. Donors also supplied Luhansk with personal protective equipment.



Sources: Getty ImagesOSCE Press Release112 InternationalCOVID-19 Humanitarian ReportNRCUN UkraineStatistaInterfax Ukraine

Read More

Why Moldovan 2020 Presidential Elections Are Important?

The first round of Moldovan elections took place on November 1st, with the pro-Russian incumbent, Igor Dodon winning 32.6% of the vote versus European Union-backed former Prime Minister Maia Sandu’s 36.1%. The runoff election on November 15th will determine whether Moldova pivots towards Russia or the West.  

A Narrow Election  

Dodon and Sandu were unable to secure a majority vote in an election with a historically low voter turnout of 42.7%. Although exit polls predicted an easy win for Dodon, who secured 52.11% of votes in 2016, Sandu gained 11% of votes from the diaspora, which put her ahead. The incumbent Dodon, the former economy minister under the 2006 and 2009 Communist governments, campaigned with promises of improved infrastructure and social care, balanced foreign policy, traditional Christian values, and mandatory Russian-language instruction in schools. Throughout his term, Dodon favored relationships with Russia rather than ties with Romania, Ukraine, and the EU, making over 35 visits to Russia. A former World Bank economist and prime minister in 2019, Sandu promised to secure funding from Brussels. 

Transnistria Can Swing the Election Towards Russia 

Opposition leaders in Chisinau fear a repetition of the rampant Transnistrian voter fraud that occurred during the 2016 presidential and 2019 parliamentary elections. Transnistria is an unrecognized state that broke away from Moldova in 1992 with significant assistance from Russia. The authorities in Tiraspol, the region’s self-proclaimed capital, heavily align themselves with the Kremlin. They receive free gas for over 15 years and get high pension and salary payments from Russian, and even mandate the teaching of Russian language and the Cyrillic alphabet in schools. For the past two elections, tens of thousands of Transnistrians were transported to bordering Moldovan regions where they cast their votes for pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon. In particular, Dodon received an extra 16,788 votes in 2016 and the Party of Socialists (PSRM) got 37,177 Transnistrian ballots.  

President Dodon argues that Transnistrian votes are equivalent to Moldovan votes cast abroad. However, local NGOs and humanitarian watch groups say allowing unrecognized states to vote in elections is a form of coercion against Moldovan sovereignty. First, the lack of government supervision allows for involuntary voting, where Transnistrians are paid to cross the Dniester river and vote in favor of a set candidate. Secondly, while living as a separate state, Transnistrians will skew Moldovan votes to elect a president or parliament that will be beneficial for Tiraspol. Following the election of President Dodon, he recognized Transnistria’s self-declared leader Vadim Krasnoselsky as the president during their meeting in Chisinau and delayed the assessment of taxes on cigarettes and alcohol exported by Transnistria.  

Moldova’s Central Electoral Commission has banned bussing practices to election polls, but the opposition worries about the ruling’s implementation. Transnistria lifted all COVID-19 movement restrictions to Moldova effective November 1st, the day of the election. Unlike Moldova, Ukrainian non-government-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk were not allowed to vote in recent local elections on October 25th. Similarly, the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not participate in the Georgian parliamentary elections on October 31st.  

Russian Presence in the Media and Its Implications 

Under the leadership of President Dodon and the PSRM, the Russian media underwent a revival. The pro-Russian government reestablished major Russian state-sponsored networks such as “Perviy Kanal”, or “Channel One,” previously banned by the pro-Western Democratic Party. Two-thirds of network owners are politicians with ties to Moscow. For example, Igor Chaica the owner of “Primul în Moldova” (“Channel One in Moldova”) is a son of a former Prosecutor General in Russia, Yuri Chaica, who is tightly connected to President Dodon’s brother. Moldovans also read Russian-language newspapers and internet publications. The Russian media has heavily opposed western integration and pro-Romanian sentiments. “Primul în Moldova ” often criticizes friendly relations with the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), LGBTQ+ rights, and western rise of atheism. Media is crucial in the reelection of the incumbent president, as much of his party owns Russian-speaking channels and approximately 31% of Moldovans choose Russian over Moldovan programming. 

No Violations Recorded So Far 

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) supervised the first round of Moldovan elections. OSCE and ODIHR concluded that both candidates received equitable treatment despite minor problems of the overall organization of the election, media environment, and allegations of buying and transporting voters. The EU expressed satisfaction with the overall electoral process and will continue to observe the execution of the second round.  

Sources: Euronews, European Union External Action, Aljazeera, Voice of America, Politico 

Read More

After Six Years Russia Still Refuses Monitoring Missions to Crimea

The Russian Federation actively prevents international organizations from observing the humanitarian situation in Crimea, in stark contrast to the international monitoring allowed in Donetsk and Lugansk. Having restricted access to Crimea for over six years, Russia masks violations of human rights and international law. 

Russia’s disregard for international law 

The Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol remain unreachable by the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). A permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has blocked two resolutions on Ukraine and issued vetoes 19 times since 2011. In comparison, the U.S. has issued only three vetoes in the same period. Since March 2014, Russia has been the only member of 57 states to deny an OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Crimea. The OSCE is unable to send international observers until all member states reach a unanimous consensus. The nearest OSCE mission stationed in Kherson Oblast, which borders the Crimean Peninsula, cannot supervise and refute Russia’s claims of Ukrainian abuse towards Russian speakers. OHCHR and other human rights agencies conduct limited human rights monitoring of indigenous Tatar populations, violations of freedom of press and assembly, and imposition of automatic Russian citizenship through interviewing victims who fled Crimea. 

Violations of Tatar minority rights 

Crimean Tatars, a Muslim ethnic minority, have been the targets of 422 human rights abuses including discrimination, unlawful imprisonment, and the disappearances of 17 Tatar leaders. The UN 74th General Assembly reinforced concern regarding forcible deportation, frequent police raids of Muslim religious schools, and mass detentions of Tatar civil society on the grounds of terrorism. The UN urged Russia to respect the “UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Prisoners”, allow international health organizations to investigate all deaths in detention, and comply with the orders of the International Court of Justice obligating Russia to follow international law as an occupying power. Despite numerous orders and international resolutions, Russia actively continues to violate mandates on minority rights with no international reinforcement. 

Establishment of a Crimean military base 

The European Union’s European External Action Service (EEAS) stated that the Russian Federation illegally conscripts residents of annexed Crimea and Sevastopol. The Kremlin violates the international humanitarian law of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from drafting or encouraging voluntary enlistment from annexed lands. Additionally, Russia continued to hold Caucasus-2020 military drills, involving 150,000 personnel deployed over the Black and Caspian Sea regions throughout the summer, and prompting Ukraine to launch joint military exercises with NATO. The absence of international supervision permits the Kremlin to establish an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) zone over the Black Sea necessary to restrict freedom of the seas and monitor NATO ships in the Mediterranean. Similar disregard for UN convention occurred during the Kerch Strait military blockade in 2018, when Russia inhibited entrance to the Sea of Azov for Ukrainian vessels. Restraints on international observation missions limit available information on Russian military expansion and the preservation of nuclear-free status on the peninsula.  

Lack of accurate reporting  

The situation in Crimea is exacerbated by the absence of international supervision, drought, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The peninsula experienced one of the driest winters followed by an equally rain-less summer. In February, the de facto government in Crimea announced a potential humanitarian crisis, developing plans for water rationing in the north and eastern parts of the peninsula. In 2014, Ukraine cut off all water supply to Crimea via the North Crimean Canal, which had provided 85% of its fresh water. The Ukrainian foreign ministry remains skeptical of Russian media reports on water shortages, claiming it is Russia’s way of obtaining international support for the supply of water to its military bases and industry in Crimea. As a result, there is lack of accurate reporting on access to water in the region.  

  The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People called for the OSCE SMM and the UN Human Right Monitoring Mission to visit Crimea due to rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases and refusal of treatment. The Mejlis said Russian authorities in Crimea had severely underreported the mortality rates by misreporting in medical documents. The Presidium of Mejlis reports that Russian authorities provide no COVID-19 information relating to detained political prisoners. Tatars urge the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Red Cross to expand their missions to Crimea. Crimean state media suppresses COVID-19 information from international organizations with over 90% of articles dealing exclusively with Russian authorities responding to the pandemic. Currently, the Russian Federation has the fourth largest statistic on confirmed cases totaling at 1,531,224 people. 

  Sources: Beyond the Horizon, EEAS, Aljazeera, Human Rights Watch, Security Council Report, undocs.org, RFE/RL, UA: Ukrainian Radio, Ukrinform, WHO, The Crimean Human Rights Group, Crimea SOS, ECFR 

Read More