Ukraine Unlocked is a weekly newsletter providing a roundup of the cultural, political, and economic developments in Ukraine. We are pulling back the curtain on this country in transition to provide students, professionals, and the casual reader with greater insight into the country.
This Week's Takeaway...
US officials warned that Russia may be preparing operatives to stage an attack in separatist-backed territories in eastern Ukraine, which would offer a pretext to invade. The US report comes after talks between NATO and Russia hit a dead-end last week. Russia is also planning to send military supplies and troops to Belarus in preparation for military training exercises. Due to Belarus’ shared border with Ukraine, some NATO allies are worried that this is further evidence of a pending full-scale invasion. Joe Biden then followed up on Wednesday by saying that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent, and that the US would not send troops. At first Biden seemed to suggest that NATO allies would not respond to a minor incursion on Ukrainian territory. White House officials quickly clarified on Thursday that any movement onto Ukrainian territory would be considered a full-scale attack and that the US would respond with appropriate sanctions. Not everyone agrees with President Biden’s prediction…
Cancelled Routes:Ryanair, a low-cost European airline, has cut another seven routes servicing Ukraine for the month of February. This comes after the company cancelled 17 routes to the country during January.
Summer Optimism: While the winter months have brought waves of cancellations the airline seems to be optimistic that services will be back in full swing come summertime. Ryanair will be flying 13 new routes to popular European cities including London, Stockholm, and Venice.
What It Means: For a country desperate to rebrand itself as a tourist destination, having a multitude of ways to reach Ukraine is crucial. While Ryanair represents one of many airlines flying to the country, its lack of route consistency represents the deficit of strong and steady demand for travel to Ukraine.
Political Deadlock Leads to Cyber Attacks
Cyber Scares: On January 14thUkraine experienced its largest cybersecurity breach in over four years. Hackers crashed 70 government websites and posted an ominous message on computer screens: “Ukrainians! All your personal data has been uploaded onto the public internet. All information about you has become public, be afraid and wait for the worst. This is for you, for your past, present and future.” Officials in Kyiv quickly announced that Russian hackers were allegedly behind the attack, but nothing has been confirmed. As negotiations over the conflict in Ukraine stalled between Russia and NATO, Russian hackers seem to be working behind the scenes to undermine their neighbors’ cyber security. When Russia invaded northern Georgia in 2008, Russian hackers shut down Georgian websites for several hours. The same attack happened in 2014 as Russian troops entered Crimea.
Malicious intentions: While Ukrainian officials reported that no data had actually been released, Microsoft issued a statement on Saturday saying they had detected the presence of malware on numerous public and private networks across Ukraine. The appearance of the malware coincided with the conclusion of talks between Russian and NATO diplomats. Ukrainian officials have speculated that the malware attack originated in Belarus but is directly connected to Russia.
On the Defensive: Ukraine is no stranger to cybersecurity attacks. Last year alone they stopped over 1,000 attacks. In 2014 hackers targeted their election commission to try and change the outcome of their presidential election. Then in 2017 a world-wide cyberattack with a malware called NotPetya infiltrated a tax-preparation software that is widely used across Ukraine.
A Call for Unity: Former President Petro Poroshenko arrived back in Kyiv on January 17th where a judge ruled that he cannot be detained while the prosecutor’s office investigates him for his alleged role in selling coal to non-state actors in 2014-2015. Poroshenko stressed the need for unity in the face of escalating tensions with Russia while also calling the charges politically motivated. He believes that current President Volodymyr Zelensky is behind the charges, and that they are a veiled attempt to undermine his remaining political influence.
Khalid Tour Heads to Kyiv
Big Name, Big Stage:American Pop Star Khalid is heading to Kyiv to perform at the Stereo Plaza, one of Ukraine's largest venues. He will be the biggest name to play at the venue in the last year. For a country full of kids and young adults obsessed with western pop stars, Khalid’s tour represents a chance to see the star-studded entertainer live.
Tix: For Ukrainians interested in going, tickets remain available, but the cheapest ticket is 899 Hryvnia or roughly $32. That is a steep price for a country where the average salary is under $500 a month.
Music Deprivation: Khalid will be quite a treat for pop fans in Kyiv, as the ultra-popular summer music festival Atlas has been cancelled the past two summers due to Covid concerns. The organizers hope to put on the festival in 2022, but Khalid will do for the meantime.
Azeri Alliances: On January 14th, President Zelensky of Ukraine and President Aliyev of Azerbaijan signed bilateral documents which will ramp up economic relations between the two countries. In particular, the document outlines that Azerbaijan will send more oil and natural gas to Ukraine while also building new refineries and storage facilities. This agreement is part of a recent trend to increase Ukraine’s bilateral economic relations with their friendly neighbors.
Your Weekly Dose of History
Ukraine’s First Stab at Independence: In January of 1918, the Central Rada of Ukraine declared itself a sovereign country and completely independent from any regime in St. Petersburg or Moscow. The Central Rada formed in April of 1917 in response to the February Revolution, which led to the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. With German support, the Central Rada in Kyiv hoped to achieve sovereignty. However, the Bolshevik’s Red Army launched an attack on Kyiv shortly after their declaration of independence and the Central Rada had to flee the city. This back and forth defined the Central Rada’s power for the next several months until a German-led coup overthrew them.
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