Ukraine Unlocked is a weekly newsletter providing a roundup of the cultural, political, and economic happenings of Ukraine. Through this newsletter, we hope to pull back the curtain on this country in transition to provide students, professionals, and the casual reader with greater insight into the country.
While it is hard to decipher motives, Putin continues to amass Russian troops on the border near Ukraine. Outside observers estimate there are over 100,000 well-supplied troops. The US, UK, and other NATO allies have continually threatened Putin with retaliation—mostly in the form of new sanctions. However, sanctions will only affect everyday Russians, not Putin or his regime. While Putin has been reticent and there is no clear explanation for actions, we believe that Putin is amassing troops to either: force NATO to implement parts of the 2015 Minsk agreements, distract from his slipping popularity and struggling economy, reassert Russia's prowess in European politics, or possibly a combination of these factors. Regardless, it is highly likely that it is just saber-rattling.
Josep Borrell with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a checkpoint in the Luhansk Region. Credit: Reuters/Maksim Levin
Top EU Diplomat Visits Ukrainian Frontline
Taking Sides:The EU's Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Representative Josep Borrell visited the warzone in Luhansk this week. It marks the first such visit by a top EU representative since the conflict began in 2014. Borrell stated clearly that any new aggression from Russia would be met with "severe consequences" from the EU. He also stated that Europe and Ukraine's security are tied together, saying "There is no security in Europe without the security of Ukraine."
Talk is Cheap: While Borrell and the EU can offer strong words there has been no promise of troops from European allies if Russian-backed forces incur further on Ukrainian land. For the past eight years, western nations have offered little more than monetary support, sanctions, and strong condemnations of Russian actions.
But Money Does Talk: When asked about EU commitment to Ukraine sovereignty, Borrell highlighted that fact that the EU is pledging another 31 million euros to Ukraine's military, the EU has sent over a billion euros that last several years to Ukraine, and over 80 EU officials have been in Ukraine since 2014 working to reform and improve their civilian security sector.
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Credit: Radio Free Europe
Policy, Politics, and Polarization
Taking Aim at a Former President: This week a district court in Kyiv froze the assets of Petro Poroshenko, who served as president of Ukraine from 2014-2019. This comes after a court charged him with treason on December 20th for allegedly cooperating with non-state terrorist organizations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the country. The court asserts that he helped the organizations sell over $54.5 million of coal during his presidency. Poroshenko is currently out of the country but promised to return by January 17th.
Positive Narratives: Just a month ago Minister Tkschenko spoke at the Kyiv Stratcom about the need to create "positive narratives" surrounding Ukraine.
Too Much Negative Press: As a country most commonly known for its ongoing war, Ukrainian politicians in the country might be extra sensitive to poor portrayals of their country and its citizens.
Cryptocurrency logos. Credit: IMGBin
Money Speaks: Diversifying the Economy
Crypto Capital: Ukraine is becoming a hot spot for cryptocurrency. Earlier this year the government legalized and began regulating cryptocurrency. The administration has even set up a Ministry of Digital Transformation. Big names in the American and British finance sector and ambitious entrepreneurs have already set up shop in Kyiv. Some have been more successful than others, but there seems to be unlimited potential for growth in the market. Ukrainians recognize the potential too and are already the fourth most active in the world in terms of crypto usage.
Turning up the Pressure: Ukrainian and Hungarian leaders signed a deal allowing Ukraine to increase its supply of natural gas by 30%. Prior to 2015, Russia supplied Ukraine with most of their natural gas but doubled the prices after annexing Crimea, which has been one of Russia's go-to methods to obtaining tactical concessions during the ongoing conflict. Since then Ukraine has sought to diversify its natural gas sources. They already have an agreement in place with Slovakia, and this new deal will hopefully help avoid shortages and price increases in the future.
Your Weekly Dose of History
Christmas, in January?: Yes, you read that right. Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th instead of December 25th. The celebration is rooted in the old Julian calendar, which the Russian Empire used until the Bolsheviks changed it in 1918 shortly after seizing power. The difference in days occurred when England adopted the Gregorian calendar in the mid-1700s and removed several days out of the calendar. In non-Orthodox countries, they often refer to January 7th as old Christmas.
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