Ukraine: Daily Briefing – August 9, 2019, 5 PM Kyiv time

Ukraine: Daily Briefing
August 9, 2019, 5 PM Kyiv time
Ukrainian Armed Forces training exercises. 
Photo – Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense
1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported at 12:30 PM Kyiv time that in the last 24 hours, no Ukrainian soldiers were killed or wounded in action. In the last 24 hours, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Donetsk and Luhansk sectors of the front 9 times in total.
2. New Parliament to hold first meeting on August 29
Radio Svoboda reports from the training seminar for MPs elected from the Servant of the People party (in Ukrainian). To view video, please click on image above
Radio Svoboda reports from the training seminar for MPs elected from the Servant of the People party (in Ukrainian). To view video, please click on image above
The first meeting of Ukraine’s new Parliament will take place on August 29. Ukrinform reported, “This decision was made during the first meeting of the preparatory deputy group in the Parliament on Friday, August 9, an Ukrinform correspondent reports.
             ‘Our political force proposes to hold the first meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of the ninth convocation on August 29 in order not to delay this process, so that the Parliament starts working as soon as possible and so that we can show the effective work of the new Parliament,’ Chairman of the Servant of the People political party Dmytro Razumkov who led this group said.”
 3. Poland warns EU countries against rapprochement with Russia

Reuters reported on August 8, “Poland wants to make sure a new European Commission stays tough on Russia and is concerned that some European Union countries are growing increasingly friendly toward its eastern neighbor, even as the Kremlin cracks down on dissent.
           ‘It seems that some European leaders are unaware that their activities are read as an attempt to warm up relations, and if they are, their politics are misguided,’ Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Reuters in an interview. […]
           Warming relations with Russia could signal to the Kremlin that Europe will let it get away with escalations, such as the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, over time, setting a dangerous precedent, said Przydacz.
         ‘There is no reason to invite Russian leaders to different parties or dances together…measures were put in place to encourage Russia to move away from its aggressive politics to the east of Europe…and it hasn’t even taken half a step back.’
          Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin danced arm-in-arm with Austria’s foreign minister at the time Karin Kneissl at her wedding, sparking condemnation by opposition critics that said it undermined the West’s stance against Russia.
         Earlier this year, Heinz-Christian Strache was forced to step down as Austrian vice chancellor and head of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) after German media published secretly filmed footage from a 2017 dinner party at which Strache met a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece. In the footage, Strache appears to offer to fix state contracts in return for political or financial help.
         Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also denied last month that his League party sought millions of euros from Russian investors through a secret oil deal.
         Przydacz said the bloc under new leadership should listen to the concerns of central and eastern European countries as well as the Baltic states, given their proximity to Russia and their historical experiences with the country. […] Poland’s foreign and defense policy is built largely on Russian deterrence, especially in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
         Przydacz said a Kremlin decree fast-tracking Russian passports for those living in Donbas […] was another recent step showing Russia’s increasing escalation in aggression.
        He added that, once the new European Commission is finalised in the autumn, a more concrete joint European Union position on Russian passports in Donbas could be possible. Several EU countries, including Poland and Estonia, have either condemned Russia’s actions or individually said they will not recognize the passports.”
4. President Zelenskyy promotes Ukraine to Turkish business community, but experts skeptical
President Zelenskyy speaks in Istanbul. 
Photo – Office of the President of Ukraine

The Kyiv Post reported, “Ukraine will become a haven for foreign business in the next five years – at least, that’s what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thinks. And the president wants Turkish business to help the country’s economy grow, he said during the Ukrainian-Turkish Business Forum in Istanbul on Aug. 8.
         ‘My team and I have a full mandate to make changes,’ Zelensky said during his appearance at the forum, part of his official state visit to Turkey. ‘We already have a majority in parliament, soon we will form a professional government and we will appoint a decent prosecutor general,’ he added.
         Armed with promises to bring real changes to Ukraine, Zelenskyy offered a short vision of his economic plan and invited Turkish businesspeople to invest. But experts say the situation is not as optimistic as he portrayed it. Zelenskyy announced that the economy will grow by 5-7 percent annually during his term and the government will allocate $20 billion to repair 24,000 kilometers of roads, increase the number of operating airports to 15 and develop and increase the capacity of five seaports.
         This fall, parliament will adopt a new law on concessions to enable the state to cooperate with the private sector, he added. However, Ukraine’s outgoing infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, sharply criticized these statements, suggesting Zelenskyy misunderstands the infrastructure situation in the country.
         ‘The president promised to ‘increase’ the number of operating airports to 15. But now we (already) have 16 of them,’ Omelyan wrote on his Facebook page. Moreover, according to the National Transport Strategy of Ukraine, the country should have 50 airports by 2030. ‘So, we will reduce the number of them?’ Omelyan asked.
         Omelyan said he sees another, much more urgent problem: Ukraine doesn’t have enough aircraft to operate domestic flights. To solve this problem, the Ukrainian government can support the construction of regional aircraft – planes designed to transport up to 100 passengers on short flights – at Antonov, a state aircraft manufacturing company in Kyiv, Omelyan said.
         On seaports, the minister was also surprised by Zelensky’s remarks. Omelyan did not understand what it means ‘to develop five seaports’ and said that Ukraine currently has 13 seaports, 5 more in Russian-annexed Crimea, and another one in Vietnam. ‘We develop five, and the rest what? We close? Forget? Sell? Lose?’ Omelyan wrote.
         In addition, the plan to spend $20 billion on infrastructure is not what Ukraine previously planned. According to the same Transport Strategy, the country expected to spend $30 billion in the same period. ‘We want to spend $10 billion less on infrastructure than planned?’ asked Omelyan.
         As a final point, the minister said that, starting next year, Ukraine will be able to repair 10,000 kilometers of roads annually because the country now has a special Road Fund capable of financing it. ‘Twenty-four thousand divided by five will be 4,800 kilometers of roads per year. That is, twice less than planned,’ he wrote.
         According to Zelenskyy, the government also has plans to legalize gambling in casinos and five-star hotels. This will help stimulate tourism in the regions on the Black Sea. ‘Let’s develop the Black Sea tourism brand together in the world,’ he said. Again, experts were critical of Zelenskyy’s plans.
          Gambling has officially been outlawed in Ukraine since 2009, but many businesses officially registered as lotteries are de facto running casinos. Legal loopholes allowed them to start operating in 2012, when the Ukrainian parliament relaxed the gambling ban. As a result, big casinos are unlikely to raise revenues for the state, as most gambling is located in the lotteries, political expert Valerii Klochok told Channel 24. ‘That’s where all the money is,’ he said.
          During his speech in Istanbul, the Ukrainian president reaffirmed that the government plans to lift the moratorium on farmland sales by the end of the year to create a land market of 40 million hectares. ‘It will help to create a market of the best land in the world in terms of quality,’ he said.

According to financial analyst Serhiy Fursa, if Ukraine were to have a real land market, prices could reach $5,000 per hectare in the next 3-5 years. Ukraine could even possibly reach land prices like in Poland: around $10,000 per hectare. But on one condition: fair courts. ‘The rule of law is still a problem,’ said Fursa in an Aug. 8 interview with Novoe Vremya magazine.”

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