Trump’s ratings slightly down after Ukraine scandal as Warren surges to tie Biden in Democratic polls



While there has only been a modest drop in Trump’s ratings, support for impeachment has risen sharply.
AAP/EPA/Jim Lo Scalzo

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

About two weeks since a transcript of Donald Trump’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian president was revealed, his approval with all polls in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate is 41.6% and his disapproval is 54.0%. Trump’s net approval is -12.4%, down 2.5% since last fortnight’s article.




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Warren placed second after Biden, as Trump’s ratings rise. But could the impeachment scandal make a difference?


With polls of registered or likely voters, Trump’s approval is 42.2% and his disapproval is 53.9%, for a net approval of -11.7%, down 3.4% since last fortnight. The Ukraine scandal has had a small but discernible impact on Trump’s ratings.

As I wrote previously, I did not expect this scandal to have a serious or lasting impact, as better-educated voters already detest Trump, while lower-educated voters are far more focused on the economy. Indeed, after an initial drop, Trump’s ratings have stabilised recently.

While there has only been a modest drop in Trump’s ratings, support for impeachment has risen sharply. Before the Ukraine scandal, 51.0% opposed impeachment and 40.1% supported it, according to the FiveThirtyEight tracker. Currently, 49.2% support impeachment while 43.3% are opposed. Support has risen strongly among Democrats and non-aligned voters, but only modestly with Republicans.

The vast majority of Trump disapprovers now support impeachment, but the Ukraine scandal has not converted many Trump approvers into disapprovers.

Despite the increased public support for impeachment, there is very little chance that the Senate, which Republicans control 53-47, will reach the two-thirds majority required to remove Trump from office before the November 2020 election. In the RealClearPolitics average, Trump has well over 80% support for the Republican presidential nomination, with the other three candidates at about 2% each. Republican senators are very unlikely to go against their party’s base.

In head-to-head polling against the three leading Democrats in RealClearPolitics averages, Trump trails Joe Biden by 7.4 points (7.7 points last fortnight). He trails Elizabeth Warren by 4.5 points (4.0) and Bernie Sanders by 5.2 (4.8).

US jobs situation still good

Last week, there were worse than expected September industry surveys for the services sector in both the US and Europe. However, the US added 136,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.5% – the lowest since 1969. The one negative aspect of this jobs report was that hourly pay dropped 1c after increasing 11c in August.

The low US unemployment rate is not just because of low participation. The employment population ratio – the percentage of eligible Americans who are employed – increased 0.1% to 61.0% in September, its highest since December 2008, near the beginning of the global financial crisis.

My view is that, bad as Trump’s ratings are, they would be worse without the strong US economy; this explains why Trump’s ratings improved during September as the recession talk from August faded. If the US jobs reports continue to have good news until November 2020, Trump will have a reasonable chance of re-election.

There are two economic policies being pursued by the right that could undermine the global economy. One is the US/China trade war, where talks this week are unlikely to make progress. The other is Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit. A no-deal Brexit may occur on October 31, but is more likely after an election that current polling indicates the UK Conservatives would win.

Warren surges to tie with Biden in Democratic polls

In the RealClearPolitics average of Democratic national polls, Warren and Biden are virtually tied, with Warren at 26.6% and Biden 26.4%. It is the first lead for anyone other than Biden. Sanders is at 14.6%, Pete Buttigieg at 5.6%, Kamala Harris at 4.4% and nobody else has more than 3%.

Since the September 12 Democratic debate, Warren’s support has increased at the expense of Biden, Harris and Sanders. Some of Sanders’ recent drop is probably due to his October 1 heart attack.

In early state polls, there have been no new polls since last fortnight in Iowa, with Warren leading Biden by 23.0% to 20.3%. In New Hampshire, the two polls taken since the September 12 debate have Warren leading Biden by one to two points.




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The big exception to Warren’s rise is South Carolina, which is the last of the four early states to vote on February 29. Owing to strong black support for Biden, he has a lead over Warren exceeding 20 points in three post-debate polls in that state.

The next Democratic debate will be held on October 15. Contrary to my previous expectations, the 12 qualifying candidates will not be split over two nights, but instead appear all on one night. The threshold has been increased for November and future debates, and so far eight candidates have qualified for the November 20 debate.

Brexit, Austrian, Portuguese and Canadian elections

I wrote for The Poll Bludger about Brexit and the September 29 Austrian election results, in which the conservatives won, but need an ally to reach a majority. My latest Poll Bludger article is about Brexit and the October 6 Portuguese election, a rare triumph for the left in a democratic world that is trending to the right.

The Canadian election will be held on October 21. The CBC Poll Tracker has the Conservatives and Liberals virtually tied in voting intentions, with the Liberals ahead on seats, but short of a majority.

Australian Newspoll: 51-49 to Coalition

The latest Australian Newspoll, conducted September 26-29 from a sample of 1,660, gave the Coalition a 51-49 lead, unchanged since early September. Primary votes were 42% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (down two), 13% Greens (up one, and their best Newspoll since 2015) and 6% One Nation (up one).

Scott Morrison’s net approval was +4, down six points. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was -1, up four points. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 50-31 (48-28 previously).

Voters favoured prioritising the US relationship over China by 56% to 25%. All figures from The Poll Bludger.The Conversation

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Bellingcat’s report on MH17 shows citizens can and will do intelligence work



Large groups inherently possess more diverse knowledge, expertise and perspectives.
Tim de Groot/Unsplash

Tim van Gelder, University of Melbourne

Amid the news last week that the perpetrators responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) will be put to trial next March, a report was released identifying further suspects responsible for escorting the missile to and from the launch site.

Who were the investigators behind the report? The CIA? MI6? No. It was Bellingcat, a large group of mostly volunteers working from laptops using only information available to anyone with an internet connection.

In February, Bellingcat also identified a third suspect alleged to have been involved in the poisoning of MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the United Kingdom last year.

Bellingcat describes itself as citizen journalists, but its activities illustrate a growing phenomenon my colleagues and I call “citizen intelligence.” This is work that would count as intelligence gathering or analysis within an intelligence organisation, but it’s undertaken by citizens operating outside the traditional intelligence ecosystem.




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The rise of citizen intelligence

Citizen intelligence has been made possible by the internet in various ways.

Since its advent, we’ve seen an explosion of “open source” information. That is, data that’s accessible without any special organisational privileges. For example, just by opening Google Earth you can view satellite data of the kind only available to analysts in government agencies not many years ago.

There are now free new tools for gathering and analysing these vast troves of information, such as the analysis platform Maltego. Aspiring citizen analysts can now train themselves using resources available online or in workshops offered by various organisations.

Expertise in intelligence work is no longer the preserve of those hired and trained by traditional organisations. Powerful collaboration platforms, such as Google Docs, allow interested individuals to work effectively together, even when scattered around the world.

It could get even bigger

We’ve all seen how global, cloud-based marketplaces such as Amazon, Airbnb and Uber have transformed their respective domains. Citizen intelligence could grow even faster if a suitable marketplace is developed. At the SWARM Project, we’ve begun exploring the potential design of a platform where those seeking intelligence can transact with those willing to provide it.

What might that look like? A marketplace for citizen intelligence could be built on a “sponsored challenge” crowdsourcing model.

Imagine an organisation with an intelligence question. Say, for example, the organisation wants to identify potential threats to a proposed infrastructure development in an unstable region. The organisation pays to have the question posed as a challenge on the platform, with a prize for the best answer. Groups of citizen analysts self-organize and submit reports. When the deadline is up, the best report garners the prize – and bragging rights.




Read more:
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Why crowdsourced citizen intelligence could be effective

There are reasons to think that crowdsourced citizen intelligence could match, or outperform, traditional intelligence organisations on some kinds of tasks. Traditional organisations have advantages, such as access to classified information and highly trained analysts, but crowdsourcing has compensating strengths.

Scale

Many intelligence organisations are small and under-resourced for the number and complexity of issues they are supposed to handle. Crowdsourced intelligence can potentially draw from much larger pools of citizens. For example, the analytics crowdsourcing platform Kaggle has over a million people signed up, and it gets literally thousands of teams competing on big challenges.

Diversity

With scale comes diversity. Large groups inherently possess more diverse knowledge, expertise and perspectives. A question like the one in the example above might require fluency in an obscure dialect, or specific technical know-how. No intelligence agency can maintain in-house everything it might need for any problem.

Agility

Crowds can be more agile than agencies, which are risk-averse bureaucracies. For example, individuals can more quickly access and use many of the latest analytical methods and tools.

Passion

Perhaps most importantly, intelligence work by unpaid volunteers is driven primarily by passion. Passion certainly exists within agencies, but is often stifled in various ways.




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The SWARM Project ran a tournament-style experiment in 2018 that illustrated how everyday citizens can sometimes beat the professionals. Teams tackled four tough, fictional intelligence problems over four weeks. Some teams were made up of analysts provided by organisations with intelligence functions, some of analysts recruited via Facebook, and some of citizens (non-analysts) recruited via Facebook.

On average, the citizen teams outperformed the professional analysts – and some of the citizen reports were astonishingly good.

How this could affect the intelligence industry

Citizen intelligence will likely create some headaches for intelligence agencies. For example decision makers might increasingly look to citizen sources over formal intelligence agencies – particularly where citizen intelligence delivers reports more quickly, or with more “convenient” findings.

On the other hand, citizen intelligence could have a lot to offer intelligence organisations. A suitably designed marketplace might enable the traditional agencies to take advantage of the power inherent in the crowd. Such a platform could be a “force multiplier”, at least for certain aspects of intelligence.

In view of these potential threats and opportunities, the Australian intelligence community should get on the front foot, shaping the future of citizen intelligence rather than just reacting to it.


This is a condensed version of a presentation given at the Technology Surprise Forum, Safeguarding Australia Summit, Canberra May 2019The Conversation

Tim van Gelder, Enterprise Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MH17 charges: who the suspects are, what they’re charged with, and what happens next


Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

Four men – three Russians and one Ukrainian – will be charged in relation to the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which killed all 298 passengers and crew on board.

Dutch prosecutors will launch a criminal trial in The Hague on March 9, 2020. But the accused are beyond the jurisdiction of the court, and will most likely be tried in absentia. This means the accused will not be physically present in the court room.

The prosecutors argue the four accused were jointly responsible for obtaining a BUK TELAR missile launcher (a launcher for self-propelled, surface-to-air missiles allegedly owned by the Russian military) in the city of Kursk, and launching it from Ukraine.

They say the four men are responsible for the atrocity because they had the intention to shoot down an aircraft, and obtained the missile launcher for that purpose.




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While investigators have not accused any suspects of actually firing the missile, they say in future they may identify others with that responsibility.

For the victims and their loved ones, these Dutch criminal trials present the best hope of legal acknowledgement for the tragedy.

The MH17 atrocity

On July 17, 2014, flight MH17 was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over Ukraine.

The Joint Investigative Team (JIT), led by Dutch authorities and comprising investigators from Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, concluded in 2016 that the flight was shot down by a Russian BUK missile.

The JIT identified the launch location as a field in eastern Ukraine, which at the time was in territory controlled by pro-Russian fighters.

The countries central to the investigation – including Australia, which lost 38 people – and the victims’ families have explored a range of legal strategies to assign blame for the attack.

Then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop initially proposed a war crimes trial for MH17, but this was vetoed by Russia in the UN Security Council.

Some civil claims on behalf of victims’ families are ongoing before the European Court of Human Rights.

And hearings are ongoing before the International Court of Justice, where Ukraine seeks to make a case against Russia. Ukraine cites the MH17 atrocity as characteristic of broader Russian aggression and lack of respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and independence.

Russia’s response

The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected this week’s announcement, in line with its earlier rejections of the JIT conclusions. It said:

Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier called the crash a “terrible tragedy”, but said Russia bore no responsibility for it.

Russian officials have claimed they were prepared to assist the investigation but had been “frozen out” of it.

Who are the accused?

Three of the four accused are Russian nationals, believed to be living in Russia.

Igor Girkin is a former colonel in the Russian security service. At the time of the atrocity, Girkin was the minister of defence in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russian separatist region of Ukraine.

The other two Russian accused, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, are former Russian military intelligence agents who worked under Girkin.

Leonid Kharchenko is the only Ukrainian national accused. Investigators are not certain of his current location. At the time of the atrocity, Kharchenko led a separatist combat unit.

The specific charges in relation to the four named suspects will be:

  1. Causing the crash of flight MH17, resulting in the death of all persons on board, punishable pursuant to Article 168 of the Dutch Criminal Code

  2. The murder of the 298 persons on board of flight MH17, punishable pursuant to Article 289 of the Dutch Criminal Code.

The investigation is ongoing and continues to call for witnesses to assist.

What are the prospects for the trial?

Dutch investigators will issue international arrest warrants for the four accused and place them on international wanted lists. But they won’t issue extradition requests because they know already that no extradition of nationals is available under the Ukrainian or Russian constitutions.

It seems impossible for the Dutch court to gain actual jurisdiction over the Russian accused. Potentially, should Ukrainian authorities apprehend Kharchenko, he could be tried via video-link.

The Netherlands and Ukraine have entered into an agreement that would permit such an arrangement and – should Kharchenko be convicted – allow for his imprisonment in Ukraine.




Read more:
Challenges persist for multiple legal actions regarding MH17


The charges and any penalties originate in Dutch, rather than international, criminal law. Convictions for murder or the intentional downing of an aircraft could result in sentences of up to life imprisonment.

It’s fair to question the value of a prosecution without a court having actual jurisdiction over the accused. The only real answer is that such a trial would enable the presentation and adjudication of evidence and the judgement of a court as to whether charges are made out.

A memorial for the victims of MH17 in the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Shutterstock

As time goes, the chances of successful prosecutions decline. Meanwhile, interested countries and the victims’ families continue to call for legal redress for the atrocity.

It is also legitimate to ask whether a court can ensure a fair trial for accused persons tried in absentia.

Although it is not explicitly prohibited by international human rights law, the absence of defendants and presumably any legal representative from the courtroom means the accused will not hear the evidence against them or have the ability to present a defence.

Given the four named accused are beyond the actual jurisdiction of the Dutch courts, it can be argued that they (and, at least in the case of Russia, their country) are wilfully avoiding the process of justice. This may be, for some or many observers, sufficient justification for trying them in their absence.The Conversation

Amy Maguire, Associate Professor, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We war-gamed an escalation of the Ukraine-Russia crisis – here’s what it taught us about the real world



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‘Games without frontiers, war without tears …’
Kirillir_makarov

Holger Nehring, University of Stirling and Megan Dee, University of Stirling

It is 9am on a chilly March morning. Delegates from across the world have assembled for an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s main decision-making body. The main item on the agenda: an update from the Supreme Allied Commander Europe on Russian escalations in Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe, to determine NATO’s response.

No one doubts the gravity of the situation. Russian forces are moving west to occupy parts of Ukraine beyond the Donbas region and the Crimea. There have also been severe Russian cyber attacks on German infrastructure, while Vladimir Putin has threatened to invade Estonia. NATO’s secretary general has asked one of his predecessors, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, to join the meeting and share advice.

Do not adjust your set: this meeting took place, but it was a simulation – set in a very near future in which the Ukraine has joined NATO and the UK has left the EU.

These kinds of exercise are conducted regularly by NATO and national armies to anticipate what might happen in the “fog of war”. Standing in for the NATO headquarters in Brussels on this occasion was the University of Stirling in central Scotland. The delegates were students on the university’s masters programme in international conflict and cooperation, and the doctorate in diplomacy.

Lord Robertson was the only person playing himself. He briefed delegates under Chatham House rules on his time chairing NATO, including the historic decision on September 12, 2001 to invoke collective defensive action under Article 5 of the founding treaty.

Lord Robertson holds forth.
University of Stirling

Immersed in NATO’s engine room, our delegates had to strike a balance during two days of negotiations between countries advocating conflict resolution and those inclined to deterrence – if not pre-emptive action. As well as informing the students’ learning, it produced the following insights for the real world.

1. Russian capabilities

Delegates had to assess Russian defensive capabilities using real-life data. They concluded that while Russia looks strong on a country-by-country comparison, its armed forces remain stretched and are sometimes poorly equipped. Russia would probably not be able to sustain a war with NATO troops over several months, and would likely be challenged by fighting on two fronts.

Having said that, the country’s forces have recently modernised, making them more effective than a few years ago. Russia is also closer than most NATO powers to Ukraine and the Baltics, so could mobilise more quickly and potentially gain strategic advantages.

NATO action in Ukraine would be complicated by a low bridge that Russia has opened connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. This makes it difficult for larger ships to move between Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and the Mediterranean. Russian expertise in cyber attacks and creating confusion by spreading fake news could also create disunity among NATO members.

Takeaway: the Russian bear is frail but can still bite.

2. Expect complexity

Countries in our simulation negotiated according to national interests. The multilateral negotiation splintered into smaller discussions as mini-alliances emerged. For example, Turkey – with its improving relations with Russia and exposure to potential refugees – was so conciliatory to Moscow that its NATO membership became questionable.

On the other side of the spectrum, Ukraine and also Romania, which feels threatened by Russian aggression in the Black Sea region, sought immediate offensive action. Alliances like these weren’t always visible to the outside world. They complicated negotiations, especially when such countries had essentially non-negotiable aims.

Diplomacy in action.
University of Stirling

Takeaway: things are not always what they seem, even within a negotiation. Try and stay flexible, and don’t rely on media reports about counterparts’ interests.

3. Events, events, events

Just like in real life, our delegates had to keep monitoring an internal news feed. In one announcement, Russia began mobilising after hard-line statements from certain NATO members leaked to the media on day one of the negotiation. Several times, discussions had to start from scratch as delegations changed priorities and strategies.

Takeaway: constantly ask yourself how events affect your own position and those of your counterparts.

4. Clarity under pressure

With full military intervention and occupation of Ukraine by Russia on the cards by the middle of day two, NATO allies had to deploy ground troops or risk ceding ground to Moscow. Issues agonised over the day before became less relevant as delegations were forced to compromise in the interests of collective action.

Takeaway: time pressure can make decision-making hot-headed, but can lead to clarity of purpose. Negotiators who understand this can use it to their advantage.

5. EU security

As EU members of our fictional North Atlantic Council discussed issues among themselves, we witnessed how the EU has become a geopolitical actor with “state-like” qualities. Before committing to security actions through NATO, EU members negotiated with each other and sought a coherent position.

EU and yours.
Alexandros Michailidis

One important dimension in the real world is the EU’s Russia sanctions, which are slightly different to US sanctions. With Ukraine now also party to an EU Association Agreement, the EU is demonstrating its capability to project power abroad.

Takeaway: the EU is developing its own geopolitical and security role in Europe, with potential consequences for NATO.

6. The UK squeeze

Within NATO, the UK has generally mediated between the US and usually softer EU positions. Our simulation showed that after Brexit, despite its important role as a nuclear-armed NATO member, the UK will likely feel squeezed between the US and EU.

Takeaway: the implications of Brexit for the UK in NATO deserve more attention.

7. Refugee risks

In our simulation NATO members closer to Russia, such as Poland and Hungary, were particularly worried that military action in Ukraine would lead to a large number of refugees – with potentially serious domestic political consequences.

Takeaway: we don’t always take enough account of the linkages between military and human security.

8. Take positive decisions

When the BBC war-gamed a similar scenario several years ago, the UK got drawn into a nuclear war. Our fictional delegates managed to avoid such awful outcomes by using what deterrent power they had. They combined mobilisation with the offer of talks in such a way that Russia backed off. Despite some hawkish pressure, the situation was mostly defused by dominant countries such as the US as well as conciliatory EU voices.

Takeaway: On March 18, on the fifth anniversary of annexation, NATO reiterated its view that Crimea is Ukrainian territory. Meanwhile, hostilities continue in Donbas. The apparent stalemate in Ukraine could change overnight – not least with the presidential election at the end of March. If so, NATO members will have to make a choice, despite the fact that Ukraine is not currently a member of the alliance. As became clear to our participants, the one thing you can’t do in a moment of international crisis is to refuse to act if your interests are at stake.The Conversation

Holger Nehring, Professor in Contemporary European History, University of Stirling and Megan Dee, Lecturer in International Politics, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ukraine: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from Eastern Ukraine.

For more visit:
https://christiannews.net/2018/04/18/eastern-ukraines-evangelical-churches-face-closure-threat/
https://www.mnnonline.org/news/eastern-ukraines-evangelical-churches-face-closure-threat/

Four years after the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine: key gains and losses


File 20180406 125191 7dplxv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
In Kyiv in February 2014, riot police line up opposite crosses marking the deaths of protesters. More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Euromaidan protests began in late 2013.
Christiaan Triebert/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Olga Oleinikova, University of Sydney

This article is part of the Revolutions and Counter Revolutions series, curated by Democracy Futures as a joint global initiative between the Sydney Democracy Network and The Conversation. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


On November 21 2013, massive protests under the European Union flag erupted in the central square of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. The Euromaidan revolution demanded democratic values and decried the kleptocratic regime of the then president, Viktor Yanukovych. In the next three months, a hundred activists were killed, Russia annexed Crimea and supported breakaway forces in a war that tore apart eastern Ukraine.

Violence continues today. By late 2017, more than 10,000 people had been killed and an estimated 2 million forcibly displaced. Nevertheless, the Euromaidan revolution has resulted in democratic and social gains, but also significant setbacks, for Ukraine.

Four gains

1. The birth of civil society

Euromaidan was the catalyst for the birth of civil society in Ukraine. Opinion polls suggest that, since the protests, Ukrainians have higher levels of patriotism and trust in each other, and are more optimistic about the nation’s future. The level of civic activity and desire to contribute to the nation’s development have increased.

In October 2015, 41% of Ukrainians reported being more willing to donate (12% were less willing), while 33% were more willing to protect their rights, freedoms and dignity (compared to 8% whose readiness declined). Furthermore, 22% were more willing to volunteer in the local community and 18% reported an increased willingness to join a civil society organisation.

In 2012, 23% of Ukrainians made donations, increasing to 41% in 2014 and 47% in 2015. This growth is significant given the impoverished conditions people faced around the country.

Unfortunately, these civic gains have failed to translate into real political activity. Low turnouts at elections (especially among 18 to 29-year-olds, the most active and educated citizens) and citizens voting according to populist television advertising or accepting “gifts” in exchange for “correct” voting are all reasons for the slow pace of progressive reform, and the even slower replacement of the political elite.

2. The Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement

On September 1 2017, the association agreement between the European Union and Ukraine, which was negotiated between 2007 and 2011 and signed in 2014, finally entered into full force. The agreement is seen within the country as the main tool for bringing Ukraine closer to the EU because it promotes stronger political ties and economic links, as well as respect for common European values.

The hope is that the agreement, including its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), will provide a framework for modernising Ukraine’s trade relations and economic development by opening up markets and harmonising laws, standards and regulations with EU and international norms.

In August 2017, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said:

We have only one road to follow – a wide Euro-Atlantic highway leading to membership in the European Union and NATO.

3. Visa-free travel in the EU

The EU lifted visa requirements for Ukrainians on June 11 2017. The move sparked joy among Ukrainians and raised their expectations for a better future in an aspiring EU member country.

All Ukrainian citizens with biometric passports can now enter the Schengen area without a visa for up to 90 days for tourism or business. However, they are not allowed to work in the EU.

4. Reform program begins

In the summer of 2016, long-awaited judicial reform began. Amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution on the judiciary and a few corresponding laws were adopted. However, it is too early to evaluate these changes.

Ukraine has also taken steps towards greater transparency to combat corruption. Government officials are now obliged to declare their assets and property. The results have displayed a shocking concentration of wealth in one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Ukraine’s online procurement system, ProZorro, has already become a global brand, with the World Bank planning to adopt it for its Ukrainian projects.

Still, these efforts are only a small first step towards eliminating corruption. Education, energy and regional reforms are yet to take place. These will require serious financing and take a long time.

Five losses

1. War

Ukraine’s decision to pursue a “Western direction” caused a wave of social cleavages in cross-border, multi-ethnic southern and eastern Ukraine. The tensions resulted in the Russian annexation of Crimea and war around two Russian-backed breakaway provinces.

Every day, thousands cross the line of contact, between areas controlled by Ukrainian government and separatist forces, to visit relatives and obtain basic goods and services.
EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operation/Flickr, CC BY-ND

The war has touched every facet of social, economic and political life in the country. Here are some telling facts:

  • 10,225 citizens had been killed as of August 15 2017

  • 1.4 million people had been internally displaced by August 2015

  • Ukraine’s population is projected to shrink to 36 million by 2050

  • emigration has increased significantly in the last four years.

2. Economic decline

Due to the war in the Donbass region and the breakdown of relations with Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner, the economy shrank by 6.8% in 2014 and 10.4% in 2015, according to the state statistics service. The National Bank of Ukraine stated a 11.6% decline in 2015, while the World Bank registered a 12% shrinkage.

In 2016, the economic collapse was halted as GDP inched up 0.1% in the first quarter and 1.4% in the second. However, these marginal gains were short-lived, as the economy shrank again by 6.1% by April 2017. Even if the economy now manages to sustain 3-4% annual growth, it will take four to five years to return to 2013.

3. Remaining corruption

Post-Euromaidan Ukraine has seen little change in state and institutional corruption. The several anti-corruption institutions created in the past four years are scattered and the country still lacks anti-corruption courts and effective preventive tools. Anti-corruption activists are still subject to prosecutions and attacks.

Ukraine only managed to move up one point in the global Corruption Perceptions Index in 2016 and 2017, ranking 131 and 130 out of 176 and 180 nations respectively.

Disappointment with the government and poverty levels is growing. In 2016, only 9% of Ukrainians were satisfied with the president’s actions, with 70% dissatisfied. [LINK to poll] Only 5% were satisfied with the government and 58% were not. And only 2% were satisfied with parliament’s performance, with 83% dissatisfied.

4. Setbacks for freedom of speech and the free media

With the war in eastern Ukraine came an information war between Ukraine and Russia. As a result, freedom of speech and the media in Ukraine has significantly deteriorated in the past four years, with unavoidable radicalisation on both sides of politics.

There is little media diversity, as just a few oligarchs control the top outlets. President Poroshenko, for instance, owns his own television channel.

Anti-government views are often deemed “pro-Russian”, effectively chilling freedom of expression. The intolerance of opposition media is violently visible. There have been protests and scandal over “pro-Russian views”, with broadcast studios being burnt.

Dozens of journalists have been denied entry to Ukraine. Human Rights Watch has urged Ukraine to protect free media and drop its ban on Russian and Western journalists.

5. A wary EU

Ukraine will definitely not be able to become a member of the EU in the next 20 to 25 years, and not of NATO either. – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in March 2016

While Juncker did not explain why Ukraine would have to wait so long, his speech was aimed at reassuring Dutch voters that the association agreement with Ukraine was not a step towards quick EU membership.

In April 2016, 61% of votes in a Dutch referendum rejected the agreement (a 32% turnout was barely enough for the result to be valid), in a rebuke to their government and the EU establishment. The broad political, trade and defence treaty – already signed by the Dutch government and approved by all other EU nations, along with Ukraine – provisionally took effect in January 2016.

A pro-EU rally attracted a huge crowd in Kyiv on November 24 2013, but membership now appears to be a long way off.
Ivan Bandura/Flickr, CC BY

A recent opinion poll suggests that 58% Europeans support Ukraine joining NATO, and 48% support Ukraine joining the EU. But, in 2015, when the first such poll was held, a majority (55%) favoured Ukraine becoming an EU member. Today, the idea is best supported in Lithuania and Poland (68% and 67% respectively), and least supported in the Netherlands (27%). The level of support in France, Germany and the UK is less than half of the people polled.

Tracking the results of opinion polls on Ukraine joining the European Union.

Evidently, the post-Euromaidan government efforts failed to make the case in the West for Ukraine to gain EU membership. Whether the EU will admit Ukraine (and when) is a big question. Within Ukraine, plenty of work remains to be done to ensure the success of its ambitious plans for economic growth, modernisation and accelerated democratisation.


The ConversationYou can read other articles in the series here.

Olga Oleinikova, Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Director of Ukraine Democracy Initiative, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Challenges persist for multiple legal actions regarding MH17



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Reuters/Michael Kooren

Amy Maguire, University of Newcastle

Multiple parallel actions are ongoing with the aim of achieving truth and justice for the 298 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The flight was shot down over Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The Conversation

An investigative team, led by the Dutch aviation authority and endorsed by the Australian government, concluded that the aircraft was shot down by a BUK missile. More than 100 individuals were identified in the 2016 report as linked to the incident. The investigation is ongoing.

Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, advocated for a war crimes tribunal to apportion blame for the incident. However, this proposal was vetoed by Russia in the UN Security Council.

This week, focus has turned to an action lodged in the European Court of Human Rights by lawyer Jerry Skinner on behalf of 33 relatives of MH17 victims. Skinner claims that the application has reached the stage of “ready for judicial determination”.

As reported last year, each applicant is seeking A$10 million in compensation from Russia. The claim is that Russia is responsible for violating the right to life of those killed due to its alleged supply of the missile that was launched from Ukraine, bringing down the aircraft.

However, the case lodged by Skinner is not yet listed in the court’s database. It is unclear how far the application has progressed but it certainly faces a range of major obstacles. The status of “ready for judicial determination” does not appear to be an official stage of proceedings in the court.

The European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959 and sits in Strasbourg. It has jurisdiction to hear complaints from individuals and countries, alleging violations by countries that are party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments, which are formally binding on the countries subject to them. It receives more than 50,000 applications each year.

The application from Ayler and others is not the first to be lodged in the court in relation to Flight MH17. The case of Ioppa v Ukraine was lodged with the court in 2016.

The four applicants in that case are family members of three of the passengers killed on board Flight MH17. They have complained against Ukraine, rather than Russia. Specifically, they argue Ukraine violated their relatives’ right to life by failing to close the airspace above the military conflict zone that was active in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The applicants allege that Ukrainian authorities intentionally failed to close the airspace despite their knowledge of the dangers posed to civilians travelling over Ukraine in passenger aircraft.

The application is currently noted as a “communicated case”, meaning it is awaiting judgment. The court has asked the applicants to identify what they have done to exhaust any available domestic legal remedies before applying to the court – particularly any legal avenues available in Ukraine.

The court has not yet published a preliminary finding on the admissibility of the case. This is the necessary first step before notice will be given to Ukraine to respond to the application. The case is certainly a long way from any potential judgment by a chamber of the court.

The Council of Europe

The European Court of Human Rights is not a creature of the European Union, but rather of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe is a human rights organisation of 47 members, 28 of which are also EU members. All Council of Europe members have signed the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council of Europe seeks to promote goals central to the international human rights framework, including freedom of expression and of the press, minority rights, and the abolition of the death penalty.

As a Council of Europe member, Ukraine is subject to judgement by the European Court of Human Rights. The applicants in Ioppa v Ukraine are all nationals of Germany, another member. Other Council of Europe members central to the MH17 situation are the Netherlands – because the flight originated at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport – and Russia.

Should the European Court of Human Rights find Ukraine liable for a breach of the convention, Ukraine will be bound by that judgment. The committee of ministers of the Council of Europe monitor the execution of judgments by countries subject to them, including compliance with any orders to pay damages to complainants.

However, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe both lack enforcement capacity within the domestic jurisdiction of members, and would rely on diplomatic pressure to compel compliance with a judgment. Such pressure may be more or less effective depending on the status, power and political stance of a given member.

Prospects of success

Skinner has called on Australia to support the Ayler application. Bishop has responded that such litigation is a private matter for the families involved and those they are taking action against.

Bishop’s position is that Australia’s role is to support the ongoing investigation into the causes of the incident and then to pursue a justice mechanism with other countries.

It is important to note that Australia has no standing to join any action before the European Court of Human Rights, as it is not a member of the Council of Europe. However, Skinner argues Australia could exert diplomatic and political pressure to support the action.

Unfortunately for the families engaged in the European Court of Human Rights applications, litigation before that court appears to be a very indirect and unreliable route to gain compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

In the case against Ukraine, beyond the as-yet-uncrossed jurisdictional barriers, it may be necessary to prove that Ukrainian authorities knew of a direct threat to those on board MH17. This is a much more difficult standard to prove than a general awareness of threat to any civilian aircraft.

In action against Russia, setting aside the considerable jurisdictional issues and matters of proof, there is a major added barrier to satisfaction for the applicants. Russia has passed a law permitting it to overrule the decisions of international courts.

The Russian Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that Russia is permitted to overrule international judicial decisions where these would conflict with the Russian Constitution.

Russia disputes the preliminary findings of the ongoing MH17 investigation and rejects suggestions of its responsibility for the atrocity. This suggests that Russia would not accept responsibility for any finding of human rights violations by the European Court of Human Rights.

Beyond the human rights context, yet another action has been launched in the International Court of Justice. In that application, Ukraine asks the International Court of Justice to find Russia responsible for the MH17 disaster and order reparations.

From an international law perspective, the stakes of such an action are higher for Russia than human rights litigation launched by victims’ families. However, Russia’s response is likely to be the same. While the International Court of Justice has progressed the case beyond the initial stage, a finding against Russia may well be disputed and any orders ignored.

Amy Maguire, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Human Rights, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Russia & Crimea: Persecution News Update


The link below is to an article reporting on persecution news from Crimea, now under Russian control.

For more visit:
http://www.forum18.org/archive.php?article_id=2051