Ukrainian football, which managed to survive shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, embarked on a new model of development beginning from the 2000s. The start of the new millennium in Ukrainian football was marked by wealthy businessmen and oligarchs buying or gaining control over the clubs, thereby reflecting the developments that had been occurring in the socio-political and economic life of the country.
Ukrainian football has become a favourite toy of Ukrainian oligarchs. On the one hand, it gave a short-term boost to football with the impression of a flourishing future; but, on the other hand, it has led to disastrous consequences, with many clubs ceasing to exist, a reducing in the number of clubs able to perform in the national tournament, the Premier League, and huge fall in attendances at games, among other things. So, when you see football declining, this means oligarchs have less money than before.
"OLIGARCHIZATION" OF UKRAINIAN FOOTBALL
In the early 1990s, Dynamo Kyiv, the most decorated Ukrainian football club, came under the control of Hryhoriy Surkis, a Ukrainian businessman and politician, and then passed to his younger brother, Ihor Surkis. Rinat Akhmetov, reportedly the richest man in Ukraine, laid his hands on Shakhtar Donetsk FC carrying his team to the biggest success in the history of Ukrainian football in independent times -- victory in the 2007/2008 UEFA CUP tournament.
Other oligarchs have taken the path of these two: Oleksandr Yaroslavskiy, a Kharkiv-based business tycoon, bought Metalist FC from the same city; Ihor Kolomoyskiy, one of the most scandalous oligarchs, became the owner of Dnipro FC, while allegedly keeping the financial influence over the Kryvbas (Kryviy Rih), Volyn (Lutsk) and Arsenal (Kyiv) football clubs. Other clubs have also fallen under the control of oligarchs. Petro Dyminskiy, a Lviv-based businessman, became the president of Karpaty (Lviv), Kostiantyn Zhevaho, a Ukrainian billionaire, became sponsor of Vorskla (Poltava), Yevhen Heller, a businessman and former MP, started financing Zorya (Luhansk), etc.
Because of this, football has turned into a game of oligarchic nature, with clubs playing the role of toys in the hands of business tycoons and being overwhelmingly dependent on the financial injections of their owners.
Such a state of play reflects developments within the country. The oligarchic and clannish model that has been prevailing in Ukraine's economic and socio-political life has moved to national football. Clubs have become a tool to "do a little muscle-flexing" and play political games between competing rivals. Moreover, they also served, in some cases, as a source to partially legalize revenues invested in football, which had been obtained while committing allegedly corrupt activities. Successful clubs have also showed that there is a lot of "free money" in the economy that oligarchs invested into sports entertainment.
On the one side, backed by some local successes on the international arena, the rising flow of well-skilled foreign players coming to Ukraine and increase in the number of fans coming to games, it provided an imaginary conviction that Ukrainian football has become as wealthy as European football.
But, on the other hand, this model showed its key weakness too: total non-resilience amid economic and socio-political hardships that the country may face and great losses that the moguls who own clubs may sustain.
This trend has become most evident after Euromaidan and the start of Russia's war against Ukraine. The harsh economic situation in the country has hit oligarchs as well: they massively began to give up on their football-related commitments by drastically cutting spending on the clubs they owned or even abandoned them. In such harsh circumstances, oligarchs realized that their clubs had become "suitcases without a handle". As a result, just three years on from 2014, and 20 professional clubs in Ukraine ceased to exist, while many others are eking out a miserable existence. Moreover, many people stopped visiting stadiums, which led to record-low attendances at stadiums.
WESTERN MODEL: FOOTBALL AS BUSINESS
One of reasons that led to such bad consequences is that, over the years of their functioning, national clubs had failed to profit from football. Despite the fact that wealthy businessmen owned Ukrainian clubs, football has hardly developed as a business. Contrary to the Western model, where football and sports is seen primarily as a business activity, in Ukraine it was perceived, to one extent or another, as a way of competition between dissenting business and political camps.
In the West, the understanding of football as a business is common knowledge. According to the 2018 Football Money League report provided annually by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, revenues of the 20 most-generating clubs reached EUR 7.9 billion in 2016/2017, with England's Manchester United securing its position at the top of the rating with more than EUR 676 million revenue in 2017. By comparison, the budget for the whole Ukrainian Premier League (UPL) tournament in 2018 was UAH 13 million (approximately USD 480,000), as former UPL head Volodymyr Heninson said.
The English Premier League (EPL) has best mastered such a business model. Among the TOP-5 European football leagues, it is first in terms of revenues. In 2017, EPL's revenues came to EUR 5.340 billion, followed by the Spanish La Liga (EUR 2.899 billion) and German Bundesliga (EUR 2.799 billion). Out of the EPL's entire amount of revenue, more than half (EUR 2.910 billion) was generated by TV broadcasting contracts and EUR 1.250 billion was earned due to sponsorship deals and other commercial activities.
Thus, the Premier League remains the most intensely marketed football league in the world. The EPL has the biggest representation in the TOP-10 list of the most valuable brands, with six clubs being there, alongside 2 Spanish clubs, and just 1 German and 1 French. The marketable value of all players that play in the EPL is also record-breaking and reached EUR 8.3 billion. By comparison, the total market value of all the players of Ukrainian Premier League in 2018/2019, was according to Transfermarkt, evaluated at almost EUR 285 million.
The poor condition of national football has on many occasions been confirmed by club owners. In 2009, Oleksandr Yaroslavskiy, the then-owner of Metalist FC, admitted that his club is "a non-performing asset," saying, moreover, that there will be no possibility to make money out of national football in the next 10 years. Nine years later, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, ex-owner of Dnipro FC, confirmed Yaroslavskiy's words, describing his former football club as a project that leads to losses. "Football [in Ukraine] has almost died," he stressed. In an interview with Viktor Vatsko, one of the most prominent Ukrainian football commentators, in early 2019 Ihor Surkis, President of Dynamo Kyiv, answering the question about the business attractiveness of the club he owns, confessed that only if Dynamo was controlled by a true businessman could it have been seen as an asset capable of generating profit.
Such a trend is confirmed by statistical data. The figures presented by a report by UEFA, the body that runs European football, shows that Ukrainian Premier League clubs suffered losses of EUR 60 million in 2017.
WHAT IS THE WAY OUT
The oligarchic model of football management has been dominant in Ukraine for many years. However, the transformations that have been taking place in Ukrainian football since 2014 may finally become a game changer for the whole sector and lead to its future step-by-step revival.
Financial optimization is one of the tools that may, in the long-term, help Ukrainian football to get back on track. Denys Bosianok, a Ukrainian football commentator, even advocates making football salaries match the real situation in the country
Andriy Kovalenko, in his article for Dilova Stolytsia, predicts that full deoligarchisation and drastic changes in deeply rooted approaches of managing football in Ukraine are key preconditions for the game of millions in the country to begin getting up from its knees. This may, first of all, result in the total decadence of the professional football in Ukraine. However, in the long-run, it might open a new window of opportunities for the clubs, which, after years of stagnation, should realize that living within their means is precisely the way it should be done.
After the rehabilitation, new investors, in cooperation with local authorities and communities, as well as professional football managers, should become the force that will provide a helping hand for a club to survive and develop based on internationally-accepted business models. However, in order for this to become true, the overall economic prosperity of the country should also increase significantly. And the transfer from oligarchic and clannish model in the country's socio-political and economic life is paramount in this regard.
The German model of football management may serve as an example in this situation, subject to certain specifics that Ukrainian football has been living with for years. According to the German legislative framework, at least 51% of shareholders in a club, with some concrete exemptions, should constitute sport communities and football fans. It significantly minimizes the possibility for big moguls, including from those outside the country, to come into German football and establish control over its clubs. On the contrary, this, alongside professional football managers that are involved, provides for maintaining sound economic policy, which allows for profits to be earned from organizing football with further investment in a club's development. Such a model has already confirmed its feasibility: the German Bundesliga ranks third is in the TOP-5 European leagues in terms of revenues it generates (EUR 2.799 billion in 2017), just slightly behind Spain's La Liga.
Thus, the evolution of Ukrainian football from the oligarchic nature of management to the business model, alongside a rise in living standards in the country, may become the factor that will change the rules of the game and contribute to football getting back on track.
Analyst and journalist, Internews Ukraine and UkraineWorld
Russian aggression in Donbas in 2014 drew Europe's attention to this forgotten region. We would like to remind you, however, that the industrial potential of Donbas was built up in 19th-early 20th century and thanks in the main to Western European money.
In the 15th-17th centuries, these territories, previously known as the Wild Steppe, became part of the lands of the Ukrainian Cossacks(link to "Why Are Cossacks the Key to Understanding the Ukrainian Nation?"). As a result of the Russian-Turkish wars of the 17th-18th centuries, these lands were fully incorporated into the Russian Empire. Donbas began to be industrialized in the second half of the 19th century.
According to historians, in the late 19th - early 20th century, more than 800 million gold francs from Belgium, France, Great Britain, Germany, and Switzerland were invested in the economic development of this Ukrainian region. It was part of the Russian Empire at that time.
Cities like Donetsk, Luhansk, Druzhkivka, Yenakiieve, Selidove, Mariupol, Kostyantynivka, Horlivka, Debaltseve, Torez, Kramatorsk, Lysychansk and other cities in the Donbas region received an industrial boost from Europeans during that period.
DONBAS: FOUR SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
In the 19th century, which was when the Donetsk coalfield was discovered (the actual name 'Donbas' only became widespread at the beginning of the 20th century), foreign investment flooded it immediately. The Russian Empire needed new technologies and up-to-date heavy industry to re-equip its military-industrial complex. And in the 1890's Belgium became the first country – an official partner – to create an entire network of coal and steel enterprises, a unified system of rail connections, and even the newest fittings.
Belgian investors put 550 million gold francs in this steppe (and almost desert) region. To recalculate this into today's more, this would be more than 5.5 billion Euro.
Following the Belgians, investors from other European countries came to Ukraine's Donbas. Thus, there were four nominal spheres of influence – the so-called "Belgian province" with its centre in the city of Luhansk, the "German land" in the south of Donetsk Region, the "French region" in its eastern part, and the "English region" in the center.
The Belgians and French owned 90% of the foreign capital in Ukraine's Katerynoslav (now - Dnipro city) province, a large part of which was called Donbas. In 1900, there were about 300 enterprises in Donbas; foreign investors owned most of them. In 1913, the share of foreign capital reached 70% of total coal mining in Donbas and 86% of total ore mining in the Kryvyi Rih basin.
BELGIUM: ⅔ OF ALL INVESTMENTS IN THE COALFIELD
Nowadays, Belgium is a small country, but at that time it was the third biggest nation in the world in terms of its industrial capacity. It had also big colonial ambitions (remember Belgium's Congo in Africa). At the beginning of the 20th century, Belgium was fourth in terms of investment in the Russian Empire and had ⅔ of total investment in the Donetsk coalfield. There was a direct train to Donbas from Brussels.
In 1895, the Russian-Belgian Metallurgical Society was organized in Donbas at the initiative of several Belgian businessmen. In 1914, 31 Belgian companies were already operating there. Ten of them operated in metallurgy, seven – in the mining industry, six – in trams, and five – in producing construction materials and glass.
In Belgium, there were nine provinces at the time, and they called Donbas "the 10th province".
The participation of Belgian investors in the region's development was interrupted by the Bolshevik revolution, which destroyed the concept of "capitalist property"for decades. This fact supposedly became one of the reasons why Belgium recognized the Soviet regime only in 1935.
FRANCE: HUGE INJECTION OF FUNDS BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
The fastest French investments penetrated into the sphere of heavy industry before the Russian Bolshevik revolution. For example, in November 1914, at a meeting of shareholders of the Donetsk-Yuriivsk Metallurgical Society, 36,726 shares were presented. 510 of them belonged to the French, 61 – to Germans, 25 – to Belgians, 75 – to American capitalists, and the remainder belonged to domestic industrialists and bankers. The Alchevsk Iron and Steel Works, as founded in 1895, is one of the most famous enterprises of this society.
Before WWI, according to the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Empire, 159.1 million rubles of foreign capital were invested in the coal mining industry of the country. The share held by coal enterprises located in the Donetsk coalfield amounted to 118.6 million rubles, i.e. 74%. French capital invested 82 million of the figure, Belgian 24 million, and the capital of other countries of Western Europe reached 12.6 million rubles.
As for the metalworking and machine-building industry of Ukraine, at that time foreign capital reached 44.6 million Rubles there. Among them, Belgium invested 20.2 million, England – 12.2 million, Germany – 6.7 million, France – at least 5 million, and other countries – 0.5 million Rubles.
DONETSK: A BRITISH CITY WITH EUROPEAN SALARIES
The heart of the "English region" was the village of Yuzivka, which was founded in 1869, which turned into an industrial city after the construction of a metallurgical plant there. Nowadays this British-based city is known as the city of Donetsk.
In 1869, John Hughes, a British mining engineer from South Wales, founded the Russian-British Novorossiysk (Metallurgical) Society of coal, iron and rail production to raise a capital. In 1870, he moved to the Donbas region where he started to build a plant.
In 1872, the first blast furnace was in operation, and soon, despite the difficult start, the company demonstrated huge success. In 1910, John Hughes launched a new progressive production technology, based on anthracite. By that time, it was used only in the United States. In 1913, 74% of iron of the entire Russian Empire was produced in Yuzivka. Initially, the plant employed six thousand workers from the locals, and for 25 years their number had reached 50 thousand people.
At that time, salaries in the Donbas were also European level salaries.
In 1959, during his visit to the USA, the Soviet Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev mentioned that he worked as a mechanic of a machine-building plant in Yuzivka in 1914. Its owner was Edward Boss, an Estonian. The 20-year-old Khrushchev earned 40-45 Rubles a month. In today's figures that is more than one thousand Euros.
KOSTYANTYNIVKA: BELGIAN ARCHITECTURE AND CHEMICAL PLANTS
Kostyantynivka was built by immigrants from Belgium. As a result, this city can also boast Belgian architectural monuments from those times. The entire city infrastructure is a sequel of initial constructions.
Unfortunately, one of the most interesting architectural monuments of the city -- the house of the Gomon -- was destroyedrecently. It was built by JSC Belgian Society of Kostyantynivka's glass and chemical plants in 1902 for the manager of the bottle factory named Gomon. Anyway, the stable near this house is still kept in good condition. The Belgian office has also remained.
The secret of preserving architectural heritage is quite simple. If it is used, its owner maintains it in a decent condition.
LUHANSK: GERMAN LOCOMOTIVES
German investment came preferably to Luhansk Region.
For example, one of the most famous Luhansk enterprises – the Luhansk steam locomotive plant – was founded by the German industrialist Gustav Hartmann in 1896as Russische Maschinenbaugesellschaft Hartmann and renamed Lokomotive factory Octoberrevolution in 1918 after the Russian revolution.
LYSYCHANSK: BELGIAN HERITAGE ABROAD AWARD
At the end of the 19th century, a big part of the city of Lysychansk belonged to the village of Verhnie. Here in 1887 the Belgian engineer Ernest Solve launched the production of soda with his Belgian chemical company Solway and a merchant from Perm called Ivan Lyubimov. Unfortunately, the factory is no longer operational – it was destroyed in 2013 before the very beginning of Russian military aggression in Ukraine.
Along with that, company built houses for factory workers, gymnasium buildings, hospitals, and a church. For example, an up-to-date four-floor hospital in Lysychansk was built by the Belgians.
The Belgians built a total of 33 objects in Lysychansk. 30 of them have been preserved to this day.
In February 2018, the architecture of Lysychanskreceived the Belgian Heritage Abroad Award (2017).
Europeans brought not only the technology of industrial productionto Ukraine, but also business skills, management experienceof large enterprises, connections with banking and industrial groups, and the spirit of capitalist entrepreneurship, thereby contributing to the industrialization of Ukraine.
By the time of the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the Donbas, previously known as "Russian America" and the flagship of industrial Europe, was in a state of decline. The economic ignorance of the Soviet authorities had led to Donbas becoming a backward region in ther 1980s with loss-making production. Today, most of its factories are located on territories occupied by the Russian Federation. Some of them are either ruined or still operate using the equipment installed at the end of the 19th century.
Sources used in this article:
Valentyna Lazebnyk, "Steel in the Steppe. View from Ukraine".
Wim Peeters, "Steel on the steppe".
Materials from the exhibitions "Foreign investments in Ukraine, end of the ХІХ – beginning of the XX century. Part I: Belgium" and "Foreign investments in Ukraine, end of the ХІХ – beginning of the XX century. Part II: France", organized by the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
Sources used in this article:
Valentyna Lazebnyk, "Steel in the Steppe. View from Ukraine".
Wim Peeters, "Steel on the steppe".
Materials from the exhibitions "Foreign investments in Ukraine, end of the ХІХ – beginning of the XX century. Part I: Belgium" and "Foreign investments in Ukraine, end of the ХІХ – beginning of the XX century. Part II: France", organized by the Ukraine Crisis Media Center.
On the 1st of May 2019, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has sent a congratulatory letter to the newly elected President of Ukraine Vladimir Aleksandrovich Zelenskiy on his election to the high state post.
Modern Ukrainian films will be shown in Amirani during May 2-5, 2019 with English and Georgian subtitles
The 5th Ukrainian Film Festival “Ukraine in focus” is starting in Tbilisi on May 2, 2019. Modern Ukrainian movies will be shown in Amirani Cinema (M. Kostava Street No 36/1) during May 2-5 in original language accompanied with English and Georgian subtitles. Poster and event details are available at Official Facebook page of the festival .
The festival “Ukraine in focus” will be opened with a movie “The Wild Fields” (2018) by director Yaroslav Lodygin on May 2, 2019 at 8 pm in Amirani Cinema. Later, during May 3-5, the following movies will be shown in the frameworks of the festival: “The Gateway” (feature film by director Volodymyr Tikhiy, 2017), “Volcano” (Feature film by director Roman Bondarchuk, 2018), Comedy movie “Hero of My Time” (directed by Antonina Noyabrova, 2018), “When the trees fall” (directed by Marysya Nikitiuk, 2018) and selection of short films - winners of Odessa International Film Festival.
As a tradition of 5 years history of the Ukrainian Film Festival in Georgia, the special program for the young audience was prepared. Children and youth can enjoy the following modern feature movies: “Adventures of S Nicholas” (directed by Semen Gorov, 2018) and “Morshyn’s 11” (directed by Arkadii Nepytaliuk, 2019).
Tickets for the festival movies can be purchased on biletebi.ge, tkt.ge and kinoafisha.ge with a symbolic price of 1 GEL. Therefore, it is highly recommended to buy tickets in advance to secure the available seats.
In addition to the main festival program, an actor’s workshop for kids from famous Ukrainian actors Irma Vitovska and Daria Polunina will take place on May 4, at 2 pm in Amirani Cinema. This activity without any age restriction will involve children in the magic world of cinema and give the possibility to step in actor’s shoes.
Maria Moskalenko, organizer of the event, states: „Ukrainian Film Festival will be held in Tbilisi for already 5th time, and every year this extraordinary event is visited by movie fans of different age and nationality. This year, modern films of various genres were selected and we hope that each attendant will have an opportunity to watch the show in which he/she is interested, familiarize with the world of the Ukrainian films and take something really special from the festival.”
Organizers of the festival are FX Film Georgia and JS Films. The event will be held with the support of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, State Agency of Cinema of Ukraine, Embassy of Ukraine in Georgia, Tbilisi City Hall, Georgian National Film Center and Odessa International Film Festival.
“On behalf of the European Union, we would like to congratulate you on your election as President of Ukraine,” said President of the European Council Donald Tusk and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in a joint statement on 22 April.
“Allow us to express our appreciation for the strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law that the people of Ukraine have demonstrated throughout the electoral process,” they added. “This is a major achievement in the complex political, economic and security environment, against the backdrop of continuous challenges to Ukraine's territorial integrity.”
President Tusk and President Juncker said that significant progress has been made in the five years since Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity. They added that “much remains to be accomplished to fully realise the peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ukraine that its citizens have called for”.
“As President of Ukraine, you can count on the EU's strong support to Ukraine's reform path, including consolidating the rule of law, fighting corruption, maintaining macro-financial stability and pursuing the essential reform of the energy sector,” highlighted Tusk and Juncker. “We strongly believe the further implementation by the EU and Ukraine of the Association Agreement, including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, can be a crucial instrument in this respect. You can also count on the EU's continued and steadfast support of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”
“We wish to extend to you our most sincere wishes for a successful term as President and look forward to meeting you at the earliest mutually agreed date,” concluded the statement.
By The Associated Press: Two Ukrainian navy artillery boats and a tugboat were transiting from Odessa on the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov.
MOSCOW — The Ukrainian navy said Sunday that Russia’s coast guard opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian vessels and wounded two crew members in the Black Sea following a tense standoff off the coast of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine's navy said that two of its vessels were struck and that Russian coast guard crews boarded them and a tugboat and seized them. The Russian Federal Security Service, known as the FSB and which is in charge of the coast guard, said that it has evidence that Ukraine was responsible for the clashes.
"There is irrefutable evidence that Kiev prepared and orchestrated provocations ... in the Black Sea," the FSB said in a statement. "These materials will soon be made public."
There have been growing tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has steadily worked to increase its zone of control around the peninsula.
Earlier Sunday, Russia and Ukraine traded accusations over another incident involving the same three vessels, prompting Moscow to block passage through the Kerch Strait.
The Ukrainian vessels apparently wanted to travel through the strait to other ports in Ukraine, and Ukrainian authorities said they had given advance notice to the Russians.
The tensions began Sunday morning. Russia's coast guard said that the three Ukrainian vessels made an unauthorized crossing through Russian territorial waters, while Ukraine alleged that one of its boats was rammed by a Russian coast guard vessel.
The Kerch Strait is a narrow body of water nestled between Crimea and the Russian mainland.
The incident began after the Ukrainian navy claimed a Russian coast guard vessel rammed one of its tugboats, which was traveling with two Ukrainian navy artillery boats from Odessa on the Black Sea to Mariupol in the Sea of Azov, via the Kerch Strait.
"Russian coast guard vessels ... carried out openly aggressive actions against Ukrainian navy ships," the Ukrainian navy statement said. It said a Russian coast guard ship damaged the tugboat's engine, hull, side railing and a lifeboat.
The statement added that Russia had been informed in advance about the planned journey.
Russia then blocked off the strait.
The Kerch Strait is the only passage into the Sea of Azov beyond it. The strait is crossed by the recently completed Kerch Bridge, connecting Crimea to Russia. Transit under the bridge has been blocked by a tanker ship, and dozens of cargo ships awaiting passage are stuck.
Russia has not given any indication of how long it will keep the strait blocked off, but a long-term closure to civilian traffic would amount to an economic blockade of Ukrainian cities on the Azov coast. And Russia's Black Sea Fleet greatly outmatches the Ukrainian navy.
Ukrainian cities on the Sea of Azov include strategically vital centers such as Mariupol — the closest government-controlled city to Donetsk and Luhansk, the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.
The FSB told Russian news agencies Sunday after the first incident that the Ukrainian ships held their course and violated Russian territorial waters. The FSB accused the Ukrainian navy of staging a provocation against Russia.
"Their goal is clear," an FSB statement said — "to create a conflict situation in the region." The statement didn't mention ramming a Ukrainian tugboat.
Though a 2003 treaty designates the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters, Russia has been asserting greater control over the passage since 2015.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in an earlier statement that Russia's actions were a violation of the U.N. Charter and international law, and pledged to "promptly inform our partners about Russia's aggressive actions."
"Such actions pose a threat to the security of all states in the Black Sea region," the statement said, "and therefore require a clear response from the international community."
Dmitry Kiselyov, a commentator on the state-controlled Rossiya channel, told viewers of his Sunday evening news program that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — encouraged by the U.S. — is looking to pick a fight with Russia in the Black Sea.
The talk show host also said that the U.S. talked Poroshenko into staging a provocation against Russia as a means to disrupt the upcoming meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump at this week's Group of 20 summit in Argentina.
"What is happening now at the (Kerch) bridge threatens to turn into a very unpleasant story," Kiselyov warned.
-- The Associated Press
Participants of two EU initiatives – the Covenant of Mayors East and Mayors for Economic Growth – will meet for a high-level conference on 20–23 November in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.
More than 300 participants are expected from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. They will exchange experiences, best practices and lessons learnt in relation to the implementation of energy efficiency measures and harnessing of economic development of their communities.
Representatives of local public administrations, government officials, community activists and EU representatives will participate in the event. They will also discuss decentralisation initiatives, sustainable use of energy and resources, and climate change mitigation initiatives, as well as ways of straightening cooperation between beneficiaries of EU-funded initiatives in the Eastern Partner countries.
Covenant of Mayors East is part of the EU4Energy Initiative. EU4Energy covers all EU support to improve energy supply, security and connectivity, as well as to promote energy efficiency and the use of renewables in the Eastern Partner countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine). It does this by financing projects and programmes that help to reform energy markets and to reduce national energy dependence and consumption. Over the long term, this makes energy supply more reliable, transparent and affordable, thus reducing energy poverty and energy bills for both citizens and the private sector.
Tbilisi – Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Georgia Ihor Dolhov.
The sides discussed the historically friendly and partner relations between the two countries. Discussions focused on key issues on the bilateral and multilateral agenda. Special attention was paid to the need of exchanging high-level visits.
The Minister and the Ambassador reaffirmed their mutual support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other’s countries,. In this context Zalkaliani highlighted the importance of the Ukrainian Vice Premier ten years after the Russia-Georgia war that is a clear demonstration of Ukraine’s solidarity with Georgia.
The Ambassador congratulated David Zalkaliani on his appointment as Foreign Minister and wished him success in his future endeavours.
On 14 March, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited his last destination in the pre-election tour—occupied Crimea. The first thing he inspected there was the Crimea bridge, a project set to link continental Russia with the newly-annexed territory.
Currently, Russians have to deliver goods and people to the peninsula only via planes, ships or ferries, as there is no connection by land. In order to change this, the Kremlin decided to build a 19-kilometer-long bridge across the Kerch Strait which separates Crimea from Russia’s Krasnodar Krai. The project was agreed in January 2015. The contract for the construction worth $3 billion was signed with SGM Group, which belongs to Russian oligarch Arkady Rotenberg, a close friend of Putin.
In May 2015, construction of the bridge commenced; the road bridge is planned to open on 18 December, 2018, while completion of the rail link has been delayed until the end of 2019. Delays have increased the cost of the project significantly. As of 1 March, 2018, the project’s costs had exceeded $4 billion.
Meanwhile, even at the construction stage, the bridge causes irreversible harm to the ecology of the Black Sea and Azov Sea. Additionally, it also damages Ukraine’s economy and puts political pressure on Kyiv. Here are the major reasons why the Crimea bridge is dangerous for Ukraine and for the entire Black Sea region.
The bridge damages Ukraine’s economy
As the Azov Sea is the place where Ukrainian and Russian economic interests intersect, this Russian project will inevitably damage the economy of the region and Ukraine as a whole.
First and foremost, the project of Crimea bridge set limits on the number of ships which head to Azov Sea ports through the Kerch Strait. Konstantin Batozsky, the director of Azov Development Agency, explains to UkraineWorld that all ships longer than 160m, wider than 31m, whose draft is bigger than 8 meters, or are higher than 33 meters, will not physically be able to pass under the bridge. Panamax ships, a popular type of cargo vessels, do not fit in these limits. “This will limit the amount and range of cargo which could be shipped to and from Mariupol and Berdyansk — Ukrainian Azov Sea ports — significantly,” says Batozsky. For instance, metallurgy products and containers will now have to be shipped through Black Sea ports. This fact means that more money will be spent on the transportation of goods by land, while the infrastructure of the ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk will degenerate. Such a scenario could lead to enormous non-receipt of profits, which would add up to those sums caused by the annexation of Crimea.
Additionally, these limits potentially do not allow Ukraine to potentially launch gas and oil field exploration in the shelf of the Azov Sea. Offshore equipment necessary for the exploration is larger than the limits set by the Crimea bridge, Batozsky points out. As a result, this option for Ukraine to strengthen its energy security is closed.
It is an instrument of Russian aggression against Ukraine
The Crimea bridge is first and foremost a political project, which is aimed to achieve several goals with one shot.
First, it is set to secure the annexation of Crimea. “For Putin, the Crimea Bridge is comparable to the Baikal–Amur Mainline [a major railroad built in the Soviet Union to connect Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East],” says Alim Aliyev, the manager of The Crimea House, in a conversation with UkraineWorld. According to him, Putin intends to use the bridge to show people in Crimea that Russia cares about them. Meanwhile, the bridge would allow Russia to move all kinds of cargo quickly to the peninsula, including military equipment, thus securing the annexation.
Second, Russia, will be able to close the Kerch Strait for all ships. Such a move would effectively turn the Azov Sea into a lake and enable a trade blockade of Ukrainian ports. Russia could use this in number of ways. For instance, the blockade could be leverage to make Kyiv resume energy and water supplies to the peninsula.
It should be noted that Russia’s actions violate the previous agreement between Ukraine and Russia on common use of the Kerch Strait. Russia also goes against the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which says that states bordering straits shall not hinder transit passage and shall inform accordingly about any known threats to navigation in the strait. This potentially gives Ukraine an opportunity to sue Russia, but this has not happened so far. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry did not respond to UkraineWorld comment request regarding this.
It is potentially dangerous for the ecosystem of the Black and Azov Seas
Construction works have already had an effect on the ecosystem of the Black and Azov Seas, says Alim Aliev, the manager of The Crimea House, in a conversation with UkraineWorld. When the bridge is finished, the danger will be even more real.
Due to mud volcanoes, seismic activity and a sludgy bottom, the Kerch Strait is hardly suitable for a bridge. Heorhiy Rosnovsky, a Ukrainian architect who has previously drafted two projects of a Kerch Strait bridge, tells Focus magazine in an interview that Russia has chosen the least viable option to implement the project. He says that the current project does not take all the above-mentioned problematic factors into account, so the chance of collapse is rather high. The collapse of a massive bridge with wide piers would inevitably slow down water flows between the seas through the Kerch Strait. While construction already results in a change of the living environment for all the organisms in both seas, the bridge’s collapse would be a catastrophe. However, the full scale of the bridge’s influence on the Azov and Black Seas cannot be forecast at the present time.
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko announced on 12 December, 2017 that Ukraine will submit an appeal to the countries of the Black Sea Cooperation for an investigation to be carried out of the potential damage of the bridge to the ecosystem. However, as of March 2018 no conclusions had been published.
Few considerations, no regards
There is no doubt that the Crimea Bridge will be completed. Pavlo Kazarin, journalist and observer at Krym.Realii, pointed out in a commentary for UkraineWorld that for Putin this project is one of those cases which prove his imperial ambitions. “It does not matter how much money it will cost, as he [Putin] is the one who allocates the funds. The construction could encounter major delays, but it will be completed eventually,” he emphasized.
Putin’s imperial ambitions and vanity have pushed him to rush the Crimea bridge project. Hopefully, haste and corruption during the construction works will not cause its destruction. However, the damage to the region of the Black and Azov Seas, as well as to the Ukrainian economy, has already been done.
This article has been first published on ukraineworld.org
The Euromaidan revolution and ongoing Russian aggression have united the nation like never before. People of various origins, both Russian and Ukrainian speakers, stood up to the pro-Russian regime of Viktor Yanukovych, and now they resist Russia’s efforts to reimpose influence over Ukraine.
As a result, nationalism is a part of everyday life for the first time. Many people feel national pride and willingness to defend the nation; however, these feelings always have a tinge of ambiguity as they fluctuate between ethnic and civic conceptions of the nation.
Before 2013, the boundaries of belonging were blurred. Many were more preoccupied with economic well-being and survival. It was only before elections that politicians artificially sharpened social divisions around such issues as language, regional identification, and geopolitical orientation to mobilize the electorate.
Post-Maidan Ukraine looks different. Many think that you are Ukrainian irrespective of language or ethnic origins; it’s important that one is loyal to Ukraine as an independent state and political project. This nationalism tries to be inclusive. It attempts to promote liberal and democratic values of freedom, tolerance, diversity, and individual rights.
Civic nationalism has become stronger in recent years.
In 2015, 56 percent of Ukrainians considered the Ukrainian nation as a composite of all citizens. This is 17 percent more than in 2007, according to Razumkov Centre surveys.
Also, after the annexation of Crimea many Crimean Tatars moved to mainland Ukraine. New Muslim centers were created, and more women wear headscarves in public. All of this is perceived positively, said Vyacheslav Likhachev, an expert at the Ukrainian Congress of National Communities, “because Crimean Tatars support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and oppose Russia. The level of Islamophobia is falling significantly.”
However, not everyone agrees that civic nationalism is on the rise. “During the revolutionary upheavals in 2014 as well as in 2004, there was the impression that a new civic nation is emerging in Ukraine. But this impression soon waned. In general, Ukraine has not experienced any qualitative changes in terms of nationalism,” said Anton Shekhovtsov, a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. However, he recognizes that Ukrainians have greater loyalty toward the state and a stronger civil society, though it still lacks real political influence.
Shades of blood-and-soil nationalism
It’s almost impossible to find pure ethnic or a pure civic nationalism in today’s Ukraine. The emerging Ukrainian nation has some apparent blood-and-soil elements: some are positive, others are not.
Some ethnic elements are reinforced because of Russian aggression against Ukraine. Rejecting Russian culture, which dominated the Ukrainian space for centuries, many Ukrainians are going back to their roots.
Ukrainian culture is thriving as never before. Traditional folklore motives are more often present in modern music, fashion, theatre, and cinema.
Language is an important sign of belonging. According to the Razumkov Centre, 17 percent of Ukrainians consider speaking the Ukrainian language an important element of belonging to the Ukrainian nation, which is 2 percent more than in 2007.
More radical elements are also on the rise, which is worrisome. Far-right movements were visible during the Euromaidan. Many members of the Azov Regiment—initially a volunteer militia fighting in eastern Ukraine and now a part of the national gendarmerie—support far-right ideology. Earlier this year members of the NGO ‘The Natsionalni Druzhyny’ (National Militia Units), founded by veterans of the far-right Azov regiment, marched in the center of Kyiv.
Despite being more visible, far-right movements do not have wide support. No far-right party managed to meet the 5 percent threshold and enter the Ukrainian parliament during the 2014 elections. According to a recent survey, only around 3 percent would vote for the nationalist party Svoboda and 0.3 percent for the more radical Right Sector.
“The voice of far-right movements is now much louder than before 2013. They attract more members, especially youth. Their slogans are more popular. But they are not among decision-makers,” said Maksym Butkevych, a Ukrainian activist, human rights defender, and coordinator with the No Borders non-profit project.
Some xenophobic elements linger in Ukrainian society. “Radical nationalism is very weak in Ukraine and does not affect the everyday lives of Ukrainians. Although racism, homophobia, and negative sentiments to Roma are quite widespread in Ukrainian society, the main problem is not individual xenophobic sentiment but the lack of responsibility for public expression of such views. At the same time, Western pressure helps to strengthen the imperative of tolerance in Ukraine,” noted Volodymyr Kulyk, head research fellow at Ukraine’s National Academy of Science’s Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies.
Even still, the new nation built after the Maidan shows many signs of inclusiveness. More citizens believe that people from different ethnic origins or those who speak other languages are their compatriots. A new impulse of affection toward their country is what shapes this greater unity. It is important, however, not to let this affection turn into new thinking that pits “us” against “them.” Nationalism can be civic and liberal, but it can easily turn into its opposite.
This article has been first published at the Atlantic Council