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Ukraine’s Ecocide in Donbass, 1991 to post-Maidan 2019

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On February 26, 2019, Lugansk People’s Republic hosted a roundtable entitled “Ecocide of Ukraine: Consequences.” This provided a forum for environmental experts from Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) and DNR to formally start addressing the environmentally catastrophic situation both republics inherited from the post-Soviet Ukrainian government.

Both fledgling republics have already started addressing the vast environmental problems outlined below. Even in the middle of a war, the situation demands remedies Kiev never considered providing.

We did initial interviews for what will be an ongoing series with the Minister of Natural Resources and Ecological Safety of Lugansk Peoples Republic Uri Degtyaryov and Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka on the effect of the civil war on the ecology of Donbass.

When the facts are looked at, no matter how bleak the picture, the government under Leonid Pasichnik is making strides with clean up from installing pollution scrubbers at factories to cleaning up old garbage dumps. Because of the importance of these issues, we’ll follow up on the progress at regular intervals.

Minister of Natural Resources and Ecological Safety of Lugansk Peoples Republic Uri Degtyaryov

“You have to understand that life goes on and a new republic is being built; Lugansk People’s Republic. With everyday problems and challenges for a government that never existed before there are international laws and rules our government still has to adhere to.

For ecology, this includes international conventions accepted by the civilized world. Our republic is not recognized by the world, but we are trying to live according to international standards. That is why this is the right direction to go in and the policy documents show we voluntarily follow international conventions although we are still not recognized the international community.

Without being recognized, we recognize international rules and standards. So those documents (LNR environmental policy) are prepared being prepared according to international standards.

When we talk about other steps, we have prepared for the next challenges. It is what was discussed at the round table today. For us, the most difficult challenge that we talked about at the round table is that we haven’t given a full assessment of the damage caused by military action by the Ukrainian army.

We have to count every crater, every damaged tree, and every destroyed dam. This all has to be translated into monetary values. Unfortunately, we came from a peaceful era. We are ill-equipped for this type of assessment. We lack the methodology needed.

Right now that work is being done. For instance, one small natural object (Ostria Magila) that was a protected area (conservation area) by law which is 49 hectares (121 acres) was damaged by Grad rockets and Hurricane rockets from the Ukrainian army. Thirty-eight enormous craters destroyed the trees and just in damages to the trees, three and one half (3 ½) million rubles of damage was done.

And this was a small area. Can you imagine the costs for the damage to the rest of the republic? We are assessing the damage.

The second stage to what we are doing is to remediate the damage that has been done so far. We have 3.4 thousand hectares of wooded area that is destroyed by military action; it’s a proud moment to say we are replacing it. It takes years for trees to grow. It’s one thing to plant them. You have to take care of them. They have to be pruned and cared for.

And so now we say with pride, the first seedlings have grown and the crowns have formed. They are replacing wooded areas that were destroyed. We have replanted 270 hectares of wooded area that was destroyed by the military action.

Every year we plant seedlings and we still have to purchase more. And of course, we deal with other everyday problems. Before the war, there was no recycling of trash in Lugansk Oblast. Right now, we are recycling 82 types of trash.

Before the war, we didn’t have the replacement fish to replenish supplies. Now we have 12 fish farms that produce replacement fish.

So, in short, we need peace and everything else we’ll do ourselves.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka concludes Ukraine’s use of banned munitions is war crimes and ecocide.

LNR Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Soroka 

“Ecocide according to international law is considered a most dangerous crime against humanity. There are several directions in this law, the first one is;

Ecocide is considered to be one of the most dangerous breaches because it affects a wide group of people over a long period of time.  We know the results of ecocide can last not only decades but the effects can go on for hundreds of years and cause enormous and unfixable effects on the health of people.

We conclude/assert that ecocide is a crime against humanity.

The second direction of the law is that it falls under war crimes. Following the orders of the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian army uses prohibited chemical weapons like white phosphorus and napalm. We see nature is suffering irreparable damage and this is a war crime.

For us, it is very important to collect evidence and material of all the crimes of Ukraine. At this time, in order to fully protect ourselves, we put a plea into different international organizations, for instance at the (ICC) International Criminal Court.

According to the Minsk platform, many times we addressed this problem, not just here in Donbass and the front line territory, but also in Ukraine. As it turns out, in the middle of Europe, there is a hotbed of the ecological catastrophe that can spread and in the future affect the rest of the world.”

Since the heyday of the Soviet Union, the Donbass region provided most of the industrial production in Ukraine and the most environmentally hazardous industries. Of consequence, the Lugansk region also produces the highest agricultural output in Ukraine.

The combined stress of industrial and agricultural production along with transport infrastructure and high population density creates the largest manmade per capita load on the biosphere in Ukraine or even Europe as a whole.

From 1991 onward, the situation presented itself for Western Ukrainian oriented politicians to take revenge on areas that traditionally rejected Ukrainian nationalism and Banderism. Donbass regard the UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army) as war criminals. The UPA and OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) was a political group allied with Nazi Germany.

They were based in Poland and obsessed with establishing a country of their own. The OUN and UPA tortured and murdered civilians across what would become Soviet Ukraine before, during, and after WWII.

From the 1991 referendum that separated Ukraine and dissolved the Soviet Union, the children, grandchildren, and Diaspora relatives of the OUN and UPA actively sought to punish the regions that did not support a united Ukraine allied with WWII Germany.

Ukraine has a notoriously bad environmental record and most of the environmentally hazardous businesses are located in the Lugansk area. There are roughly 1500 businesses in the coal, metallurgical, machine building, chemical, and oil industries. Annually about 700,000 tons of pollutants have been released into the atmosphere and more than ¾ are not cleaned at all.

All of this activity went unchecked from 1991 onward. Corrupt pro-West Ukraine politicians took over the government when the Soviet Union collapsed and the environmental condition across Ukraine deteriorated.

According to a 2005 abstract, the quality of the water was five times worse than the air quality and the destruction of the environment has gone on unabated for an additional 13 years since it was written. Toxic emissions from the mines and garbage disposal as well as streams and tributaries disappearing because of silting have destroyed much of the water resources.

 According to the abstract Ecological crisis of Donbass as an industrial region of Ukrainethe Lugansk region has the lowest life expectancy in Ukraine because of these factors.

According to the report, 85% of children born in the Lugansk Region are born with various cardiopulmonary pathologies and abnormalities due to the described environmental factors. Decades ago Lugansk should have been recognized as an ecological disaster zone.

It’s been more than 2 decades since the situation in Lugansk and across Donbass was recognized.  If Ukraine was serious about expressing governmental oversight in the region, making sure the children weren’t being poisoned would have been the best place to start.

This was well known even before the presidency of Victor Yushchenko. Yushchenko became famous as the Ukrainian nationalist president who tried to rehabilitate the image of Stepan Bandera, one of Ukraine’s WWII OUN Nazi leaders. Bandera’s OUN is famous in the Lugansk Donbass region for torturing and murdering civilians.

Instead of making even a token effort at environmental policy and remediation, Ukraine’s government even allowed the Soviet built infrastructure to degrade to the point where coal mines closures were done illegally, disregarding safety procedures and flooding adjacent areas with toxins and undermining residential structures.

Before the war started in post-Maidan Ukraine, 150 coal mines needed constant pumping and drainage.

The Ukraine Army (VSU)has targeted power stations and transmission lines to exasperate the situation. As a result, electric service interruptions occurred for mines in the Komsomolets Donbassa, Lidiivka, Vuglegirska, Chervonyi Proflintern, Bulavinskaya, Olkhovatska, Trudovskaya, Chelyuskintsev, the Sukhodolskaya-Vostochnaya, Privolnyanska, Nikanor-Nova, Kyivska, Dovzhanska- Capitalna, Centrospilka, Kharkivska, Chervonyi Partizan, Samsonivska-Zakhidna, Pershotravneva, Proletarska, Bilorechenska, Frunze, Vakhrusheva, Cosmonavtiv, Dzerzhinskyi, Sverdlov and others.

Damage and disconnection of coal-mining enterprises from electric services led to the shutdown of mine water drainage systems. This, in turn, led to full flooding of the mines and further poisoning of the region’s water supply.

Ecocide is the premeditated destruction of an area’s environment to destroy its people or the possibility of inhabiting or living there. Long before the war which now complicates current remediation efforts, a passive depopulation effort in Donbass was underway.

This is why the Ukrainian government environmental effort in Donbass is being referred to as ECOCIDE.

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in Donbass. His articles have been cited in books about the Ukrainian civil war. He has been published at Mint Press News, the Security Assistance Monitor, Washingtons Blog, OpedNews, Consortium News, the Saker, RT, Global Research, and RINF, ZeroHedge, and the Greenville Post along with many other great publications. He has been cited and republished by various academic blogs including Defending History, Michael Hudson, SWEDHR, Counterpunch, the Justice Integrity Project, along with many others. Project Censored listed two article series from 2017,2018 as #2 for national impact for those years.

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Eastern Europe

Latvia developed new tasks for NATO soldiers

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Member of the Latvian Saemas’ national association “Everything for Latvia!” and Freedom”/LNNK Jānis Dombrava stated the need to attract NATO troops to resolve the migration crisis. This is reported by la.lv.  In his opinion, illegal migration from the Middle East to Europe may acquire the feature of an invasion. He believes that under the guise of refugees, foreign military and intelligence officers can enter the country. To his mind, in this case, the involvement of the alliance forces is more reasonable and effective than the actions of the European border agencies. Dombrava also noted that in the face of an increase in the flow of refugees, the government may even neglect the observance of human rights.

The Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia at Camp Ādaži consists of approximately 1512 soldiers, as well as military equipment, including tanks and armoured fighting vehicles.

Though the main task of the battlegroup in Latvia is country’s defence in case of military aggression, Latvian officials unilaterally invented new tasks for NATO soldiers So, it is absolutely clear, that Latvian politicians are ready to allow NATO troops to resolve any problem even without legal basis. Such deification and complete trust could lead to the full substitution of NATO’s real tasks in Latvia.

It should be noted that NATO troops are very far from being ideal soldiers. Their inappropriate behaviour is very often in a centre of scandals. The recent incidents prove the existing problems within NATO contingents in the Baltic States.

They are not always ready to fulfill their tasks during military exercises and training. And in this situation Latvian politicians call to use them as border guards! It is nonsense! It seems as if it is time to narrow their tasks rather than to widen them. They are just guests for some time in the territory of the Baltic States. It could happen that they would decide who will enter Latvia and who will be forbidden to cross the border!

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Eastern Europe

Changes are Possible: Which Reforms does Ukraine Need Now?

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Photo: Robert Anasch/Unsplash

The past 16 months have tested our resilience to sudden, unexpected, and prolonged shocks. As for an individual, resilience for a country or economy is reflected in how well it has prepared for an uncertain future.

A look around the globe reveals how resilient countries have been to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have done well, others less so. The costs of having done less well are almost always borne by the poor. It is for this reason the World Bank and the international community more broadly urge—and provide support to—countries to undertake economic and structural reforms, not just for today’s challenges but tomorrow’s.

One country where the dialogue on reform has been longstanding and intense is Ukraine. This is particularly true since the economic crisis of 2014-2015 in the wake of the Maidan Revolution, when the economy collapsed, and poverty skyrocketed. Many feared the COVID pandemic would have similar effects on the country.

The good news is that thanks to a sustained, even if often difficult, movement on reforms, Ukraine is better positioned to emerge from the pandemic than many expected. Our initial projection in the World Bank, for example, was that the economy would contract by nearly 8 percent in 2020; the actual decline was half that. Gross international reserves at end-2020 were US$10 billion higher than projected. Most important, there are far fewer poor than anticipated.

Let’s consider three reform areas which have contributed to these outcomes.

First, no area of the economy contributed more to the economic crisis of 2014-2015 than the banking sector. Powerful interests captured the largest banks, distorted the flow of capital, and strangled economic activity. Fortunately, Ukraine developed a framework to resolve and recapitalize banks and strengthen supervision. Privatbank was nationalized and is now earning profits. It is now being prepared for privatization.

Second, COVID halted and threatened to reverse a five-year trend in poverty reduction. Thanks to reforms of the social safety net, Ukraine is avoiding this reversal. A few years back, the government was spending some 4.7 percent of GDP on social programs with limited poverty impact. Nearly half these resources went to an energy subsidy that expanded to cover one-in-two of the country’s households.

Since 2018, the Government has been restructuring the system by reducing broad subsidies and targeting resources to the poor. This is working. Transfers going to the poorest one-fifth of the population are rising significantly—from just 37 percent in 2019 to 50 percent this year and are projected to reach 55 percent in 2023.

Third, the health system itself. Ukrainians live a decade less than their EU neighbors. Basic epidemiological vulnerabilities are exacerbated by a health delivery system centered around outdated hospitals and an excessive reliance on out-of-pocket spending. In 2017, Ukraine passed a landmark health financing law defining a package of primary care for all Ukrainians, free-of-charge. The law is transforming Ukraine’s constitutional commitment to free health care from an aspiration into specific critical services that are actually being delivered.

The performance of these sectors, which were on the “front line” during COVID, demonstrate the payoff of reforms. The job now is to tackle the outstanding challenges.

The first is to reduce the reach of the public sector in the economy. Ukraine has some 3,500 companies owned by the state—most of them loss-making—in sectors from machine building to hotels. Ukraine needs far fewer SOEs. Those that remain must be better managed.

Ukraine has demonstrated that progress can be made in this area. The first round of corporate governance reforms has been successfully implemented at state-owned banks. Naftogaz was unbundled in 2020. The electricity sector too is being gradually liberalized. Tariffs have increased and reforms are expected to support investment in aging electricity-producing and transmitting infrastructure. Investments in renewable energy are also surging.

But there are developments of concern, including a recent removal of the CEO of an SOE which raised concerns among Ukraine’s friends eager to see management independence of these enterprises. Management functions of SOE supervisory boards and their members need to remain free of interference.

The second challenge is to strengthen the rule of law. Over recent years, the country has established—and has committed to protect—new institutions to combat corruption. These need to be allowed to function professionally and independently. And they need to be supported by a judicial system defined by integrity and transparency. The move to re-establish an independent High Qualification Council is a welcome step in this direction.

Finally, we know change is possible because after nearly twenty years, Ukraine on July first opened its agricultural land market. Farmers are now free to sell their land which will help unleash the country’s greatest potential source of economic growth and employment.

Ukraine has demonstrated its ability to undertake tough reforms and, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen the real-life benefits of these reforms. The World Bank looks forward to providing continued assistance as the country takes on new challenges on the way to closer European integration.

This article was first published in European Pravda via World Bank

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Eastern Europe

Liberal Development at Stake as LGBT+ Flags Burn in Georgia

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Photo: Protesters hold a banner depicting U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Kelly Degnan during a rally against Pride Week in Tbilisi, Georgia July 1, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Protests against Georgia’s LGBT+ Pride parade turned ugly in Tbilisi on July 5 when members of the community were hunted down and attacked, around 50 journalists beaten up and the offices of various organizations vandalized. Tensions continued the following day, despite a heavy police presence.

On the face of it, the Georgian state condemned the violence. President Salome Zourabichvili was among the first with a clear statement supporting freedom of expression, members of parliament did likewise and the Ministry of Internal Affairs condemned any form of violence.

But behind the scenes, another less tolerant message had been spread before the attacks. Anxiety about this year’s events had been rising as a result of statements by the government and clergy. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili suggested the march “poses a threat of civil strife.” The Georgian Orthodox Church meanwhile condemned the event, saying it, “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognized moral norms and aims to legalize grave sin.”

For many, these statements signified tacit approval for the abuse of peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, the near-complete absence of security at the outset of the five-day event was all too obvious in Tbilisi’s streets and caused a public outcry. Many alleged the government was less focused on public safety than on upcoming elections where will need support from socially conservative voters and the powerful clergy, in a country where more than 80% of the population is tied to the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The violence brought a joint statement of condemnation from Western embassies. “Violence is simply unacceptable and cannot be excused,” it said. The Pride event was not the first and had previously been used by anti-gay groups. Violence was widespread in 2013 — and the reality of attacks against sexual minorities in Georgia remains ever-present.

In a socially conservative country such as Georgia, antagonism to all things liberal can run deep. Resistance to non-traditional sexual and religious mores divides society. This in turn causes political tension and polarization and can drown out discussion of other problems the country is marred in. It very obviously damages the country’s reputation abroad, where the treatment of minorities is considered a key marker of democratic progress and readiness for further involvement in European institutions.

That is why this violence should also be seen from a broader perspective. It is a challenge to liberal ideas and ultimately to the liberal world order.

A country can be democratic, have a multiplicity of parties, active election campaigns, and other features characteristic of rule by popular consent. But democracies can also be ruled by illiberal methods, used for the preservation of political power, the denigration of opposing political forces, and most of all the use of religious and nationalist sentiments to raise or lower tensions.

It happens across Eurasia, and Georgia is no exception. These are hybrid democracies with nominally democratic rule. Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and others have increasingly more in common, despite geographic distance and cultural differences.

Hungary too has been treading this path. Its recent law banning the supposed propagation of LGBT+ materials in schools must be repealed, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on July 7. “This legislation uses the protection of children . . . to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation . . . It is a disgrace,” she said.

One of the defining features of illiberalism is agility in appropriating ideas on state governance and molding them to the illiberal agenda.

It is true that a mere 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union is not enough to have built a truly liberal democratic state. Generations born and raised in the Soviet period or in the troubled 1990s still dominate the political landscape. This means that a different worldview still prevails. It favors democratic development but is also violently nationalistic in opposing liberal state-building.

Georgia’s growing illiberalism has to be understood in the context of the Russian gravitational pull. Blaming all the internal problems of Russia’s neighbors has become mainstream thinking among opposition politicians, NGOs, and sometimes even government figures. Exaggeration is commonplace, but when looking at the illiberal challenge from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear where Russia has succeeded in its illiberal goals. It is determined to stop Georgia from joining NATO and the EU. Partly as a result, the process drags on and this causes friction across society. Belief in the ultimate success of the liberal agenda is meanwhile undermined and alternatives are sought. Hybrid illiberal governments are the most plausible development. The next stage could well be a total abandonment of Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Indeed what seemed irrevocable now seems probable, if not real. Pushback against Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic choice is growing stronger. Protesters in front of the parliament in central Tbilisi violently brought tore the EU flag. Twice.

The message of anti-liberal groups has also been evolving. There has been significant growth in their messaging. The anti-pride sentiment is evolving into a wider resistance to the Western way of life and Georgia’s Western foreign policy path, perhaps because it is easily attacked and misrepresented.

To deal with this, Western support is important, but much depends on Georgian governments and the population at large. A pushback against radicalism and anti-liberalism should come in the guise of time and resources for the development of stronger and currently faltering institutions. Urgency in addressing these problems has never been higher — internal and foreign challenges converge and present a fundamental challenge to what Georgia has been pursuing since the days of Eduard Shevardnadze – the Western path to development.

Author’s note: first published at cepa

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