(1) U.S. Secretary Tillerson's Calls Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko - White House

WASHINGTON - Sunday, April 23, 2017 - Secretary Tillerson phoned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko today to discuss his recent trip to Moscow and his message to the Russian leadership that, although the United States is interested in improving relations with Russia, Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle. The Secretary emphasized the importance of Ukraine’s continued progress on reform and combating corruption.

The Secretary accepted condolences from President Poroshenko on the death today of a U.S. member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). The leaders agreed that the OSCE SMM has played a vital role in its role of monitoring the Minsk agreements designed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, and that this tragic incident makes clear the need for all sides- and particularly the Russian-led separatist forces-to implement their commitments under the Minsk Agreements immediately.

Secretary Tillerson reiterated the United States’ firm commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and confirmed that sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine and fully implements its commitments in the Minsk agreements.  (Attributable to Acting Spokesperson Mark Toner)

(2) Trump Administration Expected to Open Diplomatic Channel With Top Putin Aide - Buzzfeed
         The new US envoy would be responsible for negotiating over the fate of war-torn Ukraine.

WASHINGTON - John Hudson, Buzzfeed, Friday, April 21, 2017 - The Trump administration is expected to appoint a new special envoy to communicate directly with Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin once known as the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal,” two European officials told BuzzFeed News. The job of the new envoy, who has not yet been named, would be to negotiate over the fate of war-torn Ukraine, where a floundering peace deal has yet to bring an end to the three-year conflict, the officials said.

One Western diplomat said German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported the opening of the channel, and raised it with President Donald Trump during their meeting at the White House last month. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would oversee the selection of the envoy, a full-time role that is expected to include a supporting staff. A State Department official acknowledged that “there is currently a discussion of the idea,” but said “no final decisions have been made.”  A senior White House official said the Trump administration was currently evaluating "all diplomatic options on how to engage most effectively in this effort."

In carrying out the job, the envoy would be required to perform a high-wire act as any US contact with Russian officials has come under intense congressional and media scrutiny following the FBI investigation into alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign team and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election. Under the Obama administration, the US also maintained a direct channel with Surkov to discuss the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, a package of measures aimed at resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern territories.

The United States is not a signatory to the agreement, struck in 2015 by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine, so the direct line gave Washington a means of exerting pressure on Moscow when it felt Russia was failing to live up to its promises.  The channel was previously maintained by Victoria Nuland, a Senate-confirmed career foreign service officer and prominent Russia hawk who held the title of assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. The Trump administration’s appointment of a special envoy would not require Senate confirmation.
Speculation about who the US might appoint for the position has captivated European diplomats trying to make sense of the mixed signals the Trump administration has sent about Ukraine. Tillerson recently asked a group of foreign ministers why US taxpayers should care about Ukraine. However, he has also insisted that sanctions against Russia remain in place until it fulfills its obligations under the Minsk Agreements. The Trump administration had previously only vowed to maintain the less painful sanctions slapped on Russia following its annexation of Crimea. Meanwhile, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, has repeatedly slammed Russia for failing to de-escalate the “dire situation in eastern Ukraine.”

The White House official said the "administration supports the Minsk agreements as the sole path forward towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine." Surkov, the man at the other side of the table, was sanctioned by the US in 2014 for his “status” as presidential aide to Putin during the Ukraine conflict — a punishment he later called a “great honor.” Often described as the Kremlin’s chief ideologist, he pioneered the term “sovereign democracy,” a doctrine that supports a strong Russian state to stave off internal chaos and foreign sabotage.

French and German diplomats generally support the channel with Surkov because they view increased US involvement as strengthening the West’s hand against Russia. “If you want to pressure the Russians, you need the Americans on board,” said the Western diplomat. Ukraine advocates skeptical of the Trump administration's intentions may view the channel as a means of exploring a “grand bargain” with Russia that involves the lifting of Western sanctions, though at the moment, the state of US–Russia relations would not seem to support such a deal.

“Channels and communication generally are neither the problem nor the solution in Western–Russian relations,” Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said. “It is important for the US to be involved — without taking over — on the Ukraine issue, both to keep the transatlantic partners in sync and because the Russians always believe that the Americans are the puppet masters, no matter who is across the table from them."

LINK:  https://www.buzzfeed.com/johnhudson/exclusive-trump-administration-expected-to-open-diplomatic 

(3) Ukraine in No Hurry to Borrow as Key Pension, Land Overhauls Loom - Wall Street Journal
         Ukraine finance minister Oleksandr Danylyuk says in Washington the Ukraine government likely to wait until fall to tap international credit market

WASHINGTON - William Mauldin, Thursday, April 20, 2017 - Ukraine is in no hurry to borrow abroad for the first time since a bitter conflict with Russia and deep economic contraction. Ukraine Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk said in an interview Thursday that his government might wait until the fall to seek around $1 billion in the international bond market, following the enactment of long-delayed pension and land overhauls he hopes will be completed in the next month.

“My guess is that for us there’s already appetite in the market,” Mr. Danylyuk said on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s spring meeting in Washington. “But I believe we should not be in a rush.” Ukraine is required to re-enter the international bond market under the terms of an emergency lending package. Mr. Danylyuk said he plans to meet with U.S. Treasury officials and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in Washington and then with investors in New York in coming days.

But before tapping the debt market, Mr. Danylyuk’s immediate task is to enact new rules increasing the effective age that Ukrainians must reach before drawing a pension and modernizing the system of land sales—both key overhauls delayed for decades. The Ukrainian economy grew last year after steep contractions that accompanied Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russian military activity in Ukraine’s east. Mr. Danylyuk expects the economy to growth 2.2% this year.

Mr. Danylyuk said he is optimistic about Kiev’s relationship with the new Trump administration despite some public “confusion” after Mr. Trump appeared ready to reset U.S. ties with Russia. In recent weeks, the Trump administration has taken a tougher line on Moscow, which Kiev sees as a threat to Eastern Europe. “We are certain that we will have a very strong relationship with the Trump administration,” Mr. Danylyuk said.

At this point, Ukraine is more interested in getting help from Washington with military supplies and maintaining economic sanctions on Russia than with obtaining loan guarantees, Mr. Danylyuk said.
Ukraine’s government, under Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and President Petro Poroshenko, faces determined populist political opposition to economic overhauls as well as some resistance from an entrenched bureaucracy and business tycoons that have wielded power in Kiev for decades. “I have very significant resistance from the system, and I have it every day,” Mr. Danylyuk said.
LINK:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-in-no-hurry-to-borrow-as-key-pension-land-overhauls-loom-1492717584

(4) Secretary Tillerson’s Remarks With Russian Foreign Minister  Sergey Lavrov at a Press Availability – Department of State:

Tillerson Ukraine Excerpts …On Minsk, we considered the importance of the accord. Russia can make progress in implementation by de-escalating violence and taking steps to withdraw separatist armed forces and heavy weapons so that OSCE observers can fulfill their role. Until full progress is made under the Minsk Accords, the situation in Ukraine will remain an obstacle to improvement in relations between the U.S. and Russia….

…QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Tillerson, did you discuss today with President Putin or Foreign Minister Lavrov sanctions or other concessions that the United States might make in exchange for a change in behavior from the Russian Government? And also, speaking about what you just answered previously, did you present to President Putin or the foreign minister specific evidence the Russian Government interfered in the U.S. election?

And to Foreign Minister Lavrov, if an independent investigation finds the Assad government attacked his own people with chemical weapons, what will Russia do? President Putin says there’s an effort to blame Assad and plant evidence. Did you present that evidence to Secretary Tillerson today, and would Russia refuse to consider to agree to any circumstance that results in the ousting of Bashar al-Assad?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We discussed no change in the status of sanctions that have been in place with Russia as a result of certain actions taken in Ukraine, as you know. I think as to the question of the interference with the election, that is fairly well-established in the United States and I think that has been spoken to on the Hill as well with the Congress. And it is a serious issue. It’s one that we know is serious enough to attract additional sanctions. And so we are mindful of the seriousness of that particular interference in our elections, and I’m sure that Russia is mindful of it as well…

Lavrov Ukraine Excerpts:We have also touched upon the crisis in Ukraine. We have a single common position, and that is that the 2015 Minsk agreement should be fulfilled, and we remembered how the previous administration of the U.S. had established a two-way channel of communication between Moscow and Washington. And we have also worked, of course, within the format of the Normandy arrangement, and we undertook to still continue contacts in that format in order to find practical ways forward to fulfill the Minsk agreements. We greet – applaud such efforts, and of course, we are fully in favor of them.
COMMENTARY: Listening to Lavrov on anything is probably similar to venturing into the Twilight Zone.  He is a master at a blank face when spouting such boldfaced lies.

Link:  https://ua.usembassy.gov/secretary-tillersons-remarks-russian-foreign-minister-sergey-lavrov-press-availability/

(4) After Tillerson Leaves, Putin Orders Sweeping Arrests of Opposition
      Figures Window on  Eurasia/Paul Goble:

The night Secretary Tillerson left Russia and into the next morning Vladimir Putin ordered the arrest of nine opposition figures across the country, “from Nakhodka to Samara,” Rusmonitor reports.

COMMENTARY:  Reading Putin, or at least sorting out what type of beast he is, is not rocket science.  Push, push, push, challenge, challenge, challenge, advance your power as far as possible and make sure no one can think you are intimidated by or concerned with any other country’s views. Push a restart button, announce to the world that eventually we will be allies and friends but Putin will announce that if that happens it will be on his terms and only his terms.  The only way to stop Putin is to stop Putin.
Link:  windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/04/after-tillerson-leaves-putin-orders.html

(5) President of Ukraine conducted consultations with  U.S. Secretary of State – Ukrainian President’s Website:

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko conducted phone consultations with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the eve of American-Russian negotiations in Moscow. The U.S. Secretary of State assured that the United States supports territorial integrity of Ukraine and insists on the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, particularly on the importance of ensuring ceasefire regime.

Rex Tillerson emphasized that Washington will not allow any package deal as regards solution to the situation in Ukraine and Syria. President Poroshenko thanked for supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression in Donbas and non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea. Petro Poroshenko also noted that Ukraine and USA defend democratic values today that unity our countries, that is why sanctions must remain until full restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The parties agreed to continue bilateral consultations after the visit of Rex Tillerson to Moscow.

COMMENTARY: Of course this story came out at the same time the French foreign minister reported that Tillerson had asked at the G-7 meeting why U.S. taxpayers should care about Ukraine.  It is like reading tea leaves trying to figure out exactly where the Trump Administration is going for sure in relations with Ukraine and Russia.


(6) U.S. Secretary of State asks G7 ministers why it should care about Ukraine conflict – Reuters:

Tillerson asked his European counterparts on Tuesday why American voters should care about the conflict in Ukraine, France's foreign minister said.

COMMENTARY: Even though the source was French Tillerson surely did ask the question and his having done so has to raise bright red flags for all those (a) interested in Ukraine and, (b) more importantly those who understand the critical role Ukraine plays in America’s international interests.  There remains much work to be done.

It is hard not to read reports on Tillerson’s meetings in Moscow and not have the sense that despite everything Putin has done and how he clearly is trying to press his advantage wordwide and test Trump, the Trump folks still hope to negotiate something. The “something” could be in American’s best interests or not.  Tillerson’s alleged question strongly suggests at least one member of the Trump team has yet to understand some fundamental realities. Scary.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/g7-foreign-ukraine-idUSKBN17D1P6 

(7) Congressional Ukraine Caucus Co-Chairs Statement
         on Secretary Tillerson’s Ukraine Comments:

Congressional Ukraine Caucus Co-Chairs, Reps. Andy Harris (R-MD), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Sander Levin (D-MI), today issued the following statement in response to reported comments by Secretary of State Tillerson on Ukraine: 

“We are deeply concerned with the reported question asked by Secretary of State Tillerson ‘Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?’ It is abundantly clear that the U.S. has a major security interest in a free and democratic Ukraine, one not subject to Russian aggression. The statement by a State Department spokesman that the Secretary’s statement was a ‘rhetorical device’ only adds to the uncertainties about what the basic policies are of the current administration. The Secretary’s statement also seems contradictory to his earlier statements in support of sanctions against Russia. It is imperative that the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine, who have demonstrated time and again their shared values for sovereignty, human rights, and the rule of law.”

(8) Richard Haass explains why we should care about Ukraine – USA Today:

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, makes clear arguments:

First and foremost, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including its takeover of Crimea and its continued interference in eastern parts of the country, violates the most basic principle of international relations — that borders between countries should not be changed through the use of military force. This is what Saddam Hussein attempted in Kuwait in 1990, and what Hitler’s Germany attempted before and during World War II. Respect for this principle is the bedrock of what peace and order there is in the world.

A second reason has to do with Russia specifically. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a one-dimensional power. Its influence is tied to its ability to dominate others through the use of force, be it military, cyber, or related to Russian oil and gas exports. It is important that Putin not conclude that continued use of force is a viable path to make Russia great again. If he does, he will continue to invade, coerce and interfere.

Ukraine’s nuclear history is another reason to care. It was once an integral part of the Soviet Union and a good many of the Soviet Union’s nuclear warheads were located there. At the time of the breakup, there was concern that many of the newly independent states carved out of the old Soviet Union would become nuclear weapon states. That would increase the number of countries possessing nuclear weapons and the odds they would fall into the hands of terrorists.

Ukraine voluntarily dismantled its nuclear warheads under a 1994 deal with the U.S., the United Kingdom and Russia. But its subsequent loss of Crimea to the Russians sends a terrible message to other leaders: that giving up nuclear weapons can be hazardous to your political health and territorial integrity. The fact that both Iraq and Libya were invaded after they gave up their nuclear programs — and that a nuclear-armed North Korea has not been attacked — is a lesson lost on no one.

And that leads to a fourth reason Americans should care. Under that 1994 agreement, the Budapest Memorandum of December 1994, Ukraine received various security assurances. This was not the same as a defense treaty — Ukraine did not become a member of NATO — but there was no mistaking the intent, to convey that Ukraine could give up nuclear weapons and still remain secure. The assurance has been shown to be empty. A country’s word is its bond, and any time the United States fails to live up to its word encourages adversaries to challenge us and friends to go their own way.  Either outcome brings about a world of diminished stability and reduced U.S. influence.

Link: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2017/04/13/...ukraine.../100379768/

(9) Sec Tillerson, Here’s Why Taxpayers Should Care about Ukraine—Atlantic Council:

This article was essentially a report on the conference the Atlantic Council and the Razumkov Centre held in Washington earlier this month and which was in Washington Watch #20 .

Commentary: There are so many critical reasons why the United States and the West should care about Ukraine but the issue here is how can the number one diplomat for the United States ask the question Tillerson reportedly asked?  Setting aside all of the other strategic reasons the nation’s top diplomat should start from the basis of the very credibility of the United States.  Good grief!!! The U.S. pushed for a signed the Budapest Memorandum assuring Ukraine’s sovereignty and the very security of Ukraine’s borders. You don’t have to go any further – does America’s word mean anything?  Why should the taxpayers care – because America’s word is fundamental to its global relations and those relations one way or another impact or will impact every American.

Link: http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/secretary-tillerson-here-s-why-taxpayers-should-care-about-ukraine#.WPBRRnCZuWU.email

(10)Former Trump campaign chairman to register as
        foreign agent on behalf of Ukraine – Military Times:

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for lobbying work he did on behalf of political interests in Ukraine, led at the time by a pro-Russian political party, his spokesman said.  Manafort is the second Trump campaign adviser to have to register as a foreign agent since the election. By registering retroactively, Manafort will be acknowledging that he failed to properly disclose his work to the Justice Department as required by federal law. The Justice Department rarely prosecutes such violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act, but Manafort will now have to publicly and specifically detail his foreign agent work. That includes which American government agencies and officials he sought to influence, how he was paid and the details of contracts he signed as part of the work. Before, Manafort had been able to keep much of that information out of public view.

Link: Associated Press

(11) Trump Voices Commitment to NATO: President makes sharpbreak
        in rhetoric from his campaign – The Wall Street Journal:

President Donald Trump voiced strong support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as tensions with Russia dominate his first months in office, declaring he no longer views the alliance as “obsolete.”

COMMENTARY:  The news just keeps getting worse and worse for Putin. 

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-to-reiterate-commitment-to-nato-1492008887

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