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The Endless War in the DonbassThe War in Donbass is still ongoing after its onset in 2014. What started as a trade disagreement between the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russia, spiraled into civil protest which shifted into a bloody civil war among the protestors and the military.

Living in a War Zone

Since then, the civil war has worsened, affecting a majority of the citizens who reside in the war zone. There will be no signs of a permanent ceasefire within the country until common ground is found between the resistance and Russia’s military presence. Nick Thompson, a reporter for CNN, stated in 2016 that, “Ukraine’s prolonged stalemate is causing grief and isolation among millions living in the conflict zone, the United Nations warns, 9,500 people have been killed in the violence and more than 22,100 injured, including Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of armed groups, the UN says.”

Damaged Healthcare Facilities

Along with the high casualty rate, health care for citizens is becoming harder to reach due to the destruction of many hospitals and healthcare clinics in the region. Nearly one-third of medical facilities in the Donbass region have reported damage as a result of the conflict from the civil war.

The destruction of medical facilities is only worsening the burden placed on the citizens of the Donbass by the war. The significantly reduced accessibility of healthcare is compounding the many elements of poverty that have stricken the region.

A Weakened Economy

Before the war, the urbanized area of the region accounted for nearly 15 percent of Ukraine’s population and produced 16 percent of its domestic product. The GDP in Ukraine in 2013 was approximately 183.31 Billion USD until the conflict arose, which dropped the GDP by nearly 50 percent.

This reflects the economy present within the region and asserts the idea that individuals, as well as the country, are suffering from the effects of the civil war. Many have been forced out of their homes to migrate to other parts of Ukraine leaving displaced individuals in need of aid. While the EU expanded sanctions against Russia for a brief period, they shrank back in 2015, reducing Russia’s incentives to end the conflict.

The War in Donbass has permanently affected the people who once lived there or are currently residing in the war zone. This war has created many new elements of poverty by damaging the economy and reducing healthcare access. Many reforms will have to be established in order to combat against this civil war and rebuild the region once the war has ceased.

Struggling Peace Agreements

NATO has increasingly worked on their relationship with Russia in order to hinder the war but most of these agreements have failed to appease both sides.

While the outlook for the Donbass region may appear grim, the EU can still hold its considerable sanction power over Russia. Additionally, peace agreements are still in the works, despite their failures to reach a quick conclusion. A number of organizations are undergoing efforts to support the people of the region. For instance, the People’s Project of Ukraine, a non-profit organization, is engaging in crowd-sourcing efforts to support those displaced by the war. Consider donating to projects such as these if you are interested in helping the people of Ukraine.

– Elijah Jackson
Photo: Flickr

Revolution of DignityIn November 2013, student protests in Ukraine turned into a full-fledged revolution against government corruption that has since been dubbed the Revolution of Dignity. Now, with a new government in place, the country is attempting to align itself with its European neighbors and become a stable democracy. With multiple roadblocks in the way, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Ukraine will need to rely on its allies in order to achieve its goals.  

How the Revolution of Dignity Began

Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity started out as a series of student protests to pressure the prime minister to sign an association agreement with the European Union. However, as the protests raged on, they became a catalyst for the rest of the country to express its discontent with larger issues with the government like the regime’s power grabs and rampant corruption.  

Despite these issues, protests only became a revolution when violence broke out between the government and protesters on Nov. 29, 2013. After this point, the goal became to overthrow the government and establish a more democratic state, one free of corruption and acting in the people’s best interests. In 2014, the people in overthrowing the government, reinstating the previous constitution and holding new elections in May.

While the revolution was successful, it was not without consequence. The destabilization in the country helped lead to the annexation of the southeastern Crimea region by the Russian Federation. On top of that, while the previous regime was friendly to the Russian government, the new one looked for a more independent governance supported by the E.U. and other western allies. With tough challenges ahead, Ukraine needed to look to allies for help.

What Allies Are Doing to Help

Since the protests initially started to pressure the Ukrainian president to sign an agreement with the E.U., it comes as no surprise that the E.U. is a key ally in helping Ukraine handle its political turmoil. One of the first things the newly elected government did was pass the Ukraine-European Union Associated Agreement and join the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area. These moves strengthen the nation’s economic, political and cultural ties with Europe through mutually beneficial relationships.  

While the U.S. is not as geographically close to Ukraine as the E.U., it has a vested interest in keeping the region stable and independent. Currently, over $204 million is planned in foreign aid for Ukraine. Among this, 33 percent is for peace and security, 32 percent goes toward human rights, democracy and governance, 29 percent is for economic development, and six percent goes toward health. With this aid, the U.S. hopes to keep Ukraine free of Russian influence and welcome them into the western world.

Through USAID, foreign aid is being used to help out local communities of Ukrainians.  In 2017, the organization helped 50 communities effectively manage resources and become sustainable without the central government. This not only fights corruption but also helps improve the everyday lives of Ukrainians who face instability in the face of recent changes.   

Continuing Progress in Ukraine

The aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity and the struggle with Russia has left many Ukrainians in a state of upheaval. With an uncertain future and violence a real possibility, it is key that allies help the country through this traumatic point in its history. The humanitarian impact of political uncertainty is often understated in the media, but it is real. While there are larger political reasons for Ukraine’s allies to help it, the aid these allies give to the Ukrainian people has an impact on the ground that can help save many lives.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Flickr

impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy
Much has been written about the Magnitsky Act, especially considering that it is a longstanding source of resentment among prominent Russians. However, remarkably little research has been done about the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy.

What the Magnitsky Act Does

In 2014, the United States passed the Magnitsky Act, which was an effort to punish Russia for alleged human rights violations surrounding the death of a whistleblower who tried to alert the public to the alleged corruption that had been taking place in Russia for the previous several years. The intent was to sanction the individuals responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, without impacting the majority of Russian citizens who had nothing to do with it.

The Magnitsky Act is notable because it attempts to punish solely the Russians responsible for Magnitsky’s death, rather than Russia as a whole. Rather than blanket import/export bans, the Magnitsky Act freezes the assets of the Russians implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the victim for whom the legislation is named. Additionally, it bans these individuals from obtaining visas to enter the United States.

The Magnitsky Act has been followed by the Global Magnitsky Act, which applies these punishments to any citizen of any country who is suspected of aiding the activity of the Russians in question. Additionally, other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have passed their own versions of this legislation.

Impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian Economy

Although the intent of the Magnitsky Act was to have minimal impact on the Russian economy or the lives of average Russian citizens, it is fair to assume that there has been some effect. Russia retaliated in 2014 by banning all food imports from Europe and the United States for a period of one year. This is in addition to banning all adoptions of Russian children by American citizens, which has become a major point of contention in recent years.

After the passage of the original legislation, its authors stressed that the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy was meant to be positive. The reasoning was that the Magnitsky Act would discourage the corruption and theft that supposedly limit Russia’s economic growth prospects. However, there is little evidence to prove that this has been uniformly the case.

Moving Forward with the Magnitsky Act

As an upper-middle income country, Russia’s standard of living and other metrics of assessing the average Russian’s state of economic affairs continue to lag behind the advanced industrial economies of the world. However, it is not possible to decisively say how much of this is due to the corruption that the Magnitsky Act and its supporters allege. More research should be done into the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy, as it is difficult to say whether the authors of this legislation were right to craft it the way they did.

Because of this lack of decisive data, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy. There is no question that the Act plays an important normative role in signaling that the United States will exact consequences on violators of human rights, but whether it has the positive economic effects that its authors claimed it would is still not possible to assess. It seems likely that targeted sanctions like these could be a valuable tool to respond to potential human rights violations going forward, but they must be used with caution until a clear understanding of their broader impact is reached.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr

How the US Benefits from Foreign Aid to SerbiaSerbia is working to strengthen human rights protections and to promote economic growth within the country while facing external pressure from Russia. Russia has been expanding its influence and amplifying ethnic tensions in several countries that may join the European Union. In particular consideration of the close relations between Serbia and Russia, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Serbia because this aid works to prevent a new Cold War in the Balkans.

Social Benefits of Foreign Aid to Serbia

From 2001 to 2017, the U.S. gave about $800 million in aid to Serbia to help the country stimulate economic growth, promote good governance and strengthen its justice system. One example of a major issue Serbia is dealing with is human trafficking.

According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons report, Serbia remains listed as a Tier Two country because it has yet to fully comply with the minimum standard for eliminating the issue. However, Serbia has shown significant efforts to address human trafficking by establishing a permanent human smuggling and trafficking law enforcement task force, identifying more victims as well as providing guidelines to judges and prosecutors.

Other U.S. aid to Serbia in the past has gone toward strengthening its export and border controls. This includes efforts to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction. More recently, U.S. military aid has helped Serbia take part in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programs as well as prepare for international peacekeeping missions.

Economic Benefits of Aid to Serbia

From an economic standpoint, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Serbia through U.S. investors in the country. These investors include KKR, Philip Morris, Ball Packaging, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Cooper Tire and Van Drunen Farms. In 2013, Fiat began shipping cars manufactured in Serbia to the U.S., increasing imports from the Balkan countries.

In addition, U.S. technology companies in Serbia are becoming more interested in opportunities in areas such as e-government, cloud computing, digitization, IT security and systems integration. In 2013, Microsoft even signed a $34 million contract to provide software to government offices in Serbia.

Political Benefits of Aid to Serbia

U.S. aid to Serbia is currently focused on helping the country integrate into the European Union, which will decrease Serbia’s vulnerability to Russian aggression as well as strengthen its democratic institutions. Out of the $5.39 million the U.S. plans to allot in foreign aid to Serbia in 2019, 46 percent will be allocated to strengthening the country’s rule of law and protection of human rights, 34 percent will be put toward increasing the capacity of civil society organizations and 20 percent will be for good governance.

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Serbia from a diplomatic perspective as well in the case of international terrorism. The Ministry of Interior Directorate of Police, the Security Information Agency and Serbia’s law enforcement and security agencies have continued to work with the U.S. to prevent this major security threat, which affects both nations as well as the rest of the world.

In the past, Serbia has hosted a regional counterterrorism conference on foreign terrorist fighting. The country has also sent representatives to conferences in Albania, Italy and Slovenia to discuss how to counter violent extremism.

There are many economic and political reasons the U.S. and Serbia would benefit from the U.S. providing aid to Serbia. Together, the two countries have great potential to make technological advancements as well as work for a more peaceful world.

– Connie Loo
Photo: Flickr

OssetiaDiscussing poverty in Georgia is difficult to do without also acknowledging the sensitive subjects of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There is extensive debate over how best to describe these regions, but they are described as anything from disputed territories to de facto Russian client states propped up and recognized by few other than Russia itself. As such, poverty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia comes with its own special set of circumstances.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was a major turning point in the history of this part of the world and it has left lingering trauma in the region. Abkhazia and South Ossetia were relatively well-off parts of the Soviet Union, but following its collapse, they both saw their populations and their standards of living decline. The effect of this collapse is lingering poverty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia such that a majority of residents view the dissolution of the USSR in a negative light.

The current political situation in both of these territories is far from stable, even after nearly two decades of violence, suspected ethnic cleansing and political turmoil. This presents a unique set of obstacles for addressing poverty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, particularly in Abkhazia.

Most residents of Abkhazia, regardless of ethnic group, seem to favor total independence with the exception of ethnic Armenians, who support integration into the Russian Federation. If anything, however, Russian influence is strongly cemented into the Abkhaz political sphere, which means that any changes in the status of Abkhazia will lean heavily toward deeper integration with Russia.

South Ossetia is also finding itself pulled more and more into Moscow’s orbit. However, this is less of a problem than in Abkhazia as an overwhelming majority of its ethnically homogenous population is in favor of joining the Russian Federation.

The international community continues to debate whether and how to handle this political situation, but few are confident that a solution will be reached anytime soon. Meanwhile, however, poverty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remains a problem and residents are finding that few in the midst of this great power struggle are attentive to their real and pressing needs.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia face particular challenges when dealing with poverty because of their disputed political status. It is difficult for them to access international markets, but Abkhaz and Ossetian products do not necessarily fare well in Russian markets. It is also worth noting that Georgia also suffers as a result; it has lost access to Russian markets as a result of this political dispute, where prior to the conflict 70 percent of its trade volume was with Russia. The complicated political situation makes it difficult for aid to reach these regions and hinders efforts to collect accurate data.

The 2014 Winter Olympics were a beacon of hope to relieve poverty in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The goal was for tourism to nearby Sochi to help shine a light on these locales and promote tourism there as well. However, this ended when Russia, prioritizing security above all else, closed the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders.

That being said, there are a number of actors trying to improve the situation and promote economic development in this troubled region. The UNDP in Georgia has made combating poverty, and specifically youth unemployment, a key feature of its work. Promoting youth employment is key because it not only promotes economic growth, but can also discourage young people from becoming involved in political violence.

While Abkhazia and South Ossetia face many challenges that will not abate any time soon, efforts are being made to work around the political situation to bring real change to the lives of the people in these regions. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are just two reminders that even in seemingly intractable conflicts, poverty reduction is still critically important and can make a huge difference.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr

Leaky Pipes? Infrastructure in RussiaDespite high levels of foreign investment and a thriving energy sector, the development and maintenance of infrastructure in Russia remains sluggish and disproportionately benefits a small elite. Russia is one of five major emerging economies grouped under the heading “BRICS”— Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Investment in infrastructure in Russia, however, lags behind other member nations, particularly India and China.

Even with overall low rankings in infrastructure investment, Russia remains an “energy superpower” as a major exporter of oil and natural gas. Indeed, one active area of infrastructure development in Russia is pushing pipelines through Central Asia towards China in an effort to solidify the country’s hold on that market.

This commanding position hasn’t necessarily translated into widely-shared prosperity for the people of Russia. Poverty in the world’s largest country is up by nearly 15 percent. The majority of economic gains go to a fairly small privileged class. As it stands, only 110 households hold between 19 percent to 85 percent of all Russian financial assets. This uneven distribution of prosperity is in large part due to endemic corruption in Russia, facilitated by weak government institutions, a legacy of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

This disregard of the law threatens the future of investment for infrastructure in Russia. Andrey Movchan, senior fellow and director of the Economic Policy Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, opines that due to corruption state investment in infrastructure not only would likely fail to revitalize the Russian economy but might actively damage it.

The Russian government under Vladimir Putin has actively blocked efforts by the U.S. to improve governance in the nation. Putin’s administration ordered the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID) to shut its operations in Russia in 2012, claiming that the organization was engaging in subversive activities. 

Domestic efforts to combat entrenched corruption likewise face challenges. Enemies of the state are notorious for being sidelined by illness, exile or death. One prominent example of such a suspicious neutralization is the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant who died in prison in 2009 following his investigation into potential tax fraud. This prompted the U.S. Congress to pass sanctions in 2012 targeting Russian officials believed to have been involved in human rights violations.

Despite the risks, Russians continue to fight for their futures and for better infrastructure. Alexei Navalny, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation and a frequent inmate of Russian jails who attracts thousands to his rallies, has announced his intentions to run against Putin in the 2018 presidential elections.

– Joel Dishman

Photo: Flickr

Common Diseases in Russia
Despite its position as both the largest country in the world in terms of landmass and a superpower within the global community both economically and militarily, since the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, and even prior to that, drastic increases of common diseases in Russia have continued to occur. The causes for this are numerous and diverse, and the types of diseases being identified are often extremely contagious.

Common Diseases
There is no disputing that Russia, comparatively, is a very sick country, and the most common diseases in Russia are generally speaking, either preventable or curable. According to data from a 2014 World Health Organization report, the number of deaths in Russia caused by illnesses exceeded that of the U.S. by 54 percent.

Though coronary heart disease, strokes and HIV/AIDS claimed the most Russian lives in 2014, other common diseases in Russia include lung cancer, lung disease, liver disease, colon and rectum cancers, stomach cancer, pneumonia and different forms of influenza.

The country is also not estranged to seeing infectious diseases. As of 2017, some of the infectious diseases most affecting Russian citizens include typhoid fever, yellow fever, dengue fever, malaria, Rift Valley Fever as well as both hepatitis A and hepatitis E.

Causes and Analysis
Though the country has a socialized health care system that provides medical care to the majority of the population free of cost, it is highly underfunded, which has led to what is considered low-quality medical care by many developed nations and western societies. When attempting to understand the reasons behind the increase of common diseases in Russia, it is important to understand how changes in Russian politics slowly created a public health crisis. These changes took place before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and only became increasingly worse following this event.

In the first four years following the fall of the Soviet Union, infant and maternal mortality rates increased substantially, life expectancy and fertility rates notably decreased and contagious diseases became widespread. According to a 1996 report published by the National Library of Congress, common diseases in Russia can be described as the result of the combination of environmental destruction through means including water and air pollution that were caused by the contamination of water and food products, specifically by mishaps involving nuclear development and improperly disposing radioactive material.

Among other things, the population is overcrowded, particularly in urban areas, which often produces substandard living conditions. There is generally widespread malnutrition due to an extremely disproportionate distribution of wealth in the Russian economy and high rates of alcoholism and tobacco usage. To make matters worse, there is a considerable lack of access to modern medical equipment and resources.

Long-Term Impacts
Although its effects may not be visible to the global community yet, public health in Russia is arguably one of the biggest threats to the country’s  future survival as a population. The threat is creating a concern among many that, if the current trajectory is maintained, there will inevitably be noticeable population decreases, as such decreases have already begun.

Between 1993 and 2015, the Russian population saw a decrease from 149 million to 144 million; unfortunately considering the current health crisis, experts have estimated that, if trends continue, the population could be as low as 107 million by 2050.

Hunter McFerrin

Photo: Flickr

Ukraine Poverty Rate
In recent years, Ukraine has been a focal point in the news for its contentious relationship with Russia. The Ukraine poverty rate has seen spikes, especially since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

According to an article from the World Bank, in 2016, Ukraine’s economy grew by approximately 2.3 percent. This growth was viewed as minimal, especially in comparison to the past two years where Ukraine collectively saw a 16 percent increase. However, areas including fixed investment and agriculture harvest exhibited strong growth.

Satu Kahkonen, country director for Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine at the World Bank stated in the article that economic recovery for Ukraine is feasible.

“The economy is recovering modestly, but accelerating reforms can help to boost growth in the medium term, address macroeconomic vulnerabilities, and improve the wellbeing of the population,” Kahkonen said in the article. “Reforming the pension system, land markets and health care are now critical given the growing headwinds from the conflict in the east of Ukraine.”

For 2017, officials predict that Ukraine’s economy will experience a mere two percent growth. The World Bank has sought to help this country through investment. They have collectively contributed over $10 billion towards 70 different projects and programs.

In addition, the people of Ukraine have historically faced fairly severe poverty. Between 1992 and 1994, hyperinflation caused approximately 80 percent of Ukrainians to find themselves living in poverty. Additionally, about 25 percent of Ukrainians faced unemployment. The Ukraine poverty rate has only worsened in the years following.

According to the World Bank, the poverty headcount ratio at national poverty (the percentage of the country’s population living below the national poverty line) was approximately 6.4 as of 2015.

The Ukraine poverty rate is projected to improve in the coming years, regardless of recent declines in the country’s economy.

Leah Potter

Photo: Flickr

Russia Poverty Rate
According to The Guardian, the Russia poverty rate in 2016 was 13.4 percent, the highest it’s been since 2006. In spite of this, the Russia poverty rate has decreased significantly since Vladimir Putin took office in 2000.

 

Factors Contributing to the Russia Poverty Rate

 

One of the largest contributors to Russian poverty is the sanctions put on the country in 2014 by Western countries, as discussed in Radio Free Europe/Radio Library. These sanctions were condemnations for some of Russia’s recent actions, including the annexation of Crimea.

Another factor in the increase of the Russia poverty rate is the shrinking economy. Much of this deals with the diminished prices of oil, on which the Russian economy heavily depends.

Debt is another contributor to poverty rate. According to MarketWatch, many of Russia’s 85 regions are in debt due to the local governments relying heavily on commercial loans from Russian banks: “[M]ore than 25 Russian regions had debt-to-revenue ratios of over 85 percent.”

Local governments also have to pay high taxes to the national government, which many struggle to do. Several of the regions have even defaulted on national loans, causing both frustration and government instability on both sides.

These factors coincide with the rising cost of Russian goods and the decrease of Russian wages. Because of this, Russians are less inclined or able to spend much money, which is reflected by the 5.9 percent decrease in retail.

Regardless, by the first quarter of 2017, Russia has decreased its poverty rate by nearly 7 percent. According to Tatiana Golikova, chief of Russia’s Audit Chamber, “[There are] 1.4 million people less [living in poverty] than in the first quarter of last year.”

Moreover, according to MarketWatch, Russia is expected to end its regression in 2017. Reasons for this include a stricter budget and more realistic market expectations.

Cortney Rowe

 

Photo: Flickr


Georgia is a nation well-known for its conflict with Russia over provinces South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008. Georgia is a former member of the Soviet Union, and South Ossetia and Abkhazia declared independence from Georgia shortly after it left the Soviet Union. However, neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia is fully recognized as independent from Georgia internationally. Their declarations of independence resulted in conflict with Georgia.

Here are nine facts about refugees in Georgia.

1. As of mid-2015, there were more than 250,000 “refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR” in Georgia. This includes refugees, people in refugee-like situations (who have not been formally recognized as refugees), internally displaced persons, asylum seekers and other stateless persons.

3. The 2008 conflict created 150,000 Georgian asylum seekers. Fewer than 1,000 Georgian asylum seekers had been accepted each year globally since the early 2000s.

4. More than 1,400 refugees from other countries were accepted into Georgia in 2015. The majority of them were from Iraq and Syria.

5. Since Russia’s second invasion of Chechnya in 1999, about 12,000 Chechnya refugees came to Georgia. Russia has made claims that Georgia hid Chechnya rebels, but Georgia has deemed those claims as false.

6. The International Criminal Court started investigating the war crimes of South Ossetia, Russia and Georgia in and around South Ossetia in order to bring justice to over 6,000 victims. Still, it is doubtful the victims will receive reparations.

7. There are almost 300,000 internally displaced persons in Georgia due to the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia over the last 20 years. Five percent of the population is internally displaced.

8. During Georgia’s conflict with Abkhazia in 1992-1993, both sides terrorized civilians based on which group they were from and this led to many displaced persons.

9. The EU voted in February to allow Georgians to travel visa-free into the EU for up to 90 days. The EU was concerned this could cause an upsurge in Georgian migrants overstaying illegally, therefore it reserved the right to reinstate visa requirements if needed.

These are just nine facts about refugees in Georgia. Refugees in Georgia are affected by the conflict in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia.

Jennifer Taggart

Photo: Flickr