I returned from a long overdue vacation last week, and since then have been trying to catch up with what has been happening with Ukraine over the past few weeks. That lead in is another way of saying that this week’s article will be a bit of a hodge-podge of miscellaneous things rather than one of my typical treatises on one coherent theme.
I will start with Puerto Rico. You may well ask what has Puerto Rico even remotely got to do with Ukraine? Puerto Rico for those who are minimally acquainted with this Caribbean island just east of the Dominican Republic, is formally a U.S. territory. It was acquired by the U.S. in 1898 from Spain after that country’s disastrous war with the U.S. (Spanish-American War 1898). As well as Puerto Rico, the Americans were also ceded the Philippines, Guam and, nominally, Cuba. Despite the fact that Puerto Ricans are deemed to be U.S. “citizens”, they have no representatives in Congress or the Senate, and are not allowed to vote in Congressional or Presidential elections. Puerto Rico is de facto an American colony.
In any case, Puerto Rico has seen some rough times economically over the past couple of decades. Despite being better off in relative terms than most of its Caribbean neighbours, the territory is in dire financial straits with a ballooning public debt, high unemployment, and dysfunctional local governments. In 2016, the U.S. Congress placed Puerto Rico under the administration of a special Financial Oversight and Management Board, with the task of resolving the territory’s financial crisis. Last week, Natalie Jaresko was named as the head of this oversight body.
Natalie Jaresko, as some of you may know, is a highly competent and intelligent financial guru of Ukrainian ancestry from Chicago, who recently served as Ukraine’s Minister of Finance from 2014 to 2016. During that time, she managed to rescue Ukraine’s sorry finances from eminent collapse, and bring some order to Ukraine’s economic management policies. To quote her own words, “Combining fiscal austerity, debt restructuring, and structural reforms, we were able to return the economy from the brink of financial disaster to stability and growth.” Now, Ms. Jaresko gets the opportunity to work similar magic closer to home with Puerto Rico. I have no doubt that she will succeed.
Back in Ukraine, the war in the Donbas continues with some new variations. Having been shamed by the nationalists’ unsanctioned blockade of coal deliveries from the occupied east, President Poroshenko finally imposed an official embargo on trade with the rebel territories. Say what you will about Poroshenko, but he knows how to adapt to public opinion, once he realizes he has fallen behind the prevailing mood of the public.
As for the conflict itself, Putin has ratcheted up the aggression with an increase in tempo of the shelling and assaults on Ukrainian positions. This is partially to up the stakes in this current low-grade war of attrition, as well as to try and find some weaknesses in the Ukrainian defenses, which are holding up very well. As the Russians are finding out, the new Ukrainian army in the east is not the pushover that they thought it was. Patriotism and determination are at an all-time high, whereas within the rebel forces, disillusionment and dissent are beginning to grow. Of course, it doesn’t help the cause when the controlling Russians are systematically assassinating rebel leaders that don’t toe the line.
The Russians are also apparently becoming more active in subversion and sabotage inside Ukraine proper. Last week saw massive explosions at a large munitions dump near Kharkiv, which experts believe was caused by a remote-controlled bomb carrying drone. Also troubling was the blatant assassination of a high level Russian Duma defector in Kyiv. In recent months, up to ten prominent Russian defectors, dissidents and other prominent public figures throughout the world with inside knowledge of Putin’s corrupt regime, have died under mysterious circumstances. It is become increasingly obvious that Putin has mounted a “clean up” operation to eliminate those who may possess incriminating knowledge of his machinations.
Finally, on a lighter note, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, is now accessible in Google Maps. By selecting the building in Google Maps and going to Google Street View, you can take a guided virtual tour of its interior and see where its deputies work, argue and occasionally brawl. How is that for a connected world!