Prepared by Alla Royenko
December 17, 2020
Despite the global coronavirus crisis that has had a catastrophic impact on all aspects of Ukrainians’ lives, 2020 still has its achievements. We can recall the establishment of the ceasefire that has saved the lives of many Ukrainian soldiers, the prisoner swap, the adoption of laws on reforms, including the launch of the land market as a major breakthrough.
Ukrinform has decided to remind you of the most important milestones of 2020.
1. VERKHOVNA RADA OPENS LAND MARKET
The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved the launch of the land market at its special meeting on the night of March 30-31. A total of 259 MPs voted for the relevant bill No. 2178-10 “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine Concerning the Circulation of Agricultural Land.”
According to the adopted law, the opening of the land market is scheduled for July 1, 2021. The main provisions of this document are as follows.
From July 1, 2021 to 2024, only individuals will have the right to purchase land plots. Legal entities are prohibited from purchasing agricultural land.
During the first two and a half years, there will be restrictions on the purchase of land as one person will be able to buy only up to 100 hectares of agricultural land. From 2024, the limit will be set up at 10,000 hectares for one person.
The sale of state and municipal lands is prohibited.
Foreigners will be allowed to purchase land on the territory of Ukraine only if a corresponding decision is adopted on a national referendum. In addition, foreigners are prohibited from buying land plots located closer than 50 km of the state border of Ukraine, notwithstanding the referendum results.
The lessee’s pre-emptive right to purchase is provided. A lessee has an opportunity to delegate the pre-emptive right to purchase the land to another person, but an owner must be notified of this intention in writing.
The agricultural land’s sale price cannot be lower than their normative monetary valuations. This norm will be valid until January 1, 2030.
2. PRISONER SWAP
On April 16, as a result of the mutual prisoner swap, 20 Ukrainian citizens, previously held captive in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, returned to the government-controlled territory. In particular, nine Ukrainians had been held captive by militants in the occupied territories of Donetsk region for a long time, and eleven Ukrainians, including two servicemen, were held in the occupied areas of Luhansk region. The swap took place at the “Mayorske” border crossing point in Donetsk region and near the town of Shchastia in Luhansk region.
In turn, 14 citizens left for the occupied territories. Mutual release of detainees was held within the all-for-all format.
Over the years of the war in Donbas, many Ukrainian citizens have been taken captive. The humanitarian subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group for the settlement of the situation in Donbas deals with the issue of a prisoner exchange.
From the beginning of the war, large and small-scale exchanges have been held. The first “large” exchange took place in December 2014, when 146 Ukrainian captives were released. A total of 3,253 people have returned from captivity over the years of the war in Donbas.
On November 6, 2020, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine had handed over the lists for a prisoner swap to Heidi Grau, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in the Trilateral Contact Group, and was awaiting a response from the other side.
Currently, 251 Ukrainian citizens are held captive in the temporarily occupied territories of Donbas.
3. LAW ON BANKS
On May 21, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed the Law No. 590-IX “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine to Improve Specific Mechanisms for Banking Regulation” which the Verkhovna Rada adopted on May 13, 2020 at second reading and as a whole by 270 votes.
The adoption of the “bank law” is one of the two main conditions put forward by the IMF for providing financial assistance to Ukraine (the second condition was the adoption of the law on land market, which was passed on March 31).
The law prohibits the return of bankrupt banks to their owners. The court will not have the right to deliver such a judgment.
It is forbidden to return bankrupt banks to the market. If the court overturns the decision of the NBU to withdraw the bank, the liquidation of the bank does not stop and the sale of assets and payments to depositors continue.
The procedure for obtaining monetary compensation by shareholders of bankrupt banks was determined. Bank’s shareholder will be able to go to court. If the illegality of the NBU’s decision is proved, a shareholder will be entitled to compensation. The amount of compensation is determined by the international auditor. An auditor must confirm the availability of capital in the bank at the time of withdrawal
The law changes the procedure for appealing the NBU’s decisions to withdraw banks. The courts will not be able to take over the functions of the central bank. They will not be able to question the NBU’s calculations, estimates and conclusions about banks. However, the decisions of the NBU may be declared invalid by a court.
The mechanism for transferring assets to transitional, assuming the bank was changed, previously could take months. The law accelerates the process, making it possible to complete within a few days.
4. NATO ENHANCED OPPORTUNITIES PARTNER STATUS
On June 12, NATO granted Ukraine the Enhanced Opportunities Partner status. This status is part of NATO’s Partnership Interoperability Initiative, which aims to maintain and deepen cooperation between Allies and partners that have made significant contributions to NATO-led operations and missions.
NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partnership (EOP) program was launched at the NATO Wales Summit in September 2014 to provide individual partner countries with mechanisms to achieve and maintain maximum interoperability with the Alliance. Currently, apart from Ukraine, only five countries have EOP status: Sweden, Finland, Australia, Georgia and Jordan. Ukraine applied for EOP status on January 15, 2020.
5. PEACE AGREEMENTS IN DONBAS
On July 27, pursuant to the decision reached at the Trilateral Contact Group meeting, another “full and comprehensive ceasefire” in Donbas began. The TCG meeting was held via videoconference on July 22.
At the same time, during the TCG meeting, the parties agreed through the mediation of OSCE to take measures to strengthen the ceasefire until the international armed conflict in the Ukrainian Donbas is fully settled. Relevant measures were agreed upon by Ukraine and Russia and supported by the OSCE at the TCG meeting.
Over almost five months of the ceasefire in Donbas, combat losses among Ukrainian servicepersons have decreased tenfold. Currently, the ceasefire is generally maintained, although some violations have been recorded.
Since the beginning of the war in eastern Ukraine, there have been many ceasefire attempts but they were also repeatedly violated.
6. FIRST PLANE WITHOUT RUSSIAN-MADE COMPONENTS
On August 21, the airframe of the first serial An-178 transport aircraft without Russian-made components parts was assembled at the Antonov State Company.
According to the Antonov State Company President Oleksandr Los, about two-thirds of components in this type of aircraft were manufactured at the U.S. corporations and another third is of domestic production.
To date, Antonov has launched production of five serial An-178 aircraft. In Ukraine, the aircraft will perform the tasks of units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Defense. At the same time, operators in Turkey, Asia and Latin America have expressed interest in using this aircraft.
Antonov An-178 is a Ukrainian short-haul transport aircraft powered by turbojet engines. It was designed by the Antonov Design Bureau in Kyiv on the basis of An-158 passenger plane (АN-148-200). A unique feature of the An-178 aircraft is the ability to transport almost all existing types of packaged cargo in containers and on pallets. In emergency situations, the An-178 can be used to evacuate the population from a disaster area, transport the wounded on standard stretchers and land rescue teams.
Flight characteristics: maximum cruising altitude – 12,200 m, maximum payload – 18,000 kg, flight range with cargo of 10,000 tonnes – 3,680 km, maximum cruising speed – 825 km/h.
7. LAUNCH OF GAS MARKET FOR POPULATION
On August 1, new rules in the gas market entered into force in Ukraine. Now consumers can choose the supplier which offers its gas price. Thus, it became possible to choose either the cheapest offer, or the most profitable one in terms of payments, or the offer providing best service.
At the same time, consumers have an opportunity to move freely from one supplier to another. That is, suppliers must compete for consumers and improve the quality of their services. As a result, the most successful and professional players will survive in the market.
8. LEGALIZATION OF GAMBLING BUSINESS
On August 11, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky signed the Law “On State Regulation of Activities in the Organization and Conduct of Gambling” which was passed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine at second reading on July 14, 2020. A total of 248 MPs voted for the bill No. 2285-d.
Gambling business – land-based casinos, slot machine halls, betting and other types gambling – has been officially banned in Ukraine since 2009. The introduction of such a ban was planned as a temporary measure, and a law establishing clear rules for the gambling business operation was to be drafted within three months after the ban was introduced. However, over the past years, the gambling business has operated illegally under the guise of lotteries. In December 2019, the Government of Ukraine banned lottery-like gambling facilities.
The adopted law regulates the organization and conduct of gambling in land-based casinos, slot machine halls, on the Internet (including poker), betting offices.
The law introduces criminal liability for organizing gambling without a license, allows placing slot machines only in three-star, four-star and five-star hotels, regulates “traditional” lotteries and sets the gambling age at 21. Restrictions are imposed on the advertising of gambling establishments. In particular, it is forbidden to advertise gambling as an easy way to make money.
9. UKRAINE’S MOTION TO DISQUALIFY JUDGE IN SCYTHIAN GOLD CASE GRANTED
On October 28, the Amsterdam Court of Appeals granted Ukraine’s motion to disqualify a judge in the Scythian gold case due to confirmation of the presiding judge’s link with the lawyers of Crimean museums which could indicate his bias.
It’s a very important victory for Ukraine, allowing for consideration of the case by an independent judge. On November 24, the Amsterdam Court of Appeals appointed a new judge. According to the press release, the court offered to submit in writing the proposals for further consideration of the case.
The Scythian gold case began six years ago, when the valuable collection had been delivered to the Allard Pearson Museum in Amsterdam as part of the exhibition entitled “Crimea – the Gold and Secrets of the Black Sea” prior to the illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. The exhibition presented the collections of five museums, one of which is located in Kyiv and four in Crimea (Simferopol, Kerch, Bakhchisaray and Chersonese). After Crimea had been occupied, the Dutch museum could not decide which country the collection should be returned to. Crimean museums demanded that the Scythian gold be returned to them because the collection was taken from their funds under the contracts. At the same time, Kyiv insisted that the exhibits could not be sent to the occupied territory as they belong to the state museum fund of Ukraine, are state property and are not subject to alienation. Thus the Scythian gold trial began.
On 14 December 2016, the Amsterdam District Court ruled that the exhibits of the Crimean museums had to be returned to Ukraine. The judgment was delivered pursuant to the UNESCO convention, according to which the art treasures should be returned to a sovereign state, which provided them for a temporary exhibition. However, on 28 March 2017, the Amsterdam Court of Appeals received an appeal against the ruling from the representatives of Crimean museums.
Ukraine requested to disqualify the judge of the Amsterdam Court of Appeals. However, in November 2019, a court in The Hague rejected the motion of the Ukrainian side as it did not see any circumstances that would indicate the judge’s bias. The proceedings on the merits were adjourned pending the ruling on disqualification. Later, Ukraine filed a second motion to disqualify the judge.
The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine revealed the circumstances that could indicate the bias of the presiding judge. In particular, according to the Ministry of Justice, the presiding judge of the Amsterdam Court of Appeals for several years had represented the interests of the Russian company Promneftstroy in the case against OJSC Yukos Oil Company, i.e. actually defended the interests of the Russian Federation in the case in favor of Promneftstroy. The judge represented Promneftstroy in close cooperation with lawyers representing Crimean museums in the Scythian gold case.
On 2 September 2020, the Amsterdam Court of Appeals began a hearing on the disqualification of the judge in the case of the Scythian gold museum collection. During the hearing, one of the three judges felt ill and the hearing was adjourned. After the break, the presiding judge noted that everything that happened on September 2 before the incident was taken into account. While the litigation continues, about 500 exhibits are kept at the Allard Pearson Museum and are not on display.
10. VITALIY MARKIV RETURNS TO UKRAINE
On November 4, Ukraine’s National Guard serviceman Vitaliy Markiv, who had been arrested in Italy and charged with involvement in the murder of an Italian photojournalist, returned to Ukraine. Markiv stayed behind bars in Italy for three years and four months.
In June 2017, when Markiv and his wife flew to Italy to visit his mother, he was detained at the Bologna airport by Italian police and charged with involvement in the murder of Italian photojournalist Andrea Rocchelli and his Russian interpreter, Andrei Mironov, in Donetsk region in May 2014. In July 2019, the Pavia court sentenced the Ukrainian citizen to 24 years in prison, having no evidence of his guilt. Markiv’s lawyers filed an appeal. On November 3, 2020, the Milan Court of Appeals acquitted Markiv and he was released from prison.
On December 11, the Basmanny District Court in Moscow ruled to arrest in absentia Ukraine’s National Guard serviceman Vitaliy Markiv, who had been declared internationally wanted by Russian investigators on charges of allegedly “killing two people in Donbas.”
11. MILITARY GOODS PROCURED THROUGH NATO AGENCY AND WITHOUT INTERMEDIARIES FOR THE FIRST TIME
On November 30, the first-ever procurement of military goods without intermediaries through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency for the Armed Forces of Ukraine was conducted.
Back in February, advance payments were made for the procurement of equipment for machine guns installed on armored personnel carriers, caterpillar threads and software licenses through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency.
NATO Support and Supply Agency is a platform with a procurement system that allows purchasing weapons and military equipment that Ukraine does not manufacture or is unable to manufacture, without intermediaries at better market prices and conditions. In addition, new opportunities and challenges open up for Ukrainian producers that will stimulate the technological and innovative development of the defense industry in Ukraine.
12. ICC STARTS RUSSIA’S WAR CRIMES PROCEEDINGS
On December 11, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the conclusion of the preliminary examination in the situation in Ukraine related to the international armed conflict in Donbas and Crimea.
At the next stage, the case is submitted to the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court to make a decision to initiate a full-fledged criminal investigation.
In 2015, Ukraine requested the International Criminal Court in The Hague to start proceedings over the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Over the years of the armed aggression, Ukraine has sent 12 information reports on the most serious war crimes and crimes against humanity to the ICC. Ukraine has submitted two applications to the ICC over the events during the Euromaidan protests and the situation in Crimea and Donbas.