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Ukraine’s presidential election — and all the drama, mudslinging, and accusations between Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy that went with it — is over.
Now it’s time to get back to governing, and there are a number of issues demanding attention from President-elect Zelenskiy, a political newbie with a billowing popular mandate but virtually no established institutional base.
By all accounts, the Ukrainian people sent a strong message in this election: They are dissatisfied with both the pace of reforms and their politicians’ efforts so far to root out corruption. The economy is still struggling, including with the consequences of the loss of control over Crimea to Russia. And a conflict in the country’s east that has already left more than 13,000 people dead since 2014 still simmers, with Moscow’s support for the armed separatists factoring into everything Kyiv does both at home and abroad.
Ukraine’s president does not head the government, but the office does wield significant influence, including veto power over parliament and the authority to appoint some senior officials. The Ukrainian president is also the commander in chief of the country’s armed forces, a crucial role given the ongoing conflict in the Donbas.
Here are some of the president-elect’s most pressing challenges once he is inaugurated, presumably on June 3.
Nothing looms larger than corruption. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, Ukraine ranks 120th out of 180 surveyed nations. The problem has deep roots.
From the courts to the cop on the street, bribery is “widespread among Ukrainian public officials.” According to the London-based Chatham House, tackling corruption in Ukraine will ultimately require “consensus among the elites to change the rules of the game.”
Some anticorruption efforts have not lived up to the hype. The newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau has yet to “achieve a high-level prosecution because of the influence of vested interests over the judiciary,” according to Chatham House. However, there are signs of hope. On April 11, Poroshenko announced the launch of a special corruption court, the High Anti-Corruption Court, that was a condition for a $3.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “Today, we see the result: 38 new judges proceed to perform their duties in the new court,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter at the time. It will be up to the president’s office to ensure that this court’s work is not impeded.
Zelenskiy has already signaled his eagerness to take on sitting officials with his election-night pledge to ensure the exit of Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s controversial top prosecutor.
But as economist Timothy Ash pointed out around the same time, many observers will also be scouring for indications that Zelenskiy is not beholden to Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the exiled oligarch whose TV station, advisers, and possibly frequent counsel have played such a major role in the 41-year-old comic’s political rise.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine have left more than 13,000 dead, tens of thousands injured, and more than a million people displaced, according to United Nations estimates. They also dealt a near death blow to Ukraine’s economy. The Donbas, epicenter of the continued fighting, is also the historical heart of much of Ukraine’s heavy industry. And warfare and economic growth don’t mix, although there is some room for optimism.
In 2015, Ukraine’s economy was shrinking, according to the World Bank,contracting by just under 10 percent. Since then, as international lending accelerated and the conflict has cooled a bit, Ukraine’s economy has recovered. The IMF is predicting growth of 2.7 percent for Ukraine in 2019.
There are other encouraging signs as well. Ukraine’s State Statistics Service recently reported that real wages were up 11 percent year-on-year in February. The average monthly nominal wage is 9,429 hryvnyas, or around $350. The average wage in Kyiv is up 50 percent. Foreign direct investment (FDI) remains meager at 2 percent, but “Ukraine has started reappearing on investors’ radar screens,” according to Andy Hunder, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine.
Russian’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 “was very much driven by undermining Ukraine’s energy and gas-diversification strategy,” according to Frank Umbach, an associate director at the European Center for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS).
The Russian takeover cost Kyiv its access to some of the vast offshore oil and gas resources in the Black Sea, estimated at 4 trillion-13 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, according to Umbach. Despite that and other major setbacks, Ukraine has made progress in decoupling itself from Gazprom, Russia’s state gas giant. In February, Ukraine’s state-owned energy firm Naftogaz won a landmark victory over Gazprom in a Stockholm courtroom. The judges of the Stockholm arbitration court ruled that Ukraine no longer has to buy a fixed amount from Gazprom.
Arbitrators also nullified the inflated gas prices agreed under a controversial deal struck by Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009, when she was prime minister.
Naftogaz, meanwhile, boasted in January that it had gone from importing 74 percent of its gas from Russia to getting all of its gas from elsewhere in Europe. In January, Ukraine exported its own natural gas to Europe for the first time in 15 years. In the future, experts say, Ukraine must tap into its own gas reserves. According to BP, Ukraine has 600 billion cubic meters (bci) of proven reserves, enough to meet its energy needs for 20 years. At the same time, more Ukrainians are opting for solar power. In 2018, more than 7,500 households installed solar panels on their homes, and those numbers are expected to grow.
Conflict In The East
In early 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine’s armed forces numbered 157,000 troops. But only one brigade — around 6,000 service members — was considered battle-ready, according to Mykola Bielieskov, deputy director of the Institute of World Policy in Kyiv, in The National Interest. Prosecutor-General Lutsenko has since suggested that the country’s armed forces “nearly collapsed” in 2014.
Around 30 volunteer militias and private armies — some with far-right leanings, the Azov Battalion among the most notorious — helped fill that defense vacuum.
Today, Ukraine’s combined military ranks number about 250,000 active-duty troops and roughly 80,000 reservists. Ukraine has reportedly made huge strides building its own force of drones, integral to reconnaissance along the front lines.
“In the last two years since this organization has been set up, they’ve rapidly advanced from using dirigibles or balloons to do reconnaissance to building their own UAV systems,” Lieutenant Colonel Ty Shepard, a U.S. Army National Guardsman advising a Ukrainian military command and control program, told Air And Space magazine. “And that’s from zero.”
They also built up their arsenal, including with a shipment of Javelin antitank missiles from the United States in 2018, and Washington might be open to supplying more. On September 1, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and current U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker suggested in an interview with The Guardian that Washington’s future military aid to Kyiv could include weapon sales to Ukraine’s air force and navy as well as the army. (RFERL)
Gone are those days when people, sports enthusiasts, and governments lined up to host the Olympics. Hosting the Olympics, once seemed to be an immensely prideful event, but it has now transformed into an economic burden. Host cities grapple with a plethora of problems which mainly include construction delays, cost overruns, security issues, and environmental concerns.
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has more or less aggravated the problems. The Winter Olympic Games are scheduled for 2022 in Bejing, China. Furthermore, Paris and Los Angeles have been recently nominated as the hosts for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics Games respectively. Both cities have held the Games on two occasions previously, with Los Angeles hosting as recently as 1984. Simply submitting a bid to the International Olympics Committee (IOC) costs up to millions of dollars. Host cities typically have to spend $50 million to $100 million in fees to a slew of consultancy agencies, event management companies, etc.
Hosting the Olympics is more costly than the bidding process. For instance, London spent $14.6 billion for hosting the Games in 2012. On the other side, Beijing spent a lavish $42 billion for the Games in 2008. Meanwhile, the Russians spent $51 billion dollars on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Making, it the costliest Olympic Games in the history of the Olympics.
Governments of host cities and bid teams love to brag about the legacy of hosting the Games. But the hidden costs of such a massive project is too evident to hide. Such megaprojects require additional employment, as well as subsequent improvement of the pre-existing facilities and public infrastructure. Most of these projects are fraught with costs overruns, shoddy work and a lack of long term vision.
According to a study conducted at the prestigious Oxford University In England, by Danish geographer Bent Flyvbjerg and American journalist Allison Stewart, which looked into the individual economic parameters of hosting the Summer Olympic Games between 1960 and 2012. The findings were astonishing, they found out that the Olympic Games overrun the initial cost estimate with 100 per cent consistency. No other megaproject is this consistent regarding cost overruns.
Athens, in particular, seems to have been the tipping point. The city pridefully hosted the Games in 2004, which ended up costing them €9 billion (a whopping $11 billion at today's exchange rate). The offset of the Games was in disguise the onset of Greece's tumultuous years. The country now is in total disarray, with sky-high unemployment rates, failing economic apparatus, record levels of homelessness, all among the grandiose venues built for the Games.
The conclusion is simple, hosting the Olympics is an extravagant affair. If not planned properly, it tends to result in a severe economic crisis for the host city. If the host city lacks facilities and public infrastructure to support the excess crowds pouring in, not hosting the Olympics may be the best option.
Indian wrestler Ravi Kumar (57kg) and Deepak Punia (86kg) enjoyed fruitful outings at the Tokyo Olympic Games as they secured semifinal berths in their respective weight categories at the Makuhari Messe on Wednesday.
On the opening day of the wrestling competition, Ravi Kumar defeated Bulgaria's Georgi Vangelov 14-4 on technical superiority to reach the last-four in the men's 57kg category, while compatriot Deepak Punia overcame China's Zushen Lin 6-3 on points to advance to the semifinals.
Ravi Kumar will take on Nurislam Sanayev of Kazakhstan in the last-four, while Punia will be up against David Morris Taylor of the USA.
Earlier, Ravi Kumar had won his opening-round bout by technical superiority against Colombia's Oscar Tigreros to secure a quarterfinal spot. Competing in the Round-of-16 bout against the Colombian wrestler, the 23-year-old Ravi Kumar, who is making his Olympic debut, showed no nerves as he dominated the bout to win by technical superiority (13-2).
Ravi Kumar landed attack after attack and went 13-2 up, winning the bout by technical superiority with minutes to spare. In wrestling, building up a 10-point lead over the opponent results in a victory by technical superiority.
India's 86kg freestyle wrestler Deepak Punia showed no signs of the niggle that had forced him to pull out of the Poland Open Ranking Series in Warsaw in June, as he defeated Nigeria's Ekerekeme Agiomor on technical superiority to secure a quarterfinal berth.
He got his Olympic campaign to a fine start as he was in control from the start of the bout and hardly ever allowed his Nigerian opponent any room to maneuver his moves, finally winning with a 12-1 on technical superiority.
Punia, who had also suffered an elbow injury just before the Games, was slow at the start but came into his own as the bout progressed, inflicting takedowns at regular intervals to earn points.
The Indian wrestler eased into a 4-1 lead at the break and extended his lead comfortably in the second period.
Punia, the silver medallist from the 2019 world wrestling championships, then set up a clash with China's Lin Zushen in the quarterfinals and defeated him 6-3.
Indian origin girls -- New Jersey-based Natasha Peri (11) and Dubai-based Priyamvada Deshmukh (12) -- have been named in the worlds "brightest" students list based on results of above-grade-level testing of 19,000 students across 84 countries, according to Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY), a part of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.
"Peri, a student at Thelma L. Sandmeier Elementary School, was honored for exceptional performance on the SAT, ACT, or similar assessment is taken as part of the CTY Talent Search," said a statement from the CTY.
Deshmukh, a student of GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai, has been honored for her exceptional performance on the SCAT assessment taken as part of the CTY Talent Search, a university statement said.
She was one of nearly 19,000 students from 84 countries who joined CTY in the 2019-21 Talent Search years. CTY uses above-grade-level testing to identify advanced students from around the world and provide a clear picture of their true academic abilities.
Peri took the Johns Hopkins Talent Search test in Spring 2021 when she was in Grade 5. Her results in the verbal and quantitative sections leveled with the 90th percentile of advanced Grade 8 performance.
"This motivates me to do more," she said, adding that doodling and reading J.R.R Tolkien's novels may have worked for her.
Deshmukh took the Johns Hopkins Talent Search test in Spring 2020 when she was still in Grade 6. Her results in the verbal sections leveled with the advanced Grade 10 performance. She made the cut for Johns Hopkins CTY 'High Honors Awards'.
Due to the Covid19, induced delay in Global logistics support, she finally received her much-awaited "High Honors" pin this week, which she lovingly kept in front of her Grandparents photograph as a tribute to her roots.
The delay in officially getting the certificates did not stop her from attending the summer program at John Hopkins University's CTY in English literature where she studied the confluence of Art and Science in literary writing and completed the course scoring 'A' Grade.
She followed up with top-scoring the second level of Asset Talent Examination which also qualified her for the summer program at Northwestern University this year, where she is learning about world-building in fiction writing this year.
Her elder brother was among the first UAE students to have cleared the Duke University TIP (Talent Identification Programme) when he was in Class 8.
Her parents joke that it's nothing but routine sibling rivalry that she wanted to achieve the same, just a year ahead of her brother. Even though she loves Physics and Computer Science as subjects, unlike her elder brother (who is Chancellor's Scholarship holder student of Astro Physics at the University of Massachusetts), Deshmukh wants to pursue humanities and literature when she goes to college five years down the lane.
As part of Johns Hopkins policy, granular information is not broken down by age or race.
Likewise, it is left to the guardian to disclose the prodigy's name. Within the US, awardees come from all 50 US states.
"We are thrilled to celebrate these students," said Virginia Roach, CTY's executive director.
"In a year that was anything but ordinary, their love of learning shined through, and we are excited to help cultivate their growth as scholars and citizens throughout high school, college, and beyond," Roach added.
The quantitative section of the Johns Hopkins CTY test measures the ability to see relationships between quantities expressed in mathematical terms, the verbal section measures understanding of the meaning of words and the relationships between them.