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An appeal (and breaking the rules of the blog)

September 3, 2014

This blog historically shuns advertising.  Rarely does it promulgate public service announcements.  Only occasionally has it promoted NGOs.

It frequently received queries regarding the legitimacy of charities from would-be donors – and makes an effort at confirming or denying their existence within the legal frameworks of Ukraine.

However, this entry is an exception – because the lady in contact is well known to the author for many years and thus there is no question as to her existence, legitimacy, nor motivation.

Dear Nikolai,

I hope you are doing fine and I hope you remember me.

I never would write such letter to you but now I need to do it. I ask for help all people whom I know personally.

I believe you know the situation in Ukraine, it is really terrible.

I am looking for people and organizations that would like to help war refugees from the Eastern Ukraine who are at the moment left to their own fate in the Kiev region. The majority of them are mothers with little children and elderly people, they are homeless, many of them are sick and even without identity documents. I am responsible for help coordination and I do all I can to collect the funds to organize help to this war victims.

This people urgently need medications and food, especially the children, the help coming from the volunteers already is not enough due to the great number of people affected by the military conflict.

If you would like and if you are able to help, please write me back. Even little help will be highly appreciated!

You know, I am 50 years old but never in my life I could imagine this war in my country….
Please see some pictures of my wards – children and refugees in the attachment to this letter.

Thank you very much in advance and looking forward to hear from you soon,

Larisa

1-34 5678910

Any reader who may feel so inclined, do contact Dr. Larissa Varenikova to coordinate any assistance you may want to give.  Her email address is  larisa.varenikova@yahoo.com –  or via her LinkedIn profile.

Do feel free to “retweet” or “share” as appropriate.

Thank you.

(Please note this is an exception to the rule and is published due to the fact I know those that appeal on behalf of others personally – and these are exceptional times, so exceptions can be made.  Other unsolicited requests may very well fall foul of the general rule.)

 

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Interesting but incomplete – Carnegie

September 2, 2014

This blog has some good friends within Carnegie, and especially so within Carnegie Moscow – in fact some of its members have publicly dedicated articles to this blog in the past – rather humbling it should be noted.

However, this Carnegie article, whilst making some reasonable points for debate, also seemingly deliberately, missing a crucial and important point.

That point being, you can lead a horse to water – or at least not stand in its way – but you cannot make it drink.

There is no mention, not even a hint, that the Kremlin elite – particularly currently – has absolutely no desire to join any such major international institutional frameworks.  Quite the opposite, for years it has been systematically setting up its own alternatives within which it sits at the very core and in positions of dominance.

There is a seemingly inherent “self-exclusion” gene within any Kremlin leadership.

Those international institutional frameworks that The Kremlin has seen any benefit from joining, Council of Europe, WTO etc, it has joined.  Apart from that the message for decades has been very, very clear – and is currently not only explicit, but actively projected.  That message is that Russia has always been, is, and will remain – uniquely different.

It would appear, that the many scholars who were once at Carnegie Moscow, the likes of Shevtsova, Lippan and Petrov, and who “got it” when it came to the Kremlin/Russian perception of its own “uniqueness”, have been replaced by some whom it choose to ignore such a fundamental and blatantly obvious position.

That is not to trash the above article out of hand, but that Kremlin position undoubtedly has direct effects upon the outcomes it describes.

Nevertheless, do read Carnegie Moscow – good friend Balazs Jarabik always has some well formed and thoughtful things to say when he publishes there.

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To freeze or not to freeze – that is the question

September 1, 2014

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? “

Hamlet – William Shakespeare

“To be, or not to be” perhaps seems a little over dramatising of the situation for Ukraine – or indeed perhaps not.

All the above is indeed true.  Of that there is little doubt.

Having already had Crimea severed and illegally annexed, the regular Russian military now overtly occupies parts of eastern Ukraine, seemingly intent on carving out a de facto “Novorussiya”.

Thus, Ukraine is faced with a question – “To be, or not to be” the territorial sovereign nation it was only a few months ago, to accept further loss of territorial sovereignty and some form of subjugation to The Kremlin once more – or not.  At the very least freezing the conflict in eastern Ukraine and to suffer “The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune” – “Or to take up Arms against a Sea of troubles” via a general mobilisation and fully confront the Russian military in its east.

Nations such as Germany have already ruled out sending arms to Ukraine – but that is not a problem.  Germany has other quite specific roles it can play – and has played – to assist Ukraine.  Other nations such as Poland and Romania, have stated they are prepared to send arms to Ukraine if asked.  Specific requests to those nations may come at, or after, the NATO Summit on 3-4 September.  Thus whilst sanctions work far more effectively when imposed  en masse, requiring consensus – the foreign and defence policies of the EU nations are distinctly sovereign – therefore being bilateral issues with Ukraine.  Neither Germany, nor the EU, can any more stop Poland or Romania sending arms to Ukraine, than have successfully managed to stop France sending warships to Russia despite the current actions of The Kremlin.

The current informed political commentary leans towards Ukraine accepting some from of “frozen conflict”, despite President Poroshenko’s statement that such a state of affairs will never be tolerated on Ukrainian soil.  However, if any form of RADA and local elections are to take place on 26th October as planned, a cessation of fighting need occur as soon as possible.

Yet there is now some noise rumbling from within the higher echelons of most of the political parties, stating that perhaps it should be the elections that be frozen, whilst the war remain hot – and in fact the war should get much hotter – with a State of Emergency and mass mobilisation being called.  These noises are becoming distinctly louder.

It would appear a good idea for President Poroshenko to go into a room with the leaders of all political parties, lock the door, and emerge again when there is a unified – or at least super-super majority decision – to either press ahead with the elections and watch the eastern regions not only fall beyond Kyiv’s reach indefinitely, but also become so large an anchor that European integration may become glacial – or press ahead with the war far more vigorously.

Once such a decision is made – whatever that decision may be – those leaders need to consistently and unwaveringly explain that decision to the Ukrainian constituency, with each unambiguously taking their share of responsibility in that decision.

It may suit the Europeans and The Kremlin if a freeze occurs – it may seem logical and the only viable option.

However the Europeans managed to get the Ukrainian public mood entirely wrong when brokering their ill-fated February deal with former President Yanukovich.  The Europeans have seriously underestimated The Kremlin and its desire to control Ukraine whatever the cost.  It may be about to seriously misunderstand the Ukrainian desire to break with The Kremlin, whatever the cost.  Logic and diplomacy need not necessarily apply, as so far has been the case from a European perspective throughout.

Certainly it seems that there are those within Ukraine, some quite influential, that have very different ideas than those of appeasing The Kremlin.  As the current Ukrainian leadership still skates on thin ice with much of its public, whilst it may be able to officially bring an end to the fighting on paper, that does not necessarily mean it will translate into an end to the fighting.  What are currently legalised fighting units, may very quickly become extralegal, unless a convincing case is made that it is in Ukrainian interests to stop.

Thus –  “Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer the Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, And by opposing end them? ” is perhaps still very much an open question within Ukraine itself – regardless of what the external actors may want to think.

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Next question….

August 31, 2014

As the Russian military slowly begins to carve out a “Novorussiya” in the Donbas, and the Russian Academy of Sciences has been tasked with publishing a history of “Novorussiya” – and perhaps if ferreting around in historical documents of Catherine The Great, they may discover a map that will cover a region that The Kremlin feels if can not only carve out, but ultimately control and police thereafter, without too much difficulty.

Overextension would create unnecessary problems.  Thus the question arises – Just how much The Kremlin does believe it can effectively control and police amongst a Ukrainian population that no longer subscribes to the “one people” or mythical “Russian soul” rhetoric espoused by The Kremlin?

Can it effectively control and police more than the immediate strategic priorities of Mariupol, Volnovakha, Donetsk, Debaltsevo, Lisichansk/Rubezhnoye/Severodonetsk region and lastly Luhansk?

Can the Russian Academy of Sciences produce a map of “Novorussiya” that will match the real – rather than ideological – abilities of The Kremlin amongst what will generally be, and remain, a hostile Ukrainian society?

Will the Donbas become a consolidated bridgehead for a year or so, before pushing on into the rest of whatever any Russian Academy of Sciences history of “Novorussiya” will create?

When The Kremlin reaches the limits of what it considers its abilities to effectively control and police, there are questions thereafter for Ukraine and the West.

How to contain, and when ready, drive back a wholly false creation unrecognised by their respective governments and international institutions?

The West may decide to arm Ukraine, but that is a matter of bilateral foreign policy and nothing to do with the EU unless there are EU embargoes in place. Individual sovereign nations could already be arming Ukraine if they had the desire to do so.

Sanctions will stay – and grow. Damage over time to the Kremlin will accumulate. The fighting will continue, either legalised with the army and volunteer battalions, or via extralegal partisans (and there is no guarantee partisans will decide to continue to keep the fight solely on the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia when so much inviting infrastructure to go at in Russia).

The British are calling for Russia to be kicked out of the SWIFT banking system, which would have tremendous impact almost immediately on Russia. That said, it won’t fly with the all the other EU Members.

In short it is a public statement of extreme action by the UK that they know will never actually happen – no different from the strategic voting seen at the UN where nations are seen to vote seemingly against their own national interests in the full knowledge that a veto will be thrown down by somebody else, but they are seen to be doing the right thing, or do so to curry favour with others for voting that way.

Next week at the NATO Summit the UK will announce a Joint Expeditionary Force made up of the UK, the Baltics, Poland, Holland, Norway, Denmark and Canada – no USA – which would give the appearance of a “European theatre” coalition of the willing NATO group, within NATO.  However, whilst that may seem to be its orientation within the context of Baltic fears and the Ukrainian war, it has a distinctly “Arctic” look about it too – where Russia is becoming aggressive due to oil and gas claims. Clearly the UK and Holland are involved for their BP and Shell interests and others have direct claims on the Arctic.

Would such coalitions of the willing be extended to “partner nations” and will Ukraine become a “partner nation” once it sheds it official non-aligned status – something that quite possibly will occur in the imminent future?

Whilst all parties appear to have goals and tactics – there appear to be no strategies as yet.

Will any be formulated and effectively implemented by party?

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Goodbye non-alignment?

August 30, 2014

Sometimes things appear to be dramatic prima facie, when in fact they are anything but.

This afternoon, Prime Minister Yatseniuk, after a meeting the the National Security Council, submitted a draft bill for consideration by the RADA, to abolish Ukraine’s long standing official non-alignment status.

Prima facie, and in the context of the current war on-going between Ukraine and Russia in the east, a dramatic turn of events perhaps.

“Pursuant to the decision of the NSDC the Government of Ukraine submits to the Parliament a draft law called to abolish a non-alignment status of the Ukrainian state and resume the policy towards Ukrainian membership in NATO.”

Defiant stuff vis a vis Kremlin intentions for, and aggressive actions within, Ukraine.

There will no doubt be stern words and condemnation from within and those around The Kremlin for the sake of propaganda – particularly from the swivel-eyed far right lunatics that see everything as a CIA or NATO inspired plot.  That the actions of The Kremlin they so keenly support have pushed Ukraine further and further away as a nation, society and ideologically, will no doubt fly directly over their heads.

Yet despite all that propaganda noise, as and when it comes, The Kremlin will remain confident that Ukraine joining NATO is not going to happen any time soon – if at all.

Of the five chapters that outline conditions for NATO membership, one wonders if Ukraine actually meets any of them currently – and how many years it will take to meet all of them.

In brief, of the political and economic issues, Ukraine would need to demonstrate stable democratic institutions (far more than simply being able to hold reasonably free and fair elections every 5 years), actively pursue, or ideally have settled, any regional or ethnic disputes (Crimea?), have good relationships with their neighbouring nations (Russia?), display robust commitment to human rights and rule of law (which is not something Ukraine is renowned for),  have a market economy, and civilian control of, and over, its military.

Regarding the chapter on defence, firstly Ukraine must spend enough – and commit to continuing to do so – on its defence.  There is also the obvious issue of reforming its military to effectively enhance the collective defence arrangements of NATO members.  Clearly serious financial and reforming assistance is required.

There are also criteria regarding legislation and information security that Ukraine would have to meet, despite undoubtedly still having many Kremlin infiltrators amongst its ranks, and most of the Ukrainian State infrastructure still working on pirated Microsoft software and heaven only knows what downloaded malware, spyware and Internet nasties.

Whilst some of those issues can be overcome very quickly indeed, there are certainly others that will take years to accomplish.

Compliance with NATO membership requirements is not going to happen tomorrow.  Or next week.  Nor next year.

There is then Article 10 to consider – the unanimous agreement of existing members to admit a new member.  Even the most casual of glances at the existing membership highlights one or two (currently) Kremlin Trojan Horses, discounting a few naturally dovish members that will acquiesce to the robust noises from The Kremlin about NATO on its borders – even though NATO is already on its borders.

However, the Ukrainian leadership are of course aware of these facts, just as much as The Kremlin and the NATO leadership itself.  It was undoubtedly all raised once again today at an extraordinary meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

President Poroshenko may need to show some flexibility too, having campaigned stating NATO membership would only be pursued if 70% of the nation were in favour.  Still, he is a politician and subjected to “events, dear boy”, and those most serious events are being orchestrated by a very aggressive and unfriendly neighbour.

So, is this more just posturing by Ukraine following overt Russian military invasion in its eastern regions over the past few days, far beyond what has gone before this year?  Nothing for The Kremlin to really raise an eyebrow over should this bill pass through the RADA and become law?

Maybe.

Clearly and unambiguously, the Ukrainian leadership is attempting to permanently reject the official and currently legally held non-aligned status, in preference for alignment with western constructs.    Actual NATO membership and EU membership, or not – when and if they ever come – is somewhat irrelevant today.   What is important, should this bill pass, is that Ukraine will not be constrained to act in a non-aligned way from that moment onward.

An alignment toward the western constructs within Ukrainian law there will be, snuffing out any remote chance of membership within any Russian led alternatives.   If the September ratification of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement and DCFTA rules out the Eurasian Union – which it does, although not so the CIS trade agreements if a few simple tweaks were applied – today’s submitted draft bill also rules out any CSTO, SCO or emerging alignments too.

Should this bill pass and be signed off by the president, any notions of a “neutral Ukraine” can be forgotten.  Formal membership of western clubs or not, Ukraine is not rejecting its non-aligned status for it to be replaced by one of officially recognised neutrality – no matter how much that may upset the geopolitics of the region.

It makes the NATO Summit in Wales during the first week of September somewhat more interesting – not that anything more than training, reform assistance and enhanced intelligence sharing seem very likely to be forthcoming – (officially at least).

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Partisans

August 29, 2014

Today, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, begins a visit to Ukraine that is due to last until 3rd September.

Tomorrow, whilst in Kyiv he is due to introduce the fifth human rights report regarding Ukraine.  If the MSM is to be believed, the report will be critical of both sides – albeit the quotes in the link appear particularly onerous for those fighting against Kyiv and their sponsors.

That the government in Kyiv be criticised for human rights abuses by those forces under its control is only right.  It took the decision to incorporate and assimilate the volunteer battalions into the Ministry of Interior in order to bring about not only some form of official command and control, but to legalise otherwise unlawful groups regarding combatants.  In doing so it was well aware that any overzealous, disproportionate, criminal and otherwise inhumane acts by such volunteer battalions would ultimately and unambiguously be laid at its door.  However, better that than to have an anti-terrorist operation (ATO) comprised not only of the Ukrainian military and Ministry of Interior personnel, but also illegal volunteer battalions that could and would otherwise be framed as no different to the terrorists Kyiv’s operation was fighting against by some on-lookers.

That said, things have progressed.  The ATO continues and engages with those it was designed to.  The Russian Army however, is now unambiguously involved on both sides of the Ukrainian border.  That the conflict has not been recognised officially as the war it actually is, is because both politically and legally, it suits nobody to do so – for the time being.

Meanwhile, Russian troops and proxies resupply and reinforce positions in eastern Ukraine, and indeed expand south toward the strategically important coastal city of Mariupol – strategically important both for the realisation of any “People’s Republics” and also for struggling supply routes to the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula.   Thus Kremlin options to create a frozen conflict increase should it choose to, or to recognise and annex the People’s Republics in order to secure land based supply routes to Crimea, or simply to enter the next round of negotiations in a position so strong that it need not move from its demands of Ukraine at all.

That the Ukrainian leadership cannot and will not meet all of those demands is entirely understood by The Kremlin – and also by the vast majority of the Ukrainian public, who have little desire (currently) to cast aside the values they fought for to bring down Yanukovych, simply to be subjected to equally corrupted Kremlin values.  Thus the impasse is not only governmental – it is societal.

It is this societal issue, one that fought for the values it believed in at Maidan, and again fights in volunteer battalions, that should be cause for concern for not only the Ukrainian government, but also The Kremlin – and indeed the UN human rights bodies – as swathes of Ukrainian sovereign territory change hands time and again.

There can be no accurate account of the weaponry and munitions in eastern Ukraine – indeed there is no accurate account of the small arms and munitions (in particular) leaving Ukraine and entering the Russian Federation either as volunteers/adventurers return.

When the territory temporarily – or otherwise – changes hands in eastern Ukraine, left behind advancing or retreating lines are now armed people/groups that are beginning to  form outside of Kyiv’s previous attempts to control and legalise the volunteer battalions.

Across Facebook, VK and other social platforms, some accounts are beginning to create secret “admin” controlled partisan pages.  Tweets are beginning to appear from well-followed accounts, not only suggesting partisan activity, but that such activity be taken into Russia, targeting Russian infrastructure – telecommunications etc.

(Readers do note that links to such accounts and related embedded tweets are deliberately not included so as not to promulgate them, but seek in Russian or Ukrainian and ye shall find.)

Should that begin to occur, how can either governments of Russia or Ukraine guarantee gas transit to Europe, and should the gas infrastructure be hit, would it occur in Russia or Ukraine?  Pipe or pumping station?  Which pipeline?  As the undeclared war between both nations spills into other areas, it will become increasing difficult to make such assurances with regular troops and incorporated volunteer battalions, let alone partisans.

For all there may be concerns over the ideologies held by some members of some volunteer battalions, all of which were deliberately assimilated into the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior for clearly identifiable legal and control reasons – notwithstanding the distorted ideologies of some of those they fight against too – Kyiv has at least made the effort to assume legal responsibility for the actions of those volunteer battalions.

It would seem an almost impossible task to do so over secretive partisan groups should they actually form, who by their nature will take matters into their own hands by making decisions unilaterally when opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps they will not form.  Perhaps if they do they will not become active.  Perhaps they have already formed.

However, given the fact that such calls already exist, it would be foolish to ignore what is becoming a distinct extralegal possibility, and that may lead – or not – to a very dark and/or difficult place indeed.

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A Batkivshchyna implosion?

August 28, 2014

What seems long ago, on 6th June, an entry appeared here predicting the implosion of Yulia Tymoshenko’s political party, Batkivshchyna. – “With regard to Batkivshchyna, the only question is whether it splits into two or three parts – Ms Tymoshenko and loyalists to her, those who will stick with Arseniy Yatseniuk, and those who will head directly to the Poroshenko camp either via Solidarity or UDAR.

Regardless the integrity of Batkivshchyna is ruptured. The party ranking at least twice as high as its leader in every Ukrainian Olbast. The end is upon it, and implosion similar to that of Party Regions assured.”

Well that moment appears to now be upon the party – unsurprisingly within 48 hours of President Poroshenko dissolving the current RADA, thus commencing the statutory 60 days of campaigning prior to the 26th October elections.

Within 24 hours of the elections being caused, gapping chasms began to appear between Mrs Tymoshenko and Olexandr Tyrchunov.

Withing 48 hours, that split now appears to have become terminal – as predicted back in June..

The fault, undoubtedly that of Mrs Tymoshenko and her firm personal belief that Batkivshchyna, just as Block Tymoshenko previously, are nothing more than a vehicle for the ego and policies of Yulia Tymoshenko.  As has been written here in many an entry over many years – and as is the case with all populist politicians – the party need control the leader, not the leader the party.

It appears that quoting, reading and plagiarising Vaclav Havel (and others) in statements to the world during the years of her incarceration, have taught her little.  It seems that the reception she received upon her release and very subdued reception by the crowds of Maidan have taught her little.  The fact the Batkivshchyna Party actually coalesced as a party with something resembling an ideology and cause during her absence for several years, seemingly went oblivious to her.   Her 12% polling at the presidential elections in May, instilled no clear-eyed appreciation of her political future.

Her early maneuvering prior to the electoral starters gun, naturally all form and little substance, in “New Batkivshchyna, Old Heart” is very likely in need of a by-pass, if not necessarily resuscitation – yet.

All of this entirely predictable for anybody who has met and/or worked with Mrs Tymoshenko.  You either work for Mrs Tymsoshenko – or you work against Mrs Tymoshenko.  You do not work with Mrs Tymoshenko – and within hours of being given the chance to prove that once again due to the elections – she has split her party, with a number of senior, currently governmental and ministerial members, leaving.

Presumably, though it is not yet clear,  Turchynov, Yatsenyuk, Avakov, Denisov, Golovko, Mateychenko, Pashinsky, Paruby, Emets, Lynchenko, Burbak, Pishni, Hmil and Apostol etc., will head to President Poroshenko’s Solidarity party, or that of UDAR – those parties signing a pact prior to the presidential elections of mutual support.

If so, a disaster for Batkivshchyna when it comes to polling day on 26th October.  These politicians will take with them a considerable part of Batkivshchyna voters – discounting those already lost to other populist politicians like Oleh Lyashko.

That Mrs Tymoshenko will return to the RADA as leader of Batkivshcyna Party is certainly assured.  The cost to what was becoming something of a genuine political party with identifiable ideology and cause – immense – though many will doubt that actually matters to her much.

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