Over the last week, President Yanukovych signed the now almost ritual event of a cooperation agreement with NATO which among other things allows for the unpopular annual Sea Breeze exercises with the US.
Quite why it is so unpopular is really something of an enigma. Ukraine is non-aliened. Its military trains and exercises with all of its neighbours both East and West (NATO and CSTO) alike. It is very active in supplying UN personnel and equipment globally. There is no real reason for the anti-NATO stance by so much of the public given the non-aliened status of Ukraine . Russia also cooperates with NATO regularly despite their disagreements.
It would be more understandable should Ukraine decide to join NATO as that is definitely against the wishes of the vast majority of Ukrainians currently. Equally there is not great desire to join the CSTO either.
Anyway, aside from signing the annual NATO cooperation agreement, Ukraine also committed itself further into the future with regards to its presence in Afghanistan. This time however, rather than bomb disposal teams that have been in Afghanistan for what seems like forever, Ukraine has pledged anti drug trafficking expertise and personnel. It has also offered to transit logistical support to Afghanistan for NATO with effect from 2014. Needless to say, there will still be a massive presence in Afghanistan long past the official troop withdrawals. In fact a large presence is being muted until 2024 in some diplomatic circles.
Now some may mock the idea of Ukraine offering anti-drug personnel and training and wonder what it knows about such matters, however in the past 6 months it has carried out 3 very successful drugs operations at Odessa docks alone, seizing vast quantities from African and South American ships. As a natural transit hub between North Africa, Russia and Eurasia as well as the EU, it is naturally extensively targeted for nefarious purposes by serious and organised crime just as it is for legitimate cargoes. Ukraine is far more switched on to such matters than most would assume and give it credit for.
So, I have briefly mentioned, Ukraine, NATO and Afghanistan. What about the $2.1 trillion?
Well, for the first time ever, the UN in conjunction with the World Bank have given an official estimate of the size of the global criminal GDP. Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Drugs and Crime Office (UNODC) stated that organised crime from which Odessa is certainly not immune, and Afghan heroin trade, which Ukraine will send personnel to attempt to manage, accounts for $2.1 trillion.
$2.1 trillion is 3% of global GDP. If it was a country, it would be in the top 20 economies on the planet.
It is the first ever official UN global guesstimate regarding the serious and organised crime economics. The figures are based on 2009 statistics.
Within this truly massive figure, $40 billion is spirited away corruptly in developing nations. It is a figure to which Ukraine is certainly one such contributing culprit. The truly abhorrent practice of human trafficking accounts for $32 billion each year which Ukraine as an obvious transit country, from East to West and also MENA to West, is not immune either.
Just what figure the UN puts on the Afghan heroin trade now it has for the first time ever compiled such an all encompassing criminal GDP estimate, who knows? How much Afghan heroin moves through Russia and then into Ukraine, some of it onwards to the EU, again who knows?
Whatever, it is surely in Ukrainian interests to cooperate with NATO over the Afghan heroin issue just as Russia has said it will do. No matter how unpopular this decision may be with large numbers of the Ukrainian public, it is the right decision.
That said, most Ukrainians have domestic priorities and this decision will only draw demonstrations during the week the US Navy carries out exercise Sea Breeze in Ukrainian waters with the Ukrainian Navy. Those protests are likely to come from Odessa and Crimea as they do every year, and seem more ritual and obligatory than passionately reasoned.
How Ukraine tackles its share of the $2.1 trillion organised (rather than street) criminal economy is something to ponder. Who are the organised actors? What are they involved in? What strategies and tactics will work most effectively? Who does Ukraine partner with when it comes to international agencies over international crime?
Some of those answers are obvious and others not.