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One side of the conversation – Odessa reforms

July 7, 2015

Unusually for this blog, one side of a conversation held with a visiting diplomatic corps is going to be summarised for public consumption, rather than the usual carefully selected parts that are always subjected to the Chatham House Rule, if anything that is said is mentioned at all.

The side of the conversation is that of your author, and naturally not the side of the diplomats in question.

The very first point made was the timescale in which Governor Saakashvili has to made a significant impact – rather than the (although not meaningless) public shafting of, or sacking of officials and/or departments to the point of disbanding them.  Individually and accumulatively such things do have an impact on the public psyche – but the public of Odessa are expectant of change that they will see and feel rather than watching what can be interpreted as “show dismissals” on TV and YouTube.

This notwithstanding the dubious legality of some of the dismissals.

If the Governor has a policy of meeting ends regardless of means, rather than creating legitimate means to reach sustainable ends, then his reform process will be one that is based on the premise of keep going and let the rule of law try and catch up!  Sustainable ends are only ever reached by legitimate means, and it is questionable just how legitimate some of the current means are.  Justification is not interchangeable with legitimacy.

The timescale offered was 6 months to create a meaningful change that will be noticed by society with personal impact for most.  If such a single issue is identified, dealt with thoroughly and transparently, and effecitvely delivered then it will buy him another 3 months of grace/continued goodwill to deliver a second such reform.  Thereafter the public pressure/expectency will become somewhat more manageable.

Various potential issues were discussed as well as the issues of timeliness for each – quite rightly if a nation is going to invest serious diplomatic and political energy, notwithstanding their taxpayers money, in supporting a specific regional reform.

Thus several “whats”, a few “who’s” and the “hows” were pondered with a good dose of “when”.  The final outcomes will become fairly clear fairly soon.  The problem diplomatically, of course, is just how closely does any nation want to be seen hugging somebody like Governor Saakashvili, vis a vis, if he doesn’t succeed and get the right level of visible support, then reforming Odessa will be set back by a decade at least if it doesn’t happen now.

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Longer term projects that have to be dealt  as a priority regionally would be that of administrative structure.  Odessa Oblast is not and should not be the “Saakashvili Show”.  As has been previously written, the civil service and public administration must be competent and allowed to function without significant and unnecessary political meddling.  Structural reform is desperately needed.

Whilst when Winston Churchill slammed his fist on the table, and General Alanbrooke slammed his fist on the table in reply, Governor Saakashvili seems to be lacking a General Alanbrooke.  An “ideas man” requires a “structures man” who is capable of project managing numerous project managers and also influencing the “ideas man”.  Thus the long term and important projects will undoubtedly be interfered with unnecessarily, and project/policy delivery will suffer as a result.

Another long term project should be the ports/docks.  They are after all the economic centers of Odessa.  Customs e-clearance, porto fanco/free ports etc, and other such ideas have their pluses – but also their minuses.  Impact analysis not only upon economics but also criminality would be a sensible prerequisite, together with a review of the structures within the customs and borders agencies.  If customs procedures are to be relaxed under e-clearance and/or porto franco then intelligence led checks take primacy.  The Iran, Turkey, Odessa, Poland/EU corridor an obvious target of a few.

With Odessa next in line to get a newly minted “Police”, your author raised concerns that go much deeper than those comments recently made over a hopefully bright future for the new “Police” in Kyiv.

Quite simply Odessa is not Kyiv.  The extraordinary lengths that were went to in Kyiv over the recruitment of the new “Police” under the noses of the President, Cabinet of Ministers and foreign diplomats to Ukraine was highly unlikely to be anything less than scrupulous.

Odessa has a fairly large but generally weak and unnoticed diplomatic corps.  There is no President, Cabinet of Ministers or immensely influential diplomatic community to keep a watchful and ever-focused eye over the recruitment process.  That there will be (and are) “interests” in Odessa keen on hijacking or perverting the process from the very start at the recruitment phase should come as no surprise.

However much political time, diplomatic energy, and money was invested in the Kyiv Police, it would be wisely doubled for Odessa if “interests” are to be resolutely rebuffed and the desired outcomes from the very moment of the recruitment process are to be realised at graduation (and beyond).  Thereafter a consistently watchful eye will have to remain on those “interests” until any new force and its structure are robust enough to self-recruit and mentor new recruits and management can withstand consistent attempts at manipulation.

Those that any new “Police” service deal with are then subject to the notoriously corrupt courts in Odessa – thus it is important to distinguish between good policing and justice being done.

The usual issues of FDI, tourism etc were raised, and simply put a few examples of cheaply resolved  inaction were raised – the low hanging fruit such as proof-checked English from the administration for professional purposes is absent, as well as any media information from the administration in well structured English.

How to attract foreign interest when most of the planet doesn’t read Ukrainian or Russian, and can barely understand the garbled English that the administration puts out – when it puts any out at all?

With the massive amount of big-board advertising space, why is there not a single map with English names of streets with a “you are here” marker for tourists wandering about lost?  It costs nothing but makes tourist life a little easier.

Anyway, to dwell of the long list of “easy fixes” for tourism and FDI attraction that are currently not being fixed distracts from the major issues as foreseen and listed above by your author for the next 6 – 9 months, and that were conveyed to the visiting diplomatic corps of the day.

All of these issues should be at the top of the “Watch List” for both Governor Saakashvili and those that would support him.  It is quite possible that reform opportunity will lost for a decade or more depending upon actions (or inaction) by the year end.

The reactions and comments by those on the other side of this conversation, unfortunately dear readers, are not about to be revealed.

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Reform responsibilities (Constitutionally speaking)

July 6, 2015

The Greek referendums is grabbing the headlines – and the issue is not one of austerity or money as many would claim, but an issue of a weak State refusing to reform.

Thus the “Yes/No” referendum is entirely meaningless unless the question being asked is whether the desperate need for State reform should occur with all the pain involved – or not.

That has, inevitably, raised questions as to how President Poroshenko’s reforms are going:

A reasonable question.

Here it is necessary to clearly identify who is responsible for what constitutionally in Ukraine.

Presidential responsibilities are defined in Section V (Article 102 – Article 112) of the constitution.  Aside from the nominations of a few institutional heads, broadly speaking the president is responsible for foreign policy, defence and upholding the constitution.

The responsibilities of the government/Cabinet of Ministers are defined in Section VI of the Constitution (Articles 113 – 120) and basically cover all other governance spheres (less prosecutors office, local governance and justice).

So, the question of how the President is doing regarding reform is one of perspective.  There is now a reasonably effective army where there was none.  Territorial losses have slowed to a crawl – and those losses are a bitter exchange for reformation time from the perspective of Kyiv.

The national foreign policy is certainly now clearly orientated and high profile.

Constitutional faux pas remain few, though there are predictable issues pending the Constitutional Court – rightly.

In short, President Poroshenko is currently doing OK as far as his responsibilities as designated by the Constitution.

However, “Solidarity” was a party created by the President many moons ago.  It has gone through various metamorphosis through the years, but it forms the largest single number of MPs in the current Rada – albeit not a majority.  Thus it is bound by a coalition – and a coalition that is increasingly dysfunctional and persistently having to quell populist nonsense from Ms Tymoshenko and Batkivshchyna as well as Oleh Lyashko and the Radical Party.  This notwithstanding an increasingly unreliable People’s Front Party.

It is within this coalition that robust reforming legislation is becoming far harder to deliver.  It is within this coalition that the Cabinet of Ministers is formed by a party allocation basis.  It is part of the reason that entirely unsuitable Ministers sit in ministerial chairs.

Indeed, aside from some solid work by the Finance Minister, Economics Minister and NBU Head to try and put a stop to the economic rot, the only other truly visible reform comes in the as yet unproven new “Police”.

There remains far to go with reform of other critical and top priority reforms within the judiciary, civil service, the effective implementation of numerous newly created anti-corruption bodies and urgently needed energy reform/transparency – all of which sit within the presidential 2020 reform strategy, but remain outside of presidential control constitutionally and also outside of the presidential party’s ability to change without coalition partner assistance.

The simplest way to answer whether the Ukrainian voting constituency understands the separation of constitutional powers is to look at opinion polls – the drop in the favourable presidential polling still leaves President Porosehnko the proverbial “country-mile” in front of all other would be candidates at the time of writing.  Prime Minister Yatseniuk’s rating have dropped through the floor.

It was expected that Mr Yatseniuk would suffer greatly when creating and implementing reforms that will be either unpopular or untimely (deemed too late, or too soon) or both.  (There are other factors to his and his party’s unpopularity too.)

Thus the Ukrainian public seem entirely aware of who is responsible for what – or not, as the case may be with regard to specific reforms.

The inability to understand the responsibilities within Ukraine however, appears to be widely held by those external of Ukraine.  Thus Presidential issues are laid at the Cabinet’s door, and Cabinet issues at the presidential door.  Encouraging either executive power to step across their constitutional boundaries would be an entirely bad idea, for they need little encouragement to disregard the rule of law in pursuit of political expediency and power as it is.

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Thus the expectations for reforms in Ukraine – or not, and by extension how well presidential reforms are going, much depends upon how you both understand and interpret the actual and perceived strengths of the institutions of executive power.

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A recurring theme – Ukrainian civil service

July 5, 2015

Over the past few weeks, your author has been asked to speak to journalists, NGOs/civil society, and diplomats regarding issues in Odessa and more generally across Ukraine.

A recurring theme in each and every tête-à-tête never fails to arise.  It will undoubtedly arise again on Monday when speaking with more diplomats and also next week when speaking with those from the Oblast Administration.  That issue is the generally dysfunctional, bloated, corrupted, and politically controlled Ukrainian civil service.

Amongst the NGOs/civil society in particular, there seems to be a general lack of awareness of how a civil service should function.  It is, when all is said and done, the nervous system of the nation.  It is what makes things happen – or not.

Through civil service departments, agencies and public sector bodies, the civil service acts as the delivery service of current policy.  Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers and governments will come and go – but the civil service, a-political and independent of government, remains a consistent functionary.

The civil service is responsible for delivering governmental projects, be they large or small, complex or simple (hopefully) on time and on budget.

Despite the numerous ministries in which the civil service perform, perhaps the simplest way to segregate them is those tasked with issues at home, and those tasked with issues abroad.

The civil servants closer to Ministers are there to give advice and have, theoretically (and often do) influence on policy.  Whether that advice is based upon a broad or narrow view, or somewhat questionable evidence occasionally, is something that perhaps should be pondered a little more than it is.

However, together with political independence whilst delivering government policy of the day, one, if not the major benefit of a civil service is its a-political longevity and thus internal stability – and it is here that Ukraine has major issues to resolve.

As such, existing Ukrainian reform by way of reducing civil service staffing numbers and ejecting the most corrupt is at best, still only partial reform.  Political interference and excessive unwarranted meddling continues unabated.

As an example, let us take the Odessa Customs Chief role.  Over the past 18 months, how many Customs Chiefs has Odessa had?

1?  2? 5? 7?

It will soon, over a period of 18 months, reach double figures.  The current incumbent having been seemingly inserted only a week ago, to the angst of the current Governor who was attempting to bring in a candidate based upon meritocracy rather than the continually changing vested interests of the political/business elite.

Staying with this example, and it is perhaps somewhat extreme even for Ukrainian standards regarding political interference in State institutions, there are repercussions beyond any new Odessa Customs Chief knowing that they only have a few months in post before inevitably getting the sack.

How does any Odessa Customs Chief achieve anything approaching institutional change when all employees expect them to last no longer than a few months?

How can any employee have any faith in the management and leadership of the Odessa customs hierarchy when the turnover of top leadership occurs every few months?

Is there any incentive to move beyond the middle ranks, when to do so will ultimately result in your dismissal when you get near the top of the greasy pole?

What of the external interlocutors that have to deal with Odessa Customs?  By way of example, is there any point in senior EUBAM diplomats and functionaries getting to know, and forming relationships with, top tier Odessa customs management that they know will not survive in post for more than a few months?

Can sustained progress be made when by the time new incumbents are up to speed with multi-agency interaction that has previously occurred, they are already on their way out?

The frequently unnecessary but politically expedient turnover of (senior) civil servants in Ukraine simply undermines the a-political nature that should underwrite a civil service.  It thus removes any notion of stability from the functionary system by denying longevity, whilst also placing a ceiling upon ambitions of the capable for fear of putting their head above the parapet in the top echelons of the service and the inevitable sacking that follows.  By extension that often means (good, bad or indifferent) policy in ineffectively implemented – which can have counterproductive political outcomes for those who would sack and promote “their people” within what should be an independent policy delivery system (and which when asked should provide a-political policy advice).

Such is the extent of political meddling within the civil service, who then is accountable and for what?  There is the policy issue of administration, and also the issue of the administration of policy.

Confusion and unaccountability abound when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration, conflict or overlaps with the policy for the administration of policy – particularly when subject to continuous politically expedient hirings and firings at the very top of the civil service. – Clear?  Naturally (and deliberately) not, which is partly why policy is rarely effectively implemented in Ukraine.

Much has been written about rule of law reform, fiscal and economic reform, judicial reform et al.  Little has be written about the required reform for an entire civil service that insulates it from political expediency and unnecessary internal meddling, and provides an a-political functionary delivery (and advisory) service for the policy of the day by a stable and reliable civil service.

Which Ukrainian Minister has been charged with a national reform of the Ukrainian civil service?  Which Ukrainian MP heads a Rada Committee charged with national reforms to the Ukrainian civil service?

Who do the politicians believe will effectively implement their policies if not the Ukrainian civil service?

How do the politicians expect effective policy to be implemented when they are continually applying a politically expedient/vested interest epidural to the nation’s nervous system, rather than dealing with the existing nerve damage to the benefit of the civil service and the nation?

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“Faith Schools” for Ukraine

July 4, 2015

There are controversial issues that may surround “faith schools”, particularly those that are aggressively selective in their catchment. supported, funded and governed by parents that take being a zealot to the extreme, and thus provide a child with a home and school life that ill-prepares them to meet the society within which they live once a working life presents itself within a diverse and liberal workforce.

However, regardless of potential long-term issues, President Poroshenko has signed into law Bill 498 VIII which are amendments to various laws, thus now allowing the establishment of educational institutions by religious organisations.

The presidential website reads “According to this law, religious organizations registered according to the law can be the founders (owners) of vocational, secondary and pre-school education establishments. The changes also apply to out-of-school educational institutions, in which the activities of religious organizations are allowed under the condition that they are the founders of such kindergartens.”

It also makes clear that the law provides the constitutional right of religious parents or persons in loco parentis to the education of children in conformity with their own religious beliefs.

Whether President Poroshenko is aware or not, he has simply made de jure that which de facto exists.  Religiously orientated educational establishments already exist in Ukraine.  In Odessa to select one example of many, School 94 at 60 Marlazlievskaya, is, and has always been, exclusively Jewish in its student body.  School meals are kosher.

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Fortunately it is not an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish school that strictly adheres to the codes of Torah observance, whereby all would live a modest life – which can mean no television, Internet or media and thus more or less segregation from life outside Judaism.

What expectant joy – not – as a Catholic, when reveling in the thought of a hardcore Catholic school coming into being that would be little more than an apostolic mission of the Holy See where the teachings of Christ (according to catholicism) would permeate all areas of a child’s education.

Islamic schools naturally would have the same biases to the Koran as those exclusively for Jewish to the Torah, or Catholic schools to the Catholic Bible.

There is then the Russian Orthodoxy, Ukrainian Orthodoxy and Greek Orthodoxy.

How many US Presbyterian, Mormon, Later Day Saints, (whatever) missionaries, missions and schools will suddenly spring up from nowhere across Ukraine?

Lutheran educational facilities too?  Hindu or Sheik?

The policy questions relate to how much Ukrainian education can – or should – be outsourced (and struck from the government balance sheet) to the privately funded religious sector?

Should there be a State imposed quota in all “faith schools” for pupils not of that faith to insure a mainstream education?

Has there been any attempt at impact analysis in other nations where “faith schools” have been adopted into the education system, prior to passing this Bill into law?

How will the State insure that any “faith school” will not simply provide a student a lifetime of religiously biased education, producing a student fully equipped for a lifetime of religious segregation but absolutely no/limited familiarity with modern Ukrainian life or society?

How will the Ukrainian State reconcile a pious religious school (chose your faith) that will refute any form of acceptance or tolerance toward homosexuality, pre-marital sex, or abortion, with ratified State obligations to human rights, and the democratic demands of tolerance and inclusiveness?

Can Ukraine, as corrupt as the education system truly is, insure that a well-rounded national curriculum is going to be taught, more or less bias free in a “faith school”?  For the foreseeable future, the buying of qualifications will still be possible, so it will surely be possible to bribe any education inspector to give a school outstanding educational write-ups long into the future – even if its teaching warps, manipulates and undermines the national curriculum – not withstanding the minds of its students.

A broad and balanced curriculum is somewhat essential in preparing the youth for adult life in what the current elite proclaim will become a deeply integrated nation with Europe.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

A broad and balanced curriculum should therefore challenge the beliefs behind a “faith school”, rather than conveniently insulating it and its students from any such challenge – for an educated mind to entertain a thought, even if not accepting it, it must first be allowed to entertain the thought.

Will the “faith schools” be allowed to narrow the curriculum to avoid generally accepted truths that clash with the relevant faith?  Will “creationalists” be allowed to do away with, or pervert/manipulate, parts of the national curriculum to fit their beliefs for example?

Perhaps your author is writing nothing short of heresy in questioning whether impact analysis was done prior to signing this law into being, or whether any thought of how policing the national curriculum will be done when it comes into friction with certain beliefs or overly pious religious interpretations in “faith schools” around Ukraine.

All of that said, your author has nothing against “faith schools” per se (unless they are extreme in their religious fervor)  – however the future of Ukraine will be found in a genuine democracy and is therefore by nature tolerant and inclusive.  A democratic Ukraine is thus by default somewhat more liberal than any collective “faith” parts, and certainly more liberal than that which may be taught in a school where any overly zealous parent chooses “the education of children in conformity with their own religious beliefs” in an institution that has been created and is funded by the overly zealous.

The questions here are not about the rights or wrongs of “faith schools”, but relate to the Ukrainian State and its ability to insure a general education that meets the requirements of both students, national interests and an inclusive and tolerant society in the decades ahead.  It is yet to deal with the issues it has within its existing educational institutions after all.

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A new “Thin Blue Line” – The new Ukrainian police

July 3, 2015

Yesterday saw the Rada pass a new “Police Law” which amongst other things granted a statutory right to exist for the new (metropolitan) “Police” that will now take to the streets of Kyiv after months of training.

They will soon appear in Lviv, Odessa, Kharkiv and other metropolitan areas with one million or more inhabitants.

All newly minted officers are volunteers for the positions and are not arriving amongst the ranks via nepotism.  They will be paid more than the other militsia – at least as far as commensurate with service over other existing police services.

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Bravo!  A step in the right direction.

The proof of the pudding however, is always in the eating.

Their creation and granting of a statutory right to exist does not yet equal effective implementation, nor does it measure their success or failure.

Time, as it always does, will tell.

His Excellency, Roman Waschuk, Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine has tweeted that they have already been implemented.

Alas, your author disagrees – they have been created.  At best it can be claimed a decision to create them has been implemented.  Effective implementation of a genuine, a-political, impartial, rule of law entity, has yet to occur.

Within you author’s distant past, your author wrote, created, implemented and monitored/measured “local area policing” plans – or LAPs as they were known within the service.  Upon “home turf” this prose is crafted.

Creation is not implementation.  In short, I know of what I write in the field of policing, policing management, and policing the police.

Effective implementation is measured.  The question is against what, or many whats, that implementation is to be measured against, and over what time span.  It requires benchmarking against predefined targets – but not all targets are necessarily easy to measure with policing and police interaction within society or the structures of State.

Effective policing first and foremost occurs with the overwhelming consent of the public.

In Ukraine, a new and currently untainted police service should receive that overwhelming consent when held up against a corrupt and severely politically influenced/interfered with police service.  Only time will tell if that public consent remains overwhelming supportive, or whether the new thin blue line will soon manage to get tarred with the same corrupt and/or politically controlled brush through its own actions/inactions.

To retain that overwhelming consent requires numerous traits to remain consistent from inception.

There will initially be an esprit de corps.  That esprit de corps must become self-reinforcing, but also have humility in the face of the public, and a robust spine before the elite individuals that will challenge officers when they (or their family/friends) are caught doing wrong.  It must self-police itself with regard to internal corruption and unlawfulness.  There has to be the moral fibre in each and every officer to turn in, or council, a colleague with the same vigour and equality that they would employ upholding the law elsewhere.

The new thin blue line must also have the group ethic to withstand the inevitable attempts to subjugate it to political expediency.  Its loyalty is not to the President, nor the Cabinet of Ministers, nor the Interior Minister – for they will come and go during a 30 year (or so) career.

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The new thin blue line has a loyalty to the public from whence they came, and to whom they serve.  They have a loyalty to the rule of law, whilst holding a certain amount of personal discretion when enforcing it – or not.

Personal discretion as afforded by the law to police officers in most nations, is often influenced by “canteen culture” as to what offenders are sent on their way home for doing – or locked up.  Canteen culture often has a large part to play in setting those parameters and thus the actions deemed acceptable – or not – and the limitations of personal discretion.

Again, esprit de corps will be required to keep the canteen culture, service ethics (and reinforce personal morality) to a level that retains the overwhelming support of the public.

Historically in Ukraine, any officer that may get sacked for having the moral fortitude to refuse to “forget something happened” in order not to embarrass the elites (or their family/friends).  The threat of getting an officer sacked is often the first stick wielded by the powerful/connected.  Going above an officer’s head within the organisation and squashing incidents is also commonplace.

Will the new service have the ethical fortitude to stand its ground before those that have created it and refuse to bow before political expediency or interference?

There are also issues of implementation effectiveness and measurement that are either easy, or close to impossible, to measure.  Policing is not all about how much revenue is generated through fines, the number of arrests made (convictions are a matter for the courts, not the police), or incidents recorded and how they were dealt with by way of discretionary powers with no further action.

Part of policing is about being seen – and how the police are perceived when they are seen.

It is impossible to measure how many crimes are not committed, or incidents that would normally arouse a police response prevented, by the police seemingly wandering around aimlessly yet acting as a visible deterrent.  It is incredibly difficult to measure “prevention” – which is a major part of policing.  It is far easier to measure incidents, for they have obviously occurred.  (It is then, of course, possible to massage those statistics to fit certain benchmarks which is another ethical issue amongst policing management.)

There is  no intention to overly lecture in this post, or go into the depths of policing or its implementation – however it is suffice to say that the welcome creation that has occurred today is not yet effective implementation when it comes to policing and that is what will count.

Effective implementation – or not – is some way from being measured by the service itself, and given the usual societal lag, even further along the time-line when being measured by the public.

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NATO Partnership for Peace ratification – Ukraine

July 2, 2015

It is not often that this blog touches upon defence or security issues – or indeed the war in eastern Ukraine – despite the fact that every time it does readership numbers skyrocket.

The simple fact is that so many others write about the war in eastern Ukraine, and there is much more to Ukraine than the war in the east.

Thus the blog generally sticks to policy (and by extension, rather than by choice, politics).  The challenges Ukraine faces are multiple and gargantuan and the war in eastern Ukraine is but one challenge – and probably not the greatest one.

Rule of law, the effective control of corruption, and the transition to genuine democracy and its consolidation etc, are probably far greater challenges and more important.  After all, the war in eastern Ukraine is being fought against the antithesis of all those things listed above, and that are currently embodied by the current Kremlin system/regime.

Thus there is a larger policy picture to view, and one painted in much broader brush strokes.

Yesterday saw the Ukrainian Rada approve Bill 0035 by 267 votes in favour – a Bill that ratifies the 24th April Memorandum signed in Brussels committing Ukraine to the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme.

The PtP is “based on a commitment to the democratic principles that underpin the Alliance itself, the purpose of the Partnership for Peace is to increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between individual Euro-Atlantic partners and NATO, as well as among partner countries.

Activities on offer under the PfP programme touch on virtually every field of NATO activity, including defence-related work, defence reform, defence policy and planning, civil-military relations, education and training, military-to-military cooperation and exercises, civil emergency planning and disaster response, and cooperation on science and environmental issues.

The essence of the PfP programme is a partnership formed individually between each Euro-Atlantic partner and NATO, tailored to individual needs and jointly implemented at the level and pace chosen by each participating government.”

Over the coming years it will be interesting to see how this develops – or not.

In the immediate and medium term, Ukraine will concentrate upon command and control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, defence reform and reconnaissance – Geopolitics 101, when you live in a volatile neighbourhood with an aggressive neighbour, is be prepared.

Having been ill-prepared, and having been forced to surrender territory in exchange for time, Ukraine will naturally want to make the most of these PfP options to be better prepared in the future.

Ultimately, however many years hence, it will require PfP assistance with demobilisation, reintegration, disarmament, continued assistance with cyber-defence, and more general security related reforms that are currently not the headline grabbing priorities – though are planning and structural necessities nonetheless.

This newly ratified partnership with NATO will be interesting to watch as it develops over the years, both with regard to just how effectively Ukraine uses the PfP toolbox, and also just how forthright NATO will be in getting the tools from the toolbox when Ukraine requests them.

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Right idea, but the asset management? – Yatseniuk on foreign trade

July 1, 2015

Arseniy Yatseniuk, amongst his rhetorical fluff, has a gift for stating the obvious.  That is not meant in a derogatory way.  There are times when the obvious must be stated, because the obvious is not obvious to all – or the obvious is obviously not being done, or done as well as it could or should be.

Often when being called “insightful”, policy makers, commentators (and even your author) are simply stating the obvious.  A case of seeing the wood for the trees, root causes amongst the (expedient or otherwise) distractions and symptoms.  The substance (or lack of) under innumerable layers of beautifully veneered (but otherwise empty) form.  If there are those that argue about a glass being half full, or half empty, somebody has to ask if it is indeed the right glass.

Recently Mr Yatseniuk has hit one of the Ukrainian trade nails on the head – at least with regard to what is lacking, although not entirely well with regard to how best to employ the existing Ukrainian tools already projected into other countries.

“The Government is obliged to be an economical advocate of Ukrainian companies abroad. This is the practice of all countries, and I ask you to act in the same way.” – Absolutely!

He then went on to state that Ministers should do far more to facilitate international trade for the nation when on international visits.  He made note of the sterling efforts of the Minister of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine Aivaras Abromavicius and Minister of Finance of Ukraine Natalie Jaresko in this regard – Quite rightly!

He stated it would be expedient to establish a council of exporters, which will involve “all Ukraine’s companies that are able to export and take over other markets” and determine for each company, how to assist it and in what country. – A good idea, but perhaps a little unwieldy depending upon how such a council will be structured, how it will function and the level of interaction it will have with the government.  A nationally and internationally functioning, rather than existing but regionally insular network of  the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce?

Something else, if not building on existing entities such the the Odessa Chamber of Commerce in the link above?

Odessa has its own regional Ministry of Foreign Affairs office headed by a friend of you author of more than a decade, Konstantin Rzhepishevski.  He and his office are consistently hosting trade delegations and attempting to promote trade from Odessa to the surrounding nations – amongst other things.  Where would that role sit in any newly formulated council?  Would central Gov UA, do a better or worse job when it comes to knowing exactly what is what in, and from, Odessa, or have such a close rapport with neighbouring nations?

Perhaps the Odessa Chamber of Commerce and its regional MFA Office, plus others, multiplied by all the regions?  Nothing would get done – it would simply become too unwieldy.

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However, returning to the Prime Minster’s words, there are some obvious points – and ommissions.

Rightly he states Ministers on foreign visits should promote Ukrainian trade.  We are to expect then, that all Ministers on foreign visits will be accompanied at the very least by an exceptionally knowledgeable functionary from the Ministry of  Economic Development and Trade, if not a full (or meaningful) trade delegation, henceforth?

Where there is enormous scope for pushing Ukrainian trade, and which is not mentioned by the Prime Minister, is the existing, permanent Ukrainian outposts across the world – its foreign ministries.

Foreign Ministry outposts in the form of embassies and consulates are not, first and foremost, there to supply Ukrainians with new passports should they lose theirs.  They are not there, first and foremost, to repatriate Ukrainians who die abroad.  They are not there, first and foremost, to supply diplomatic assistance to those that fall foul of local legislation.  They are not there, first and foremost, to provide voting locations for Ukrainians to vote abroad when elections are taking place.  They are also not there, first and foremost, for its diplomats to gorge on canapés, attend high brow parties, and enjoy a Ferrero Rocher lifestyle as depicted in television advertisements.

If that is what the Ukrainian government, and the Ukrainian people, expect from its embassies and consulates abroad, then the entire Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs a radical change of institutional culture with immediate effect, as do those with such expectations looking in.

The Ukrainian embassies and consulates abroad will have, or should have, priorities set by government as to their activities.

They are a projection of Ukrainian governance and governmental priorities abroad.  As such, the Ukrainian diplomatic establishments in every single nation should be promoting Ukrainian interests, working to protect the nation through frequent interaction with partner nations, creating ever-closer relationships with the nations within which they are situated, and be prepared to assist Ukrainians caught up in any national disaster in their country of responsibility.

In short, the pursuit of national security and the national interest as priority number one.

The second most vital thing each and every Ukrainian embassy and consulate should be doing very robustly, is promoting trade with Ukraine and Ukrainian business abroad.  If these diplomatic missions are not daily, stoically, trying to further opportunities for Ukrainian businesses abroad, (and opportunities within Ukraine for businesses from within their host nation), then they are spectacularly failing in what is beyond doubt, their second-most important role.

Only then, as the third priority, do we reach what can be lumped together as “consular services” for Ukrainians in distress abroad.

Those are, or should be, the very clear priorities – and in that order.

Prime Minister Yatsenuik further stated “We need to open sales representative offices in the United States, Belgium, Germany, France, China and the Middle East: It should be done by the end of this year.”

Why?

Those offices already exist in the form of every single Ukrainian embassy and consular office.  Certainly there are gains to be made by ramping up the dedicated economic and trade staff numbers (not to mention accountability for trade results) within those diplomatic out-stations, but there seems no real requirement to open new “sales representative offices in the United States, Belgium, Germany, France, China and the Middle East“.

Indeed, when it comes to the USA, a nation that is currently the most critical to Ukraine for reasons of diplomatic and political support, would it not be far wiser to first appoint a Ukrainian Ambassador to the USA, than to prioritise opening a “sales office”?

No offence meant to Yaroslav Brisiuck who has been a capable Chargé d’affaires whilst running the Ukrainian embassy in the USA for the many, many months during the absence of an appointed, credentials accepted, Ukrainian Ambassador, but the continued and open-ended absence of an Ambassador in what is a vital nation for Ukraine is simply very bad diplomatic form.  It is as much, if not much more of a priority, than a “sales office”.

Why is there still no Ukrainian Ambassador to the USA after so many months?

Returning to the issues of increasing trade, does it not make much more sense to bolster the trade and economics personnel within the existing embassies and consulates of Ukraine, than it does to open new “sales offices”?  In doing so, does it not also make sense to give those embassies and consulates a GDP% target for it to bring to the Ukrainian economy via its endeavours?  Should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs not also be tasked with the recovery of the Ukrainian economy, and thus employ its international network to those ends without the need for additional overheads when opening “sales offices”?

Is this not obvious?  (It is surely not “insightful”.)

Of course, all of this will be for naught, if Ukraine does not produce what buyers want, at a price they like, and to standards they expect – underpinned by a legislative environment that is conducive to business and impartiality.

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