Azov – and now what?

December 2, 2018

Following on from the last entry and the events occurring in the Sea of Avoz, reader may be pondering why the blog has not written anything more – until now.

As the previous entry stated, “Everybody also knows that there should be a response as The Kremlin pokes to see if it is yet to meet steel or still prods into mush.

Naturally no response will make it continue to believe there is still room to go before meeting any form of real push back.  A meek response will be something it is well prepared to suffer as a result of this incident and making a Kremlin point to all who look on.

A reaction is required – but neither an under nor overreaction – from both Ukraine and its supporters.  Calculating and cool heads are required both within and without Ukraine.  Chest thumping, testosterone filled red mist is not the order of the day.”

So where are we?

Having allowed a little time to pass and for decisions to be made – or not – the response publicly  has been somewhat meek and in some cases far from seamless.

Ukraine introduced Martial Law, initially for a limited period, in numerous regions bordering the sea and its major tributaries.

There are presidential elections in March 2019.  The dilemma when wanting to be seen to be doing something, even if actually doing nothing (or very little) at all, is not only the perception when taking action, but also the perception of concluding it – particularly when the threat will not diminish.

Such actions require justification to instigate and require a similar justification to remove if not to look weak.

That threat is not going to change before presidential elections in 2019 – nor for many years afterward.  A behavioral change from within The Kremlin is extremely unlikely.

Everybody could see the Kerch Strait incident having a high probability of occurring months ago.  A little like sanctions, once Martial Law was applied it is very difficult to remove, for just like sanctions, it is a response to a belligerent and aggressive actor that threatens regional security.

It also has to be said there were “issues” domestically.

No two Ukrainian ministries were apparently able to explain just what, exactly, this meant in a coherent and unified manner.  It may very well be that command and control issues were dealt with ably when it comes to administration and chains of command, however a different explanation of what it all meant was offered by numerous ministries.  Not exactly an informational success story.

Nevertheless, a learning curve.

The anticipated “concerned” and “very concerned” communiques spewed forth from capitals around Europe and beyond.  Meetings of NATO, the EU et al will soon occur – long after the event and the situation on the ground/water has begun to solidify.  The moment when this particular incident was fluid and its immediate outcomes malleable has passed – no doubt to the relief of those sending communiques with no will/desire/coordination to do anything more.  A second communique after the first is equally as effective as the first – it isn’t in practical terms.

What occurs behind the curtain would be far more interesting to know.

In the meantime The Kremlin pushed and once again met with political and diplomatic mush.  It will push again and again until it meets with far greater political and diplomatic steel.


Turning the Sea of Azov into a pond

November 25, 2018

To the surprise of nobody precisely nobody the long forecast (many months) and high probably events around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait have finally taken on a manifestation that cannot be ignored.

Previous incidents, while duly noted and raising a collective “tut” along with rightful Ukrainian ire, have culminated in little more than behind the curtain conversations and one or two conferences/panel discussions/mildly worded public communiques.

However parking a tanker across the Kersh Strait and effectively turning the Sea of Azov into a big pond is not something that can be ignored.  Neither are the clashes between Ukrainian and Russian navies as a result.

Russia, or more accurately the FSB charged with protecting “Russian borders” blame Ukrainian ships for entering “Russian waters” around the illegally annexed Crimea – which de jure remain Ukrainian even if de facto under Russian control/occupation.

AS a result of the clashes half a dozen Ukrainian sailors were injured and damage suffered to Ukrainian ships.

Naturally Ukraine will have planned for this eventually at a military and political level.  Many hours of serious though will have gone into any response – or more accurately numerous possible responses to choose from by the President and National Security Committee.

This current incident may or may not be a dot on what will become a chart of further upward escalation or a peek in the ebb and flow in the games being played out around the Sea of Azov.

President Putin will look like the all-powerful Tsar – particularly with the domestic Russian audience.  There will be yet more collective tutting and communiques spewing forth from national capital in Europe and beyond.

Yet everybody knows that in practical terms the tanker will not remain where it is.  The Sea of Azov will be reopened in quick order.  Everybody also knows that there should be a response as The Kremlin pokes to see if it is yet to meet steel or still prods into mush.

Naturally no response will make it continue to believe there is still room to go before meeting any form of real push back.  A meek response will be something it is well prepared to suffer as a result of this incident and making a Kremlin point to all who look on.

A reaction is required – but neither an under nor overreaction – from both Ukraine and its supporters.  Calculating and cool heads are required both within and without Ukraine.  Chest thumping, testosterone filled red mist is not the order of the day.

President Poroshenko is in an reelection campaign.  At the very least he has to be seen to be doing something even if in reality he is doing nothing (perhaps for solid reason).

The Ukrainian response, and there must be one, will be interesting to behold.



Not always what they seem

November 19, 2018

Attacks on journalists, as well as any manifestations of intolerance and violence, are considered unacceptable. We are waiting for the results of the investigation by law enforcement agencies.”  So decrees the latest public statement by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry following yet further attacks upon journalists, civil society and minority groups and individual activists.  The latest incident an LGBT rally in Kyiv.

The Ukrainian MFA issuing a swift statement in an attempt to pacify those European supporters who continue to look on with due concern.  That is part of their job description after all.

Yet it is not the MFA that is responsible, nor (rightly) has it any influence over the Ministry of Interior and Prosecutor General’s Office that hold the responsibility for bring those responsible for such violence before the courts.

As such, as with every statement issued by the MFA under such circumstances (and that list grows ever longer as the incidents continue to accumulate), it remains to be seen whether there is to be any substance to those words – or whether empty rhetoric will be the result (again).

The words of the MFA are in many ways irrelevant when weighed against the action or inaction of the Interior Ministry.

It is necessary of course to recognise each incident is a crime in and of itself.  It should be investigated as such by the investigating officers at the scene or local jurisdiction.  It is the regional and/or national investigators that are responsible for identifying patterns and deciding which incidents fit within a pattern and which do not – and why.

Which attacks are “business related”, which are politically motivated, which are ideologically motivated, which are criminally motivated and so on – and which, despite prima facie appearances, may not be connected at all.

There is a big difference between evidence fit for the purposes of a court, and intelligence which is only ever categorised within “levels of confidence”.

That is not to say that there is a lack of evidence underpinning any “level of confidence” necessarily, but there are often reasons that such evidence will not be used for the purposes of prosecution.  Those reasons can be due to how the evidence was obtained, for the protection of participating informants, due to larger operational considerations etc.

Where there is a lack of public trust in institutions, apparent inaction can be perceived as a cover up – and Ukrainians have very little trust in their State institutions.  Not without cause it has to be said.

In an election cycle such a lack of confidence has political inferences and may ultimately effect the results at the ballot box.

Wanton lawlessness and an apparent inability/unwillingness by “The State” to get to grips with such incidents has societal repercussions – particularly so when there is a perception that certain organised groups are deliberately being left alone to act outside the law.

Aside from the political/institutional class themselves, the most obvious to the public are the Vory and the far-right/nationalist groups.

With regard to the latter, unfortunately “nationalist” and “patriot” still appear to be interchangeable words in the Ukrainian lexicon despite the clear distinctions between the two.

Upon patriotism a nation is built.  Upon nationalism a nation will ultimately destroy itself.  Far right ideology is as destructive and cancerous as far left ideology as 20th Century history ably displays.

Further, even when such ideologies run their destructive course (if not prevented) their organisational structures remain – often turning to organised criminality.  When the PIRA laid down its weapons, its interests in smuggling and racketeering initially employed to fund the cause, did not cease.  Those international connections did not disappear.  Likewise even if the PKK find a recognised land for the Kurds, the shakedown of kebab shops across the UK would not stop either.  And so on and so on.

Parts of these organisation will go legitimate and enter mainstream politics, parts will vanish due to irrelevancy, and others will remain entirely criminal.  When the connections and nefarious modus operandi exist, there will be those within any organisation that will desire to profit long after a cause or its violent approach is abandoned.

All such paths will be taken by those within the Ukrainian far right in the years ahead.  Of that we can be sure.  And of those paths it is the criminal as well as political making contracts across Europe that will perhaps become the most worrisome.

Nevertheless, in the immediate term domestically there are also matters of timing with regard to the frequency and brutality of such attacks as elections approach.

Which incidents are politically motivated during such an electioneering window – and by who?

Infiltrating and/or influencing extreme organised entities has been bread and butter intelligence and policing for decades if not a century.  Turning informers and/or placing agent provocateurs within is a common tactic – for agencies both domestic and foreign.

Therefore the current social media spats about the Russians or the Interior Ministry, or a particular financier, or simply swivel-eyed loons within the far right being entirely responsible is to view matters in a very simplistic and uninformed way.  Such organisations and their actions are not simply black and white.  The motivations and motivators are oft working comfortably in the grey and come from different directions – unknown to the vast majority of an organisation’s membership naturally.

After all, the art of a successful infiltration with regard to the more radical groups is to be one of an influential crowd, not to be the centre of attention – and some acts may be directed by several influences/provocateurs simultaneously.  Circumstances dictate over a long game.  Brief situational common goals may be pursued unknowingly by several parties at the same time.  Coincidence is a often only apparent to one party when the other has manipulated events to make it appear that way.

All of which brings about the questions of who benefits from the current up-tick of violence against civil society, activist, and journalists during electioneering?  Who also benefits if “The State” is seen  to finally (and perhaps temporarily) get a firmer grasp upon the rule of law just before the polling days of 2019?

Which incidents are entirely what they appear to be – and which are something else?


Schisms within Oppo Block (again) – VR election positioning begins

November 10, 2018

It is oft remarked upon as to why so many “also rans” take part in the presidential elections.

Why do so many candidates spend so much time and money running for an office that 99% will never attain as they simply do not have the support necessary to win and never will?

It cannot be denied that some are “technical candidates” – those running simply to split the vote of another in order to insure they fail for favours from the victors further down the road.

However there is more to it than that.

The “also rans” who stand no chance of election are, for the most part, leaders of political parties – and thus their election run and campaign in no small measure will act as litmus test and also pre-electioneering for their political parties.

Some leaders will look at their polling results and transpose them onto the chances (and potential size) of their party in any future Verkhovna Rada.

Others, such as Anatoli Hyrtsenko, traditionally have witnessed their reasonable polling figures dissipate upon polling day – time and again.  Do not be surprised if it happen this time too.

In 2019, the Verkhovna Rada elections are in October – a mere 7 months after the presidential election.  7 months in which to form any necessary situational alliance with other borderline parties, or indeed to forecast any minority or majority within the Verkhovna Rada – and thus who to court, flirt, bribe and coerce into any coalition partnership.

For individual “career” politicians, it can also serve as a guide as to which party and which party leader to prostitute themselves to – let not such issues as principle nor party ideology prevent such practicalities.  As political power undoubtedly corrupts in Ukraine, then reluctantly (sarcasm) Ukrainian politicians will strive to remain atop of that unprincipled heap.

However, occasionally parties begin to fray at the edges, and yet others are so brittle being comprised of competing interests they collapse – or at least will succumb to the centrifugal forces within, only to bind themselves together with duct tape at the last moment to remain relevant.

So (once again) this appears to be the case within the Oppo Block (historically if rather crudely split between the Akhmetov faction and the Firtash faction internally).

Needless to say the current situational alliance between Rinat Akhmetov and Presdient Poroshenko, vis a vis the “oligarch in exile” status of Dmitry Firtash, adds additional spice/interest to any internal divisions and traitorous acts within the internal ranks.

Naturally matters within are not quite so black and white – there are mutual “business interests” not to mention matters of mutual and individual survival within the Ukrainian Colosseum of power to consider.

There are also personal feuds.  Mykola Skoryk (an odious creature of Dmitry Firtash) and Vladmin Rabinovych (a twice convicted and twice imprisoned criminal (theft and gun running) and increasingly aligning with the poisonous Viktor Medvedchuk) have a long standing bitter public and often spurious feud.

Interestingly, Yuri Boyko and Sergei Liovochkin (another creature of Firtash) from Oppo Block seemingly signed an agreement to align with Rabinovych’s small party on 8th November – creating the Opposition Platform – For Life.

(Rabinovych doesn’t poll too badly, albeit nowhere near well enough to become president, yet certainly well enough to gather seats in a future VR election.  He is, as already stated, also getting very close to Viktor Medvedchuk as the increasing number of Medvedchuk apparatchiks surrounding Rabinovych makes clear.)

Humble pie in copious spoonfuls for Mykola Skoryk ahead if an unholy triangle of Firtash-Medvedchuk and Rabinovych results?  A reader can only hope that such a public humiliation occurs!

Whatever the case the next Verkhovna Rada will be a difficult place to build and maintain a functioning majority coalition – and also difficult for the next president (whoever that may be) to influence effectively.

However, Vadim Novinsky, who is a cancerous blight upon Ukraine and business partner of Rinat Akhmetov, has publicly disowned the alliance seemingly made by Boyko and Liovochin with Rabinovych on behalf of the Oppo Block, claiming (correctly) that it has no legal standing for Oppo Block as there were numerous party protocols ignored.

Novinsky’s alternative vehicle within the Oppo Block bubble is a public organisation (but that acts as a political party and may yet turn into one) called the “Party of Peace”.  Behind him in this organisation sits the relatively unknown, yet influential Gol’darb family and a string of forgotten people linked with Yulia Tymoshenko – Messrs Holoshin, Kurcherenko and Kulikov among others.

Whether Novinsky acts alone, or on behalf of, or apparently behalf of, or even merely is perceived to be acting as a front for Rinat Akhmetov is as yet somewhat unclear.

At the time of writing it would appear to be he acts alone – but Mr Akhmetov will have to find something or some way to control or counter the FIrtash move with Rabinovych (and by extension Medvedchuk) within the current flux and convulsions of the Oppo Block.

If he remains distant from the “Party of Peace” misnomer of his business partner Vadim Novinsky – which would seem a particularly wise thing to do given its extremely dubious “manifesto” – it is yet another complication.

(Naturally Mr Akhmetov also has fingers in other parties too – eggs and baskets and all that).

It remains to be seen what Rinat Akhmetov will do about it – and perhaps when that happens it will depend upon what “it” actually is.

“It” may have to show itself before any clear action from Mr Akhmetov becomes apparent.


RIP Kateryna Handziuk

November 4, 2018

The blog is not noted for its obituaries, nor for its eulogies.

2018 has seen the passing of far too many brave Ukrainian souls in the east and witnessed the passing of numerous cultural and intellectual giants pass.

Few if any such worthy individuals have had words specifically written about them here, nor about the manner of their passing – be they violent, or of natural causes.

Indeed when many readers actually consider the death that we must all eventually face, it is not death itself that we are fearful of – but the manner in which it will occur.

Just how much suffering and pain will we endure and over what period of time?

That is what we are truly fearful of when it comes to our death.

Most would naturally opt for a swift and painless death, preferably in our sleep at a suitably old age having created a catalogue of memories which we will bequeath to those we leave behind in the hope that we will be remembered – even if infrequently.

Some however, whether by our own hand and carelessness, or by the recklessness or villainous intent of others will face not only untimely but also vicious and exceptionally painful deaths.  Of the latter there are some that stand out for their cruelty and barbarity.

4th November 2018 witnesses the sad passing of Kateryna Handziuk, a Ukrainian activist of some societal standing,, from a vile and cowardly acid attack on 31st July.

Clearly there was consideration given to the method and weapon for the attack.  Acid leaving the 30% burns sustained by Kateryna would severely disfigure a woman’s features if she had survived.  The recovery period guaranteed to be very slow and extremely painful.

It was nothing short of a brutal and consciously evil attack – that is now murder.  A murder that is in fact nowhere near being solved.  A truly lamentable state of affairs considering not only the criminal act, nor the unconscionable suffering, but when considering the message the modus operandi was meant to send to others like Kateryna – for as preciously stated, it is not death but the manner in which we will die that causes fear.

A lady and a crime that together required a few lines that are generally left out of scope by the blog.

May the good Lord grant her justice and tend her well-meaning soul.


Let the regional SBU leadership changes begin?

October 27, 2018

Changes to the parameters surrounding the scope of the SBU have long been advocated by the blog.  There is no need for the SBU to be so actively involved in what otherwise would be classed as normal policing.  Unless directly related to national security, there is no need for SBU involvement in financial crime other than a watchful oversight for economy threatening issues – and so on.

In short a far more watchful and a far less hands on approach to many of the current areas in which the SBU operates that would/should/could fall to standard policing.

As such the forthcoming (though who knows exactly when) changes to the role and responsibilities of the SBU due to be clarified by new/amended statute will be both keenly awaited and robustly scrutinised.  Until then, for many the SBU will continue to be perceived as a generally unaccountable presidential tool with far too broad a scope that is occasionally employed for political expedience rather than national security purposes.  (A matter of here is my problem/offender so go find me his/her crime, and let’s see how he/she can the be manipulated.)

Ergo the new/amended laws need concentrate on both oversight and accountability as well as placing robust yet responsible/sensible parameters upon SBU.  After all, care need be taken to allow the SBU to effectively accomplish their necessary national security role.

In the meantime however, for many the SBU remains an instrument of the president when it functions in what are perceived to be political rather than national security circumstances.

It is perhaps notable with presidential elections upon the immediate horizon that over the past few days there have been several changes to regional SBU Chiefs.

On 25th October, Volodymyr Pakhnyuk was removed as SBU Chief of the Vinnitsa region, being replaced by Oleh Zozulyu, and on 26th October Oleksandr Karpenko assumed the role of the SBU Chief of Luhansk and Donetsk region, replacing Olexandr Kuts – all by Presidential Decree.

Perhaps the beginning of an SBU leadership reshuffle prior to the new/amended laws for any number of reasons?  (Be those reasons reason as logic, reason as motive, or reason as a way of life.)

Maybe a politically expedient move prior to the elections due in late March 2019?

Something else?  A sensible move to rotate to prevent SBU management getting too cosy with the corrupt local fiefdoms?  (Such a policy of regional leadership/management rotation being something that policing, customs, prosecutors etc would also benefit from.)

Is it too soon to interpret these changes?  When all is said and done, two dots on a chart (or two SBU management related Presidential Decrees in two days) do not yet make a trend.

Something to monitor over the coming weeks and months.


“Persistent hierarchical association” – A euphemism for “organised crime”

October 20, 2018

Currently underway in Odessa is criminal case 420170000000001712 relating to over UAH 4 billion in tax avoidance and money laundering – with money laundering being given the euphemism of “legalising funds obtained by criminal means”.

Roughly translated it states charge reads “Unidentified persons created a persistent hierarchical association of several persons (5 or more) whose members or structural parts were arranged by prior agreement for joint activities with the aim of directly committing serious or especially grave crimes by members of this organisation, leading or coordinating the criminal activities of other persons, or ensuring the functioning of the criminal organisation itself or other criminal groups, that is, they have created a criminal organisation with the aim to achieve tax evasion in especially large amounts, and further legalisation of funds obtained by criminal means.”  The charge goes on to state specific regions of Ukraine (obviously including Odessa) and across the territory of Ukraine more broadly.

So who are the “Unidentified persons” who “created a persistent hierarchical association” (organised crime group)?

The case centers around the activities of Olympus Group International (with whom the EBRD recently became a partner) – a company that was involved in notably expanding the grain handling capacities of Odessa grain shipment infrastructure several years ago.  However, if the Prosecutor’s Office is to be believed, those that invested in this infrastructure either had nefarious motive from the start, or decided that the ROCE/ROI required an expedited (almost immediate) return.

The tale of criminality naturally involves Cypriot offshores (fronted by Gregoriu Andreas and Elena Fotiou but in reality were controlled by Sergei Groza and Volodymyr Naumenko, a director of Olympus Group International), and also Czech and British companies per the above pictured charge.

Yet the charge mentions 5 or more people, and perhaps the Cypriot fronting individuals should be removed from that list.  If so, those involved are apparently Sergei Groza and Volodymyr Naumenko plus others.

So who?

Time, and perhaps court proceedings will tell conclusively.  Perhaps not.

Yet the more educated of guesswork might point toward Viktor Ratushnyak (currently wanted and on the run since the Yanukovych regime collapsed), and two “assistants” to the infamous Odessa criminal/politician Leonid Klimov – Messrs Anatoly Khovansky (Maryland Universal LLP) and Ihor Kadinov (owner of the Black Sea Transport Company) both of which remain close to Klimov.

Naturally, due to the scale of this criminality, some within the Batkivshchyna Party cannot be excluded, for it is the political party with the greatest and most integrated reach into every city and town across the nation – and therefore not only acts as a political party, but also as both a national intelligence gathering and criminal fraternity too.

There was no lack of derision when Batkivshchyna’s Ruslan Tabunshchik managed to get himself appointed to become the head of the “Commission of legal policy, law and order and the fight against organised crime and corruption” in Odessa Regional Council.

Shortly afterward his “assistant” Vladislav Repula was appointed to the “Police Commission of Odessa Region”.

Thus the last name being associated with this nefarious affair (so far) is indeed Vladislav Repula (owner of British Milestone Investments Ltd, Czech Biz-Empire and Romanian Spol.S).

More names to be associated with the organised crime euphemism that is this particular “persistent hierarchical association” (among many)?

Quite possibly.


A new home for the SVR (or a barracks for an SVR Cyber Troop)?

October 19, 2018

Almost a year ago an entry was published pondering the much rumoured creation of a “Cyber Troop” within the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) of Ukraine.

As the outward operating SVR, perhaps somewhat gratefully, gets little media spotlight compared to the inward focused SBU, when there is occasion to mention it, then the opportunity is usually (but not always) taken by the blog.

The above linked entry concludes (having asked many questions previously) – “Also of note, the rumour circulating once again relates to the long muted “Cyber Troop”, to be built around the FISU (Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine) and Military Intelligence (HUR MOU) – both being proactive/offensive agencies active beyond the borders of Ukraine.

Should the “Cyber Troop” become a structural reality (regardless of any unofficial realities currently), whether or not, and to what extent, it would be involved with the CRC remains unclear.”

19th October 2018 witnessed the formal (rather than real) ground breaking of a new and/or refurbished SVR building complex by Secretary of the National Defence Council, Alexander Turchynov.

“In the current conditions of tough opposition, the intelligence community should have modern technologies for implementing the tasks set by the state. The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is confidently moving in this direction, advanced technology of space intelligence using the groundwork of domestic specialists is being developed, serious steps have been taken in cybernetic and other components of intelligence activities” – A Turchynov

Prima facie, the plans displayed (perhaps a little unwisely) do not appear to be large enough for an entirely new SVR headquarters – thus a reader will perhaps hope that bot the refurbished and new areas meet the NATO standards to a minimum of TEMPEST specifications (If not exceeding them) and that the entire building will run a very strict “clean desk” policy.

Whatever the case, if as is claimed, Ukraine is now moving toward a more effective (or at least technologically advanced) SVR in the field of foreign spookery, will the construction of refurbished and new SVR buildings be sufficient (or deliberately) large enough to accommodate the long-rumoured “Cyber Troop” that was to be subordinated to the SVR per the framework document “Principles of providing cyber security for Ukraine” brought into legal being one year ago.

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