Archive for July, 2010

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Press Freedom in Ukraine

July 31, 2010

Well dear readers, Ukraine and the current government have received a fair amount of unwelcome media coverage both internally (how can that be when the media is supposedly suppressed) in internationally over freedom of the press/speech/expression…..and has indeed had OSCE observers here to monitor press freedoms.

A major criticism by the opposition and Ukrainian media is that the head of the SBU (Secret Police) owns a large number of media television stations…….which to be fair, he did when he was Deputy Head of the SBU under the last government……it is only now an issue because he is the head of the SBU and friendly with the new government apparently.  If it is a conflict of interests now, then it was a conflict of interests before methinks!

There is of course a conflict of interests simply owing to the large number of television channels he owns, as this has led to accusations of impartiality and censoring of their news reporting.

He has publicly said they are for sale, but as yet nobody has bought them.

Even so, when you consider that the head of the French public service broadcaster is……President Sarkozy of France…….it is hard to see any difference when it comes to the ability to influence the news……..as the same conflict of interest exists!

Anyway, to put the Ukrainian situation into a little perspective, here is the OSCE report on press freedoms across the continent of Europe…….in which it states most nations suppress the media……..but Ukraine is not bad enough to be mentioned specifically…….unlike many other nations……..such as France, Greece, Italy, Serbia and Russia.

http://euobserver.com/9/30561

It seems Ukraine is no worse or better than any other nation.

In case you are wondering, this is what OSCE has said about Ukraine:

Ukraine

On 1 April, I wrote to Konstyantyn Hryshchenko, Minister of Foreign Affairs, to express concern about the attack on Vasyl Demyaniv, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kolomoyskiy Visnyk.

In a 22 July response, the authorities informed me that the police arrested a suspect who confessed to having attacked Demyaniv. I was also informed that the investigation established that the attack was not connected with Demyaniv?s professional activities.

On 22 April, I wrote to President Viktor Yanukovych and on 23 April made a public statement welcoming the President?s pledge to uphold media pluralism and honour OSCE media-freedom commitments.

I commended the new administration for its pledge to combat violence against the media as timely and expressed hope that it would translate into vigorous and resolute action to conclude the investigations into old and new cases of violence against members of the media, including the murder of Ukrainska Pravda journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.

I also highlighted negative developments that could threaten media pluralism. They included the President?s decision on 2 April to dissolve the national free speech commission, which was part of the presidential administration, and to change the legal status of the new head of the state television.

I offered Ukraine support for reform of the media law, including the adoption of laws on public service broadcasting, access to information, privatization of media and ownership transparency.

On 3 June, I received a letter from Minister Hryshchenko who, on behalf of President Yanukovych, invited me to visit Ukraine.

In my 16 June letter to the Minister, I thanked him for the invitation and the opportunity offered to meet with the authorities and journalists to obtain first-hand information about the media-freedom situation. I also expressed concern about the developments regarding 5 Kanal and TVi television channels. I was informed that on 8 June a Kyiv court annulled the 27 January decision of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting allocating broadcasting frequencies to the two channels. I viewed the 8 June decision as potentially negative for pluralism in Ukrainian broadcasting and requested additional information about these developments.

During the Informal Ministerial Meeting in Almaty, I discussed with Minister Hryshchenko my upcoming visit to Ukraine. I plan to travel to Kyiv in October in order to receive first-hand information on the developments mentioned above and on the overall media freedom situation in the country.

The full OSCE document covering Ukraine and many other nations is here:

http://www.osce.org/documents/pr/2010/07/45552_en.pdf

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Delays at Ukrainian border crossings – Ukraine not to blame

July 30, 2010

Well dear readers, with Ukraine trying to reach EU standards at the borders for both trade and Visa’s……with major EEA roadmaps and agreements pending……how refreshing is it to see that Ukraine is not the problem with borders when it comes to sitting for hours trying to get across………

Ukraine eases crossing of its border with European countries


Ukraine has substantially facilitated the crossing of its border with European countries, says Les Cheeseman, leader of the European Commission team investigating the situation in the EU’s cooperation with Ukraine in the field of integration of the transport system of Ukraine in the Trans-European transport network (project TEM-T), the press service of the Ministry of Transport and Communications reported.

Ukraine is making an extremely large and fruitful work to facilitate the transfer of customs and freight traffic in comparison with neighboring countries, he said. In particular, the huge queues at the border with Poland or Romania, according to Cheeseman, form not due to the fault of Ukraine.  This is a problem with the other party: those countries are very pedantic and significantly impede movement across the border of Ukraine, he added. 

Over the past six months, experts from the EC focused on issues of border crossings, because they were considered as particularly important in the light of the need for infrastructure development in connection with UEFA Euro 2012. 

Ironically, experts say, though attention was focused on EU integration and adapting appropriate border-crossing technologies, traffic across the border between Ukraine and the EU is mainly hampered because of EU’s slow clearance.

Another case of the EU setting goal posts in a “do as I say, not as I do” fashion?

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Keeping out of touch – The EU, Ukraine and the public

July 29, 2010

Well dear readers, the day before yesterday I was asked by an “official someone” why the media consistantly states Ukraine is heading “Eastwards” and more precisely, back to Russia.  I was asked not doubt because I was a random European not talking to anyone else…….and had slipped away for a quite cigar.

The circumstances of the question followed yet another “cautions welcome and first step” speech by an EU official……this time relating to a law on gas……at a meeting held here in Odessa.

The answer I gave was two-fold.

Firstly, it is much faster to make deals with Russia, China, India and Turkey as Ukraine has been doing recently because they make decisions for themselves……whereas the EU speaks for 27 nations and all those nations have to agree to the exact wording used in an official statement.  Therefore deals with nations are far easier and far quicker to make than with an economic block making decisions by committee and consensus.

Secondly, bilateral deals do not mean that a whole raft of parity laws need to exist between nations as will be the case between Ukraine and the EU before any eastern European Agreements can be signed later this year/early next year.

For the past 6 years there has been no cohension in government, only in-fighting, which has prevented any steps towards the EU and allowed the EU to leave Ukraine to its own divices as long as it held a notion to join.

Explaining that to achieve just one EU orientated goal held by Ukraine, can mean 20 new laws to bring them in line with existing EU laws suddenly seemed to strike an understanding with my “interrigator” whilst immediately a recognition as to why nothing had progressed in the past 5 years was also observed.

As sure as night follows day, the next question came stating Ukraine now has a government and president that has and absolute legislative passing machine in place, so why isn’t anything happening?

Herein is the great disconnect between the EU, Ukraine and the people of Ukraine.

With relation to the EEA, Ukraine knows exactly what it has to do leglatively, however it has not communicated to the public what is expected.  Therefore seemingly ad-hoc and often sensitive laws are being passed without any context as to why and how it fits with european intigration.

Examples being, the gas law at the meeting I was at in Odessa, the government procurement law passed a few months ago, the pending tax codes, the pending judicial reform laws (mostly in line with Vennice Commission recommendations), the now more independent National Bank……the list of new legislation is quite long, and my chosen statutary acts are by no means exhustive. 

Seen individually though, and not held against a framework of EU requirements, it is hardly surprising the public see no movement between Ukraine and the EU because they don’t have a a frame to put bits of the picture in.

Quite simply exceptionally bad PR by Ukraine and also by the EU when it comes to promoting the EU within Ukraine.

With regards to Visa-free travel, again there is much movement but you cannot see the wood for the trees.

Ukraine and Russia are now demarkating their land boundaries as I speak (or rather type today),  This is a pre-requisite for Visa-free travel as without accepted bordes, you cannot inforce immigration.  The same demarkation has occured with Moldova and Romania.

If, as I expect, Ukraine will be given a road map/action plan similar to that of the Balken nations, the historical timelines that these nations have achieved visa-free travel from recieving the same road maps, Ukraine should have Visa-free travel with the EU by 2013/14.

Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all received a road map to Visa-free travel in May 2008.  Within 2 years 3 nations had achieved visa-free travel and the other two should reach it by the end of this year.

Historically, therefore, it should take Ukraine no more than 3 years to achieve Visa-free travel once they have their goal posts identified to them……and the current Ukrainian government is, if nothing else, not stupid and are already passing laws and acting on the road maps given to the Balken nations like Serbia.  I don’t think they will achieve it before the next governmental elections in 2012, but by 2013/14 it should be there or there abouts……both EEA and Visa-free travel will be delivered during this President’s first term.

In defence of Ukraine, when it comes to Visa-free travel, they have not been given their definitive goal posts by the EU yet, there is another 2 or 3 months to wait, so they have no framework (as yet) to show the public and allow the public to fit the jigsaw pieces of legislation to when passed……unlike the EEA……..if they actually manage to get the PR right and allow people to see what they need to do, what they are doing and what is left to do.

Won’t this lead to a mass exodus?  Hardly.  Visa-free travel means nothing more than free movement.  It does not entitle anyone to work, those beaurocratic issues still remain as Visa-free travel is not the same thing as EU membership.  Those caught overstaying will simply be sent back to Ukraine…….and Ukraine will be obliged to take them……just as is the case for Serbia, Macedonia etc.  There has been no mass exodus from those nations.

Thus far, I feel quite comfortable and on reasonably safe ground……with history and factual events on my side……but much will depended upon the currently administrations political will and momentum.

In the meantime, both Ukraine and the EU need to step up their PR offensive towards the Ukrainian people and actually identify frameworks and legislative jig-saw pieces that fit within these frameworks so things do not seem so……ad hoc…..when laws are passed and the reasoning behind the laws in a wider (european) context can be easily identified.

Things do not look so “eastwards orientated”……if you can make sense of the pieces in the jigsaw and know how they fit together…….no matter how slowly they are put into place.

Having given such an answer, let’s see if there is a PR offensive to informed those of us “great unwashed” as to what is happening.

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The Big Mac Index – Ukrainian Currency Undervalued 51%!

July 28, 2010

Well dear readers, here’s a little toungue in cheek economic picture relating to Ukraine’s undervalued currency…….

Big Mac index: Ukrainian hryvnia 51% undervalued

 
The hryvnia, Ukraine’s national currency, is 51% undervalued, shows The Economist’s exchange-rate scorecard, the Big Mac index, according to the Delo newspaper (Business).
Moreover, the hryvnia is the world’s second undervalued currency, the index finds.

The index is a lighthearted attempt to gauge how far currencies are from their fair value. It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), which argues that in the long run exchange rates should move to equalize the price of an identical basket of goods between two countries.

Our basket consists of a single item, a Big Mac hamburger, produced in nearly 120 countries. The fair-value benchmark is the exchange rate that leaves burgers costing the same in America as elsewhere. 

In Ukraine a Big Mac hamburger costs UAH 14.5, that is USD 1.84. With the dollar rate at UAH 7.9, the national currency is 51% undervalued. So, the dollar in Ukraine should be UAH 3.88. 

The Big Mac index revealed Argentina’s peso is the world’s most undervalued currency.

I have to say, I would rather eat a handfull of Ukrainian currency than a Big Mac.

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Crime Ukraine

July 27, 2010

Well dear readers, murders are down, theft is up…..not much of a surprise in a recession is it?

Interfax-Ukraine –  The number of serious crimes has decreased in Ukraine, although the rate of theft has grown, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office,

“An objective assessment of the state of crime shows a stable fall in the level of the crime rate in the state,” Prosecutor General of Ukraine Oleksandr Medvedko said at a staff meeting of the General Prosecutor’s Office.

In particular, according to him, the rate of serious crimes decreased by 11%. This rate includes premeditated murders, serious assaults, and robberies. At the same time, the rate of registered thefts grew by 2.5 times.

“In connection with this, the crime rate in the state grew by one third,” the prosecutor general noted.

According to him, thefts accounted for almost half of the overall crime, while in some regions it was as high as 60%. Moreover, the detection rate of crimes has also decreased, he added.

According to Medvedko, the rate of theft at country houses grew by four times, the rate of pick pocketing by two times, and the rate of burglary by 72%.

The prosecutor general said he was concerned about the number of unsolved crimes from previous years.

Medvedko called on prosecutors to increase coordinating and monitoring work to solve crimes.

Well there you have it…….except one has to look at the detection rates and why crimes are not detected.

Ukraine probably has as many law enforcement agencies as the USA…….so it is no wonder detection is not high…….as it is not joined up in any way at regional level let alone national level.

In Odessa there is the DAI (traffic police), the SBU, the U-BOB, (both plain clothes, SBU secret police, U-BOB is criminal investigation), the militsia (standard police), Interpol,  tax police, spetsnast (Alpha police), community police (Uchastkoviy), juvenile police (comnata dlya nesovershennoletnih),  economic police (ekonomicheskaya police)…….to name but a few……plus other Interior Ministry organs with the power of arrest and detention such as Customs, Borders, OVIR etc.

Do you think they talk to each other?  Do you think they will even affect an arrest on behalf of each other (unless they don’t like you)? 

I have literally seen one of the police organisations detain someone in the street and keep them in the street for 1 hour and 40 minutes for someone from another police department to come and collect them……rather than take them in to a police station themselves and hand them over there.

I have also seen offenders allowed to go when a different department won’t send anyone!

These are all, of course, little empires of certain people and I know most of the little emperors who run them in Odessa…….and as with all empires, they are extremely secular and guarded……making working together effectively more than a little difficult.

Then of course, if you have a criminal with even a modicum of sense, they will cross the Oblast boundary either to commit or after committing a crime……which doubles the amount of law enforcement agencies who may have to liaise with each other…….but of course don’t…….as these little empires are also closely guarded by their respective emperors.

Every year, close to figures reporting time, militsia will visit some complainants and ask them to withdraw their complaints……to reduce crime figures……such is the failure of effective policing and policing management to reduce figures through detection.

(Don’t get me wrong, the UK also manages it’s crime and policing figures…..but not by asking complainant to withdraw their complaints…….we are too sophisticated for that…….we will down grade the actual crime from a Section 20 Wounding or Section 18 Wounding with intent to a Section 47 assault……or even common assault……to get around violent crime…….and burglaries will be down graded to theft from premises (yes there is a difference……at least as far as the Home Office crime recording statistics are concerned……anyway you get my drift.)

Could it be that the senior management system should be reshaped?

Instead of someone sitting in Kyiv in charge of all traffic police nationally under the 27 regional bosses, one person sitting in Kyiv in charge of 27 regional SBU bosses, one person sitting in Kyiv in charge of 27 regional U-BOB bosses etc etc, would it not be better to have 27 regional bosses solely and completely responsible to the Interior Ministry for their Oblast for all policing and all the figures of their region……and the only boss in Kyiv is the Interior Minister?

Does this not provide ownership of the policing problem at a regional level for all policing in that region and therefore a necessity to manage policing much more effectively if they want to remain employed?

Would this not mean a more streamlined method of cooperation between Oblasts? 

An Oblast intelligence centre for each Oblast covering all policing and a central point of contact for each other to identify and track those pesky regional border hopping criminals who do not need to be any smarter than that to stay at large, trends, modus operandi and “persons of interest”?

Would this not provide for regional programmes directed towards specific people of specific locations with all police departments feeding in intelligence to a central place relating to specifics issues that they may come across but fail to mention……that is crucial intelligence for another department?

Would this proactive, multifaceted local approach lead to more successful outcomes through intelligence led priorities on burglary, or assaults or child abuse?

Would more successful outcomes bring more public support and willingness to engage with the police?

If I am responsible for traffic figures to my traffic boss, who is in turn responsible to the national traffic boss, why would I waste my time arresting a drug user or those involved in an assault?  It does neither me or my boss any favours at all.

If, however, my boss in responsible for all local policing, whilst I may concentrate on traffic, I am much more likely to be hauled over the coals for not arresting the drug dealer or those involved in an assault……because he is responsible for everything in my region.

Is the failure of detection rates a question of structure rather than resolve?

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Moscow and Crimea agree on financial investment

July 26, 2010

Well dear readers, remember yesterday’s post about Crimea?

No?…..Well read it again!

Anyway, following up on that, it seems the good womans old friend, after once again making statements about Sevastopol being a Russian city…….

Ukrainian News

The Crimean Council of Ministers and the government of Moscow reached agreement on trade, economic, and humanitarian cooperation in the period of 2011-2013 on Saturday.

Crimea’s Prime Minister Vasyl Dzharta and Moscow’s Mayor Yuri Luzhkov signed the agreement in Simferopol.

The document was signed as part of a 1998 agreement on cooperation on trade, economic, scientific, technical, humanitarian, and cultural issues.

A chain of shops selling wines and cognacs from the Crimea is expected to open in Moscow in the second half of 2011 under this cooperation agreement.

“There is a section that provides for opening shops selling Crimean products in Moscow in the second half of next year,” Dzharty told journalists.

There are also plans to send Moscow children to children’s sanatoriums and health camps in the Crimea and send war veterans and disabled people to Crimean health resorts during the period of 2011-2013 under direct agreements between Moscow-based tour operators and Crimean sanatoriums and health resorts.

The two sides will also consider the possibility of the governments of Moscow and Moscow-based companies investing in agricultural enterprises, construction of residential complexes, sanatoriums, health resorts, and socio-cultural infrastructure in the Crimea.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, the government of Moscow has said that it is ready to invest in the Crimea’s recreation industry.

Luzhkov arrived in the Crimea on Saturday for meetings with local government officials and participate in events commemorating the Day of the Russian Naval Fleet in Sevastopol on July 25.

A further step towards, in particular Moscow’s influence as far as Crimea is concerned…….but they are autonomous as I said yesterday so it is their decision.

On a more opaque note, dear readers, this deal is very good for Yuri (Luzhkov) and in particular his wife, Tatyana (Luzhkova……the late President Yeltsin’s daughter) as nothing is built in Moscow without her say so and undoubtedly any construction works sponsored by Moscow in Crimea will be done either by her companies directly…….or indirectly via “project management/developer” agreements……for a healthy profit of course.

Ain’t life just “cosy” sometimes?

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Kosovo fallout – Implications for Ukraine

July 25, 2010

Well dear readers, remember when Kosovo was “created”?

http://euobserver.com/9/30529

This week the International Courts of Justice ruled there was nothing illegal about Kosovo’s declaration of independence…….but has the ruling changed anything?

Yes…….and No.

It is all very well to be ruled as not breaking international laws when declaring independence but unless you are officially recognised by the international community then what does it really do for you?

Spain cannot recognise Kosovo as it sets a precident to recognise Catalan and the Basque region which has been pushing for independence for a very long time.

Greece cannot because of the Cypriot issue with Turkey.

Canada and Quebec?  South Ostetia, Abkhazia, Taiwan?

In fact, there is quite a list of regions in nations globally that may now see this as a green light to make such a proclamation, regardless of whether they are recognised or not……and situations like Transinistra may become the norm……namely quasi-official.

Ukraine has issues along the same lines.  Crimea is already a recognised Autonomous Republic with its own constitution, Crimean Tartar as an ethnic language, Tartars as an enthnic population and a recognised geographical region with a very long history of recognition…….as well as a long history of self rule. 

There is nothing to stop Lviv declaring independence…….or Odessa given this ruling.

This is of course why Ukraine has refused to recognise Kosovo, South Ostetia and Abkhazia as it sets the precident to recognise Crimea should it do the same.

There will never be complete EU or international recognisiton of Kosovo for the reasons above…..too many nations have regions seeking independence.

So, what happens if Crimea declares independence…….it is already an Autonomous Republic……

Well formal declaration really means nothing if other nations do not recognise you.  There can be no trade agreements, no travel agreements, no Visa agreements, no Embassy or Consul in that region……in fact there can be no formal or official communication that recognises the independent claim and can actually insulate the region from the planet rather than intergrate the region.

“Made in Kosovo” – Sorry, we don’t recognise Kosovo, so you can’t import or export there as it doesn’t exist……we have no treaties or tax agreements with it……so it will be very expensive and difficult to do.  We don’t recognise it and therefore you will have no legal recourse if you get screwed over there either.

“Made in Serbia” – No problem.

So, even if a “geograhical region” declares independence and cites this ruling as a precident, without the majority of the recognised nations of the world formally recognising that “geographical region” it can actually make matters worse for it.

Crimea already has geographical integrity that is globally recognised and has been for centuries, it also has, by way of its own constitution and the very title of the region “The Autonomous Republic of Crimea” a more than advanced self-determination.

Should Ukraine be concerned?  Maybe not today…….but in the future, the land mass and people gifted to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954 could well become a nation in its own right…..with all legal, historical boxes ticked……making recognition by many nations very likely indeed.

Could Crimea exist as a nation?  Only as the poorest on the continent of Europe as it has less infrasture than Moldovoa…….who currently hold the label of the poorest nation on the continent of Europe.

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