Archive for July, 2011


SBU investigates Ukrgasbank for misappropriation of funds

July 31, 2011

Good grief! A criminal investigation into a bank? Is Ukraine so far removed from how things are done in Europe?

Once banks have been bailed out, they are supposed to be allowed to go straight back to the shenanigans that required them to be bailed out in the first place.  They are not supposed to be subjected to criminal investigation or to be held accountable for what they did with the money they were given to survive.

Try and keep up Ukraine – Prosecuting banks is not the done thing in the West!

(I know, I know, not a strictly accurate reflection on banks and investigations in the West but I am allowing myself one cynical and not overly accurate post.  Why should I be any different to the standard of Ukrainian journalism?)


Health and Safety in Ukraine – More mining deaths

July 30, 2011

In yet another example of poor health and safety in Ukraine, it seems scores of men have died in two separate incidents in Ukrainian mines.

Needless to say, all attention will be focused on the issues surrounding mines and mining in Ukraine, and one wonders how the Chinese, who are quite likely to buy several Ukrainian mines, are viewing the latest incidents (of which there are many each year).

Now Chinese health and safety may not be perfect, it suffers its own mining tragedies, but there are quite likely to be inherent problems in owning mines on foreign soil when it comes to incidents of this nature. Undoubtedly their acquisitions will reduce incidents, not necessarily due to any concern for the people working in the mines, but upgraded and modern equipment, by its nature when used by competent and trained people, will reduce the risk to people. I believe that in the incidents mentioned in the link, at least one mine is privately owned by MetInvest, part of the Rinnat Akhmetov empire.

There is also the cost issue of buying, fitting and using expensive equipment to subsequently damage or destroy it, irrelevant of human cost by way of injury or death, do to slipshod and poor health and safety.

It is of course quite easy to condemn the health and safety conditions in Ukraine on a universal scale across all areas of life when putting them in comparison to other nations. Writing as an IOSH and SMSTS qualified person, I can say with some confidence that from what I have personally witnessed in the years I have been here, whilst deaths and serious injury are almost always reported, less serious and minor accidents inherently are not. There are then what are known as “near misses” that would be reported in the UK for example, where nobody was injured at all through luck rather than judgment, in order for those in charge of H&S at that location to correct the situation after investigation of the circumstances.

To be fair, certainly to the major construction companies in Ukraine, I have witnessed a major improvement over the years, but these are privately owned entities where the authorities have little problem in making examples of owners and management should something go wrong. The same cannot be said of the smaller companies I would add.

A completely different set of circumstances to those where many mines are still owned by the State where more often than not, nobody is held accountable for incidents at such premises.

I have never seen or heard of a proactive H&S inspection in Ukraine. They are always reactive as they will be with regards to these mining incidents. The problem of course, is H&S inspectors are government employees and thus are easily influenced to leave State owned organisations alone.

The next problem is they are obviously underpaid being State employees and therefore, such is the culture of Ukraine, happy to accept payments to turn a blind eye even with privately owned organisations or sufficiently fudge an investigation to avoid liability for those with money.

The acceptance of money to avoid inspections or fudge investigations is only part of the problem. The whole concept of health and safety is to avoid deaths, injuries of any severity and “near misses”. The lessons lost and not communicated to relevant industry participants and fellow inspectors by following this path can be, and probably has been, catastrophic. The learning curve that should grow with every investigation and reported incident simply does not occur.

Nobody is in denial that there has been little or no investment or upgrades to the Ukrainian commodities industries since the collapse of the USSR. Given that is the case, few can expect a zero incident rate. No country on the planet has a zero incident rate with regards to health and safety.

The American OSHA system of health and safety is, in comparison to the UK IOSH system, nowhere near as flexible to individual circumstance and would probably close or suspend work at far more Ukrainian industrial and commercial units than than that of IOSH, which is more geared to solve the problem on a bespoke and more timely basis. That said, either system if rigorously enforced in Ukraine would have a dramatic effect upon accident statistics with, undeniably, an affect on profit margins, at least initially.

Nevertheless, what cost to the image of Ukraine and knock on effects to DFI, compared to a national health and safety clamp down similar to those that Ukraine has now voluntarily entered into with Ensreg for nuclear facilities in the wake of the Japanese incident?

Will it take a disaster of such scale to address this issue in respect of State owned producers?


Cultural leadership or masked coercive policy?‏

July 29, 2011

I have much discussed the overt and covert roles of NGOs here over the years.

Here is the British Council looking for the next generation of “cultural leaders” in Ukraine and offering leadership training, funding to the tune of £3000 for personal development and perusing the written plans of said applicants with “cultural leadership” aspirations.

From a UK perspective, of course, it is most wise to familiarise with and mentor where possible the next generation of Ukrainian “cultural leaders”. To help shape and forge strong bonds with the next Ukrainian people of influence from an early developmental position is exactly what the UK should be doing.

In the world of leadership and international relations, personal relationships go a very long way when it comes to the ease of access and negotiation with another nation.

From a Ukrainian point of view, on one hand it may turn out to be quite beneficial in the future to have the same easy access and personal connections with those determining policy in the UK, but on another, depending upon the transparency of the selection process employed by the UK Foreign Office via the facade of the British Council NGO (a budget that is the responsibility of the Foreign Office), there will be an acute awareness of the ability to be rather partisan in selection and therefore coercive to certain interests.

Of course you would expect HM Gov to have an agenda otherwise there is no real point to the exercise. Without an agenda, they may as well pay the fees for my next Open University educational upgrade in one of the political sciences (P,P or E to be exact, starting in a few months if they ever get around to setting the fees for overseas students that is) and then use their influence to shoe-horn me into a Ukrainian NGO in which they have a particular interest.

From my perspective a good trade-off of course. It is actually quite difficult to get actively involved in a NGO even when you want to. It’s even harder to get involved in EU or UN bodies despite what would appear to be obvious benefits to them ostensibly based on costs and location . We will see, for example, if anyone asks me or any resident foreigner I know, to act as an OSCE observer for the next 2012 parliamentary elections here in Odessa, or whether the taxpayer will be asked to pay for a different foreigner with a far worse linguistic ability (thus needing additional funds for an interpreter) to be flown here, accommodated and then flown out again.

Which is the most effective use of EU taxpayers money? – Exactly, so the chances of that happening are similar to the hole in my derriere disappearing overnight!

Anyway, returning to the point, whilst this is quite an overt and seemingly well intentioned endeavor (and it quite possibly is just that), there is of course, depending upon the transparency of the selection process, the ability for rather darker motives in the long-term, as anyone excelling within this sponsored programme will very likely become a prominent figure either regionally or nationally in Ukraine over the next 10 years.

One has to recognise though that there is no neutral action in foreign policy. Even inaction can be something other than neutral depending upon the circumstances. I could and maybe should go on to explain that further, but it becomes quite an academic argument and this post would turn into more a dissertation/thesis than flippant commentary you are used to.

Maybe I should create another section called “It’s all really quite academic….” and take a layman’s meander into policy in clear and simple English, but the amount of research and reading required would mean sporadic and lengthy entries. What do you think?

As it happens, I am all in favour of this UK endeavor, even if the long-term motives are somewhat more opaque and coercive than they appear prima facie. Then I would be, as I have one foot firmly planted in Ukraine and the other in the UK. It is in my personal interest to have and encourage top-class bilateral relations between both nations and between Odessa as a region and the UK for that matter whether it be with the leadership of today or that of the next generation.

The less I have to explain the more nefarious or opaque actions of the UK when confronted about them, the better it is for me. Like so many in society, issues judged separately and in the short-term rather than in the context of the bigger picture over the medium/long-term.

So, if there are any fledgling Ukrainian “cultural leaders” reading amongst my Ukrainian followers, click on the above link and apply. If you need help with the application or working on your personal progression plan, leave a comment. All comments are screened by me before publication, so if you do not want your comment/interest released for public consumption and would prefer a more confidential arrangement, mention it when making contact with the blog.

If there is one thing I am more than capable of, it is writing dry, strategic, technically sound English for the corporate and government machines of the UK and EU. Now there’s an offer you don’t get every day!


Taking action in the US Courts. A good idea for the Ukrainian elite?

July 28, 2011

Now dear readers, as I wrote some months ago, Ms Tymoshenko lodged a law suit in the USA against RosUkrEnergy over alleged misdeeds very similar, as I pointed out at the time, to misdeeds she was quite capable of carrying out when she ran Unified Energy Systems (of Ukraine) and throwing stones in glass houses was not necessarily a good idea in a nation where counter-suits are habitual. Well guess what?

You have to say the law suit she submitted reads as though it was written by somebody not overly conversant with the fact that every word must be chosen carefully in any litigation process, but that is an issue for Ms Tymoshenko and the US Courts to tackle at a later stage.

Suffice to say it reads as though it was written by somebody with at best, only a passing interest in law. I have seen far more accomplished legal writing in standard contracts to be honest.

Ms Tymoshenko, until recently has always maintained UES had no debts to anybody, but however has conceded that there are debts to Russia though not to the $405.5 million Russia claims. Her exact words when forced to admit there was indeed a debt contrary to all her previous statements “Look at Ukrainian and Russian laws and you will understand that no debt can be reckoned for 15 years. Then again, the debt has never been the size cited.” One wonders why there was a need to lie about it in the first place then.

Anyway, the US Southern District Court has suspended the legal action against RosUkrEnergy temporarily having now received this legal action against Ms Tyomshenko and UES from a US registered company called Universal Trading and Investment Co (UTICo).

It seems that inherently, using the US RICO laws (which are probably quite difficult to enforce outside the USA), will only lead to one alleged Ukrainian racketeer using the same laws against another. No honour amongst racketeers eh?

Still, the US won’t have to go far to hear from Ms Tymoshenko’s former business partner and ally. He is still sat in a US jail for money laundering and would probably fancy a change of scenery and a day out.

You sometimes wonder whether there is any circumspection whatsoever amongst these people when pursuing their personal spats in the courts (domestic or foreign.) Now she will face legal action not only in Ukraine but also the USA, and an action that could well rake up old evidence against her in relation to her former business partner who was convicted and jailed in the US system.

I hate to be the one to say I told her so (not that she would read my ruminations). Glass houses and stones and all that!

Circumspection – a word for all Ukrainian politicians to understand before embarking on any actions, particularly in foreign courts.


Ukrainian economic growth forecast upgraded by EBRD‏

July 27, 2011

Shocking isn’t it? A headline, not that I care much for headlines (as content is king), showing growth in a European nation that isn’t in Germany or Poland.

Not only showing growth but the growth estimates being revised upwards. Undoubtedly a few envious governments sat on the European continent right now!

Those people at the EBRD have upgraded forecast Ukrainian GDP growth by 0.5% to 5% for the year.



TMS Cricket and difficult explanations‏

July 26, 2011

For the last 5 days, religiously the computer has been locked onto the TMS (Test Match Special) BBC coverage of the first Test between world ranked number 1’s India against world ranked number 2’s England. A series that should England win will reverse those rankings as far as Test Cricket is concerned.

All incredibly important stuff for hundreds of thousands, in fact probably millions of English and Indian people scattered around the globe, yours truly included. Life or death it is not. When looked at from the viewpoint of recent ghastly events in Norway or the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, who in my opinion was the best British female artist since Kate Bush, then cricket is and always will be only a game.

Nonetheless it matters, and never more so when the game is played at Lords, a pitch which almost always guarantees a result (rather than a draw) if the rain stays away. I have to admit to having spent many days being corporately entertained at Lords, Headingley, The Oval, Edgbastion and Old Trafford. It may yet be that I will see a test match, although probably no longer whilst being corporately entertained, at The Rose Bowl, home of cricket to my very own county, as it graced its very first Test Match early in the year when England played Sri Lanka.

I also admit that all the corporate entertainment at Test cricket matches through the years has led to a rather large, if not somewhat garish on occasion, collection of commemorative ties.

Anyway, during the past five days, it has been particularly difficult to explain even the most fundamentals of the game to those Ukrainians around me. Before even getting to dividing up to pitch and explaining why silly mid-off, gully, third man and all other orthodox fielding positions are and then having to try and explain the names and why they are called what they are called, there are even more basic elements to explain.

Why is there eleven people against only two all the time? That is not fair.

Why on such a big pitch do the play in the dirty bit and not a nice green bit?

Why are the two with bats dressed like riot police?

Why is one person allowed to have big gloves to catch the ball and all the others not?

This of course before attempts to explain the nuances about lbw which even if the ball does hit the legs is not necessarily lbw.

Why does one game take 5 days? Why do they play so many games in a series, it is almost a month when all the days are added together?

The list of questions, as you can imagine, goes on and on and on.

In a clear lack of commitment on my part with regard to explanation over the period of a few days, eventually it has come to a point that when I almost choke on a half eaten sandwich, and then try to avoid spluttering the contents over the computer screen, it is a cue for those in my presence to await the angst of disbelief or the unbounded joy over any particular incident. I almost feel like a conductor with an orchestra.

It is unfortunate an acquaintance of mine, Sundeep, lives in Kyiv and is not here to assist me in delivering the finer points of a wonderfully tactical game. It would be particularly beneficial given he is Indian and hails from West Bengal thus providing a more neutral, or at least equally as biased (but the other way) commentary.

Anyway, if some of the posts have been lacking in quality and more vigorous comment over the past 5 days, it is due to the distractions provided by the TMS team at the BBC, some outstanding cricket, and the need to explain matters cricket related to those around me.

Hopefully normal service will resume for a few days before the next Test starts at Trent Bridge.

Still, click here and enjoy!

One small thing to note. I didn’t take the good woman long to realise the symbolism of the Umpire’s digit of doom for any batsman. I have been on the receiving end of a number of exceptionally dodgy Umpire-esque dismissals since!


Ukraine must stop foreign borrowing – Azarov‏

July 25, 2011

Well you did wonder when Ukraine was going to mirror the political divides of the US, the UK and many other EU nations over the issue of debts and deficits.

It seems Ukrainian Prime Minister Azarov would take an extremely cautious and conservative view. “We have to restrict, or maybe even completely suspend foreign borrowing, and have to be extremely careful while issuing state guarantees” (on commercial loans).

He is of course quite right to have concern over the effect the current US failure to reach agreement over its debt ceiling will have on a global scale. That will pale into insignificance come October when the US delivers (if it does) a budget for the next year that will not address debt or deficit to market satisfaction.

He is right to concern himself over the Eurozone issues as the latest agreement seemingly sets the stage for the creation of a EMF (European Monetary Fund) quite similar to the IMF. That though will mean major national and EU structural legal changes which may or may not get passed relevant nations parliament or referendums if necessary/held.

Now is probably not the right time to go rushing into the international market borrowing money with such immediate uncertainty ahead. Much more will be apparent by the end of the year with regards to the likelihood of the legal creation of something like the EMF and also the reaction globally to the US budget in October.

With record reserves of about $37 billion, even if it cost $15 billion in government spending before the end of the year, quite possibly that is a wise course than to borrow from the markets at the moment.

The Prime Minister’s position does seem to put him at odds with Deputy Prime Minister Tigipko who is insistent that continued and speedy IMF borrowing should occur.

To be fair to Tigipko, whether Ukraine needs the money or not, it does need to shed the huge subsidies it gives the public when it comes to utilities and which is a key condition of further IMF lending. Irrespective of the money, sticking to the IMF agreement provides the discipline to achieve what otherwise will not get sufficient political backing to get through the RADA. Public ire can always be partially deflected towards the IMF when all is said and done whilst it remains a key condition of the future loan installments.

There are pros and cons to both arguments of course. There are always pros and cons with any decision. Still, at least the issue has appeared as a blip on the Ukrainian radar.


Political Persecution in Ukraine – Why no forthright condemnation?

July 24, 2011

When poking around in cyberspace for all things Ukrainian, it seems there is a fair cry from either foreigners in Ukraine and Ukrainians outside Ukraine, although thus far not much of a furore within Ukraine (yet), over the alleged political persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko.

Why is it that many governments and political institutions are warning against the “appearance of selective prosecutions” rather than condemning her trial (and that of others in the opposition) as “political persecution” which Ms Tymoshenko and supporters claim it is?

Kyiv, after all, is home to Embassies of almost every nation with Ambassadors who have easy access to Ms Tymoshenko, she to them, and also with the current authorities. The Ambassadors, Deputy Head of Missions and assorted mandarins at all these embassies are not stupid people and yet they and their governments go only as far as warning against the “appearance of selective prosecutions” rather than full and forthright condemnations.

Part of the reason, no doubt, is that these people have far more knowledge of the situation than the average person on the street. They do after all have direct access to both sides in person. There are also other on-going issues, quite possibly of reasonable bilateral consequence, that outright condemnation would jeopardise. Another reason is the case against Ms Tymoshenko is on-going and thus there is no finding of guilt (yet). Should she be found not guilty and the rule of law and judicial system run its course to that end without excessive external influence, it is no bad thing. People are found not guilty in courts in every nation every day.

There is also the possibility that amongst the many charges she now faces, she is indeed guilty of one or more of them. It may be the case that the luminaries and diplomats of other nations are actually aware that is probably the case and thus they are stopping short of “condemnation”. HM Ambassador Leigh Turner makes a valid point in the last paragraph of this blog entry.

I have no views on the rights and wrongs of individual cases. And I have read with interest a list distributed by the authorities designed to show that many figures associated with the present government are being prosecuted in addition to members of the previous government. The authorities argue that the list shows that justice is indeed being applied evenly. The problem is that when corruption is widespread, whatever the facts of individual cases, prosecutions will always risk looking selective if only some people are prosecuted. And in a democracy, any prosecution of important figures from the political opposition will always, rightly, be the subject of particular scrutiny both inside the country and outside.

He is absolutely correct and speaks from a position that is probably far more informed than most of the populous of the nation, who are in effect only following the media trial of both judge, court system and Ms Tymoshenko.

There are though other reasons to tread carefully. Only a few months ago, the EU was throwing garlands at Croatia for the beginning of prosecution of some members of its previous leadership. Somewhat very similar in principle to what is happening in Ukraine now, and yet there was no pause to caution over “political persecutions”. Of course Croatia is due to join the EU in 2013/14 and needs to be seen to be dealing with corruption and the powerful elite. Is that not where Ukraine is slowly heading though, even if it is 15 or 20 years away?

Then there are the issues with the already existing EU members of Bulgaria and Romania, both of which also continue to suffer with major corruption, organised crime and a very obtuse legal system. These are already members of the EU but fall so far short of the EU standards they were both subjected to something called the “Co-operation and Verification Mechanism” in which the EU actively monitors and reports upon the corruption, rule of law and judicial processes (and progress) in both nations. This has been going on for years and the latest report for Bulgaria is here, and the latest for Romania here. As you can see, both reports are dated 20 July 2011 and are therefore only a few days old.

Both nations are far closer to Ukraine than the EU when reading these reports when it comes to corruption, organised crime, judiciary and rule of law. One wonders where nations like Italy and Greece would also sit if subjected to the same scrutiny.

They make rather grim reading, however any report written upon Ukraine would be no worse. It should also be remembered that Bulgaria and Romania receive far more help in addressing these issues being EU members already than Ukraine does being outside.

In short, in both Bulgaria and Romania, just as with other nations like Serbia and Croatia, are being actively encouraged to go after and prosecute the elites regardless of whether they are in power, in opposition or retired from highly influential positions. Let us not forget the EU has been demanding successive governments of Ukraine to do the same for many years as well.

It is therefore very difficult for the EU nations in particular, to “condemn” Ukraine for “political persecution” for all the above reasons within this post and all the links within it. “Appearance of selective prosecutions” is about as strong a phrase they can currently use without walking dangerously close to the line of duplicity when calling for prosecutions, including opposition members, in other nations.

Once the legal course has been run in Ukraine, then that position may change, although one would expect an ECHR appeal by Ms Tymoshenko should she be found guilty, so even then, with on-going legal action, many nations may not move particularly far with regards to rhetoric until there are no further options.

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