Archive for August, 2011

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Odessa is 217 years old on 2nd September

August 31, 2011

Well dear readers, whilst Odessa is far older, on Friday 2nd September it was officially recognised as a city by Catherine the Great 217 years ago.

Needless to say there is the annual celebration and here is the itinerary for those interested.

I shall indeed make my way to the centre on Friday. Well why not? It is still hot, sunny and there are plenty of good restaurants to rest my weary bones at after perusing the events.

Apologies for the short posts of late, the boy has decided he wants to go to university at LSE in London and I have spent the past few days and a fair amount of money getting him into a top notch college in Moscow that will get him up to the required A Level equivalents and IELTS level English.

Family comes before your entertainment – Sorry!

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PayPal in Ukraine and Russia

August 30, 2011

It has always seemed something of a pain for the few US citizens I know that PayPal did not work in Ukraine and Russia.

There is a rumour that from 24th September 2011, I will no longer have to listen to their incessant whining about this and PayPal will now operate in both nations.

I hope the rumour is true!

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Ecology/Environmental planning, registers and protocols

August 29, 2011

With the almost immediate beginning of the Black Sea and Sea of Azov shelves by the likes of the China Petroleum Company, Shell, Chevron, Eni, Petrobrazilia et al, one has to suspect there will be a State encouraged ISO 14001 styled (if not ISO 14001 itself) environmental policy push amongst the larger industrial companies operating in Ukraine.

One has to expect that the larger Ukrainian industries will also be “encouraged” to at least have an Environmental Policy as well, regardless of whether they follow it or not.

For those in desperate need, I still have several I have written for large industrial companies in the past that achieved ISO 14001 on this very computer and backed up on a thumb-drive. They will of course need to be tailored to any specific company however the framework is there and only tinkering required.

Thus I am available for hire free-lance at discounted rates for all of you Ukrainian environmental bad boys who will soon need a good environmental policy that is ISO 14001 compatible, easy to implement with tried and tested audit and reporting procedures together with emergency contingency plans for dealing any incident.

I can produce them in English, Russian or both. They will be as good, if not better, than any the foreign companies submit and work to when operating here.

Just leave a comment, I will not publish it, but I will contact you and put you in front of the inevitable ministerial interest that will come with increased impact from foreign operations and environmental impact in Ukraine.

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The return of a very black sheep? – Lazarenko

August 28, 2011

The clock is ticking towards the release from a US jail of one of Ukraine’s most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, political leaders since independence.

Ex-Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko is due to be released from a US jail on 12 January 2012 after being convicted of laundering $200 million gathered through his patronage whilst in government.

Ukraine has had him on the wanted list since 1999 for his nefarious monetary issues as well as involvement in several high profile murders and attempted murders.

The question is really what will the US do with him when his time is served?

He is linked to a company called Capital Investment Group registered in the US that owns almost $100 million of real estate in Ukraine, and the family home is deemed to be a ranch in California. As far as I tell ascertain, he does not hold US citizenship.

On a slight tangent, Mr Lazarenko is a native of Dnipropetrovsk, home of Yulia Tymoshenko. As the convictions in the US relate to nefarious monetary acts funded by gas deals that were then under the monopoly of United Energy Systems of Ukraine run by Yulia Tymoshenko, any possible return to Ukraine may well cause a severe headache for Ms Tymoshenko who is currently being investigated for several misuse of office issues.

It has already been stated by Russia that UES whilst under the control of Ms Tymoshenko still owes a debt of $405 million. Ms Tymoshenko has eventually acknowledged there is a debt but disputes the amount, having previously denied for many years there was any debt at all.

None of this, it has to be said, has anything to do with the current investigations. The return of Lazarenko if deported from the US however could lead to yet further investigations into Ms Tymoshenko and nefarious gas dealings. Not really what she needs right now one has to suspect.

It is difficult to see how the once fairly powerful Dnipropetrovsk patronage system would be able to help these two once leading lights from Dnipropetrovsk now the Donetsk patronage have assumed control of Ukraine.

Interestingly, Ukraine’s most unpopular ex-President, Viktor Yushenko, recently visited Lazarenko whilst in the US. One can only imagine the shenanigans discussed in that conversation. Who was he speaking for and what was said?

Meanwhile, the PGOs office in Ukraine has clearly stated that should Lazarenko return to Ukraine he will be investigated for all the original matters from 1999. Should the US deport him to Ukraine that sends a clear political message that the US considers Ukraine to have a far less persecutory judicial system than it currently orates the cases against Ms Tymoshenko over which they “have concerns over selective justice”. It is more than likely his return will add additional charges against Tymoshenko considering the US court evidence used to convict him and the source of the money he laundered to be found guilty.

Undoubtedly he would wish to do a deal to have the US convictions seen as time served for any resultant Ukrainian convictions in the case of the gas issues and then face the evidence of murder and attempted murder on their own individual merits which may not stand up so easily to scrutiny when it comes to direct evidence.

In effect he may become a star-witness/co-accused against Tymoshenko and her deeds when running UES with nothing to lose but everything to gain.

It could all get rather sticky in January 2012 should the US deport him. It could be just as sticky if they don’t, after all the Americans found him guilty, so how can they deny the Ukrainian population the same opportunity.

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A return to Ukrainian NGOs again

August 27, 2011

Once again, my attention is turned to NGO’s, albeit today with a recovery from a somewhat thumping head following on rather neatly and as predicted from Independence Day’s exuberance.

NGOs were indeed a topic of conversation whilst those present still retained the ability to speak coherently.

Readers of this blog are certainly aware of my “issues” with NGOs in Ukraine. That is not to say I am anti or pro NGO. I question their motives, effectiveness, ineffectiveness and occasionally counter-productivity in their pursuit of agenda and policy.

Whilst my interest in politics is obviously clear to you dear readers, it does not come in the form of a particular party in Ukraine but comes in the way of policy, implementation and casual results being effective, ineffective or counterproductive.

The same can be said for NGOs in Ukraine, who for the most part, superficially at least, seem to be ineffective if domestic and largely ignored if foreign. That is not to point the finger singularly at the current government, every Ukrainian government has been the same in the years I have been here.

Firstly I will quickly write about the foreign NGOs who being foreign have far less weight and influence than foreign ambassadors and embassies by default. These are either sponsored by foreign governments directly, such as the British Council or indirectly via organisations like the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (also FCO sponsored) .

There are also privately foreign sponsored NGOs such as those financed by Mr Soros directly or through rather opaque (at times) chains of funding groups.

Needless to say, that no NGO is free from the politics of its paymaster anymore than the ratings agencies are independent of influence from their paymasters who happen to be the very banks they issue ratings upon. In many cases, foreign NGOs are nothing more than a deniable interface between foreign sovereign government and perceived vested interest in a nation which would be “sensitive” if there was an obvious direct line between parties involved.

Aside from overt activities the covert activities are often more important. For instance, do we honestly think the British Council sit in their offices with hardly any visitors doing nothing? Is it not more likely they will be trawling local language forums for “people of interest” or “interesting people” (not the same thing) who may further or undermine the UK cause? Who better to reach out and test the water in a deniable way than a NGO?

Of course any hosting government knows what is going on as they do it themselves via their NGOs in other nations.

However, foreign financed NGOs are not really what I am going to write about although there is much to say. There is the self and foreign other to consider also. I intend to write about the domestic NGOs, be they financed by foreign or domestic money.

Why are domestic NGOs so ineffective, at least prima facie?

The answer seems to be multifaceted depending on the NGO. Many try to take an A-political stance and are therefore quite hesitant to become “political”. It is therefore very difficult to make any impression on any Ukrainian government that has thus far held the reigns of power. Even more so in a society that has obvious fractures over language, history, heroes and villains, patronage and political leaning. It is hard to identify any NGO in Ukraine that has any sizable support from civil society in the guise of voting public.

An awful lot are not even known to the Ukrainian public. There is a human rights NGO in Odessa allegedly headed by a fairly influential chap that doesn’t even have a physical postal address and yet appears on the list of NGOs. With the change of local governance in 2010, this chap also has extremely strong ties to the current administration and thus there could well be a conflict of interest should issues arise in Odessa today in the realm of human rights.

The next issue and continuing along a patronage theme (which runs throughout Ukrainian society) is one of inclusiveness or exclusion. It is far easier to get access to the right people if you, as a NGO, are not politically confronting the government of the day. This again is not solely an issue with the current government. Previous governments were the same.

Whilst of course all NGOs can expect the same amount of coercion they use upon governments of the day to be reciprocal, many NGOs seem to try to become part of the patronage regime themselves, thus making themselves a permanent part of the structure and failing to remain the agency they are supposed to be. Causal purity sacrificed at the alter of longevity via patronage and not making big ripples in the political pond without consent. Not really what a NGO should be doing as it risk both almost Borg-like assimilation by the structure and a perception of muddied principles.

Inclusion, rather than exclusion from the structure, even if NGOs do not completely agree with an agenda of current government, does through the patronage system, grant access to the spoils however they manifest themselves.

Exclusion on the other hand, particularly if domestically financed, could make life almost unlivable quiet literally. The local term would be “isportit jizn” which is in effect an unofficially communicated word from above to make life exceptionally miserable through fair means and foul, for all subjected to such a “decree”.

A possible net result of this is those NGOs inclusive will turn against and ridicule those that remain exclusive and divide and conquer once again becomes an effective structural weapon. In effect, as long as a NGO does not directly threaten the ability of a current Ukrainian government to do as it wanted at the time, it has always been either tolerated or encouraged.

The realities are that to advance an agenda means a compromising of those ideals to a greater or lesser degree.

It is also important to consider what (theoretically) NGOs actually are and how, at least domestically, they form. Of course many Ukrainian NGOs were parachuted in based on concepts and requirements in other nations. Some fit with Ukraine and others do not. Inherently though, NGOs are formed as a group to bring the attention of the structure to the issues society would like them to address. Very much similar in fact to a role held by the church in recent centuries in many countries. Unions would also have some parallels. Church and unions are far more cemented in the Ukrainian civil society psyche than NGOs of course (particularly foreign NGOs). Neither church nor unions these days are always as detached from politics as they could or maybe should be in many nations

If those compromises are consistently greater rather than lesser, many will become disillusioned.  Those compromises may well be with the “imported professional management” or “qualified younger element” hijacking the original management.  Now one imagines that people become involved in NGOs on principle and a passion for a particular cause, rather than any other motivator but over the past decade it has become a “profession”.  What were once grass roots bodies of a coalition of the willing have become professional at the decrees of the paymasters.  Thus you have pause for thought about the true passion of some of the “management”.

In other cases, such as one of Ukraine’s leading human rights advocates, they are plucked from the world of NGOs and given a structural position. (In this case to sit on a committee dealing with human rights with the government of Ukraine as his new paymaster and has been conspicuous by his absence in public commentary ever since).

The question then, as far as domestically grown NGOs are concerned, is how to remain A-political but be effective, principled but not excluded and retain longevity with relevance to Ukrainian civil society?

Hmmm!

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The next session – Laws to come before the New Year

August 25, 2011

Apologies for my absense.  It is fair to say, should you read the previous post you may be somewhat understanding as to the reasons why even if you are not overly sympathetic.

I did have a far more thought provoking post for today relating to Ukrainian NGOs (and foreign NGOs in Ukraine) however I had written it and saved it over at a different site of mine which conveniently (or not) was suffering like me and went down to an HTTP 500 server error yesterday.  Needless to say you will have to wait for that delight which springs from a somewhat “spirited joust” between the (mostly) retired and largely irrelevant minor ex-diplomats and politicians I spent Independence Day with.

Today however, with the RADA soon to return to work in a week or two, I thought we could have a peer into my fairly usually reliable crystal ball and look at what major legislation is likely to go before the RADA (possibly a few times if subject to Presidential veto and suggested amendments) and become law by the year end.

Pension reform will be tweaked and introduced (even if the start date of reforms conveniently falls after the parliamentary elections in October 2012). 

The budget for 2012 will be passed with relative ease and in plenty of time (although it will be extremely interesting to look at the provisions for pensions and utility subsidies as per IMF demands).

Changes to the laws on both parliamentary and local elections will also hit the parliament between September and January and will also pass.  It will be interesting to see the “critique” from the Vennice Commision and OSCE.

The laws on agricultural land ownership will also be subject to change one has to suspect during this session.

A fairly busy session ahead when it comes to major reforms.

It also remains to be seen, although it is fairly certain, if the DCFTA and AA between Ukraine and the EU get their initialing before going for ratification.  The Russian rhetoric and levers are now visibly being employed in a late bid to change the Ukrainian course.

Notwithstanding when comes in the way of new laws, we will have the implementation of laws passed in the last session, one of the more entertaining of which commences on 10th September with the complete scrapping of the previous 16 Visa types for Ukraine and the introduction from that date of transit, short and long-term Visas only.  A smooth transition?  I will let you know as the tails of woe and frustration mount up (or not) of the Expat forums.

All in all, a particularly interesting 3 months lay ahead notwithstanding any dramatic external influences as yet to appear over the horizon.

Hopefully the server to a different site will have dealt with its HTTP 500 issue (as swiftly as I have dealt with alcohol poisoning) and tomorrow there will be a more thought provoking look at NGOs.

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Independence Day # 20

August 24, 2011

Well as of today, Ukraine ceases to be the spotty juvenile delinquent and leaves its teens behind. Unfortunately like some teenagers it still has some issues with the rule of law and interaction with civil society. It did have a difficult and somewhat dysfunctional childhood in mitigation.

Certainly as many school reports have said of many adolescents pupils that have failed to live up to their potential, “could try harder”, “could do better” and many other relevant remarks from the teacher may well apply. In its late teens it can be said there was a stalling in its development far below that of which was expected.

Still, we all know of late developers who went on to become extraordinary successes despite the winding path they took to find themselves and reach their true potential.

So today I will be spending some time with some people who were in minions in the Kuchma RADA, the Yushenko/Tymoshenko RADA and one or two from the current Yanukovych/Azarov RADA as well as a few from Odessa Administrations past and present at a favourite restaurant eating and drinking to both the successes and failures of Ukraine thus far.

It is not any more special than the previous years when I have been with these people just because it is the 20th Anniversary of independence. Every year is special, particularly for such people who tried to keep Ukraine independent the best way they knew how. It is in effect no different to the annual old soldiers get together on Army Day or Victory Day and contains many of the same people at these unofficial gatherings.

The result will be the same as the Independence Day gatherings I have been to before however. Much talk of politics, reminiscing of times and decisions good and bad, plenty of food and more vodka than is necessary to make a battalion legless for a week.

For an almost tea-total Brit, this will be quite an undertaking as it is each year. Undoubtedly, despite trying to keep the British end up, I will come out of today extremely worse for wear, much to the angst of she that wears the trousers. If there is an entry tomorrow, I apologise in advance for content, grammar and even attempting to write anything whatsoever.

The one saving grace is that half the IPs that read this blog are Ukrainian and therefore quite likely to be in a similar state as I will be. Therefore, to them, it will not matter what I write at all. It may even make sense to those of a similar disposition.

Now, neatly pressed and groomed I shall sally forth and do my very best to return looking something similar to the way I left.

To all my Ukrainian readers I wish you a wonderful day of entertainment, reflection and ponderings for the future. Be assured that despite the wandering path taken thus far and all the mis-steps, Ukraine is doing OK. It is not Utopia but then, I have never lived anywhere that was. There are hurdles ahead but Ukraine will get to where it wants to go eventually. No nation ever evolved without problems and there is no standard speed .

Slava Ukraine.

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