Archive for April, 2012

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Civil liberties, twitter debates and dissemintation of misinformation

April 30, 2012

As observers of this blog will know, Odessablog tweets.  A twitter feed is to the right of this page.  It doesn’t tweet much, it doesn’t follow that many people or organisations and not that many people follow @Odessablogger.  That said, those who do follow are academics, think-tanks, Ukrainian politicians, Ukrainian civil liberties groups, journalists from Ukraine, the UK, Germany and USA as well as diplomats past and present both UK, Ukrainian and from the EU.

None too shabby a list of followers.  Small, influential, educated and interesting.

Amongst the Ukrainian MPs who tweet are Andrey Shevchenko and Vadim Utkin.

A tweet appeared with me from @vadimutkin stating this:

Россия, Украина, Израиль и Сев. Корея выдают внутренний паспорт. Во остальных странах паспорт существует только для выезда за границу

It then arrives with me again via @ashevch (Andrey Shenvchenko) via a re-tweet seconds later.

To save you dear readers the effort, in a nutshell, the tweet relates to the on-going debate over passports in Ukraine and Mr Mutkin is stating that the only nations in the world who have an internal passport system are Russia, Ukraine, Israel and South Korea.

This is of course absolute rubbish.  It may be they are the only nations that have an internal passport that takes the form of a little book that looks like the standard international passport we all recognise, but that it because many nations now use a national identity card rather than an internal passport.  The principle though is exactly the same.  A national ID system.

Now the debate is a civil liberties debate over internal ID as well as a debate over the changes to international passports and biometric data, data storage etc as mentioned in yesterday’s post (required in the EU road map for Visa-free).

However, Messers Mutkin and Shevchenko are being more than a little misleading.  If they care to look West and to the EU, a large number of EU nations have national identity card schemes.  In fact there are only a few that do not, my home nation of the UK being one.

Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and soon to join Croatia, all require the ownership of national ID cards (some simply to posses and other to always carry).

That leaves the Brits, Danes and Swedish pretty much.

Now these national ID cards do not look like a standard passport because, well, it is less hassle to carry a credit card sized ID, but they serve exactly the same purpose as the Ukrainian Internal Passport which our two Deputies are trying to highlight as an unusual encroachment on civil liberties that Ukraine should get rid off or seen to be oppressive and backwards.

This is absolute misinformation they are spreading.  The only difference is the size and style of the internal identification document between Ukraine and all the other nations within the EU I have listed.  If Ukraine swapped the passport book for the ID card, it would be no different from the majority of Europe, however that little snippet of apparently irrelevant information is not being passed along.

Is it any wonder the Ukrainian public have so little faith in their political classes (of any party, and they are all old hands at telling half-truths, outright falsifications and fabricated nonsense) when they won’t even tell the truth about the nations surrounding Ukraine and the systems they employ that can be easily corroborated by anybody with access to the Internet?  Considering you need the Internet to read their twitter, surely they must know such nonsense will be exposed as nonsense within a few clicks of a mouse!

Alas, the truth must be perverted for other motives by some, and thus several thousand Ukrainians who follow these two MPs on twitter are now under the impression that it is only former Communist nations trapped in a bureaucratic time-warp, or nations with large external threats against them, that have such civil liberty invading practices.

Utter cobblers!   (And yes I did send a reply tweet about spreading BS.  The thing about twitter is it a platform for a “quick hit” or for sending out information via attachments, but a blog is a platform of more permanent and more permanently findable content.   Hence I use both and use both in the manner I think more fitting for each medium.)

When it comes to solutions to the current debate, if some form of State generated ID is (still) required, you would think that an international passport would be as good as an internal passport (or ID card) for the purposes of identification within Ukraine and that in fact, an either/or situation would be good enough.

Reinventing the wheel over issues other neighbouring nations have accomplished so many times seems a quite pointless exercise.  The decision is whether to continue to require the possession of State generated ID (as most EU nations do, despite the inferences that they don’t) or not.  Thereafter it is a matter of what form it will take only.

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The unpopularity race – Politics in Ukraine

April 29, 2012

When all major political parties in Ukraine manage to gain 18% or less individually in the straw polls of public opinion regardless of what provocative or pacifying actions they make take in an attempt to either motivate or buy off the voting public, the one clear result opinion polls show is that the Ukrainian public simply don’t like any of the political choices they have.

Whilst Ms Tymoshenko’s circumstances and hunger strike may be preoccupying Baroness Ashton at the EEAS, not a single spontaneous protest from the people of any note Ukraine has occurred.  In fact even some of the western media sees the hunger strike tactic as flawed.  The Economist recently calling her antics “grating, and that from a media outlet hardly friendly to the Yanukovych camp (or any authoritarian rule for that matter), and calling foul on her damsel in distress tone.

Over at Der Tagesspeigel my twitter friend Claudia Von Salzen, a stalwart defender of human rights and who regularly highlights Ms Tymoshenko’s plight, does not see her as the lens through which Ukraine should solely be viewed.  She is quite right.

Tymoshenko fatigue seems to be setting in even amongst her foreign supporters, just as it did when she was Prime Minister.

That does not help the current ruling majority however.  They are less popular than a particularly rancid fart in a very air-tight spacesuit.   Then they would be.  They put up the pension age, put up gas and electricity prices, changed the tax code to capture more people, all obviously unpopular, and yet still managed to make themselves more unpopular with insider business deals, plundering the public purse and failing to implement laws they pass that may actually change life even myopically for the better.

In short, the vast majority of Ukrainians do not trust Yanukovych or Tymoshenko and would rather have no government at all than either of those two.  Unfortunately they are the two people who have the only two parties big enough to form a government.  It is therefore absolutely no surprise that none can even pass the 20% popularity threshold.

Only two nights ago, Andrey Shevchenko of BYuT tweeted that BYuT and Yatseniuk’s Front for Change need Klitchko’s party join them to be sure of having a good chance of beating the PoR at the October elections and asking why he has not joined the ranks of the United Opposition yet.

At the same time Carl Bildt tweeted and suggested that Ukraine is going to force the EU into cutting ties.

That being so, the only EU/Ukraine agreement that is not tied to politics, the fate of Tymoshenko and others, or the nefarious actions of Yanukovych and his sponsors, is the road map for Visa-free travel which Stefan Fule consistently states is about the free movement of people and not the politics of a nation.

Very good.  Therefore whether it be the PoR of BYuT that are annoying the EU when in power, and they both have and do, the Visa-free issue should progress regardless theoretically.  Which ever government is sitting in Ukraine when this eventually comes to pass, may get some begrudging recognition by society for actually doing something in their interest.

And yet this process is stalled.  Not by the EU but by Ukraine.  Not for any obscure issues contained within the road map either.  It is stalled over the issue of biometric passports which are necessary as part of the Visa-free agreement and an EU norm for EU nations.

Is it any wonder that the Ukrainian populous have so little faith in their political classes?

One of the few beneficial things for the everyday Ukrainian not hanging by a thread through purely political shenanigans between the EU and Ukraine, and it is the Ukrainian politicians who can’t get their act together once again.

Pathetic!

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Dnipropetrovsk bombings – Amongst the victims will be truth

April 28, 2012

Firstly before saying anything about the events of yesterday and the four bombs that went off around Dnipropetrovsk injuring 27, hosptialising 25, requiring the amputation of an arm and serious injuries to a young woman, it is important to show sympathy to the victims of this crime.

They are the innocent, the unsuspecting and the undeserved recipients of injuries and scars that will always stay with them.  It is a blessing that nobody died.

Sympathy may not help, but nevertheless it is given and necessarily so.

Now, the investigations are of course on-going and have been taken over by the SBU and security service apparatus.  4 crime scenes, numerous people at each trampling crime scenes, possibly some on-lookers visiting more than one and cross-contaminating the scenes – who knows?

It will be not be quick, nor should it be, when it comes to dealing with the evidence.

Nobody has claimed responsibility, unsurprisingly.  Ukraine is not really an obvious target for external terrorism  and if it should be chosen, Dnipropetrovsk would not really be the obvious choice.  Most eyes will therefore be looking inwards for the perpetrators of this abhorrent act.

It is much too soon to jump to conclusions about who and why, although that does not stop it happening of course.

Several opposition MPs are already claiming the current government are involved.  Oppostion MP Anatoliy Grytsenko does not mince his words here.  

On twitter Andriy Schevchenko, an opposition MP from a different party made similar inferences:  Є підтвердження – призначено позачергове засідання Ради: Дніпропетровськ і … приведення до присяги Лутковської. Хто б сумнівався?!

Now, such political accusations are common place.  Both current government and opposition see conspiracy everywhere in the actions of their counterparts.  In fact the opposition often see conspiracy amongst other opposition parties.  It is a fact of Ukrainian political life that those of us here are well used to.

The fact it is the home city of Yulia Tymoshenko currently languishing in a Kharkiv jail is also an obvious consideration although it maybe of no importance as matters progress.

It is not the first time.  In autumn last year a similar instance occurred with the same modus operandi of bombs in bins in Dnipropetrovsk.  These however, detonated at a time when there were far less people likely to be around although one man died.  They were indeed more for dramatic results rather than destruction and injury despite the death.

In January this year a similar instance in Makiyivka, although there is rumour that these explosions were part of an attempt to blackmail the State for money by those responsible.  As they were never caught, that motivation  remains a rumour.

Maybe coincidently, maybe not, there are reports of two bank robberies in Dnipropetrovsk whilst the police were all rather busy.

Should these instances all be connected then it is not likely that the accusations and inferences of the above mentioned and quoted opposition MPs would stand up.  As yet no connection has been made to my knowledge and thus each instance must stand on its own account.  After all, a bomb in a bin is not a difficult modus operandi to copy and the really technical and interesting bits that may or may not tie one or more instances together are not going to be put in the public domain for the likes of my to ruminate over.

It has to be said the nature of the bombs do not seem, at least initially, specifically designed to kill.  That may infer they were designed for dramatics rather than destruction.  That is also a seemingly common feature of the three instances I have mentioned.

However, whilst the timing of these abhorrent events may well be “helpful” for the current government as these opposition MPs claim, given the sheer scale of own goals the current authorities are scoring through bad policy, unintended consequences and absolute incompetents, this could have happened at any time over the past month or two and been equally well timed.

It could also happen anytime between now and October and would probably be seen as equally well timed.  I have little doubt the current government will continue to score own goals in the months ahead.

The problem with the political accusations and any subsequent and obvious denials, is that nobody trusts the current government or the opposition MPs.   Quite frankly no matter what a politician says, regardless of party, the vast majority of Ukrainians will not believe them outright.  The Ukrainian post-Soviet skepticism with Ukrainian politicians runs deep and with good cause.  Statements from politicians on all sides are more likely to be accepted on the balance of probability they may (or not) be accurate and true.

Quite how matters will be interpreted outside Ukraine remains to be seen.  Anyone with any sense would not take any political point-scoring statements at face value.

Far better to concentrate on the victims for now, as nefarious and murky dealings in Ukraine have a habit of coming out for a public airing eventually, as Ex-President Kuchma, ex-Prime Minister Tymoshenko and no doubt when the current authorities become “ex”, they too will discover.  That is if there is any political involvement in this case.

Let’s see if anyone is caught for these crimes and what they have to say – although would you believe what they have to say having been in SBU custody?

Yet another unnamed victim in all this will be trust.  Trust gets a kicking in Ukraine on a daily basis.  It simply no longer exists in any meaningful way between the political class (of any party) and society.  It maybe that the EU policy of engagement with Ukrainian civil society and not the political classes will prove to be a very smart policy move indeed.

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Baroness Ashton, Ms Tymoshenko and press releases

April 27, 2012

Oh dear.  No wonder the European External Action Service (EEAS) is in such a muddle.

Baroness Ashton on 26th April, releases this statement which claims she is preoccupied with the affairs in Ukraine over Yulia Tymoshenko, currently on hunger strike.  That is rather sad considering her responsibilities, the absolute mess her department is in and the myriad of issues it should be dealing with.

What is probably more sad, is that the day before, 25th April, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said Ukraine had  filed an official request for a group of doctors from the Charite clinic in Berlin to come to Ukraine to examine and treat jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Is it sheer incompetents that Baroness Ashton is not up to speed?  Are the German’s deliberately trying to make her look  out of touch?  If she is so preoccupied with Ms Tymoshenko as her statement claims, surely she would know what statements the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs make over the Tymoshenko issue the day before her own?

This will be the third time German doctors from the Charite Clinic in Berlin have been invited to come and see Ms Tymoshenko. It’s not as though the law can be changed to allow prisoners (in this case Ms Tymoshenko) outside the territory of Ukraine for treatment.  Why?  Because her party are blocking the RADA and preventing it functioning.

To be fair, even if her party were allowing the RADA to function, I doubt the law would be changed to allow prisoners to be treated outside the territory of Ukraine as Ms Tymoshenko isn’t the only prisoner and what is good for her under any changes to the law, would be good for all the others incarcerated as well.  To go down that road would lead to a lot of unintended consequences undoubtedly.

Anyway, to be honest, the point of this post is not the laws of Ukraine, nor the issues surrounding Ms Tymoshenko specifically, but the fact Baroness Ashton, according to her press statement, is preoccupied with a single issue when she is employed to deal with a vast number of issues globally as the head of the EU’s foreign policy.

Should she not be preoccupied with Syria maybe?  Bahrain?  Egypt?  Possibly Turkey or Iran?  China or Belarus? Apparently not.  Ms Tymoshenko is the biggest preoccupation of the woman selected to control and head the EU’s foreign policy?

Quite simply, she should have no time for preoccupation on a single issue and shouldn’t hold such a position if she allows herself to be preoccupied with a single issue.

Badly worded press release or is Baroness Ashton simply the wrong person to do that role in the EU (and EEAS)?

Many in the EU I suspect will say the answer to that question is both!

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Organised crime, Ukraine and the region

April 26, 2012

OK.  I thought about the final paragraphs of yesterday’s blog entry and I would like to ponder them a little more.

Specifically of the questions at the end, which were posed to nobody in particular, let’s think about the organised actors involved and what they are involved in.  This post would be far too lengthy to mull over some broad, rather than specific, strategies to help address the situation, so I won’t.  At least not today.

Before doing so, it is necessary for me to point out that I have had no involvement in being on “The Crown” side of the efforts with serious and organised crime, paramilitaries or groups legally recongised as “terrorists” for what is almost 20 years.  Time change.  Structures change on both sides.  Tactics and strategies change.

In fact what I once knew as cutting edge will now mostly be obsolete, with the possible exception of human intelligence gathering, informants (and informant protocols). handlers, controllers etc and the models of collecting, collating, verifying  and classifying of any intelligence gathered for operational or profiling reasons.  All of that experience comes from the UK mainland and only occasionally did it involve other nations (such as Eire for obviously reasons at the time, and Turkey when I stumbled across unexpected PKK involvement in something, leading to months and months of ad hoc liaison with Special Branch, Regional Crime Squads et al).

Suffice to say, what experience I have, is probably now comparable to caveman etchings on a dank and wet wall verses a modern day Picasso.  There was a beauty and a skill involved at the time, but not a patch on how things are done today I suspect.

So having made a declaration that I probably no longer know what I am writing about, I will continue regardless, otherwise this post would be pointless.

I have no intention of going into street crime or domestic policing abilities in Ukraine.  That would be a different post should I venture down that very uneven road.  I will stick to the organised criminality, be it genuinely organised crime for the sake of personal/group gain, or groups with other ideologies who involve themselves in organised crime to fund other activities, as was the case when I stumbled upon the PKK issue in the UK back in the mid 1990s.

One of the first things we must recognise is that there are certain actors within Ukrainian agencies who are easily bought off to either turn a blind eye or possibly take a more active role.  Passive or active involvement are obviously debilitating factors when the State makes any attempts to fight the good fight.

Now there will be some readers who will say that combating drug trafficking is a pointless exercise and we, globally, would be better off legalising drugs, taxing them, subjecting them to quality controls etc.  There is a good argument for that, certainly economically, but organised crime is not just about drug trafficking.  Who would want their government to ignore the abhorrent issue of human trafficking for example?  What of money laundering or illicit domestic sex and gambling trades?  There is more than one good fight to be had with serious and organised crime.  A wide lens is required when looking at this phenomenon.

So, what of organised crime in Odessa and Ukraine?  Firstly it is important to recognise just how fluid it is.  I know only two players in what can genuinely be identified as the “Odessa mafia”.  We will call them Mr A and Mr V.  Ignoring their foot soldiers and the numerous black shinning BMW X5’s and X6’s they tend to drive around in convoy everywhere,  their nefarious activities and profiles are otherwise very low key to the likes of you and me.  Minnows are never much interest to sharks and even though sharks are interesting to minnows, they are not always easily identified as being a shark and often it is too late if you do.  How I know these two individuals is really rather irrelevant, it is enough you know that I do.

Mr A in particular, spends more time doing “things” in Crimea, Kyiv, Donetsk and Moscow than Odessa.  Mr V is much more homely when it comes to time spent in Odessa.  Both are very shrewd, occasionally they work together or recommend each other for different “issues” but for the most part, they act completely independently of each other.  Yet they are both part of the same very fluid band of like-minded people.

The days of the family Don or the 1990s mafia boss in the post Soviet space are not as clear cut and identifiable today as they once were.  Whilst they may exist, the structure is much more fluid and entrepreneurial for those involved unless there is a need to rally around a cause.

It may seem concerning from a rule of law perspective that both Messers A and V are very well known to all branches of law enforcement and are on good terms with them.  That is not as unusual as we may like to think and is not exclusively a “Ukrainian thing”.   Many a career criminal in the UK was/is on cordial terms with “the law”.  Familiarity when it comes to who you meet regularly in your profession and all that.  Such things are never always black and white until circumstances force them to be so, particularly as you climb the tree on either side of the line.

So aside from the Odessa mafia, which other recognisable criminal elements with regional reach are to be found here.  Well, last year there was a major shoot-out between some Russian criminals and the police.

Russian and Moldavian criminals (be they of the organised type or of the street) regularly decide on Odessa as a place to go to let the matters calm down in their home nations.  Part of the city known as Moldovanka is notorious for accommodating such people.

More recently we have the alleged plotters relating to assassination attempts on Mr Putin basing themselves in Odessa.  Irrespective of whether Mr Putin was the target or whether what happened here was spun to his advantage during his electioneering, one Russian and two Chechen’s did manage to blow up an apartment in Odessa with a home made IED.

The PKK are in Odessa and do shake down the resident Turks to fund the PKK back in Turkey.

Organised criminality from China is now apparent at 7KM market.  Particularly so with massive illegal currency exchange at a market that works strictly with cash, turns over $millions in a day.  It is not in your face, you do need to know who’s who and what’s what, but it is there and it is Chinese run (at least at the coal face) and we are talking about a lot of money.

There is also a small but solid organised criminal fraternity amongst the Georgians, the Albanians and the Armenians in Odessa.  One would expect that similar activities amongst the same and other groups exist all over Ukraine.  Kherson, for example, has an up and coming reputation for a Korean criminal enterprise from what I have been told.

None of this includes the fluid Slavic brotherhood with Bulgarians, Romanians etc regularly making “arrangements” in Odessa.

Leaving the nationalities aside, there is the small but powerful Jewish community in Odessa who can always find “solutions” for their fellow Jew regardless of the issue posed.  My good lady is a Ukrainian Jew.  I know.

This is before we consider what is in some cases the organised criminality amongst the agencies of the State.   Odessa is home to three very active ports.  Odessa, Illychovsk and Yushni.  It is not easy to simply wander into any of these docks.  Security is  fairly tight and is everywhere.  The bureaucracy involved to open a container that has legitimately been sent to you containing completely legal contents is immense.  And yet……

To put this into perspective however, we are not talking about the issues on a scale that Latin America or the US face.  Every nationality of organised criminal I have thus far mentioned and more will be present in the US and operating.  The physical human insecurity of massive numbers of murders, kidnappings and carnage that can be seen across Latin America and the Caribbean fortunately does not happen in Ukraine.

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, Ukraine is much more of a transitory logistical hub than the end market for much of the organised criminality that occurs in Ukraine, particularly for external actors and to a lesser extent, of what the internal actors do as well.

However, there is still what is possibly an intangible cost when it comes to human security even if there are not the heaps of bodies associated with trafficking in Mexico or Latin America more generally.  There is the social and economic marginalisation of these minority groups who are shaken down to fund the PKK or who are expected to provide a roof over a trafficked human before these unfortunates are moved on again etc.  There are the unfortunate women duped into traveling to the EU who end up in the sex industry there.  (Yes some are volunteers in the industry and that is a personal choice, but there are those who are not which is the issue.)

Keeping such secrets and automatically reverting to a minority language whenever the law is in sight or could hear, creates a disconnect from integration and an economy and rule of law within the national economy and national rule of law (such as it is).  That can only be a strategic weakness when attempts are made to combat serious and organised crime, whatever the ideology for involvement in it.

Ukraine cannot effectively address its own massive every day domestic illicit black economy, so it has a very long way to go before it takes the time and effort to look at that of international/regional serious and organised crime without the robust encouragement of external law enforcement agencies.

To be fair, when that encouragement is there and the intelligence is solid and can be moved upon, Ukraine does actually act competently and aggressively.  Whenever an external law enforcement actor assists in one way, shape or form, Ukraine can be relied upon to act.  Unfortunately, unless that mountain will come to Mohamed, Mohamed rarely goes to the mountain for want of a better analogy, and little if anything is actually done that relates to actual decisive results otherwise.

It was therefore pleasing to write yesterday’s post and the proactive stance by Ukraine towards Afghanistan post 2014.  Unfortunately I am not convinced that domestic action will be as robust or overt as the announcement of Ukrainian continued participation in Afghanistan relating to trafficking.

It is a fairly safe bet more, rather than less, Afghan heroin will be transited through Ukraine heading West come 2014 and beyond, and I doubt there will be an adequate plan or resources within Ukraine to meet that challenge.  This is something our UK SOCA man sat behind the ramparts of HM Embassy Kyiv will no doubt have on his future threat assessments.

So, in a nation where North Africa (via a few hours in a boat from Turkey), Central Asia, Russia and the EU all meet, trade and use as a logistical hub, it is unsurprising that serious and organised crime is here and is likely to remain.  How Ukraine and the region should address it are thoughts for another day and yet another exceedingly long post.

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Ukraine, NATO, Afghanistan and $2.1 Trillion

April 25, 2012

Over the last week, President Yanukovych signed the now almost ritual event of a cooperation agreement with NATO which among other things allows for the unpopular annual Sea Breeze exercises with the US.

Quite why it is so unpopular is really something of an enigma.  Ukraine is non-aliened.  Its military trains and exercises with all of its neighbours both East and West (NATO and CSTO) alike.  It is very active in supplying UN personnel and equipment globally.  There is no real reason for the anti-NATO stance by so much of the public given the non-aliened status of Ukraine .  Russia also cooperates with NATO regularly despite their disagreements.

It would be more understandable should Ukraine decide to join NATO as that is definitely against the wishes of the vast majority of Ukrainians currently.  Equally there is not great desire to join the CSTO either.

Anyway, aside from signing the annual NATO cooperation agreement, Ukraine also committed itself further into the future with regards to its presence in Afghanistan.   This time however, rather than bomb disposal teams that have been in Afghanistan for what seems like forever, Ukraine has pledged anti drug trafficking expertise and personnel.  It has also offered to transit logistical support to Afghanistan for NATO with effect from 2014.  Needless to say, there will still be a massive presence in Afghanistan long past the official troop withdrawals.  In fact a large presence is being muted until 2024 in some diplomatic circles.

Now some may mock the idea of Ukraine offering anti-drug personnel and training and wonder what it knows about such matters, however in the past 6 months it has carried out 3 very successful drugs operations at Odessa docks alone, seizing vast quantities from African and South American ships.  As a natural transit hub between North Africa, Russia and Eurasia as well as the EU, it is naturally extensively targeted for nefarious purposes by serious and organised crime just as it is for legitimate cargoes.  Ukraine is far more switched on to such matters than most would assume and give it credit for.

So, I have briefly mentioned, Ukraine, NATO and Afghanistan.  What about the $2.1 trillion?

Well, for the first time ever, the UN in conjunction with the World Bank have given an official estimate of the size of the global criminal GDP.  Yuri Fedotov, head of the UN Drugs and Crime Office (UNODC) stated that organised crime from which Odessa is certainly not immune, and Afghan heroin trade, which Ukraine will send personnel to attempt to manage, accounts for $2.1 trillion.

$2.1 trillion is 3% of global GDP.  If it was a country, it would be in the top 20 economies on the planet.

It is the first ever official UN global guesstimate regarding the serious and organised crime economics.  The figures are based on 2009 statistics.

Within this truly massive figure, $40 billion is spirited away corruptly in developing nations.  It is a figure to which Ukraine is certainly one such contributing culprit.  The truly abhorrent practice of human trafficking accounts for $32 billion each year which Ukraine as an obvious transit country, from East to West and also MENA to West, is not immune either.

Just what figure the UN puts on the Afghan heroin trade now it has for the first time ever compiled such an all encompassing criminal GDP estimate, who knows?  How much Afghan heroin moves through Russia and then into Ukraine, some of it onwards to the EU, again who knows?

Whatever, it is surely in Ukrainian interests to cooperate with NATO over the Afghan heroin issue just as Russia has said it will do.  No matter how unpopular this decision may be with large numbers of the Ukrainian public, it is the right decision.

That said, most Ukrainians have domestic priorities and this decision will only draw demonstrations during the week the US Navy carries out exercise Sea Breeze in Ukrainian waters with the Ukrainian Navy.  Those protests are likely to come from Odessa and Crimea as they do every year, and seem more ritual and obligatory than passionately reasoned.

How Ukraine tackles its share of the $2.1 trillion organised (rather than street) criminal economy is something to ponder.  Who are the organised actors?  What are they involved in?  What strategies and tactics will work most effectively?  Who does Ukraine partner with when it comes to international agencies over international crime?

Some of those answers are obvious and others not.

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New laws for NGOs – Dramatic and radical changes for the better (possibly)

April 24, 2012

As I have written here before many times about NGOs, civil society and Ukrainian academia, occasionally in a supportive way when writing about specific individual NGOs, but also in a robust and critical way when writing about them in general, I should not let the new radically and dramatically better Ukrainian laws relating to NGOs pass unnoticed.

I have issues with NGOs collectively in Ukraine as anybody who puts “NGOs” in the search facility of this blog will see,  however the RADA, with massive bipartisan support, has passed a significant piece of legislation that comes into effect in January 2013 which may (or not) dramatically improve the below par performance of most Ukrainian NGOs.

Certainly it will dramatically increase the number of NGOs and civil society groups, but as we all know, quantity does not always deliver quality.

To summarise the main features of the new law, actively lobbied for by Yuri Miroshnichenko (Party of Regions) and Andriy Shevchenko (BYuT, and no, not the footballer of the same name) it reduces the registration time from what is currently a month or more to about a week, there is no longer a need for 42 like-minded people to stand up and be counted as part of a NGO and the 23 documents required for registration have been slashed comprehensively to 4.

Not for profits will be able to register without any fees whatsoever and conduct business activities and thus raise funds to continue and expand.

The new law no longer regionalises NGOs to activities within the region of registration but allows for national activity regardless of location of registration and allows NGOs to act on behalf of those who have no connection with that NGO.

In short a very heavy bureaucratic and unevenly applied boot will be removed from the neck of NGOs and civil society in January 2013.

Excellent news for small, local NGOs and civil society groups who we will hopefully see begin to hold local administrations more accountable in a much more formal and publicised fashion.

Maybe the expatriate and immigrant community will form a NGO and hold State agencies like the OVIR to account for the inconsistent and  foggy interpretations they apply to the immigration laws or the customs service that applies random “taxes” that differ from one point of import to another.  Blimey!  If so, I volunteer to be part of the Odessa regional infrastructure of such an NGO.  (I am joking, perseverance and patience is all that is required to win those frustrating battles.)

I would be interested in any newly formed human rights, human trafficking, rule of law or domestic violence NGOs that may appear in Odessa.  I may actually be an asset to a newly formed NGO/NFP in Odessa.  Who knows?

The new law is also something of a god-send for the EU, who, having given up on the dysfunctional Ukrainian opposition and being stone-walled by the current government over several issues, have decided on a public  strategy of NGO/civil society engagement for Ukraine at great expense through numerous platforms.

All very exciting!  It will be even more exciting if government, society and academia will actually agree on what civil society actually is.  On that note, I will leave you with an excellent piece by Michael Edwards contemplating exactly that.

I should also thank Sir Mike Aaronson, for bring Mr Edwards’ sterling article to my attention two days ago. – Thank you Sir Mike (but no cheque in the post for your timely assistance!)

Still, a good piece of legislation passed.  Let’s hope that civil society and quality NGOs will flourish under the new law when it comes into effect, as the current landscape is somewhat barren to put it politely.

(By the way, the law passed with 334 votes in favour from those present in the RADA at the time of voting.  The only party not to vote in favour was the cancerous Communist Party – No surprises there!)

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