Archive for August, 2012

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London Met Univserity, the UKBA and foreign students

August 31, 2012

This has absolutely nothing to do with Ukraine, unless you happen to be a now hapless Ukrainian student who thought they were going to study at London Metropolitan University.

The UKBA has revoked the London Metropolitan University license to educate non-EU students with immediate effect.

Fair enough, if the university is so terribly poor at its administration and documentary audit trails for non-EU students, there is no excuse for being so feckless at a supposed seat of higher learning.  After all, other universities manage to adhere to the regulations and guidelines relating to foreign non-EU students without issue.

However, one has to ask whether the UKBA has handled the matter in such a diplomatic way as not to cause unneccdessary concern to foreign non-EU students who pay very handsomely indeed to be educated in UK universities,  aspersions and inferences over the wider UK higher educational “business”, and generally cast a shadow in the eyes of foreign students and parents alike, over the sector unnecessarily.

Whilst I acknowledge “‘These are problems with one university, not the whole sector. British universities are among the best in the world – and Britain remains a top-class destination for top-class international students.

‘We are doing everything possible, working with the taskforce established by BIS, to assist students that have been affected.'” seemingly dropped in at the end of a full on, in your face UKBA website entry (and that statement was not on the entry yesterday when it was first published and thus somebody has been instructed to mitigate any damage that may be caused by such an attention grabbing web page, I do wonder if there was any need for the entry at all.

Would it have not been enough to revoke the license quietly, thus allowing future applications from non-EU students to be simply turned down until London Met gets its act together?

After all, the UKBA is stating those foreign non-EU students with existing valid Student Visas for London Met will not be effected, and that in turn infers only future applicants would be.

Thus, was there any need to make such a public and headline grabbing web entry at all?

If existing Visa holders are unaffected and can continue their studies, a simple quietly imposed ban on new foreign non-EU students to London Met would have sufficed during the next academic application process timescale surely.

That way, no headlines, no damage caused (actual or inferred) to the wider UK university education business, and certainly, from my point of view, far more deftly handled.

In short, was plastering the fact London Met University has had its license revoked all over the UKBA website an absolute necessity? – I think not.

(Thankfully my boy was accepted by Durham who most certainly have their act together.)

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The Diplomatic Games – Moscow 4-8 October

August 29, 2012

Well, we’ve had the Eurovision, Euro 2012 football tournament, Olympics 2012, and the Paralympics 2012 begins in effect today.  That is to name just a few major sporting events in 2012.

A veritable sports-fest for those inclined to either participate or go along as a spectator.

But, my dear readers, with the conclusion of the Paralympics, international pride in the sporting arena does not end there this year.

Between 4th and 8th October in Moscow, The Diplomatic Games takes place.  Possibly the very pinnacle of international sporting events and gladiatorial achievements to be held in 2012.

Taking part are diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Britain, Japan, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia and Croatia.  Least they are the nations that have already confirmed their participation.

The nations of the USA, India, Serbia, Kazakhstan have all expressed an interest to compete in future games, although not the forthcoming event.

The winning nations of this prestigious event receives a loving cup depicting 5 figures holding a globe mounted on a very nice malachite base!  Corrrr!

So what are the disciplines within The  Diplomatic Games?  Finding a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian issue?  Creating a stable Pakistan?  Formulating the best plans to deal with militancy?  Finding clever and smart answers to climate change, global economic imbalances or world hunger?

Maybe something less tricky.  Maybe who can think up the best, most quirky and funny acronyms?  Who can deliver the fastest speaking note without stumbling or becoming incoherent?  A diplomatic bag relay perhaps?

Errrm – Well no.

The national diplomatic teams will be competing in the disciplines of mini-football, lawn tennis, table tennis, chess and badminton.  This reaches a crescendo on the final day with a Diplomatic Best 11 verses the Russian diplomatic crops in a gala football match.

Well blimey!

The previous UK Ambassador to Ukraine, Leigh Turner, was a bit of a star at table tennis.  There was ( and possibly still is) a table tennis table in the UK residency that was in fairly regular use – and rumour has it, (in fact more than rumour), that several bloody good paddlings were handed out via this table tennis table to visiting foreign diplomats and various other persons of assorted import that had occasion to attend the UK Ambassador’s residency in Kyiv.

A note to the FCO, if Mr Turner is not in the UK diplomatic table tennis team then there is something wrong with the selection process.

Indeed, our current Charges d’Affaires in Kyiv is also a bit of a sportsman, cutting a very trim figure, and no doubt would prove a very nimble player in the mini-football.

One wonders also, whether retired FCO diplomats are allowed to take part.  Charles Crawford, according to his own historical records, was a bit of a whiz at chess in his Oxford days.

The question that has to be asked, is whether William Hague will be acting as team manager or whether that will fall to a senior FCO civil servant.

I will contact HM Embassy Kyiv and try to find a Team UK list for this prestigious event over the coming weeks.  I will also try to get a similar team list from Ukraine.  Naturally come the closing ceremony, I will announce the winning team.

All those Union Jacks waved with such vigor during the Jubilee, Euro 2012, Olympics and Paralympics are quite likely to need a year off in 2013 to recover – but don’t put them away just yet – wait until the sporting event of 2012 is over!

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Has Ukraine changed since Independence? – Fundamentally No (Contains an essential read if you want to understand Ukraine)

August 29, 2012

Yesterday I was interviewed by one of the EU’s many Brussels based (and funded) media outlets.  I am a regular contributer and am often asked to offer up difficult and thought-provoking questions which are then in turn put to members of the European Council, the European Commission, or MEPs, eventually forming the basis of articles to then be written and the always welcome “name-check” for me.

Yesterday’s interview was in preparation for the forthcoming EU State of the Union round table where Messrs Van Rompuy, Barroso and Schulz et al will be in attendance and will face questions, statements and inferences from myself and others that will undoubtedly make them squirm and work desperately hard not to actually answer the questions posed.

All that has nothing to do with this post other than a self-aggrandising introduction to a question asked of me after the cameras had stopped rolling.  The question was, “Has Ukraine changed much?”

The answer to that, if discounting a few additional MacDonald’s scattered around the country in the past 21 years, is fundamentally a definite “No”.

The country is run the same way now as it was under ex-President Kuchma.  That continued in a more disjointed fashion under the utterly awful Yushenko/Tymoshenko tenure which was nothing more than a 5 year prolonged spat with both vying to be Ukrainian “Top Dog”, and the Kuchma method of governance continues today.

In academic circles it is know as “The Arbiter” method of governance.

It is also why civil society in Ukraine was, and is, completely useless for the most part – under current and past administrations without exception.  “The Arbiter” method of governance and the “rent seeking” society system that accompanies it quite simply have no use for civil society.  It is a small bubble of think-tanks and academics detached from society and government alike, to which lip service, if not being completely ignored, is paid by those they seek to influence.

Without society’s support, civil society garners no momentum, so unless there is a crisis in which the arbiter may make some reforms that coincide with some of the wishes of civil society, not necessarily those of society itself, but essential to continued governance, change does not come

To save a lot of writing, this links to an outstanding work by Dubrovskiy, Szyrmer, Graves III, Golovakha, Haran’ and Pavlenko from 2007.  It carefully explains in simple terms “The Arbiter” method of governance and a “rent seeking” society – and thus why civil society, and more generally, democracy, fails.

(The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice amongst those acknowledged at the end, there are several mentions of Irena Akimova – who now sits within the current Presidential Administration.)

That civil society would be the same civil society that the EU is pumping hundreds of millions of Euros into, despite the fact they must be aware that society has little interest in providing the momentum and support/legitimisation for the actions of Ukrainian civil society.

Sooner or later, and I suspect it will be much, much later, the EU will realise that the only way to communicate with the Ukrainian people and have any impact whatsoever, is by doing so directly and not via government or civil society.

Anyway, the link contains a fairly long read, but it is an essential read for those who have never read it before, for all armchair commentators and critics if they want to understand why change in Ukraine is so slow and why Ukrainian society does not rise up to change things.

What is written in that excellent piece of work in 2007, is still very true of today in 2012.  That system of governance has never once been broken – even during the Yushenko/Tymoshenko years of false hopes and horizons.  The difference with their tenure is that both thought they were The Arbiter in the grand scheme of things and it led to nothing more than 5 years of in-fighting.

Should Ms Tymoshenko ever become President of Ukraine, she will govern it in the same arbitrary manner as her predecessors as anybody who has ever met her or worked for her will attest to.  (In fact some have already attested to it whilst she was Prime Minister and they held office in her government.)

Regardless of winners and losers in the parliamentary elections this October or the next Presidential elections in 2015, the governance system of “The Arbiter” and the collusion of the “rent seeking” society will continue for the foreseeable future.

Civil society, for its part, if it wants to have an effective part, needs to concentrate on local government and motivate local people to effect change city by city and region by region.  There is no other room for it in the Arbiter/Rent Seeking society model.

So, has Ukraine changed fundamentally since independence?  My answer is No.

Looking forwards to the end of this decade I see no change either, regardless of who sits as The Arbiter.

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Ukrainian Cypriot relations

August 28, 2012

The EU’s very naughty boy, the offshore tax haven of Cyprus, and Ukraine are getting ever more friendly.

Last week, the Cypriot President paid his first ever visit to Ukraine, and this whilst Cyprus is also holding the EU Presidency.

Amongst the somewhat more bizarre things to happen whilst in Ukraine, President Chrsitofias was given an honorary doctorate by Mariupol University, seemingly on the basis that Mariupol is twined with Paphos in Cyprus.  I wonder if I can get an honorary doctorate from an Odessa university on the basis it is twined with Liverpool?  It would cut out all that tedious research and thesis writing – let alone having to successfully defend said thesis.

Anyway, President Christofias has given his full and public support to Ukrainian integration with the EU last week with no mention of the on-going domestic issues regarding Ms Tymoshenko.  Something that may not go down to well given the Cypriot presidency of the EU at present.

That said, given that Ms Tymoshenko is known to have Cypriot interests and Cypriot fronts for interests, (just as she does in Czech Rep and Poland etc) and undoubtedly so do a lot of the current government, he maybe thought it better not to mention individuals with stakes in Cyprus from either side of the political line publicly.

At the same time, President Yanukovych was stating that Ukraine was seeking observer status with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, talking up the ratification of the FTA with the CIS, and stating that the internal affairs of Ukraine will not be subjected to EU pressure and as such if formal EU integration had to wait, so be it!

One of the very interesting things to emerge from his visit are the plans to scrap Visa fees for Ukrainians to Cyprus.

To the EU relating to migration, Cyprus not being a Schengen nation this presents few problems.  To Cyprus, it presents a massive opportunity to claim a stake in the Ukrainian tourists who head for Turkey and Egypt simply to avoid the tedious hassles in getting a Schengen Visa.  I would expect Cyprus to see a marked increase in Ukrainian visitors very rapidly indeed.

Of course it also allows for Ukrainians to visit their money and off-shore companies without problems too.  And it is not just the Oligarchy who have such companies and bank accounts in Cyprus.  A sizeable and growing number of average Ukrainians also take advantage of this, and why not when it costs only Euro 4000 to do completely legally.

It does however, also open up part of the EU to claims for asylum with relative ease for Ukrainians on EU soil, something the EU has been keen to put as many hurdles in the way of as possible.  Something else that will annoy Brussels about Cyprus no doubt!

The other attraction of Cyrus to the average Ukrainian aside for free visas, the ease of setting up off-shore companies and bank accounts and the natural beauty of Cyprus as a tourist destination, will be the absolute ease of getting permanent residency in Cyprus, and thus within an EU nation (albeit not Schengen).

Undoubtedly, the Cypriot private banks will also be rubbing their hands with glee, as whilst the Cypriot economy may very well be struggling, the private banks are awash with Russian and Ukrainian cash off-shored.  More will surely follow once Visas become free of charge and it takes its place along side Turkey and Egypt as a top tourist destination for the average Ukrainian.

Naturally I have been at pains to state “average Ukrainian” thus far, as the upper ranks of society have no issues already.

In fact in the past year, Cyprus has granted 26 citizenships “by exception” to very wealthy Russians and Ukrainians.  Possibly something for Eurpol to worry about when we consider the sources of some of this wealth to which Cypriot (and by default EU) citizenship has been granted.

That said, when one considers the Russians and Ukrainians (and their associated wealth from dubious sources)  given permanent leave to remain, asylum, or indeed UK citizenship who live in and around London, why should Cyprus not take advantage of the money these people have as well?

Those Ukrainians with money who will now see Cyprus as a top holiday destination will also no doubt consider property there – very much like Spain became for the British 20 years ago – in fact since the issue of free Visas reached the ears of my good lady wife, she has already been hitting the Internet looking at property there.

As she states, despite being married to a UK citizen for almost a decade, she is not entitled to permanent residency in the UK unless she lives there – which she doesn’t want to do – and thus has to arse about with UK Visas when we want to visit.  And as she says, for an island, the UK is quite devoid of sunshine, palm trees and welcoming seas to swim in.

Buying a property in Cyprus, getting permanent residency on an island with sunshine and inviting seas to swim in, on the other hand, for her is very simple indeed.

The abolishing of fees for Visas between Cyprus and Ukraine would seem to be a bilateral win-win for Cyprus as far as I can see.

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Tigipko – Stating the obvious!

August 27, 2012

There are a few things that all good politicians can do in any nation on earth.  The first is deftly avoid answering a question, the second is manipulating statistics in an attempt to add credence to their position, and the third is to make an address or speech without reading it and sounding like a robot or a 7 year old stumbling along in front of an elementary reading class whilst managing to stick to the text.

All necessary qualities for today’s modern mealymouthed, over-educated, under-experienced from university to retirement, career politicians (in the UK at least).  Indeed in my lifetime, back in the UK, I anticipate watching the careers of those who left university and immediately entered the Palace of Westminster in some guise or another and will eventually become MPs in “safe seats” and thus spend their entire working lives in that building (baring the occasional constituency visit around voting time).

In Ukraine, however, there is a distinct lack of “professional politicians” as Sergey Tigipko pointed out on his Facebook page on  Thursday.  A fact that he laments.  As if nobody in Ukraine was aware that very few would pass as credible politicians in most other nations.  Stating the obvious!

His criticism was not aimed at the opposition during electioneering alone but also at the government of which he is a part.

To save you finding the entry on his Facebook page and then translating it, I’ve done it for you:

“I think that, first and foremost, Ukraine lacks professional politicians. Here, as they say, ‘a fish rots from the head down.’ This concerns both the government and the opposition.

There’s a lot of populism. There’s little understanding of what to do in economics, the social sphere, culture and education.”

Well, all quite true and again stating the obvious, but “professional politicians”?  Competent politicians would be a far better prospect and competent, honest, politicians with integrity would be outstanding – amazing even!

Unfortunately Mr Tigipko  and his party “Strong Ukraine” lost a lot of support when it merged with Party Regions.  Until that time he and his party were seen as a reasonable alternative to both PoR and BYuT, so much so, that he finished a very comfortable 3rd in his first ever attempt at the presidential elections.

It also has to be said that when I was sat with one of our more senior chaps from HM Embassy Kyiv not so long ago, we played the “who’s in and who’s out” of favour game relating to the current government, and when Tigipko was discussed it was agreed that he is actually one of the very few politicians who actually sounds and acts like a politician that could fit into any parliament of any nation.  He is a very good speaker and clearly at ease when doing so.

In case you wondering, Tigipko fell into the “necessarily in” but “out” category when it came to absolute confidence from those above and around him.

Actually not such a bad place to be if a diplomat wants a sensible conversation with somebody at the top of the Ukrainian government if he is seen to be “in” but not so “in” to be tarred with the same brush as others who are seen to be completely and absolutely “in” regardless of the nefariousness involved.

Those shades of grey are important in such matters.

Anyway, Tigipko is right that the state of Ukrainian politicians leaves more than a lot to be desired in the vast majority of cases, and is thus stating the obvious although not under a title I find particularly appealing – but – making such statements after all parties have filed their party lists with the same incompetents he is complaining about, would seem a statement made some time after the horse has disappeared over the horizon with the gate still swinging in the breeze.

Still, as things stand today, as I have previously written, it looks very likely it will be his incompetent colleagues in power again come the end of October.

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Extradition, Ukraine and the “Putin 3 Plotters”

August 26, 2012

After this……. this doesn’t make much sense does it?  Unless he didn’t make appeals to the ECfHR or seek asylum.

That’s all!

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Photographs of Odessa

August 25, 2012

As some readers have rightly pointed out, there are few photographs from Odessa in this blog to date.

In an effort to change that there is a new category on the right of your screen, aptly entitled “Photographs of Odessa – Irisha Onischuk”

Irisha is a student in Odessa who has a love for photography, and it seems to me a good eye for it as well, and so hopefully as time progresses this category will fill up with wonderful photographs of Odessa taken by Irisha.

So when my ruminations are irritating you, take a few minutes every now and then to peruse her photographs and then realise that Odessa and Ukraine, regarless of how badly it is run, is really a rather beautiful place regardless.

Go on – have a look now!

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