Archive for May, 2013

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A Tymoshenko case dropped?

May 14, 2013

Apparently, although I have yet to be able to confirm it via non-Batkivshchnya Party channels, the case against Yulia Tymoshenko relating to involvement in the murder of Yevhen Scherban that occurred in 1996, has been quietly dropped – effective 26th April.

If true, a significant step forwards in the eyes of the EU one suspects, as it deletes one of a list of pending cases against her.

However, if true, very little has been said about it publicly by anybody – and you would expect the opposition parties to broadcast such a matter loudly – if only to undermine the abilities and motivations of the Prosecutors Office in the eyes of the public.

At least you would expect such an opposition cacophony unless there is a deliberate political move to distance themselves from the personality Ms Tymoshenko and the circus that surrounds it – and reasons for that there are a-plenty.  That is perhaps much easier to do now Sergey Vlasenko, her lawyer/defence council, is no longer a Batkivshchnya MP.

Hopefully corroboration from sources external and unconnected  to the Batkivshchyna Party will come soon enough, putting an end to yet another poor decision by the PGO of Ukraine.

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Klitschko talks of time running out and personal sanctions

May 13, 2013

Only a few days ago, I mentioned a statement from Stefan Fule relating to no time extension for Ukraine to meet EU expectations in November.

As I stated, despite the bullish tone, this has far more to do with the European political calendar preventing any extension, rather than Stefan Fule developing a rigid, rather than flexible, backbone.

Let’s be quite honest, after 7 difficult years of negotiation for both sides – including some serious concessions by Ukraine – the EU would not normally throw that away for the sake of a few months if there were a few additional months in the political calendar to play with.

The fact is, due to national elections in very influential member states, notwithstanding the European parliamentary elections during the next 2 years, quite simply there is not much room, if any, to allow any political deadlines to slide for a few months.  A few years – yes.  Look to 2016 at the earliest after German, European parliament, French and UK elections to name but a few – including Ukrainian presidential elections.

Allowing any signing to slide until then, naturally removes the desire for political momentum on either side – raising the question of whether that momentum can be regained several years from now.

Even if the Association Agreement and DCFTA is signed in Vilnius in November, due to the same European  political calendar, ratification will still take years for the same reasons.

All blatantly obvious to anybody with half an eye on the European political electoral calendar.

Unfortunately, this seems to an issue completely overlooked by the opposition in Ukraine if Klitschko’s recent comments are anything to go by:

“Even if the association agreement is negotiated and signed, in order to have it ratified by all the EU countries, Ukraine has to comply with the basic political values and principles of the European Community, such as the rule of law, the absence of selective justice, real reforms, and democratic electoral law. To achieve this, Ukraine has much to do and the time is very short.

For our part, we, as the opposition, are pressing on the authorities to make them meet the commitments so that the country should not lose the chance to join the European community. If the Ukrainian authorities fail to adhere to the commitments, the issue of personal sanctions against officials cannot be avoided.”

Firstly, when looking at these comments, it has to be said that negotiations have concluded some time ago – indeed the agreements were initialed by both sides in March 2012, thereby effectively sealing them to major and significant amendment.  Thus it is a question of singing the already initialed agreements and no longer negotiating as Klitschko states.

The second paragraph in which he makes reference to personal sanctions on members of the existing government should it fail to adhere to those commitments is really not something that the opposition are likely to achieve – and they must surely be aware of that given the interaction they have with th EU and its member states – so why say it?

What are the chances of the EU placing sanctions on Ukrainian officials – seriously?

Not only are the outcomes of sanctions hit and miss and lengthy when it comes to getting any result, they are actually fairly limited in their scope.

Looking at EU sanctions, they consist of arms embargo, economic and financial sanctions and visa/entry restrictions.  No more and no less.

EU sanctions have proven to be of little impact to those individuals within Belarus to whom they are applied.  They are not being very seriously considered as far as a mirror of the US Magnitsky Act in respect of Russia and persons therein.

Applying EU sanctions to individuals within Ukraine, without for example, applying them to fellow EaP nation  Azerbaijan or individuals within government circles there – which has a far worse democratic, human rights, repression of freedoms and electoral manipulation record – would be difficult to justify to the European public.  Particularly so given the lack of impact and results in Belarus.

There is also a lack of EU diplomatic will to raise sanctions on individuals in Ukraine.  Only recently I spoke with somebody in the Brussels bubble (Chatham House Rule applied), and he stated that sanctions are not the way forward.  They are difficult to gain consensus over to implement, and even harder to then garner the consensus to  remove – and Ukraine has its supporters within the EU that would make gaining consensus over sanctions very difficult.

It is somewhere that sufficient numbers of EU bureaucrats do not want to go with regard to Ukraine.

Now if I am reliably informed of this, then surely this must have been made very clear indeed to the likes of Mr Klitschko and the other opposition leaders, who will have undoubtedly raised the issue several times – so why raise the issue again publicly if there is a high probability that it simply won’t happen.

When – as will more likely than not – sanctions against individuals are again publicly called for by the opposition, and again rebuffed by the EU – with a presidential election in Ukraine now on the horizon, how would any refusal reflect on the ability, authority and perception of international influence of any opposition candidate be in the eyes of the Ukrainian electorate?

There is much to be said for timing.  Being right and/or decent is not enough to win an election.  There is the overriding need to be convincing.

Time is indeed running out, not only for Ukraine to have progressed enough to allow the signing of the Association Agreement and DCFTA, but also for the opposition to stop the political showboating and empty rhetoric.

It is now time for the opposition to prepare their own political, economic and social policies ready for an effective delivery to the electorate by whomever is put forward as an opposition presidential candidate.  To frame their election campaign as “We were bad when in power, but they are worse” is really not an inspiring electoral campaign – and yet that is all that is currently on offer.

The first to frame the elections in a better way than that, will probably keep the upper hand.

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Democracy, tolerance and habit – The Ternopil Incident

May 12, 2013

We often read about democracy through the lenses freedom of speech/expression, rule of law, human rights, or free and fair elections, or political responsiveness to the public, accountability, transparency etc –  and rightly so – they are all necessarily required for an effective democracy.

But democracy is a very complex structure, and a list of its defining features would be very lengthy indeed.

Less often do we read about democracy needing to be habitual and tolerant.

For any democracy to consolidate there are numerous factors of course, but habit and tolerance are extremely important ingredients – not just recognised and mutually assured by and between the political elite, but also by the society which underpin any democracy if it is ever to consolidate.

It is far easier to change the habits and tolerances of a political party, or the political strata, than it is to change the habits and tolerances of society quickly.

If a political party or the political elite generally, are institutionalised, complex and coherent then internal change is swift – at least in comparison to the speed of societal change, more often than not.

Thus democratic habit and tolerances need to be clearly and robustly displayed amongst the political elite, consistently and over an extended period of time to assist in any changing of societal habit and tolerance.

Democracy after all, is a system in a state of continual friction between opposing/differing ideas, policies, ideologies etc.  Thus it demands tolerance for it to work effectively.  It demands habit for longevity and consolidation.

It is therefore very sad to read that apparently Svoboda MPs and party officials were at the forefront of what is most definitely a display of intolerance during the Ternipol Victory Day celebrations, that according to the account in the link above, prevented veterans from marking the end of WWII with any  degree of reverence and dignity – as those across the rest of European continent and Ukraine managed to do, if they so wished.

Perhaps of even greater sadness following this incident, there are as yet no words of condemnation from the Svoboda leadership, or the other parties in the opposition coalition with Svoboda – all of whom – including Svoboda – claim to be the “democratic opposition” and/or fighting for a democratic Ukraine.

Perhaps it is necessary to point out to the opposition parties of Ukraine, that in a democratic Ukraine, old men and women would be free to mark the end of WWII with dignity and reverence – whether they like them doing so or not!

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No deadline extension for Ukraine – Fule

May 11, 2013

Yesterday, Stefan Fule EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Nighbourhood Policy, clearly stated that the EU will not extend the time it has given for Ukraine to address the issues of serious concern to the EU when it comes to the signing – or not – of the Association Agreement and DCFTA.

“First of all, we have never postponed the deadline for Kyiv. Foreign ministers of the EU countries in December clearly stated that they would be ready to sign the association agreement at a summit in Vilnius in November. However, they specified three sectors, in which they expect decisions from Ukraine through consistent and obvious efforts,in particular selective justice, the program of reforms and flawed electoral laws.

We see some progress the Ukrainian side made in all the three sectors, including politically motivated proceedings. The release of Lutsenko and Fylypchuk  is a step in the right direction. However, much is to be done, including the guarantee that this phenomenon won’t happen again.”

A statement they may seem rather bullish – but in reality is actually dictated by the electoral timetables of several EU Member States and European Parliament elections due to occur in late 2013, 2014 and 2015, events that naturally divert attention away from issues Ukrainian and concentrate EU attention of “the self” and its component parts.

Simply put, no matter how bullish the statement of Fule may appear,  if the agreement is not signed in November, the European political calendar simply dos not allow for any such signing until 2015 at the earliest.  Any later than November and there will be significant political actors that if not at the end of a legitimate domestic mandate, are just finding their feet under a recently acquired domestic public mandate – issues of legitimacy and all that!

However, all that aside, I am not aware of any serious requests from Ukraine to extend the November deadline anyway – which causes one to ponder the need for such a statement from Fule – other than keeping the pressure for reform momentum on, and forcing the majority and minority in parliament to work together at least over matters EU.

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ECfHR Tymoshenko Ruling

May 9, 2013

Since the European Court for Human Rights (ECfHR) released its first ruling (which is not final for 3 months from its announcement to allow for any appeals) on 30th April, both her supporters and detractors have been making some rather flexible interpretations about its meaning – far outside the scope of what is actually written.

What is true is that the court found serious fault with the old criminal code to which Ms Tymoshenko was subjected – a code no different to that employed to imprison the vast majority of the thousands of Ukrainians who also sit in prison today.

There was little doubt that serious fault would be found – otherwise why would the current Ukrainian government and parliament have created a new criminal code which finds far more favour with the European community?

Successive Ukrainian governments have known the old code to be seriously flawed – as did, undoubtedly, Ms Tymoshenko when she was Prime Minister only a few years ago.

Neither does it comment on her guilt or innocence for the matters over which she was prosecuted as some have inferred.

However such is the extent to which supporters and detractors have stretched far beyond what is actually written that somewhat unusually this statement was made by the ECfHR.

In short, the political motivations – or not – behind her trail and detention are not – yet at least – subjected to an ECfHR comment.  That is not what this ruling was about.

In several months, when her next case judgment is made, the issue of political motivation or selective justice may – or may not – be mentioned by the ECfHR – however it would perhaps have been far more circumspect to keep ones powder dry relating to that particular issue until that date if the opposition are to try to motivate and mobilise the public using the ECfHR as a driver.

Unfortunately, having made statements to the effect that the ECfHR stated Ms Tymsohenko was a political prisoner on the day of the judgment release, for that to then be refuted by Roderick Liddell of the ECfHR on 7th May, does not do much for the credibility of the opposition.

All the ECfHR ruling actually does (removing Ms Tymoshenko from the picture) is confirm to the Ukrainian public that the old criminal code was arbitrary, unfair, less than transparent, legislatively flawed in protecting by human rights and procedural normative – and that is not news to the Ukrainian public who lived under it for decades.

Fortunately, as the current government created a new criminal code to replace the old one under which Ms Tymoshenko was processed because it was so flawed, they will find it very difficult to appeal the ECfHR ruling whilst lauding their new criminal code as a major step forwards.

Anyway, far more interesting will be the Tymoshenko ruling due in a few months time – and whether political persecution or selective justice will be mentioned by the ECfHR in its ruling.

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$40 Billion annual road maintenance budget – Ukraine

May 8, 2013

The current budget for road maintenance in Ukraine sits at $16.9 billion – which sounds, and indeed is, a lot of money – and yet the state of Ukrainian roads resembles something like those of Berlin circa 1945 after the 363 air raids to which it was subjected by bomber command.

As such, Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Vilkul has made very forceful representations to increase the annual road maintenance budget to $40 billion – almost a 300% increase.

He also proposes to reorganise the accountability of those responsible for road maintenance.  In short, the 117.7 thousand kilometers of regional roads will become the personal responsibility of the heads of the regional state authorities – thus removing the involvement of Ukrautodor, the State agency responsible for road maintenance, leaving it responsible for a paltry 52 kilometers of State adopted roads.

Naturally there is an increased opportunity for either direct theft of funds, or cronyism and associated kick-backs, but there is also a very clear area of responsibility and indeed personal responsibility for road maintenance within the regions – which is a good thing.

Odessa, March 2013

Odessa, March 2013

The above is a rather extreme example of holes in the road in Odessa I will grant – most are only ankle deep, but there are so many ankle deep holes that the 1.5 million residents of Odessa could all put a foot in each hole and there would still be more holes than feet to put in them!

The question relating to the solid lobbying for such a massive increase in funding is really whether it has been worked out on a cost basis for maintenance alone – or whether there is a percentage included for the undoubted graft that will occur at regional level to be plundered for personal gain, and yet still provide a significant and noticeable difference to the quality of the regional road infrastructure.

With no noticeable improvements over the decade I have lived in Odessa at $16.9 billion annually – what improvements will $40 billion annually get me?

A positive outcome will only be forthcoming if some regional authority heads are suddenly lopped off should road quality remain exceptionally poor I suspect – but  I won’t hold my breath for that to happen!

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Ukraine – An energy hub – Be careful what you wish for

May 7, 2013

On Friday 3rd May, whilst I was enjoying my time off in the Odessa sunshine and taking in the beach life, Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky had a meeting with the EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger (as well as Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil amongst others) in Brussels.

What became immediately apparent, if it wasn’t already clear before, is that Ukraine has decided that it can become a gas hub for the European continent and intends to pursue that strategy, making the most of its gas transport system and more particularly its vast underground gas storage facilities (50 billion cubic meters).

The infrastructure, whilst somewhat decrepit and thus in need of some serious investment, does at least exist already.

Very good – and an obvious goal to pursue given the soviet legacy Ukraine inherited.

But then there is the widely talked about “resource curse” to consider should Ukraine actually achieve its aim of both Black Sea Shelf and fracking production, transit and storage.  It may very well turn into an oil and (mostly) gas State.

Quite possibly a very good thing for the Ukrainian economy, GNI and indeed citizen income as well.

But at what social cost?

Of all 23 nations on the planet where 60% or more of GDP is derived from oil and gas – not a single one can be classed as a democracy.

Further all are very corrupt, almost completely unresponsive to the demands of their populations and have extremely low accountability amongst the political elite.

Looking at the Human Development Index which is a key identifier when it comes to identifying liberal consolidated democracies, almost all oil and gas States with 60% of GDP coming from those sources have extremely low HDI scores regardless of citizen wealth and GNI per capita.

That is not to say a low HDI score prevents democracy, of the bottom 46 ranking nations in HDI, 13 can be deemed a democracy of sorts and 2 of those, as liberal democracies.

Looking at the top 25 HDI scoring nations, only Singapore is not a democracy – and from the top 40 HDI scoring nations they are all democracies less Singapore and a few small oil and gas States (Qatar, UAE etc.)

Thus becoming an energy producing exporter and hub may well have dire consequences for an already “feckless” (per academic definition) political system in Ukraine.

One of the best ways to identify an effective and consolidated democracy seems to be to take the Freedom House score and multiply it by the World Bank anti-corruption score, and more often than not it closely mirrors the HDI position in the HDI league table – Spooky!

In fact, discounting the Islamic world, there is a very strong correlation between democracy, freedoms and any HDI score a nation has.

So becoming an energy producer and energy hub as planned will destine Ukraine to the usual fate of oil and gas dominant GDP nations with regards to democracy?

Well, not necessarily.

“Feckless” as the Ukrainian politics are and have been historically, there is nothing to prevent the current “feckless democracy” of Ukraine moving to a consolidated effective and possibly liberal democracy prior to the full  realisation of the energy producing/energy hub plan.  Should that movement to an effective and consolidated democracy occur prior to, or even simultaneously with the “energy plan”, then all may bode very well for democracy in Ukraine.

A very smart scholar named Przeworski has proven that (again removing the Islamic world from the equation) should the personal purchasing power of a nation reach a certain monetary figure (currently about $10,000, but a figure that needs to be index linked to remain relevant), then no democracy has ever crumbled.

In effect with a diversified economy and the average purchasing power per capita of $10,ooo or more, democracy is not only consolidated but invincible to the challenges of other governance models due to the middle class/ independent bourgeoisie.

Ergo, empirical evidence and academic works from the likes of Lipset, Prezeworski, Welzel and Ingehart etc, would all point towards the necessity of moving Ukraine’s currently “feckless politics” to an effective democracy whilst simultaneously trying to reach $X personal purchasing power and climbing the HDI league table if democracy is to survive any significant oil and gas increased share of the Ukrainian GDP.

The question is can the feckless political system stop being feckless before it leads Ukraine into the black hole of the resource cursed nations?  Looking at the entire Ukrainian political landscape and personalities within, that seems very unlikely without consistent external pressure and guidance.

All in all, an obvious and achievable plan for Ukraine – with very scary possible outcomes should it succeed.

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Ukrainian EU perceptions

May 6, 2013

Nicely timed for my return to the blog after a week off, Eurobarometer has just released some survey results relating to the extent to which Ukrainians would like further EU involvement in Ukrainian affairs.

76% would like greater EU involvement in economic development.

69% would like greater trade with the EU.

64% would like greater EU involvement in human rights within Ukraine.

60% would like greater EU involvement in democracy in Ukraine.

Seemingly 53% of Ukrainians trust the EU more than NATO or the UN when it comes to external entities, and far more than the current Ukrainian government which has a 23% favourable rating, or the parliament and Ukrainian political parties with an 18% favourable rating each.

The full survey results can be found here – with my usual caveats relating to surveys and opinion polls naturally applying as they always do.

Nevertheless, caveats considered, some interesting indicators are apparent in this snap-shot of public opinion to ponder over during the next few days.

 

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