Archive for December 17th, 2013


McCain in Ukraine – What matters?

December 17, 2013

Well as expected, the visit of Senator John McCain has created a temporary whirlwind of comment amongst those following events in Ukraine, with very few positive comments coming from the North American expatriates who live in Ukraine – be they Republican or Democrat by domestic allegiance.

Naturally much of their ire has been directed at the obvious duplicity of Mr. McCain’s speech at Euromaidan – but as with all duplicity in politics, despite prima facie double standards undermining the message, that does not make the message being sent any less relevant, unnecessary or wrong.

There is of course, also a massive photo opportunity for western politicians with so many people demonstrating in support of democracy – not to mention being able to claim being “part of” the very rare pro-western mass rallies these days.

Why would Mr. McCain shun such an opportunity having so eagerly made a point of appearing at many similar events throughout his career?

Yes, perhaps under cold academic scrutiny, it can be said his attendance may not improve or resolve matters.  Indeed some will argue that he has a penchant for making matters worse rather than better, but in the case of Ukraine, that is yet to be decided.

Nevertheless, the chance for a public, if narcissistic, bathing in a pro-European/western/democratic ocean is not one that many middle/fairly high ranking politicians will refuse, and for the Euromadian movement it conveniently continues to generate media coverage in the western press – for now at least.

eating photo jm

There are also those less than enthusiastic at the sight of Senator McCain sat eating with the leader of Svoboda Oleh Tyahnybok, due to his own previous anti-Semitic statements together with those of his party members.  As leader he must (politically at least) therefore take responsibility for the obvious anti-Semitic within his party.

pat filaret

Added to that there are a number of perturbed by Mr. McCain’s statement that he was “honoured” to meet Patriarch Filaret given some of his previous statements and actions.

“Venyanamore @venyanamore 14 Dec 

@moskvapetushki @mhikaric @AlexNicest Or indeed if John McCain has the first clue about Patriarch Filaret’s background & past actions…
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Sophie Pinkham @moskvapetushki 15 Dec

@venyanamore @mhikaric @AlexNicest I must say, I don’t know anything about Filaret either. What’s the story?
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Venyanamore @venyanamore 15 Dec 

@moskvapetushki @mhikaric @AlexNicest Where to start. Definitely ex-KGB (normal), definitely adulterer, allegations of involvement in murder
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Venyanamore @venyanamore 15 Dec

@moskvapetushki @mhikaric @AlexNicest & basically supremely political operator, who supported most extreme pro-Soviet, & then pro-Ukr forces”

Now there are several issues here.  Back in the days I worked within BRIXMIS in Germany (SOXMIS equivalent for the US readers), the identity and ideology of those deemed on the side of the angels and those who were not, was clear to those I worked with and me.

They were also for the most part consistent, and any that suddenly strayed into the “grey area” were generally treated with extreme caution.  However, in today’s world identifying the “angels” is not as clear cut as when the Cold War was playing out.  Today’s “angel” can fall from grace tomorrow, whilst tomorrow newly identified “angels” may rise from the circles of which Dante described in his Devine Comedy.

Thus, Svoboda and Mr. Tyanybok, for better or for worse, cannot be ignored if he and Svoboda be considered on the side of angels – even if not considered angels themselves by all.  Despite the western world’s intense dislike for far right politics and nationalism, as he is part of an opposition trio within which the other two parties cannot afford to jettison him/his party – currently at least – there is little choice but to engage with him – and we have all broken bread with people we would not do so by choice when the situation demands it.

There are other ways to display a dislike for his party’s politics without cutting off top level channels of communication after all.  An example being Mr Miroshnichenko , close ally and high ranking Svoboda Party official being persona non grata at the UK Embassy Kyiv.

With regard to Patriarch Filaret, Mr. McCain may well have genuinely felt “honoured” to meet him.  Alternatively, his briefing relating to the Patriarch may have been “thin” when it comes to his more dubious alleged activities and less than inclusive comments.  Only Mr. McCain’s staffers and US Ambassador Geoffery Pyatt can answer as to the standard of his briefing.

However, all of this is of limited relevance to Ukraine or Euromaidan going forwards.  What matters is whether the USA will remain an active force once the photo ops and headline news window has passed.

Press releases coinciding with the US senators visits proclaiming $20 billion in funding to Ukraine since 1991, and over $100 million this year, mean very little without knowing what that money is spent on and being able to assess the results for impact per US$ spent.

The same has to be said of EU spending in Ukraine.

Naturally that would require a degree of transparency that is unlikely to come – at least with sufficient detail – and undoubtedly failing and/or failed policy or failed and/or failing sponsored institutions and pet projects will continue to be funded when the money could be better directed towards those actually having an impact.   How long do you give a policy or strategy before recognizing it has failed is an often forgotten question when it comes to funding.

 It is a problem shared by international development agencies and international institutions globally – with the biggest failure of all being unwillingness to recognize that some projects/policies simply are failing and thus funding redirected whilst the reasons for failure investigated and noted.  After all, with a little tinkering they may well work in the future.

Nevertheless, to the point of this post, and a point seemingly missed by those picking at the periphery issues – regardless of their validity – when it comes to Mr. McCain – Millions of Ukrainians listened to Mr. McCain from behind the frozen barricades at Euromaidan, on TV and on-line globally.  Those barricades will literally thaw come the Spring – however, the US Ambassador, Mr. Pyatt, will now have a difficult time explaining a thawing of US resolve should it now fail to remain vocally front and centre, side by side with the Europeans and pro-democracy Ukrainians in not only demanding, but facilitating where it can, long overdue reform.

Where the US can act perhaps with greater effectiveness than others, is formulating a strategy to curtail (though it cannot be eliminated) the influence of the oligarchy in Ukrainian politics – permanently.  The oligarchy, after all, have a lot of assets in the “western world”, and rely on the western banking system to do business.

Should Mr. Pyatt publicly take that on and curtail their undue influence to far more reasonable levels, he will probably be the only US Ambassador to ever be remembered by the majority of the Ukrainian people once his tenure is over.

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