Archive for April, 2014

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The dark arts and useful idiots

April 23, 2014

I have written before – elsewhere – about my very first foreign jaunt for Her Majesty in what was then the Federal Republic of Germany.  It was a very long time ago.  The Berlin Wall was still standing robustly, and the Iron Curtain cast a very dark shadow across the European continent.

Within days of landing at RAF Gütersloh and making my way across country to where I was to work I was required to then turn around again and attend a seminar in Rheindahlen, then HQ Northern Army Group (NORTHAG), HQ British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), home of Second Allied Tactical Airforce (2ATAF) and RAF Germany (RAFG) – and other more interesting entities with far less imposing titles.

It was like a small town populated by British, American, Canadian, German and Belgian military and civilians.

Anyway, the purpose of my visit was to be reminded once again – and warned once more – of the “dark arts” of The Stasi and KGB.  Once again those present were reminded of the responsibilities of the positions they held.  We were all PV’d (positively vetted) due to the information we were likely to create, receive, read and control.  Remember at all times you are subject to the Official Secrets Act you have signed etc., etc.  “Be alert” the watchword of the era.

We, it was said repeatedly, would be very likely the choice targets for the opposition intelligence community.

The weight of the responsibilities we were to bear, and the results of failing to bear them with integrity, spelled out in no uncertain terms – repeatedly – over the 2 day seminar.

The methods of subterfuge, espionage, infiltration, coercion etc., laid as bare as could be.  Whatever human weaknesses you may have – keep them under control if not eradicate them.  Failure to do so would result in your blackmail by KGB (or somewhat less likely Stasi) personnel.

Blimey!

All of this of course before mobile telephones, fax machines and computers became the tools of the modern age.  In those days multiple copies of anything were done either with carbon paper between sheets of paper on a typewriter, or typed onto a “skin” and rattled off on an ink smeared drum duplicator.

I won’t bore you with the palava of actually accessing anything secret (or above) – suffice to say it was necessarily time consuming and the fact you had merely sniffed a document classified accordingly was heavily documented.

Fortunately, having been too stupid to attended Cambridge University – which holds the record for producing the most Soviet spies I believe – I was not approached in university, and neither whilst working in the Federal Republic of Germany by the opposition.

Certainly not Ian Flemming and only hardly John Le Carre either as far as I was concerned – unless you can get excited about what was predominantly a desk job.  Interesting yes – adrenaline pumping it wasn’t.

(I can also state that handling informants is not particularly adrenaline pumping either – something I had to do when returning to home soil and changing desks 25 years ago – there goes another myth.)

Anyway, returning to the issue of the then KGB dark arts  and their undoubted continued use and tactical expansion by the FSB and GRU today, I must state I find it entirely bewildering that so much of the western media still seems to be in denial over what is occurring in eastern Ukraine (and the continuing infiltration throughout the rest of the nation for that matter) and the activities of the Russian intelligence and special forces there.

Sat atop of the Kremlin is a man who was a KGB counter intelligence officer.  Whether the western media choose to believe the incidents occurring in eastern Ukraine are genuinely spontaneous local action – or as is the case, Kremlin shenanigans at their root, one simple question should be asked –  With such incidents occurring just over the Russian border, which Russian president (ex-KGB or otherwise) would not have deployed intelligence personnel there, no matter how these incidents came to manifest themselves?

It is willful ignorance to think an ex-KGB Lieutenant Colonel would not have intelligence operatives and special forces in eastern Ukraine.  It is also gross naivety in the current circumstances to think that those intelligence personnel will not be engineering the situation on the ground to the best possible advantage of The Kremlin.  It has vested interests in Ukrainian outcomes.

I suppose when The Kremlin unveils long term and/or financially rewarding deals in India, China, Malaysia and North Korea in a few weeks time during Mr Putin’s Asia-Pacific tour, the mainstream western media will report it as just that, business deals – and not the strategic Asia-Pacific pivot that it actually is, with the purpose of further weakening European influence over The Kremlin whilst expanding Kremlin  influence in Asia.

Forget the proposed US Asian pivot – The Russian pivot will have occurred by the end of the year in tangible form!

Thus with such predictable shortsighted western mainstream media reporting, and by failing now to unambiguously state that there are Kremlin run intelligence services meddling on Ukrainian soil, the media become nothing more than useful idiots in The Kremlin scheme.  It simply assists the Kremlin narrative of plausible deniability – even when such deniablity is implausible.

There is no “apparently” or “supposedly” or “inferred” or “claimed” or “asserted” presence relating Russian intelligence and special forces in Ukraine – They are there and those agencies would be failing in their roles not to be there – even if they weren’t charged with creating instability by The Kremlin, as they obviously are.

Ukraine is home to the last (relatively) free Russian speaking mainstream media on the planet.  It is perhaps time that the western media show some solidarity and clearly articulate when a spade is a spade – or more precisely when the dark arts of the FSB and GRU are indeed the dark arts of the FSB and GRU in Ukraine.

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An appeal to readers – Обращение к читателям

April 22, 2014

Though my blogs will continue – I am tempted to try something new.

Thus an appeal to all my readers on twitter, Facebook, VK, LinkedIn, RSS subscribers etc.

I am looking for bloggers from across Ukraine, or that are written by Ukrainian passport holding citizens outside of Ukraine.

Yes that immediately discounts blogs from “western experts” unless they have a Ukrainian IP address.  Yes that immediately discounts the diaspora and those whose links to Ukraine are as tangible as their grandmothers, sister’s friend once meeting a Ukrainian they rather liked 20 years ago in a coffee shop in Copenhagen.

Ukrainian IP addresses or Ukrainian citizens only.

I am seeking blog addresses and/or links from the occupied territories of Crimea to Sumy.  From Donetsk to Izmail.  From Lviv to Lozova.

Any blogs that fit these parameters that readers would recommend or bloggers themselves want to bring to my attention are welcome.

Back to entries from me to which you are accustomed tomorrow!

 

Хотя мои блоги будут продолжать – я испытываю желание попробовать что-то новое.

Таким образом призыв ко всем моим читателям на Twitter, Facebook, ВКонтакте, LinkedIn, абоненты RSS и т.д.

Ищу блоггеров из всей Украине, или с украинским паспортом и граждан за пределами Украины.

Да, что тут же скидки для блогов из “западных экспертов», если они не имеют украинского IP-адрес. Да, что тут же скидки диаспоры и тех, чьи ссылки на Украине же осязаемые, как их бабушки, друзья сестры время совещания украинец они скорее понравилось 20 лет назад в кафе в Копенгагене.

Украинские IP-адреса или граждане Украины только.

Я ищу в блоге адреса и / или ссылки с оккупированных территорий Крыма в Сумы. Из Донецка в Измаиле. От Львова до Лозова.

Любые блоги, которые соответствуют этим параметрам, что читатели рекомендовали бы или блоггеров  которые сами хотят довести до моего сведения приветствуются.

Вернусь к записям от меня, к которым вы привыкли завтра!

 

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Casus Belli in Slavyansk?

April 21, 2014

Well it appears that in Slavyansk last night/early hours of this morning an incident has occurred between the pro and anti irregular forces of ideological/political lines.  The incident left dead and injured who favoured The Kremlin orientated/proposed solution.  The attackers allegedly far right nationalists.

Naturally The Kremlin was swift to comment on the incident – “The Russian side is outraged with the provocation, which indicates that Kiev is unwilling to put in check and disarm nationalists and extremists.

I will duly note that no comment was made regarding the deaths that occurred in Mariupol amongst those also supporting The Kremlin orientated/proposed solution when they were repelled attempting to storm a Ukrainian military establishment.

Anyway, as a recent and rather extensive opinion poll yesterday throughout the south and east of Ukraine once again refuted Kremlin statements regarding the overwhelming desire for federalisation, concerns over rights relating to the Russian language etc – clearly allowing the presidential elections and any referendum upon federalisation will not be in the interests of The Kremlin if held.

Now whilst this incident may genuinely be a case of pro verses anti ideological/political supporters resulting in death and injury – it also raises the possibility of a false flag incident – very much as the shelling of Mainila was, and that allowed the then USSR to withdraw from a non-aggression pact with Finland and led to The Winter War.

Unless public opinion radically changes before 25th May and any elections, The Kremlin may decide it wants to find a way to withdraw from the commitments it entered into in Geneva last week, and then act to prevent a public and internationally recognised and reported tactical defeat at the ballot box – not that it will change Kremlin goals.

A casus belli – genuine, manufactured or coerced?  Every such incident will now continually raise that spectre.

A need for a timely, competent and transparent police investigation into each and every incident that will probably follow is now required.  And one that is perceived to be independent by victims, offenders and the public at large alike.

 

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Political energy well spent in the soft power media war? Undoubtedly

April 20, 2014

A somewhat  deliberately un-academic yet slightly academic entry today.

It relates to why there is still so much political and diplomatic energy being spent refuting each and every  Kremlin statement about Ukraine – even after Mr Putin himself has eventually and publicly admitted that those “little green men” that appeared in Crimea and that were so robustly denied, were indeed, as we all knew, Russian special forces.

“We had to take unavoidable steps so that events did not develop as they are currently developing in southeast Ukraine.  Of course our troops stood behind Crimea’s self-defence forces.

Other than the issue that the special forces actually set the scene for the local self defence forces to be established after critical infrastructure had been seized, is it an accurate statement that comes as no surprise to anybody.  A lie revealed as a lie by the liar.

Every Kremlin lie, misleading statement or false parallel has been challenged in the public realm fairly convincingly – so why is political and diplomatic energy still being spent refuting what are so blatantly clear falsehoods at every single opportunity?  The disingenuous nature of Kremlin propaganda has been proven already after all.

The answer lays not only within the soft power war occurring in the media – a battle in and of itself – but also within the attempt by the Kremlin to pervert that still uneasy concept within international law that is “responsibility to protect” (R2P) – an instrument employed when dealing with systematic and widespread human rights violations that is yet to consolidate itself withing  customary international law.

I have mentioned R2P several times over the past few months as it seems attempts at creating faux pretext are being established by The Kremlin.

R2P is a somewhat malleable concept that falls within what is known as a “soft law”.  For want of a better definition “soft law” is a non-binding international instrument that uses legal language but creates no legal obligations.  Perhaps a poor definition, but this is not an academic entry about R2P and deliberately so – a general outline will suffice.

Without going into too much detail, R2P works on the concept of levels of responsibility.

Naturally, the responsibility to protect the ethnic Russians and Russian speakers within the territory of Ukraine, first and foremost is the responsibility of Ukraine.  That is why The Kremlin goes to great lengths to show Ukraine is failing in that task.  Living in a Russian speaking city and speaking Russian in it myself, in Odessa, Ukraine has no case to answer.  Kremlin charges simply do not stick.

The next level of responsibility would be that Ukraine forms international partnerships to protect the rights and wellbeing of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine.  It is no accident nor sign of failing to protect, that Ukraine has asked OSCE to send monitors.  This was a deliberate tactic to refute the Russian pretext for the final level of R2P intervention.  It is also no surprise that Ukraine has also asked for UN peacekeepers to prevent that same pretext.

The last level of R2P to which I refer is of course direct intervention within a sovereign State by an external actor – but the who decides if a State has failed in its duty to protect?  Who decides whether to intervene, and who is sent to intervene?  This is where it all can get a little messy.

R2P is about prevention, reaction and (unfortunately) rebuilding after the fact.

The traditional view would be that only the UN Security Council can authorise such a R2P military intervention.  Any unilateral or regional intervention would therefore be illegal under international law.

However the inability of the UN Security Council to agree on much has raised questions about whether any unilateral or regional intervention without UN Security Council authorisation would actually be illegal.

R2P has within it a “legitimacy criteria” – and it is against this criteria the global public and many nations are likely to judge any interventions – with or without UN Security Council mandate.  Perhaps a conflict between justification, legitimacy and legality would exist as a result – or perhaps not.

Uncharted international legal waters, but waters that will eventually be sailed several times before an answer is accepted as a legal normative no doubt – one way or the other.

Anyway, it is against – at least in part – the R2P “legitimacy criteria” that the political and diplomatic energy is consistently being used to negate Kremlin claims in the public realm (beside the self perpetuating soft power war in the media).

For a Russian military incursion on the pretext it is attempting to sell to the world,  to legitimately and justifiably test the international legal waters without a UN Security Council mandate it would have to:

1.  Show “just cause” – The scale, gravity and systematic human rights violations against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.  Large scale loss of life?  Planned genocide?  Ethnic cleansing?

This The Kremlin is patently failing to convince thus far.

2.  Have the “right intention” for its intervention.  In short the pretext for intervention is purely a human rights driven cause.  There is no pretext or intent for a land grab, control of raw materials, political control etc.

At the very least, political control is what The Kremlin seeks to achieve with regard Ukraine.

3.  “Last resort” – There is no other option to direct intervention to protect those whose human rights are being grossly and systematically violated.

The Kremlin has yet to display any systematic or widespread human rights violations against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers let alone justify any “last resort” criteria.

4.  “Proportional means” – Will Kremlin military intervention in Ukraine be proportional to the human rights violations they claim occur?  Is military intervention proportional at all?

The Kremlin claims have been refuted by the UN and OSCE monitors thus far.

5.  “Reasonable prospects” – Would military intervention have reasonable prospects of preventing further rights abuses?

Quite honestly, there first needs to be a fire before it can be put out.  Therefore reasonable prospects of dousing a fire that has not been ignited has no chance of succeeding.  Thus The Kremlin now seeks to at least give the impression of smoke where a blaze has failed to ignite.

So whilst it may seem that a lot of political and diplomatic energy is being spent – and possibly perceived as being wasted – refuting each and every Kremlin statement in the soft power war, there are other very good reasons for doing so other than point scoring in the media.

As it seems the Kremlin seeks to establish some legitimacy/justification to enter Ukraine on the pretext of a responsibility to protect styled narrative, the continued refuting of the R2P legitimacy criteria is absolutely essential.

Political and diplomatic energy well spent?  Undoubtedly – even if it doesn’t prevent any overt military incursion – in part or in full – it clearly displays any such incursion as nothing more than an act of unjustified military aggression and war.

For now every false and misleading Kremlin statement rebuffed regarding the rights violations of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers not only scores points in the soft power war, but also undermines the legitimacy and justification for any R2P-esque scenario.

 

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In the crosshairs – Odessa

April 19, 2014

There has been much speculation, rumour and conjecture within the media and amongst academic/think tank circles as to the extent of the Kremlin appetite with regard to Ukraine – naturally.  What is happening now on the continent of Europe has become very much a rarity thankfully – and yet not extinct unfortunately.

That speculation has ranged from the complete annexation of Ukraine, to full control through coercive methods, or the control and/or annexation of parts of the nation – either via federalisation before secession, simply establishing hard facts on the ground or de facto protectorates.

novorussia-map

As far back as the end of November/early December rumours abound of The Kremlin attempting to reconstruct Novorussia – which as the above map circa 1897 shows, includes Odessa.

Now Mr Putin, and especialy the Kremlin propaganda machine, has on occasion been a little loose in interpretation and recollection of history at times recently, particularly when attempting to draw parallels in the Kremlin game of “whataboutism” .  The one thing that can be consistently said about “whataboutism” is that it never justifies or legitimises what is happening.  Using any previous wrong as an example to justify another wrong, needless to say, does not make either right.

It is why I am rather shy of using too many examples of comparative politics in entries – comparisons have their limits, no situation is the same – there are always nuances – and whether the comparison is good or poor, it always has a limited use in justification or legitimisation.

Nevertheless, Odessa like all the Novorussia Oblasts of by-gone days as remained consistently in the Kremlin crosshairs whichever scenario is to be played out.

Anyway, despite the very general joint communique emanating from within the bowels of Geneva – which makes you wonder over the devil in any detail as well as whether all parties are negotiating in good or bad faith – during President Putin’s 4 hour telethon, he made a few statements worthy of note.  Much of it was fluff, framing, propaganda and promises for the domestic Russian audience.

That domestic audience it should be recognised, has been prepared for conventional, economic, psychological, technical and religious war on a 24/7 basis increasingly over the past 2 or 3 months.  If it comes the Russian public will not be surprised.

A few statements made by President Putin are clearly of interest to Ukraine – and hopefully Europe and the wider western world in particular.

It was the first time I recall hearing Mr Putin use “Novorussia” in public – which he did repeatedly – and in a manner in which could – and did – infer a desire to rebuild it.

He also confirmed Russian special forces had been used in Crimea – but that is no revelation – simply confirmation of what everybody knew.

“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s new Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”

Now we can quibble over whether or not Luhansk and Kharkiv were ever in Novorussia, or whether they were in fact in Little Russia, but what’s the point.

To underline the point he was making somewhat, he also stated “I remind you that the Federation Council has given the president the right to use armed forces in Ukraine.  I really hope that I do not have to exercise this right and that by political and diplomatic means we will be able to solve all of the sharp problems.”

Ergo, no bite sized federalised Novorussia Oblasts for us to break of as and when we are ready, then I reserve the right to simply take them by force, would seem to be an interpretation many will make.

Of course, if the people of these cities decide not to make the choices seen as optimal to the Kremlin design for Ukraine – or at least the rebirth of the previously Novorussian parts of Ukraine which none other than Mr Putin himself has now clarified clearly as targets of Kremlin desire and therefore undoubted shenanigans, then “We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny.” – which will undoubtedly be understood as the Kremlin will make the right decision for them.

The questions for Odessa – as well as the other oblasts – is what form the coercion will take, when and for how long they can be endured.  To expect the same modus operandi without deviation as Crimea and as is currently unfolding in Luhansk and Donetsk would be a mistake.  It may come in that form – or it may manifest itself in a very different fashion.

To control the Odessa, Illychovsk and Yushni Ports is to control the Odessa economy.  And to control the ports there is no need to actually be stood dockside.  It can be done via sea blockade just as easily – Yes, that is an act of war, but so was the annexation of Crimea.

The few Ukrainian naval ships now in Odessa?  Whether they would fight or not is a secondary question as to whether they would be allowed to fight by the Ukrainian authorities.  The NATO ships in the Black Sea are clearly unlikely to engage.

Whether the well meaning anti-“little green man” sandbagged checkpoints appearing on the outskirts of Odessa are equipped to prevent anything meaningful trundling into the city from Transnistria (or elsewhere) is also another relevant question.  As yet I have not peered behind them to see what equipment hides behind – if any.

As for the people of Odessa themselves – or the social media savvy amongst them at least – well numerous secret facebook groups, membership of and accessible by invitation only have appeared over the past month or so – both pro a united Ukraine and also federal/Russian leaning.

I didn’t even know there were such things as secret facebook groups until recently.  I am seriously IT retarded and socially challenged quite clearly.

Reading the content of both for and against camps, it seems self-organisation and planning is becoming somewhat more advanced than any policies seen coming from Kyiv with regard the city.

That there seem to be no overt policies coming from Kyiv with regard Odessa may well be doing Kyiv a disservice of course.  They may necessarily be currently kept from the public realm – at least you would hope that is the case, and a strategic plan for Odessa is not to be hurriedly scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet once the shenanigans begin.

Anyway, it seems the oblasts that made up Novorussia have now clearly been identified as Kremlin targets by President Putin himself.  With the “where” “why” and “who” answered – we in Odessa need only think about the “what”, “when” and “how”.

Whether there is any tangible results from the declarations made from Geneva yesterday we have to accept will not change the overall Kremlin goal.

The question of whether the Ukrainian people will accept any deal made would be accepted without further civil unrest is also yet to be asked or answered.

Any new elections are not going to return a Ukrainian president that will advance any Kremlin plan.  Any vote on the unity vis a vis federalisation of Ukraine is also unlikely to produce the federally desired Kremlin results.  Any new RADA elections seem unlikely to return an eastern favouring majority at the time of writing either.

Thus the Kremlin is still faced with only 3 options to retain significant influence over Ukraine – Annexation in part or in full, continued insurgency and destabilisation, or forcing the complete collapse of Ukraine as a State.  For Ukraine it seems it faces the outcome of whether the Kremlin choice is one of coercion via a slow Chinese water torture, or one of rapid forceful violation.

Allowing Ukraine to head westward without significant resistance – if allowing it at all – is not a Kremlin option.  Ergo working on the premise, any pauses for negotiation agreed to by The Kremlin will be done so with a view to mitigating the threats toward it either directly or via third parties – whilst its goal remains the same.

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A Unity Referendum – What could go wrong?

April 18, 2014

Early this month during one of those evening sessions when I have been asked to meet diplomats from sovereign missions passing through Odessa so they can empty my head of my thoughts, impression, predictions etc regarding the city and beyond in relation to the current and rapidly unfolding and unraveling situation, the subject of referendums arose – unsurprisingly.

Obviously being an active advocate of democracy I am all in favour of referendums – in theory and in practice – as long as they are carried out with clear and unambiguous language and in circumstances that are free and fair clearly identifying the issues and causal effects of any outcomes publicly.

If they are not, then predicted results can fail to materialise.

This particular diplomat was clearly also not in favour of any referendums being held within Ukraine under the current circumstances.

Needless to say this discussion was occurring at a time when The Kremlin was pushing for a referendum on federalisation (to the point whereby federal oblasts would have control over their own foreign policy) and my opinion on federalising Ukraine in the current environment was well documented. months ago – and the threats I then identified now loom large.

At the time the current Ukrainian authorities were having none of it either – but that then robust stance has now withered.

Nobody will be surprised if at today’s meeting between the US, EU, Ukraine and Russia sees an announcement of a referendum on federalisation – and the wording of that referendum The Kremlin will no doubt want a hand in drafting, either directly or by proxy through its political vassals in Ukraine.

What harm can it do after all?  We are consistently told that Ukraine is far more united now after threats and interference by The Kremlin than ever before.

As I like polls that show the questions asked, the methodology employed and a good amount of detail normally omitted by politicians and media alike – and I have written about the care needed with opinion polls before –  I will use this poll simply as it is far more transparent than many others recently quoted in the media.

ukraine-poll

Now firstly it has to be acknowledged that this opinion poll reflects only the mood of the snap-shot in time that it was conducted in – this time last month.  Events in Ukraine are currently changing by the hour and that may have an effect on the exact same poll if taken today – hopefully increasing the dark blue segment.

I will crudely add the percentages “Remain a unitary country” together with “Remain a unitary country but without Crimea” together – the result being 74% in favour of unity and dismissive of federalisation.

Those within the political science arena would consider a nation a consolidated democracy if that figure were applied to an opinion poll where no other form of governance was acceptable.

So what could go wrong?

Well we begin with a foundation of 16% who would vote against unity.  We then have another 10% “difficult to answer/no answer” whom it would appear are there to be influenced one way or another or simply wouldn’t vote.

However, we are asking the question “what could go wrong?”

Thus, worst case scenario, 26% vote against unity as a base figure.  A significant minority – particularly if consolidated in a certain region.  Problematic.

The Kremlin propaganda machine also kicks into overdrive once any Ukrainian referendum is formally announced –  naturally – pushing the benefits of a federal republic rather than a united republic, without raising the underlying reasons for its preference – The then ease of formal bite-sized chunks presented to it.

We must also acknowledge that votes are bought and sold in Ukraine.  There are many poor people.  Given the right financial incentive, votes can and will be bought to be cast a certain way.  If The Kremlin were to offer $500 per vote – as they are allegedly paying per day for people to act as they are asked in eastern Ukraine currently when seizing buildings – how much will it make available to buy voters in Ukraine when returned control over Ukraine is the prize?

Quite clearly to gain victory or control over Ukraine no matter the cost – either spent or inflicted – seems to be The Kremlin plan.  The time scale open ended, the goal set.

So to spend $50 million?  $100 million?  $200 million?  A lot of votes for that money and a lot of people are poor enough to take it.   Peanuts in the scheme of things from The Kremlin point of view for the prize on offer.

Next we have to acknowledge that people will be instructed to vote a certain way – or be sacked – by certain employers who will benefit from a federal Ukraine.  They may not necessarily have any desire to head into the Russian orbit, but they have a strong desire to keep the regional hierarchical fiefdoms in place, and they may very well be dismantled by a Kyiv leadership if a strongly united Ukraine is behind it.

Thereafter there will be undue pressure at polling stations regardless of observers being present – and should The Kremlin lose this referendum grievously, then having them declared flawed is in its interests – particularly as any referendum vote will occur when voting for a new president – both votes would then be perceived and/or declared flawed.

Then there is the vote count itself.  If you can buy, intimidate or unduly influence voters, the same can be said for the vote counters.

The initial 26% of voters against a unified Ukraine now begins to rise – perhaps considerably – and particularly in certain regions and amongst certain demographic groups.  Could it add another 10%?  Possibly so.

It is a stretch to imagine a complete turnaround to a point where a federalisation vote wins – but does it have to?

If the vote returns a 35% – 40% favouring federalism after all the shenanigans, that is a huge minority – and a minority figure that The Kremlin would use time and time again as justification to continually interfere in Ukrainian affairs either directly or by way of sponsored unrest every time Ukraine strays from the approved Kremlin path.

In short, not only does a unity verses federalism vote not make the matter disappear once it is held, unless it results in 80 – 85% in favour of a unified replublic – it could well make matters worse if it doesn’t.

After all, what percentage of the population are demanding a vote on federalism now and very possibly forcing the issue as Kremlin vassals (wittingly or otherwise)?  When/if the vote goes against them, we are to expect them to just accept it and their Kremlin backers too?  In a democratic and stable nation naturally we do – but Ukraine is barely democratic, rule of law is hit and miss at best, non-existent at worst, and the nation is certainly unstable in the current circumstances.

Remaining with the worst case scenario, following what would hopefully be a crushing defeat of the federalist idea and an irrefutable united Ukraine be the result, The Kremlin may change its tactics a little – for its goal will not have changed whatsoever.

Military invasion?  Perhaps, but perhaps not as likely as other alternatives as economic pressures, scuttling international deals whenever the opportunity arises for Ukraine etc are obvious instruments.

One such alternative, not wanting to be seen to abandon those who support(ed) The Kremlin vision of a Ukrainian future, may see the “organic domestic birth” of entities such as PIRA or ETA in certain regions carrying out acts against infrastructure – or worse – with, of course, denied external assistance.   A stable, democratic and secure Ukraine is not in The Kremlin plans unless it is one that is under the control of The Kremlin.

With people as poor as they are, it would perhaps now be a very good idea to begin to offer reasonably large, head turning sums ($1000 or so), to buy back weaponry stolen and/or appropriated during recent incidents and get them off the streets.  Of course it doesn’t solve any problems – but it is at least seen to be attempting to solve problems.

So, questions for the day – How much public opinion can be swayed toward federalism by The Kremlin machinery at the expense of a united Ukraine?  How large will a significant minority be?  How will that significant minority be used by The Kremlin thereafter?  What will Ukraine be able to do after the vote that it cannot do now to combat it?  How to avoid my scenarios above?

Now I am going to see if the federalist element in Odessa manages to bring the city centre to a standstill at 1600 hours today as they plan, or whether it will be an unmitigated disaster – back tomorrow!

 

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And what of the Transnistrian threat?

April 17, 2014

There is much said in the international media about the quasi-autonomous region of Transnistria that sits within Moldova.  Parallels of a Crimea-esque annexation by The Kremlin are not difficult to find even in the most informed journals and highbrow media.

It is though, quite different in many ways.

Firstly Transnistria has held referendums without looking down the barrel of an AK and overwhelmingly voted to become part of the Russian Federation – much to Moldavian consternation of course.

Secondly, The Kremlin has refused to allow the region both recognition or secession thus far.

However western media and commentators alike also see Transnistria as a possible/probable beachhead for Russian military/FSB/GRU agents from which to either head into Odessa (Ukraine), or head out into the rest of Moldova.  The few thousand Russian troops there indeed could do so – I suppose – though it is not a very convincing number at all for any conventional act of aggression.

At the moment, the Russian military aerodrome there is still under construction as far as I know, and thus not as optimal as it could be.

However, there has been a lot of FSB and GRU operatives arriving there over the past month according to both Moldavian and local Odessa media.  How accurate that is, who knows, though I would expect it to occur.

But there is a fundamental difference between Moldova and Ukraine which nobody has commented upon in anything I have read – be it from the learned to the hoy polloy.

The first, and almost an aside issue to what I want to comment upon, is that on 28th April all Moldavian citizens are Visa-free with the EU Schegen states as long as they hold biometric passports.  How do you turn away Visa-free refugees if you allow The Kremlin to play the same game in Moldova as it is being allowed to play in Ukraine?

That though is not the issue I want to raise – The issue I want to raise, and as I have mentioned before, is what Moldova has that is very different to Ukraine, is 800,000 (22/23%) of its population, holding Romanian passports via grandfather rights, as well as Moldavian citizenship.

That makes 800,000 EU citizens – and EU citizenship is a point made very clear on every EU Member State passport.

By extension, as Romania is also a NATO member, that makes 800,000 NATO citizens to protect – a number large enough it can hardly be ignored in the western capitals, particularly as Bucharest must be sure to raise the matter if circumstances dictate.

Quite clearly, what is good for The Kremlin goose when over-extending the right to protect mantra to every Russian speaker regardless of ethnicity or nationality – also suits the Romanian gander when it comes to actual bona fide passport holding citizens.

One would hope that the EU and NATO are making such matters known to The Kremlin in very clear terms.  800,000 of “our” citizens live there.  We will protect them even though Moldova is not covered by Article 5.

At the very least making such firm statements may have the effect of curbing Kremlin action to little more than the on-going and continued diplomatic frustrations and attempted spoilers with regards to Moldova – but little more.  Perhaps The Kremlin would go as far as recognising Transnistria in retaliation, but maybe it will anyway.

Conversely of course, if that firm European line is taken, and a continually belligerent Kremlin simply calls that bluff straying outside of Transnistria, hard power may have to be the result – with geography on the side of Romania.

Whilst Russian troops heading into Odessa from Transnistria will raise yet more collective western tutting – a different response may be necessary if they head into Moldova.

Whatever the case, I must admit to being surprised that nobody I have read thus far, has mentioned that 22% of the Moldavian population actually hold Romanian passports – which has implications by way of considerations, policy and justification for Romania, the EU and NATO.

Something quite different from Ukraine that nobody seems to have mentioned.

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