Archive for May, 2014

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Abkhazia – A good question

May 31, 2014

Now and again readers send questions that are both difficult and/or deserving of an entry in and of themselves – and quite rightly too when reading the European “experts” and “commentators” half-informed waffle being offered up as “Gospel” relating events they are clearly on an editorial time-line to submit – that or they are entirely ill-informed.

The question raised, was whether events in Abkhazia have any direct linkage with those in Ukraine.  I am not an expert on Abkhazia or Russia – though I know a thing or two about Ukraine and there is some limited overlap.

The answer I will leave to the readers to deduce having presented a very basic situation which much like an onion has layers for them to then peel away.  I will not go into great detail – for it is not necessary.

For some time Abkhazia has drifted along, turning from a staunchly pro-Russian region into nothing more than a corrupt fiefdom for its leadership that pays little more than lip-service to its pro-Russian foundations and financiers.

Very recently, Vladislav Surkov – a grey cardinal of considerable significants in the mechanics of The Kremlin, and an architect of Kremlin actions with regard to recent Ukrainian events – flew several aides to Abkhazia with the Vice President of the Rotenburg brothers construction company – a company that will no doubt have a large and nefarious role in the new Sino-Russian gas pipelines.

The reason for the visit related to a construction project financed by Moscow – running gas to a couple of small villages.  Upon arrival quite simply the visitors from Moscow could see it had not even began.  The money stolen.

That is nothing new in Abkhazia or indeed across Russia – except in this case it appears the corrupt Abkhazia leadership forgot to ask those sending the money if it was OK to steal it and funnel some of the cash to the vested parties from Russia.

Dutifully the aides return to Moscow and recanted their tales to Mr Surkov, including a snippet that the Abkhazian leadership inferred that should the financial tap be turned off, a political change of direction may occur.

Mr Surkov is a man gifted in making the most of a political opportunity when it presents itself.   The stolen money here, is not the issue as far as Mr Surkov is concerned.

The concern of Mr Surkov is the ever decreasing lack of overt, repeated, pro-Russian rhetoric from the Abkhazian leadership, whilst they are too busy simply enriching themselves.  Stealing the money is not the problem, doing so whilst publicly omitting to praise The Kremlin to the heavens is.

However, a changing of the Abkhazian leadership does not necessarily suit the Kremlin when matters can be quickly put back on track by other methods.

Thus, a swift destabilising campaign is bought and paid for using the appearance of divisions between ethnic Russians and Georgians – catching on-lookers by surprise and leading to a lot of ill-informed waffle and guesswork in the western media.  Here some readers will undoubtedly draw parallels between with ethnic framing in Ukraine, again the work of Mr Surkov.

Since Abkhazia caught the headlines, Mr Surkov has informed the political elite of Abkhazia of the new rules of the game.  Those rules are clear.  Mr Surkov is the Kremlin author of scripts for regions that trouble Moscow.  His script will be adhered to at all times.  There will be no ad-libbing and no forgetting of lines.  Oratory will be recited on cue.

In future Kremlin control will be deniably reasserted either by framing the people verses the corrupt leadership, or by enabling ethnic unrest – both of which will lead to the overthrowing of power in such troubled regions should they not remember whose song-sheet they are to sing from – often.  Theft is irrelevant in comparison to political subordination.  Conventional military events will become a last resort.

So, the relationship to Ukraine is that of similarities in framing.  The core issue is a slippage in pro-Kremlin public adoration as far as Abkhazia is concerned – rather than Ukrainian refusal to undergo Kremlin suffrage once more.  And then there is Mr Surkov – a grey cardinal of notable ability.

Indirect linkages aplenty.  Part of a larger grand plan?  No –  At least not yet.

 

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To PACE or not to PACE? That is the question

May 30, 2014

As most readers will know, The Kremlin actions in the illegal annexation of Crimea, rightly caused Russian rights to be suspended within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) until the end of the year (at least).

After all, unilaterally throwing the Helsinki Final Act 1975 under a bus, and thus killing off a legally binding instrument upon which European peace and security was (partially) based has to have consequences far surpassing a collective tutting from an organisation that has rule of law as one of its overarching themes.

(OSCE (Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe) is not the same organisation but the two work very closely together.)

Neither can such an act be forgiven or forgotten when a collective and long lasting response is required.  Quite simply it is not OK – and it will never be OK  – is the message that need be sent by the rest of the continent, bilaterally, multilaterally and via every institution and channel able to convey that message.

However, it appears that The Kremlin feels that a single month of suspension is an adequate response for annexing a large part of a neighbouring state.  Sergie Naryshkin has written to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) asking for Russia’s rights to be restored, a full 6 months before the initial suspension is due to expire, and little more than a month after The Kremlin’s illegal act.

Needless to say, there will be a lot of objection to restoring Russia’s rights so swiftly – particularly from Ukraine and the Baltic States, who are in effect frontier States when it comes to continual and on-going Kremlin mischief.  Many PACE Members will feel that a far longer suspension post the initial year end  is necessary given the severe gravity of the Kremlin’s actions.

The skepticism with which The Kremlin generally holds PACE (and the OSCE) is not a secret – but both have been useful institutions for The Kremlin to try and test the regional waters regarding its views.  Put as diplomatically as possible, The Kremlin relationship with PACE (and the OSCE) is certainly contentious at best – and more than a little obstructionist at worst.

Despite Kremlin actions setting serious precedents far beyond the region (think of the vulnerability of Taiwan to annexation for example) perhaps PACE (and/or the OSCE) is a far better setting than the UN for dialogue.

The questions are then does PACE restore Kremlin rights (as a prerequisite of the Kremlin) before it engages in any dialogue to resolve Ukrainian issues?  Does it refuse Kremlin requests and thus The Kremlin refuse to entertain any dialogue?  If such a refusal is forthcoming, will The Kremlin simply walk away from PACE (and the OSCE) membership and/or continue its meddling via existing methods in Ukraine?

As the Europeans cannot suspend Russian rights at the UN, the G8 became the G7.  That entity and PACE are of the few institutions where Kremlin suspension can be achieved and sends an unambiguous diplomatic message that Kremlin action with regard to Crimea is simply not acceptable.  The removal of any suspensions (when they occur) will be understood by the Kremlin as the weak Europeans moving on unless The Kremlin has changed course prior to their removal.

Would PACE (and/or OSCE) remain relevant without a regional actor such as Russia, should it leave the organsiation?  Would it perhaps become a far better institution without Kremlin obstructionism?  Should it offer itself up as the forum for dialogue regardless of the diplomatic and perceptional cost by agreeing to the Kremlin request?

For what it’s worth, my own view is that PACE suspension should continue.  The conflicted parties concerned have already held multilateral talks in Geneva whilst Russian PACE rights were suspended.  They can do so again if the will is there to do so.

The question to ask is whether The Kremlin has done anything to alter the reasons its rights were suspended in the first place?  Clearly the answer is “no” – so the PACE incentive for returning its institutional rights are what exactly?  The kudos of being the mediating organsiation (by backing down to Kremlin demands to facilitate that)?

As meek as the European response to Crimea appeared to such a truly serious transgression by The Kremlin, those measures cannot now be withdrawn when nothing has changed.  Accepting that unless there is yet another serious transgression, existing efforts at policy change may broaden horizontally to include more individuals and Crimea-centric entities, rather than any “Stage III sanctions” across entire Russian business sectors, the withdrawal of even meek measures further undermines the Europeans and the values they purport to represent.

Perhaps PACE should reply to Mr Naryshkin’s letter by explaining that further extensions to the suspension of Russia’s rights may be considered in light of Kremlin inaction to address the reasons for the initial suspension – whilst diplomatically making clear that the continuing action against The Kremlin is not anti-Russian, but in robust support of international and regional laws that Russia ratified and then put to the sword.

The Kremlin, under current management, cannot be allowed to take a few months of grief relating to its actions in Crimea.  The repercussions of the Crimean act will last for decades – as would any swift return to “business as normal”.

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Seeking security coalitions – Ukraine

May 29, 2014

Way back on 31 March 2013, and under very different circumstances, I mentioned the 2007 plan to form a joint Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian Brigade, an idea that had then done little more than gather dust since its conception.

Needless to say, this brigade is once again being mentioned for very different reasons now that The Kremlin has unilaterally terminated the Helsinki Final Act 1975 by the annexation of Crimea.  That Act cannot be resuscitated for no neighbouring nation is ever going to fully trust The Kremlin to adhere to any security agreements old or new again under its current management.

With Prime Minister Medvedev last week claiming the Budapest Memorandum was not obliging of Russia to guarantee Ukrainian territorial sovereignty (despite being a guarantor), such lack of faith is quite understandable.

The assumption by many that two NATO nations creating a brigade with a non-NATO nation would unnecessarily drag NATO into a confrontation with an aggressor against Ukraine is perhaps something of a leap – despite initial appearances.  NATO, like the EU, has no control over the foreign policy of its members – and its members can and do act unilaterally in the militarily sphere without doing so under the NATO flag.  “Coalitions of the willing” and all that.

 

However, any Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian Brigade is but a springboard to point of this entry – interesting as such a brigade is in the current circumstances.

From the culmination of points above, the question arises, once inaugurated next month, should President Poroshenko seek to reestablish some form of security guarantee with the remaining Budapest Memorandum guarantors together with other willing nations on the European continent?

Regional security has been severely shaken – with global potential if not confronted.  Foundational legally binding regional security instruments irreversibly discarded.  Not all of Russia’s neighbouring EU states are in NATO.  Not all Ukraine’s neighbours are against some form of security architecture including Ukraine.

NATO membership and EU accession are decades away – if ever Ukraine makes the grade and/or decides to apply.  Both entities have their dissenting voices within regarding Ukrainian membership should it ever decide to formally apply.  Thus some form of tangible security coalition outside of NATO would seem the only realistic option.

Poland, Lithuania, Sweden and a few others are very clear-eyed in recognising that Ukraine is now – and will be for many years to come – something of a front line State when it comes to Kremlin mischief and bullying, however it will manifest itself.

Thus, should President Poroshenko try and cobble together some form of regional security apparatus with willing European nations – be they NATO members or otherwise?  At the very least it would seem wise to revisit the Budapest Memorandum with the US and UK guarantors to ascertain exactly how they interpret that guarantee after recent events – and perhaps open it up to any others willing to act as guarantors.

 

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A dedication – How humbling!

May 28, 2014

A very short entry today as I do not want to subtracted from an article by Carnegie dedicated to…….me!

Click on the link – it’s a good read too.

Blimey – How humbling!!

 

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“It wasn’t me” – Blessed are the peacemakers

May 27, 2014

Whilst vote counting is still not yet officially complete at the time of writing – but probably will be by the time of your reading, clearly Petro Poroshenko has convincingly won the Ukrainian presidential election in the first round – unprecedented in Ukraine.

However, he will not be sworn into office until 9th/10th June.  Official date yet to be announced.

At present he remains president elect, leader of the Solidarity Party and MP only.  Officially for the next 2 weeks or so, interim-President Turchynov remains in the top public office in the land.

Why so far away when the presidential elections were called to bring a legitimate president to the country as quickly as could practicably be accomplished?  Why will he not be sworn into office this week?  Or next?

As I tweeted yesterday:

Thus any good, bad or indifferent actions and outcomes between now and Mr Poroshenko’s inauguration will be placed at the door of Mr Turchynov – and actions The Kremlin will find “antagonistic” there will be aplenty during that time.

Interim-President Turchynov now (officially) has two weeks to deal with some on-going difficult, bloody and gritty issues before President Poroshenko assumes office and becomes the “blessed peacemaker” he states he will be.

The question is therefore just how much often very bloody, gritty and difficult work is interim-President Turchynov prepared to have attached to his curriculum vitae in paving the way for his incumbent over the next 2 weeks?

Arseniy Yatseniuk, having signed the IMF deal, will be the man held responsible for any associated pain.

Will Olexander Turchynov be forceful and swift enough to be  the man associated with a forceful crackdown in the east?

What of the apparent decision by the Ukrainian National Security Council yesterday to leave the CIS and introduce Visas for Russian citizens ASAP?  Will that be accomplished prior to Mr Poroshenko’s inauguration now the decision has been made?

Should such a decision have been deferred until the president elect (now there is one)  has actually taken office – or has it been deliberately done to get as many actions The Kremlin will find “antagonistic” done before he takes office?

Has the inauguration of Petro Poroshenko been deliberately slated far enough into the future – but not too far – to create a setting of plausible deniability whereby a forceful action in the east of the nation occurs prior to him becoming president and peacemaker, as well as far enough into the future for the most antagonistic of policy actions as viewed by The Kremlin, to be instigated and implemented when he has no official control over – or official input into – such policies?

Is the Ukrainian tactic to have Petro eventually meet Vladimir saying “Just like you said those little green men in Crimea weren’t yours, I wasn’t in charge when these decisions were made and I cannot undo those decisions now as they were lawfully adopted – whether I agree with them or not, it wasn’t me.”

If that is the tactic to be adopted, what other Kremlin antagonising policies will be forthcoming and adopted over the next two weeks prior to Mr Poroshenko officially sitting in the highest seat of Ukrainian public office?

It will be interesting to see what else hits the legislative and policy calendar in the immediate, that can be plausibly denied by the president elect.

 

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Beyond the limits of plausible election manipulation? Odessa

May 27, 2014

A short entry today after two entries yesterday – how exciting!

This entry relates – once again – to the elections for the office of Odessa Mayor that had already been criticised by democracy NGOs.  Most readers will not find particularly interesting unless shenanigans draw your attention.

In a somewhat Dickensian tweet yesterday evening, I tweeted the following:

The exit polls showing Eduard Guvitz with 42.6% of the vote and Gennady Truhanov trailing significantly with 36% of the electorate backing him.  Allowing for the +/- 2% margin of error, a seemingly assured win for Eduard Gurvitz.

However, the preliminary results have Gennady Truhanov with 46% of the vote and Eduard Gurvitz on 31%.  Almost a mirror image of the exit polls.  Over night, Mr Gurvitz seemingly losing 11.6% of his anticipated vote and Mr Truhanov gaining 10% over his expected ballot.

That is far beyond any plausible electoral manipulation and ballot massaging.

It will be very interesting to see what the election monitoring bodies have to say about the mayoral election.  Perhaps the exit polls were seriously flawed.

Regardless, it seems in time honoured tradition that the always murky mayoral elections in Odessa will result in court challenges – and if you think it really doesn’t matter, both candidates have a different vision for Ukraine’s 4th largest city – and for Ukraine itself.

 

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Time for a celebratory cup of tea – then to work Petro!

May 26, 2014

Thanks to an unprecedentedly high turnout across Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko won the Ukrainian presidential elections in the 1st round of voting – a unique feat in and of itself here.

The pluses for Ukraine are a fiscal saving by avoiding the costs of a second round, but far more importantly in the current circumstances, is the saving of time.

The media will be alive with “What Poroshenko should do/must do” commentary during his first “90/100 days”.

However, whatever the media and analysts/experts think he “must/should do” does not necessarily correlate to what he will do – and this is what I think he will do:

Naturally, once sworn in, President Poroshenko need immediately deal with issues in the east of the nation.  How he will choose to do that will no doubt become clear very swiftly after his inauguration.  Regardless of whether force, dialogue or a combination of both are his policy of choice, he would be wise to make his first domestic visit to Donetsk.

Equally as important will be a rapid clearing of the military and police ranks of untrusted leaders and infiltrators.  Likewise the judicial system.  It doesn’t have to be perfect immediately, but significant dynamic  progress swiftly sends a message internally and externally of those institutions.  An ability to return to some form of rule of law without armed paramilitary/voluntary groups is required as soon as possible.

He will wait for a short time to see how the RADA is working and how friendly it will be toward his policies, before making any decisions regarding its fate.

Next, a visit to the EU – not for self-aggrandisement, mutual backslapping and photo ops.  The priority is to discover just how much support he and Ukraine can expect – as opposed to naively hope for – and in what areas that support will come – or not.  Blunt talking required.  He will also sign the Association Agreement without unnecessary delay.

Then comes the time to open lines of communication with The Kremlin – either directly, in association with others, or via third parties.  Perhaps witnesses are not a bad idea considering the double-talk that now seems to be the only language it knows regarding Ukraine.

Thereafter, his priorities will be more mundane.  The usual headaches for all leaders of nations regarding the political, economic and social spheres and the problems therein – that exist in orders of magnitude for Ukraine.

Whether it can all be achieved with satisfactory results within the preferred “90/100 days” time frame pundits like, I am not sure.  Perhaps.

However, I am not about to state what any new president must or should do – how conceited to think he doesn’t know?  – the above is what I think he will do, and in the order he will do it (pretty much).

 

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