Archive for September, 2014

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The personal battle for Kharkiv

September 30, 2014

Today, much media time and headlines within Ukraine will be given to the toppling of the enormous statue of Lenin in Kharkiv last night.

A symbolic statement to be sure – and one that Lenin himself would have approved of having made clear in his life he did not want to become a personality of cult status.

Whether the act was illegal is somewhat unclear.  It is said that regional governor Igor Baluta signed an order to dismantle the statue moments before it fell – although that order may well have been a face-saving effort in what was a fait accompli.  The statute was going to fall anyway, legally or otherwise.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov stated orders had been given to the police to insure the safety of the crowds – but not that of the statue.  An entry on his Facebook states “Lenin? Let him fall.  As long as people don’t get hurt. As long as this bloody communist idol does not take more victims with it when it goes.”  – As well as a clear statement that those who would exploit the situation and turn it into a violent clash would be met with force.

Fair enough.  The regional governor signs a decree to dismantle the statue before if falls, the Interior Minister orders the police to insure public safety but not intervene in the removal of the statue, and Lenin himself may lie a little more at ease in his mausoleum as the largest statue to him in Ukraine to the cult personality he forbade is removed.

However, Gennady Kernes, Mayor of Kharkiv states that the statue’s removal is illegal and that he will restore it on the Kharkiv City website.

Why?  Gennady Kernes is no Leninist, needs public support to remain in office, and having already been almost fatally shot this year by persons unknown and for any one of a number of reasons, has been far more reclusive since – until now.

At the time of his shooting I wrote this “…….Kharkiv stood 2 days ago with a huge Ukrainian unity rally, and yesterday the city mayor, Gennady Kernes was shot and seriously injured.  Who wants to be next to allow their town or city to rebuff Kremlin advances if that is the fate they will face?

This is writing on the presumption Mr Kernes was shot for political reasons – and not over nefarious business dealings with Pavel Fuchs and Alex Shishkin. More inquiring minds may look beyond the obvious and toward the ЗАО Завод Здоровье company in Kharkiv and a few pharmaceutical deals in Germany and Switzerland involving Messrs Kernes and Fuchs for alternative motive – it remains to be seen which is the case.  Their relationship apparently took a turn for the worse over the past 6 weeks. Enough said.  Perhaps we will never know if his attempted assassination was due to politics or business – perhaps it is both.”

The reason for Mr Kernes’ response is more likely to be seated within a long standing personal feud with Mr Avakov.

Both men have been involved in the murky world of Kharkiv business and politics since the late 1990s/early 2000s.  Mr Kernes (Party of Regions) and Mr Avakov (Batkivshchyna) running for Kharkiv Mayor in 2010 with Mr Kernes emerging victorious with a margin of 0.63%.

In 2012  Mr Avakov was forced into exile in Italy when charges were laid against him regarding allegedly nefarious land deals.  Later that year he became a Batkivshchyna RADA MP and the court charges dropped allowing his return to Ukraine.

Mr Kernes was initially overtly pro-Separatist earlier this year – a position that publicly softened when Kharkiv stood rather than fell to Kremlin proxies – whilst Mr Avakov was (as he remains) acting Interior Minister and thus by default pro-Ukrainian.

In short, there is a clear and deep-seated personal dislike between these two men – Lenin’s statue is an irrelevance to both, other than something public to cross swords over once more.

That yesterday Mr Avakov as Interior Minister was happy to see the Lenin statue removed, it almost inherently means that Mr Kernes will replace it.  That one maintains its dismantling was legal, the other will claim it illegal and vandalism.

This latest spat, with elections one month away, is quite likely to turn into a public and ugly spectacle – though their personal feud and designs over the future development of Kharkiv, will be on-going for years.

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A long fight

September 29, 2014

Continuing to set a bad precedent by becoming somewhat more interactive with readers than was ever intended – read, agree or disagree, and then the reader move on and read something else was only ever the intention – following this paragraph in yesterday’s entry, questions were emailed to the blog regarding the manner in which the current Kremlin regime will fall.

“The issue for The Kremlin is internal of Russia and what happens within, if Ukraine manages to become what it fears the most – A well run, democratic nation. If it becomes that, then it spells the end of The Kremlin regime – regardless of whether Putin sits atop of it or not. The current Kremlin authoritarian and kleptocratic model then dies when Russians demand what Ukrainians would have accomplished.”

So, before gazing into a crystal ball, a caveat that this blog is centered upon Ukraine and the political shenanigans within.  The years spent in Moscow are now almost a decade ago and connections and associations to those within that circle have diminished and dulled somewhat.

But to answer the questions as well as possible in the current and foreseeable circumstances – and dismissing a JFK, Franz Ferdinand or Stauffenberg scenario that could well provide for horrendous and unexpected outcomes.

Firstly, a fall of the current Kremlin regime via a Maidan-esque scenario can be almost ruled out entirely – no matter how bad the economics get.  The “Russia without Putin” rallies of 2011 will perhaps reoccur, but will not be successful.  The reason simply being that the perceived fall from grace of the Russian secret services and military in the 1990’s has been offset by their now “victorious” return following Crimea and events in eastern Ukraine.  The loyalty from these organisations to the current Kremlin leadership is therefore reinvigorated.  A swapping of sides to any protesters stretches credulity beyond limits.  Thus any Maidan-esque events would be put down swiftly and probably quite brutally.

Secondly there is a perceived fear of a return to the lawlessness of the 1990’s should the Kremlin be toppled by mass protest.  That perception may be false, but it is a perception that has some resonance nonetheless.  Also any rerun of the 1993 Russian White House incident can be ruled out due to the fact there is no meaningful political opposition – let alone political opposition with any traction within the Russian constituency.

Thirdly so pervasive is corruption within all layers of Russian society that everybody has skeletons in their cupboard.  The higher up the ladder, the more – or larger – the skeletons.  Russia is a nation that operates a rule by law system – not a rule of law system.  Ergo, the law and who is subjected to it is necessarily ad hoc affair.  Toe the Kremlin line and generally you will be OK.  Fail to do so and by subjected to rule by law.  The caveat to that for those near or at the upper echelons, is that now and again, a sacrificial lamb need be slaughtered at the alter of power to send a message to society, business leaders, politicians and perhaps the wider region of just who is in control and it is by their grace that any corrupt self-enriching deeds are allowed to occur.  Whilst sanctions may lead to a dog eat dog scenario regarding internal options within the Russian market, the pivot toward China opens other doors to corrupt opportunities too.

The culmination of these factors (and others) within society, business, politics, State institutions and media, rules out the end of the regime via an ousting at the hands of the public – no matter how bad things get due to sanctions imposed economic outcomes.

As stated above, a military coup is simply not going to happen now that Russia is deliberately turning itself into a military industrial complex.  The military and security services are currently doing very well for themselves.

In truth there seems to be only two possible scenarios that would see President Putin leave office – and that is not necessarily the same thing as seeing the regime change – or meaningful change.

The first, and perhaps mostly likely is ill-health.  An incapacitated arbiter-in-chief for any length of time – or of such seriousness that Mr Putin feels he wants to resign – is the most likely scenario.  That it may be a decade or more away is a matter for nature to decide.  A weak an incapacitated President over a long term would surely suffer a metaphorical  Julius Caesar moment, regardless of any will to remain in office.

The second and last option would appear to be a far more difficult matter to engineer – a fate similar to that of Nikita Khrushchev – whereby every power agency agreed unanimously it is time for Mr Putin to gracefully retire, thanked him for his services to the Russian Federation and stated – “Sign here” on a pre-written letter of resignation.  The difficulty being that it would require an entirely united front amongst such power institutions.  Any missing power agency remaining loyal would be used to behead all the others in any such bureaucratic coup attempt.

And if either scenario were to occur?  Firstly any successor will be a current member of the existing system – thus the system will continue as would the rewards for those within.  At best, perhaps, a slightly less head-butting stance with the west, depending upon how well the China/Asian pivot goes, to recover some benefits for the regime leadership by the lessening of sanctions.

Thus, as has been written here before numerous times, unless Ukraine willingly subjugates itself, it  is going to remain a front line State for at least a decade, if not more, continually at war with The Kremlin in whatever form – or the multiple forms – The Kremlin decides to use in battle.   It is for this reason a western “Ukraine first” policy is required to repel Kremlin designs.  As with any serious crime, victim support is the priority – catching and punishing the offender should always come a close but distinct second.

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When it reads right – but it is still wrong

September 28, 2014

What to make of this Bloomberg article?

It lays out clearly how President Putin has defeated Ukraine, NATO, the EU, as well as undermining the international and regional law and security infrastructure well enough.  The article makes the case that The Kremlin has won – offering up the consolation prize that Ukraine may yet become a democratic nation.

Yet whilst the Bloomberg article is entirely right in what it says, it is deeply flawed.

It is written as though current events in Ukraine are about Ukraine, and by extension the EU and NATO – but they are not.

“That doesn’t mean all hope is lost for Poroshenko: He can still try to turn Ukraine into a well-run democratic state.”

As has been written here on dozens of occasions – that is what The Kremlin fears for Ukraine – a genuine and consolidated democracy established within a major FSU nation that is an immediate neighbour, and one with which it has the longest possible history.

Russia already has both EU and NATO members on its immediate borders, Ukraine would simply be another.  Spinning the usual rhetoric from the bowels of The Kremlin regarding NATO, or trade etc., is for western useful idiots to further disseminate in the hope of framing western public opinion to lazy to drill down to the singular core issue.

The issue for The Kremlin is internal of Russia and what happens within, if Ukraine manages to become what it fears the most – A well run, democratic nation. If it becomes that,  then it spells the end of The Kremlin regime – regardless of whether Putin sits atop of it or not.  The current Kremlin authoritarian and kleptocratic model then dies when Russians demand what Ukrainians would have accomplished.

There is absolutely no point in looking at Russia or its actions in Ukraine through a western lens.  The only lens that matters regarding the Kremlin when either looking in as it sees itself, or looking out as it sees the rest of the world, is the Kremlin lens.

A fear of NATO?  No.  A fear of the EU?  No.  A fear of trashing international law and undermining regional security structures?  No

A fear of democracy, rule of law, free media?  Absolutely.

A large and immediate FSU neighbour that succeeds at democracy?  That is an existential threat of no greater magnitude to The Kremlin.

Unless the western media and commentators start looking where they need to look, and through the right lens to understand the genuine and singular driver at the very heart of Kremlin actions both home and within its immediate neighbourhood, they will remain clueless as to what constitutes a real win for The Kremlin – and how it can be defeated.

Peer through the right lens and everything could not be clearer.  Look through the wrong lens and be continually surprised by Kremlin actions at home and in Ukraine.

If the Europeans want to defeat The Kremlin in Ukraine it needs to send an army – an army of thousands of democracy technocrats on a permanent basis, stationed in every major town and city that has meaningful access to the presidential administration, reporting, advising, monitoring, certificating and implementing.

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Russia’s Duma ratifies Eurasian Economic Union

September 27, 2014

Today saw the Russian Duma ratify Eurasian Economic Union – the wannabe regional challenger to the European Union, at least in part.

Like the EU, it is supposed to be built upon the overarching principles of free movement of goods, services, labour and capital – as far as the economics of block status go.  How that will sit with the “Russia for Russians” nationalist rhetoric remains to be seen when it comes into force.

Belarus and Kazakhstan are expected to ratify their entry into the EEU in the near future, with the entity EEU agreement coming into force from 1st January 2015.

The EEU also differs in some significant ways to the EU, to the point where the EEU agreement is completely incompatible with the EU DCFTA’s recently ratified by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

The EU DCFTAs ratified by Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia fit together far better with the existing Confederation of Independent States FTA, and a few nuanced teaks of that CIS FTA would have allowed for a very reasonable fit.  Whether that will now comes to pass seems unlikely in a world where The Kremlin operates on zero sum.

The original CIS FTA comprised of ratified signatories, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia, with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan signatories that remain without national ratification.  The other CIS nations, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have never signed nor sought membership of the CIS FTA.

Thus on one side there is now Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova with ratified DCFTAs with the EU – and Russia, with Belarus and Kazakhstan soon to follow, with ratified EEU agreements.

Armenia, it has to be said, is currently under extreme Kremlin pressure to join the EEU despite considerable resistance within its society and the political class.  It is clearly the next Kremlin target for assimilation within the EEU, with “No” not being an acceptable answer.

Whether Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will eventually join remains to be seen.  Kyrgyzstan has a mere 300 plus issues with the EEU with which it is trying to lodge reservation (exemption) against within EEU treaty.  (Armenia 900 plus).    It may after all ratify the CIS FTA.  That said, The Kremlin will want to see its new entity expand and be seen to be attractive – even if members are actually bullied into joining.

Azerbaijan is currently plainly not interested in any such agreement with either the EU or the EEU.  Thus whilst there may be the usual manifestations of the resource curse for democracy and human rights, that oil and gas as far as the Azerbaijani leadership is concerned, is sufficient not to want binding block trade deals with anybody.  Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan currently do not appear overly enthused with the idea either.

The question therefore arises, what eventually becomes of the CIS FTA?

At the start of the New Year, 3 ratified signatories with EU DCFTAs remain ratified signatories of the CIS FTA.  Another 3 ratified signatories become ratified signatories of the new EEU.  Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will still be ratified to no trade agreements whatsoever.

Armenia, as a ratified CIS FTA signatory will probably be forced into applying to join the EEU, but is unlikely to ratify its membership before the EEU comes into being.

The CIS FTA therefore either becomes a poor relative of the EEU agreements for some nations, or it becomes the bridge between both EU DCFTA and EEU agreements at a somewhat lesser level for those ratified to both.  In doing so it maintains the existing legislative regional trade infrastructure for all current ratified signatories in some shape or from,  as it cannot just be scrapped as a legal instrument as long as two or more ratified signatories intend to use it as a legal basis for their trade.  Moldova and Ukraine for example.  Indeed they may have good reason to deliberately keep it alive, even if it became somewhat hollowed out as EEU nations give notice to leave the CIS FTA agreement.

Will the CIS FTA be put to the sword, allowed to stagger on, or be deliberately kept alive by the EU DCFTA ratifying nations as the platform for their trade relations – which would deliberately irk The Kremlin if it wanted to kill it off.

Whatever the case, if there was ever any doubt that the EEU would come in to being, the ratification by the Duma today, has removed whatever doubt that was left.

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Now the chill is in the air – what next?

September 26, 2014

As the “freeze” in eastern Ukraine begins to set in – and the current situation, whilst not entirely agreed, certainly has a severe preparatory chill in the air – a shift from military to political and economic warfare is likely from The Kremlin – with regard to the areas in eastern Ukraine de facto now under its control, to Ukraine as a nation, and also to the EU and its member states individually.

As expected, and outlined in this entry of last week, The Kremlin now expects a complete freeze of the DCFTA between the EU and Ukraine – including any preparatory work prior to the 31 December 2015 delayed implementation date.  It is naturally no surprise to anybody who can think like The Kremlin and read agreements with a Kremlin mindset.  There are truly no prizes for knowing how The Kremlin will interpret agreements.

Crimea is annexed, eastern Ukraine now has a de facto frozen conflict under the control – and undoubtedly, to one degree or another, soon to be dependent upon The Kremlin.  The DCFTA though ratified and legally binding on the parties,  it also expects to be frozen without any preparatory work to be done by Ukraine, lest either billions of dollars worth of trade restrictions be implemented and/or military action resume if The Kremlin sees otherwise.

In the immediate term it appears Kremlin blackmail, castration of international law and bullying has won the day.  Ukraine is a hostage and the EU helpless or hapless or both.

Longer term of course, the sanctions in existence are going to bite, and bite hard, as long as the sanctioning parties remain solidly behind them.  Even non-sanctioning nations like China are being careful not to fall foul of them indirectly.

The frozen conflict strategy relies on Ukraine – and Moldova and Georgia in their cases – not to surrender their sovereign claims to those territories outside of their control.  The moment they do so, those frozen territories lose all strategic worth to The Kremlin.  They immediately cease to be a lever in respective capitals.

It is perhaps why in the case of Ukraine, no form of recognition has been forthcoming from The Kremlin for its de facto controlled regions in The Donbas and Luhansk as was the case with Ossetia, Transnistria and Abkhazia – and also why Crimea was immediately annexed, having a perceived genuinely strategic purpose for The Kremlin.  Notably the negotiation documents thus far have np mention of “People’s Republics”, including the signature blocks of those negotiating.  There may be a fear within The Kremlin that Ukraine at some future time would say it was prepared to leave the eastern regions behind to allow the rest of the nation to head toward Europe.  Thus any documented recognition or acknowledgement could prove to be a bad idea.  Ukraine cannot leave The Donbas and Luhansk behind if everybody states they are de jure part of Ukraine, including The Kremlin.

In the meantime, the de-Russification of personnel in positions of prominence continues in the eastern regions – this time it is Vladimir Antuyfeeva that is replaced within the administration.  His work generating a puppet Ukrainian dominated administration seemingly done – officially and overtly at least.  Indeed the self-imposed Donetsk administration has called elections for 2nd November – instead of December as the Ukrainian leadership had suggested.  A continued Russification via easily obtainable Russian passports is likely to continue should there be a need to “protect Russians” once more, or indeed hold yet another “referendum” that would produce more believable results based on the “Russian-ness” of the region.

(As an aside, whatever political and administrative structure Mr Antuyfeeva has left in place, is not, and will not, cope easily with the guaranteed (and now well armed) criminal turf war for supremacy that will inevitably occur in what will be a rule of law void.)

The Kremlin DCFTA interpretation also expects Ukraine to adhere to its blackmail.  Maybe it will – or maybe it will make an economically painful decision call The Kremlin bluff and live with the consequences.  If that be the case, then it is a decision for the next RADA that takes office post 26th October.  The time between now and whenever any such decision is made to press ahead with DCFTA preparatory legislation would be wisely used preparing for further military conflict and preparing Ukrainian business and population alike for very aggressive Kremlin action politically, economically and militarily.  Hardships there would be, and those hardships need to be spelled out without any sugarcoating to the Ukrainian nation.

It seems very unlikely that any new RADA will delay passing any DCFTA related legislation until 31st December 2015.  It is also unlikely that The Kremlin will allow 31st December 2015 to arrive without inflicting serous pain on Ukraine if it feels there will be no change in Ukrainian direction.

Whether any new parliament will wait to see if The Kremlin decides to literally make Ukraine freeze during the winter as a political spark to begin any such legislative work, or if by some small miracle the gas flows during the winter, any such legislative work would wait until the Spring, time will tell.  An eager new parliament seems unlikely to wait in calling The Kremlin bluff, and few will be surprised to see DCFTA preparatory legislation and reforms passed as soon as possible.

But what if Ukraine does decide to leave matters as late as possible, giving the impression of bending to The Kremlin will?

Perhaps there are other ways to prepare Ukrainian business for the DCFTA prior to the passing any legislative changes that would in turn set off The Kremlin symmetrical and asymmetrical response.  Something more “voluntary” for the business community pending legislative changes?

Teams of “EU Standards” advisors, together with the EU Member State trade representatives that loiter in dark corners of embassies in Kyiv, heading out and advising, mentoring and perhaps even certificating Ukrainian businesses to EU standards over the next 15 months – without any legislative changes occurring to set off The Kremlin’s attempted justification for what would come next, is a possibility – Utopian and remote as it is.

After all, Ukraine already trades with the EU and thus many businesses already meet EU standards.  There will be many other business that meet such standards but are not certificated, or that are almost at a point of meeting such standards and simply need a little advice or help to get over the finishing line.

If that “EU meddling” possibility is deemed too provocative by those with less than robust spines, perhaps a look to the ISO certifications that are compatible with EU standards and take that route where possible.

EU industry sector “Idiot’s Guides” to reaching EU standards mailed shotted, download-able, road showed, freely available in every town, city and oblast administration buildings.

In short, preparatory work that is not in itself governmental legislation, but the choice of business owners and captains of Ukrainian industry should they want to make it – underpinned by an understanding that come 31st December 2015, the delayed EU-Ukraine DCFTA comes into force regardless of preparatory legislation.  Even some limited progress via such routes is better than no progress.

That said, having seen Crimea annexed, parts of eastern Ukraine “frozen” and become de facto “Kremlin protectorates”, with any literal turning off of the gas and a freezing of the nation during the winter, the question within the RADA and Ukrainian society would be – “What else can The Kremlin do to us?  F*ck them, let’s just do what we need to do to leave The Kremlin behind once and for all.”  A simplistic outlook perhaps, but no doubt an outlook that will gain traction the more The Kremlin turns the screw, rather than one of accepting subjugation.

In the meantime, the EU and its Member States have gone as far as they will collectively go regarding sanctions.  In the absence of any appetite to go any further by too many Member States, the political spin will be that of adopting a “wait and see policy” as existing sanctions begin to bite.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, will attempt to bring down the EU’s Third Energy Package that causes significant issues for Gazprom, try and force through the South Stream pipeline – perhaps on the back of gas stoppages for which Ukraine will be blamed, reinforcing the “unreliable transport partner” theme – and apply pressure to the weak EU States to collapse sanctions solidarity.  Whether the EU and its Member States will stand or fall to The Kremlin campaign that is about to begin in earnest remains to be seen.

Kremlin direct and indirect funding to western environmental NGOs lobbying against fracking will be stepped up as well as their coverage in the appropriate Kremlin controlled propaganda machines – as will funding for any other NGOs that meet the needs of The Kremlin in other sectors too.  Business lobbies etc.

There are of course other markets for Ukraine should it decide to wait as long as possible before receiving the Kremlin more ire for not changing course.  Ukrainian agriculture will be of interest to both the US and China for various reasons.  India too  Opportunities in Ukrainian energy diversification are there for the taking.  Big and profitable business can be done.  The Ukrainian government would welcome such partners as quickly as they make themselves known.

There is also the issue of the IMF, WB and international lenders for any new parliament and government to consider.  Whilst Ukraine is hoping the IMF will release tranches 3 and 4 of the existing agreement simultaneously the winter,  it is necessary to admit that this is simply still not enough.  Any new assortment of the political class will necessarily have to try and negotiate further lending if possible – even if enough to simply pay off all external debts early to save the crippling interest payments to bond holders.

A need to cull or postpone some social programmes would be necessary, as well as raising some taxes – or streamlining tax payment systems to remove the massive corruption within – or both.  The time to do that is as soon as possible whilst the Ukrainian public mood is one of doing what is necessary in the face of Russian aggression.  The public did not bat an eye at the 15% War Tax introduced in July on savings for example.

With no Marshall Plan, and an amount of money required probably close to double official estimates, hard negotiations and hard choices face Ukraine and its western allies that will probably continue to feed cash into the Ukrainian system ad hoc so it avoids default – though default these days seems to have a very elastic definition.

Post 26th October and a new RADA taking its seats, the following 6 – 12 months are going to be exceptionally interesting – possibly volatile once more – and not without significant hardships for Ukraine.

Perhaps during all that is about to come, there is a need to remember what really matters to the vast majority of Ukrainians the most – genuine democratic reform and the rejection of ingrained corruption.

That also happens to be the very thing The Kremlin fears most!

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That proliferation question

September 24, 2014

When the Budapest Memorandum was to all intents and purposes unilaterally thrown under a bus by The Kremlin with the invasion and subsequent illegal annexation of Crimea early this year – together with the Helsinki Final Act 1975 and numerous other international and regional instruments, charters, treaties – a good deal of noise was made regarding the implications for nuclear non-proliferation.

Quite rightly to, how can the international community expect Iran – or any other nation – to accept assurances (not even guarantees) regarding its sovereign and territorial integrity that it would otherwise seek to underpin via nuclear weapons?  Why should it – or anybody else – stop any nuclear weapons programmes in the light of what The Kremlin did to Ukraine, and the subsequent response from those that assured Ukraine of its unambiguous territorial and sovereign viability when it surrendered the worlds third largest nuclear arsenal.  A memorandum half a page of text in length did not protect Crimea or parts of Luhansk and The Donbas.  Say what you will, the reality on the ground is there for all to see and no future memorandum and assurances will instill confidence.

Nations will look on and see that those who gave assurances will not even arm Ukraine with defensive weaponry, let alone robustly defend its violated territory.  Whether or not Ukraine actually needs – rather than simply wants – such defensive weaponry is a question to be written about another day perhaps.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that an overly weak and less than proportional response to such a grave breach of international law was forthcoming – and many would state the response as exists today is still too little for such a unilateral assassination of the regional and international security structure.  Weak, consistently reactionary, and untimely responses to bad precedents, and all that.

Between then and now, many emails arrived asking whether Ukraine should make a return to possessing “the bomb” – normally synchronized with Ukrainian politicians raising the issue, as Klitschko and UDAR have done on several occasions.

Those emails also including ad hominem attacks on former President Leonid Kuchma for giving away the nuclear deterrent years ago.  Former President Kuchma seemingly having a belated Neville Chamberlain experience with what proved to be worthless bits of paper due to a mendacious cosignatory.

That said, Mr Chamberlain although much maligned for his act with Hitler, in 1938 was advised from all quarters, including the British Army, that it was the only course of action.  Britain was not physically able to fight a war, and neither were the political class prepared to make a convincing case to the British public either.  A case of “do the best you can.”  That the British Army in 1939 suddenly decided it was then ready to fight a war – well poor Neville Chamberlain.  For those who delve into archived documents of the time, the evidence sadly concludes that Neville Chamberlain does get quite a rough end of the history stick, somewhat undeservedly.  Ce la vie!

Some may speculate, perhaps with wisdom, that the decision of former President Kuchma was not one made with a lot of maneuvering room either.  In fact, he was probably left with little option given The Kremlin pressure and skillful manipulation of the international community.  Let us be blunt, 1994 would have seen Crimean annexation by Russia had it not been for The Kremlin wanting  a nuclear weapon free Ukraine more.  In fact, some brighter lights may ponder further, that any such annexation would not have stopped at Crimea had Kuchma insisted upon keeping the nuclear weapon inheritance from the former Soviet Union.  Moscow was quite determined to control Ukraine’s nuclear weapons one way or another in 1994.  By 1995, Ukrainian independence from Moscow control may have been a 4 year event and no more – independence revoked.

Perhaps when official documents are eventually released, Mr Kuchma’s decision, and who now claims Ukraine was cheated, will be somewhat vindicated by as yet undisclosed but officially recorded threats made upon Ukraine by then President Yeltsin, who had by that time formed a “Ukraine doctrine”.  Time and moth-eaten  records may yet tell.

The upshot of 1994 was that Ukraine kept Crimea, The Kremlin got Ukrainian nuclear missiles, all nuclear powers gave assurances regarding Ukrainian sovereign integrity, and Ukraine acceded to the Treaty for Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

20 years later, The Kremlin still has the Ukrainian nuclear missiles and now it has Crimea too – as well as de facto parts of The Donbas and Luhansk..  Despite the apparent onset of a “freeze” in eastern Ukraine at present, it may well be matters heat up again next year if The Kremlin cannot scupper the now delayed DCFTA.  During this time the Ukrainian military complex will be churning out what Ukraine needs for a conventional defense as best it can.  European nations will be supply much needed command and control, training and intelligence sharing so that Ukraine will hopefully better defend itself conventionally if required from now on.  Defensive positions and plans will be prepared for any further warfare.

Back to the question asked and that has been deliberately avoided, despite it being asked many times of the blog.  Will Ukraine seek “the bomb” once more?

To do so formally and overtly would require Ukraine giving notice at the UN of its intention to leave the NPT.  Charters, treaties and other international instruments all vary in their notice periods for any nation to exit them.  Everything has a “get out clause” – except Jus Cogens.

As far as the NPT is concerned, the answer regarding notice is held within Article X of the NPT.  Ukraine must give 3 months notice to all other parties to the treaty and to the UNSC.  Technically, Ukraine is legally bound by the treaty for those 3 months notice, and should not pursue nuclear weapon ambitions until that time has expired.  Quietly slipping out of the NPT back door without The Kremlin noticing is simply not possible.

Such a move would be likely to seriously and adversely effect Ukraine’s relations with its western neighbours who would show their displeasure by at least stopping much needed funding – and in all probability far more punitive measures would be implemented to change the decision.  It may be that there would be some diplomatic voices muttering within the corridors of power “can’t really blame them” – but that would almost certainly not be the official positions of the States they represent.

There is no doubt that Ukraine possesses both the technical and scientific ability to not only produce the weapon delivery systems, but also the nuclear warheads themselves.  It has no need to search for such expertise externally.

Officially, Ukraine no longer hold any weapons grade material.  Unofficially however – who knows?

Ukraine has never experienced a trustworthy leadership domestically, and neither has the international community experienced an entirely trustworthy Ukrainian leadership either.  Pick any Ukrainian administration since independence and lurking beneath there is a notable breach of international law somewhere – up to and including breaching UN arms embargoes (Yushenko/Tymoshenko).  Thus a declaration that Ukraine holds no nuclear weapon grade material may be seen as somewhat dubious on past form.

Should Ukraine have misled the international community (again), just how much weapons grade material it may still retain would be yet another unknown.   How long would it take to create a small deployable nuclear arsenal?  A rough guess -18 months, or less.

Whatever the case, if deciding not to officially leave the NPT, and thus prevent the inevitable Kremlin  response if it had, could Ukraine pursue “the bomb” – up to a point – and yet be deemed to remain within the NPT?

The answer to that may not be as clear cut as the NPT would seem to make it prima facie.

Here the case of Israel and its “nuclear ambiguity” is raised.  For any with an interest in diplomacy, grubby agreements, tacit nods, and the elasticity of treaty interpretations, spend an hour reading through the 107 pages of documents from the time when Israel was actively in pursuit of nuclear weapon capability, and its interaction with the USA.

In short, the US seems to grudgingly acknowledge Israel would not change course no matter what carrots and sticks were to be used.  Both sides, it appears, accepted that a nuclear weapon not fully assembled fell within the parameters of the NPT.  What qualifies as “not fully assembled” is somewhat open to interpretation.

For example, is a 15 second delay for an insertion of a circuit kept in a different room prior to firing, deserving of the label “not fully assembled”?  Who could make unannounced and timely checks to insure there was no full assembly, so swift any check would not allow enough time to “disassemble” weaponry just a little to comply? (And reassemble as soon as those who checked leave.)

All interesting stuff.

Regardless of technical abilities, formal or informal routes, legal gymnastics, treaty text wiggle room and any liberal  international understanding for the Ukrainian position – or not – there is little doubt that Ukraine would suffer from leaks of the intelligence kind whilst it is still undoubtedly riddled with Kremlin infiltrators and informants.  Achieving a nuclear weapons capability in secret is extremely unlikely to occur.

There is not much second-guessing a The Kremlin response to Ukraine “nuking up”.

But what of the key question Ukraine would have to ask itself if pursuing “the bomb”?

Would a nuclear armed Ukraine deter a nuclear armed Kremlin from a creeping conventional takeover of Ukrainian territory in the months and years ahead?  Would the ability to turn some small areas of Russia into radioactive dust deter a Kremlin capable of turning most, if not all, of the territory of Ukraine, into an atomic ashtray?

The Kremlin is currently revising its military doctrine and lowering the bar for nuclear weapon use.  It is also purported to be mulling over leaving many international treaties that now hamper the way The Kremlin wants to be able to operate.  Ukraine may not be the only nation currently mulling over giving notice on some very sensitive international instruments.

In a seemingly increasingly (and deliberately) destabilised Kremlin neighbourhood, would attempting to become a nuclear armed neighbour be a plus or a minus?

If Ukraine thinks “yes having the bomb will deter” then it must also decide upon ruling in a “first strike” military doctrine – even if it could pull off and Israel-esque “nuclear ambiguity” scenario and accompanying ambiguous doctrine .  Limiting itself to a “second strike only” doctrine would not prevent a conventional war that it would lose.

And so to return to answering those emailed questions.  Could and should Ukraine pursue “the bomb” once again?

Could it?  Technically and scientifically yes it could – and without any external assistance whatsoever.  Whilst remaining within the NPT?  Probably not – although there would appear to be a historical precedent for a very generous interpretation of the treaty.

Should it?  Accepting there is always going to be a serious mismatch between Ukrainian and Russian military capabilities with Ukraine on the wrong side of the numbers, the answer still remains, pursuit only if there is a genuine belief that such a deterrence would work – and if the pursuit of such a weapon would indeed be worth it at the expense of other priorities and external relationships.

Would Ukraine be able to comfortably rely on a MAD vis a vis The Kremlin, or would it be mad to rely on MAD when The Kremlin has systematically thrown out all the norms post 1946 with regard Ukraine and its territory thus far?

With only Poland officially offering to arm Ukraine with defensive weaponry, the eventual formal – but singular – coalition birth of the UkrPolLit Brigade on 19th September, and NATO seemingly intent on doing the absolute minimum with regard to any threat anywhere on the planet, there is certainly a requirement for Ukraine regarding self-reliance when it comes to defence.  It is perhaps natural justice that the death of the Budapest Memorandum may see Ukraine decide to be the first to proliferate in its wake.

All of that said, if Ukraine did decide to pursue “the bomb” once more, seemingly it would not be the only nation in the Black Sea neighbourhood to be doing so.

There will be readers now, stating the question has once again been dodged – skillfully or otherwise.  They would be right.  Solid arguments both for and against taking such a strategic decision can be made, and as with Messrs Chamberlain and Kuchma’s historical decisions, much would depend upon the maneuvering by the people behind the curtains as to the outcome of any future Ukrainian decision.

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The Peace Marches – Russia

September 23, 2014

Much media attention has rightly been paid on those tens of thousands of souls who took part in the anti-war marches in Russia yesterday.  In what is an authoritarian Kremlin regime, courage and belief are not lacking from those who took part – especially so in the not so faint shadow of the 2012 “Russia without Putin” marches and their results.

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Bravo to all who took part yesterday – a number that would have apparently been higher were it not for many being turned away at the police metal detector points for seemingly inappropriate banners or T shirts.  Even so, some marches, such as that in Kaliningrad did not go off without incident.

But why did The Kremlin allow the marches to take place yesterday – particularly when it has repeatedly and strenuously claimed – and continues to  claim – to have no direct involvement in military operations in Ukraine?

There are numerous possible reasons both domestically and internationally for doing so.

Perhaps it is precisely because The Kremlin has always denied any involvement that the marches were allowed to proceed.  In a system built around empty platitudes of Kremlin design, the interpretations and understanding of such platitudes are so broad as to their true meaning, they become whatever any individual wants them to mean.  The creation individual, slightly differing, realities, where no reality is entirely that.  Black is white and white is black only when ordained by the Kremlin.  The world is generally your own personal and bespoke shade of grey – but as long as it is grey and not black or white when it shouldn’t be, the individual shade of grey is irrelevant.

By allowing the marches to take place, the impression of free speech and freedom of assembly – and thus by extension, some semblance of democracy – exists in Russia.  Therefore claims the Kremlin is an authoritarian regime are simply not true, or at least overstated.  Swayed audiences both home and abroad may result, and certainly that the marches occurred will be cited often by Kremlin functionaries to mitigate accusations of authoritarianism by external institutions and States, as well as internal dissenters.

Such marches act as a temporary vent for the dissenting public spleen, without any major consequence to The Kremlin.  Internal displeasure that may have been building, hopefully having some of the pressure released prior to the next repressive move, and the need for the next spleen venting march – at The Kremlin discretion.  With a likely reduction in overt Kremlin military action and a reverting to a far more plausibly deniable force now that matters are beginning to situationally freeze on the ground, the wind may soon be removed from these particular protest sails.

Such marches may also be used to question those nations that would sanction Russia, as to the legitimacy of sanctioning such good hearted and civilised people.  An attempt at reframing of the results of sanction actions designed to change the totally illegal course of Kremlin policy.  An effort to mitigate the bitter anti-Russian feelings caused by recent Kremlin policy within Ukrainian borders by its society?  An attempt to build a bridge between peoples that will not lead to societal divorce – distinct from the politics and policy so detested?  By extension an attempt at lessening the general anti-Russian sentiment across Europe too – despite The Kremlin consolidating its gains in Ukraine.

For the FSB there are obvious opportunities as well.  What domestic intelligence agency would miss the opportunity that such marches present?  A chance to sort the “people of interest” from the “interesting people” is obvious – and the vast majority of the tens of thousands of people who marched are not, and will never become, “people of interest” to the FSB.

But have all the leading lights of the 5th Column been identified, or were some missing that may have now been identified as a result of the march?  Did the march present the opportunity to infiltrate certain groups that participated, or befriend certain participants that would be otherwise a little more difficult to engineer?  Potential informants identified?  Information passed by informants prior to the march corroborated?  Who else was there promoting a different cause or recruiting for one?  Did they appear to gain any traction?  Other agency operatives or agents present – friendly or otherwise?  What picture did the event paint, and what picture do we want to say it painted?  A single picture in which all see what they want to see, or several distinct frames for several distinct audiences through which they will view?

Who do the marchers blame for the cause they march against?  How to assess that mood?  Could it be turned violent incited by a few agent provocateurs if desired?  Were there any signs of it turning undesirably violent, and who were the agitators?  Is a crack down necessary soon, or to give the impression of loosening the grip on society instead?   The usual list of questions goes on, but there are definite potential gains for internal security services when such events occur, that would be incredibly remiss to ignore.

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How effective has the propaganda machine actually been domestically?

Is the number of march protesters an indication of its effectiveness?  What lessons can be learned from the march turnout, if any, to make propaganda  more effective in the future?  What was the demographic composition of the marches?  What internal demographics are more likely to get their news, or believe news, from the Internet, rather than State controlled TV?  Is there a correlation??  Against what is that propaganda effectiveness measured if not public participation in such events?  How else to measure the propaganda effectiveness, other than to allow such marches in the future, knowing most opinion polls are skewed?  Is the messaging slightly off the propaganda, or are the citizenry simply not buying into it?

Will it reinvigorate such policies as Ostpolitik in Germany to see such marches – despite the fact it has never worked?  Can more jaw-jaw time be bought allowing the occasional march, whilst continuing to do the opposite of what was anticipated policy results by those we talk with?

What can be learned and how much beneficial socio/political/geopolitical mileage can be gained from allowing these marches vis a vis having enforced their ban?

Would it have allowed such a march against Kremlin domestic policy?  Marching against a non-existent war and foreign policy issue is OK.  But what of marches over domestic policy?  A Russian Maidan is not about to appear, not even to coincidence with the 100 year anniversary of the 1917 Russian revolution.  A wait a little longer than that should be expected even by the most optimistic of such a manifestation appearing.

Who, in the end, gains the most from these marches taking place becomes a subjective question.

All of that said, once again, bravo to each and every one of those tens of thousands who took part.  It would have been a tragedy to see the marches flop, and heartening to see them manifest.

 

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