Archive for October, 2015

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Back to the judiciary – or more to the precisely an increasingly feckless Verkhovna Rada

October 31, 2015

On 26th July 2015, an entry relating to the generally positive Venice Commission “Opinion” toward judiciary reforming constitutional amendments was published.

That full opinion can be found here and is well worth reading in its entirety.

However, to summarise the positives – The removal of the power of the Verkhovna Rada to appoint the judges; the abolition of probationary periods for junior judges, the abolition of the “breach of oath” as a ground for dismissal of the judges, the reform of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the guarantees for its independence (notably the removal of the power of the Verkhovna Rada to express no confidence in the Prosecutor General) and the removal of its non-prosecutorial supervisory powers.

Likewise with the negatives – While the ceremonial role of the President to appoint judges seems well justified, this is not the case for his power to dismiss judges, which should be removed from the text, and in addition, not only the President, but also the Verkhovna Rada should have a role in the election/ appointment of a limited number of members of the High Judicial Council.

On the whole however, not too bad at all – clearly the Verkhovna Rada had some help with their homework prior to submitting it to the Venice Commission, for their usual standard of legislative crafting is, to be charitable, poor.

Of course the whole judicial reform issue since that 26th July entry has gone precisely nowhere – no differently from removal of MPs immunity first voted for on 5th February, having long since received the nod from the Constitutional Court for a final vote.

Thus far, meaningful political reform to the Ukrainian political system is notable by its absence, and reforming the nation is dependent upon reforming the political system first.

Absolute immunity (and impunity) remains in place despite the 5th February vote and Constitutional Court nod of assent.  No reforms to the internal workings of a bureaucratically constipated (and thus corrupted) Verkhovna Rada have been made.  Electoral law amendments have not been passed despite Ukraine having long since received the Venice Commission advice it requested.  The election laws employed for the local elections vindicated the external advice given and that was subsequently then ignored, and the OSCE called once again for the pending legislative electoral changes to be made post haste.  The new law on changes to funding of political parties and candidates barely got over the legislative line with 229 votes in favour (226 required) and has a delayed implementation date of 1st July 2016.  Thus the local elections last week, and any early Verkhovna Rada elections rumoured for Spring 2016 remain unaffected by this new law – assuming it is not amended into impotency prior to it coming into effect.

There is no need to go on about the failure to reform the political mechanics, though it is possible to do so.

With regard to the political party scene, then the entire gene pool remains without any ideological DNA.  Some may point east, others west in their direction – but a compass point is not an ideology.  Even the few new parties that have appeared from the local elections with a chance of entering the national legislature if early Verkhovna Rada elections manifest, are also devoid of ideology.  The Renaissance Party is Ihor Kolomoisky’s Russian-leaning alter-ego to his Ukrop Ukrainian nationalist party – both of which will do his bidding.  Our Land is a creation designed to split the Opposition Block vote further by the ruling party.  It has no other purpose.  All other existing parties remain nothing more than vehicles for their leaders and/or financiers, and without them the parties are quite meaningless and define political nihilism entirely devoid of political ideology and values.  The leader’s whim of the day, dictates the party action.  No party is bigger then, or can control, its leader/financier.

Whether any anticipated Verkhovna Rada elections would produce a better or worse legislature remains to be seen.  The voters can only vote for those that appear upon party lists or who stand for single mandate first past the post seats.  As long as the political parties continue to fill their party lists with the same quantities of nefarious and odious candidates, and via the same old grubby methods, voters can only vote for those who are listed.

When the political parties continue to give voters a choice of party lists that are little more than a choice between a nefarious and odious poke in the eye with a fork, or a nefarious and odious poke in the eye with a pointed stick, the result remains a nefarious and odious poke in the eye.  The choice of death or cake is absent.

Nevertheless, quite clearly the Verkhonva Rada has become constipated when it comes to delivering the political structural and power changing legislation required that will facilitate reform in Ukraine.  Whilst the Prosecutor General, Mr Shokin, is deliberately obstructing reforms, the Verkhovna Rada is no better.

Although it was, and remains, very unlikely that President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk are the two leaders that will reform Ukraine as far as implementing deep and comprehensive reform is concerned, they are certainly capable of creating the legislative mechanisms for reform so that others who follow them and who will have the will to do so, can.

Returning to the judicial and prosecutor reforms, the issue is raised here once more, not due to its continuing untimeliness, nor the expected stalling at the final hurdle/vote, but due to the fact there are a number of imminent judicial issues.  The question is whether they be delayed for however long it takes to deliver the Constitution changing laws, or whether timeliness demands these judicial issues be dealt with under existing legislation?

There are currently 253 motions sat gathering dust within the Verkhovna Rada to dismiss judges.  There are also 547 judges that have applied for their permanent appointment.  This notwithstanding an entirely inadequate lustration of the judiciary which so far seems mostly to have occurred by way of agreed retirements (and retained pensions) rather than any prosecutions and jailing – but then nobody of any importance really gets prosecuted by the current Prosecutor General (whom the President refuses to replace) – thus nobody of any importance goes to jail.

But what to do with all of these pressing judicial personnel issues when the plan is to transparently appoint a new judiciary based upon quality under public scrutiny, and also at some point to at least feign the lustration of the judiciary?

There is already a lot of critical legislation vying for parliamentary time in November (the 2016 budget and proposed major new tax reforms are two amongst others that will demand a lot of parliamentary time) and in December too (the probable time for any “decentralisation” vote immediately before the New Year break when MPs can scatter and avoid any public ire).

party whipThe absence of will by the majority of parliamentarians to force real political machinery reform legislation to the vote is clear, as is the inability of the Party Whips to be confident of garnering the necessary votes to pass anything meaningful.

Eventually however, even if it means western economic aid suspended until this legislation is passed, the amendments will pass.

Unfortunately even when the constitutional changes are made we can anticipate further problems, as there will be a need for new legislation to progress and support the constitutional changes and enable effective implementation – and that legislation will probably be as protracted in its passing as that mentioned above.  After all, Ukraine has a constitution that, since its creation decades ago, provides for a right to trial by jury – yet there has never been a trial by jury as there has never been any subsequent subordinate legislation passed defining what a jury is, what a jury does, nor the composition of a jury, how it is selected, and for what offences it it convened and which it isn’t.

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That “decentralisation” multilevel governance thing

October 30, 2015

There has been much mention of governance “decentralisation” with regard to Ukraine – often with a nod to Kremlin designs to enforce “federalisation” upon the nation, which simply won’t happen as those in the Kremlin may have initially hoped – officially or otherwise.

Yet “decentralisation” is quite necessary for Ukraine.  It is an understatement to state that the nation is far too centralised when it comes to governance and power.  It is also beyond time that Ukraine actually made a genuine attempt to meet (at least some of) its obligations under the European Charter for Self-Government.

Shifting budgetary governance, some tax raising powers and administrative responsibilities and accountability from the centre to the periphery however, appears to be all that is talked about – and is of course this has been the driver behind the interest of those behind the national political curtain.  Bigger provincial financial troughs to control and from whence to gorge cannot be ignored.

Nevertheless, such things aside, how will it work?

By greedily accepting additional budgets and powers, local responsibility and accountability increases far beyond finding more subtle ways to bleed the budgets and insure networks and patrons are suitable compensated/rewarded.

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The local authorities, will also be assuming far more accountability to their local constituents, but beyond that, as the regional drivers (to varying degrees) of the local economies, regional government will (quite rightly) take upon itself the expectations of its citizenry – and that means creating and/or facilitating jobs, sustainable development, and many other such demands for which much local government has no experience, nor plan, for doing – particularly in the small towns and villages.

What is to be the role of entrepreneurship? Of new business?  How will local governance, used only to doing as it was told by its local patriarchy and the centre, together with fleecing budgets where it could, create a culture of cooperation and recognise that any local economics and development is dependent upon a bottom-up approach for which they will be in no small part responsible for nurturing?

Has local governance fully understood the concept of the “principle of competence” that it is about to undertake?  If so, is it capable of effectively dealing with it?  Is it prepared to act as the conduit between its citizenry, and their businesses, in shaping not only the local, but national policy?  Will it even cross the minds of many new and empowered local governments to carry out impact assessments prior to any national governmental bowel movements legislatively – and inform the centre of the results?  Without the support of the cities and the oblasts and the people and businesses within, diktats from both central and local governance will continue to fail as they often have historically.

Cities (primarily) are the drivers of development, but also where the face to face tackling of prickly and difficult issues occur between the constituency and governance.  Cities (primarily) are the drivers of entrepreneurship and social mindsets.  Central government will never be effective (and has not been in Ukraine) without the collaboration of the cities and their constituencies – nor will local governance be any more successful unless it be driven bottom-up instead of trying to act as a micro-Kyiv top-down.

How will not only central government, but the (soon to be) newly empowered local governments initiate meaningful interaction, particularly with entrepreneurs and SMEs, that will drive business and societal development?  How and where will it direct newly acquired budgets?  At a time of few lenders (at unaffordable rates) where finance matters far, far more to SME’s than being able to set up a business within 24 hours at a one-stop-shop, where accessible and affordable finance matters more than negotiating complicated tax systems, and money matters more than generally burdensome bureaucracy – how can local government facilitate organic and sustainable development driven by local business and entrepreneurship?

(EU SME grants are fine – but even the Ukrainian NGOs tasked with dealing with SMEs are unsure how such grants are actually spent once delivered .)

Who decides what is “value for money” or “best value”?  Which local governance entities, particularly in the small towns and villages have any idea about public administration, let alone a genuine desire for public service, when it is about to be dumped into their laps?  Will small town mayors/town and village council chairs collaborate upon mutually beneficial issues, or will it be every small town mayor/village chairperson for themselves?

How genuine will local governance be, and how prepared for local governance is local government?  How prepared are the citizens to work with, rather than in spite of, newly empowered local governance when it appears (from recently concluded local election campaigning) none have the slightest clue about how they are going to energise job creation, local economies and sustainable development.

If and/or when “decentralisation” is facilitated by constitutional change, is it likely to have one of the ever-more frequent “delay clauses” whereby “decentralisation” takes effect from “date X” at some distant time in the future, whilst the questions above and many, many others raised by this necessary democratic step, are wrestled with?

Perhaps it will simply happen, ill-prepared or otherwise, and there will be a few years of rampant theft and/or stupidity and/or well-meaning naivety – or any variations thereof – but Ukraine and Ukrainian local governance will eventually muddle through (somehow).

By (necessarily) empowering local governance, is local governance able to empower sustainable local development?

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KGB tales – or KGB entrails? (What about the rule of law?)

October 29, 2015

Known for his well established ties to and within organised crime, incumbent Mayor Gennady Trukhanov is being reelected to the role – perhaps/probably/maybe he already has been.  The jury, if there was one in Ukraine (despite the Constitution providing for juries) remains out.

Indeed Mayor Trukhanov is on public record relating to his relationship with organised crime (he’s just not on record about his role within it, despite it being very well known).  The Mayor and Odessa’s top Don Alexander Angert have known each other since the bloody and lawless 1990s and their roles within a “security company” called “Captain Security”.  Any reader with any knowledge of the region will know full well what “security companies” were during the 1990s – and more than a passing “acquaintance” with Mr Angert and his current businesses still remain as far as Mr Trukhanov is concerned.

Of Mr (Don) Angert, Mayor Trukhanov has said ““I have not studied his biography , his past , I did not take a certificate from the district department of his criminal record. I did not care about people’s past. He worked openly, he was not hounded by the authorities. In a word, a decent, normal person. Since then, we have a relationship. He’s a free man, and I do not attach any significance to talk about his criminal past.”

Regarding Mr Angert’s company ROST, which does terribly well with “City contracts” Mayor Trukhanov is on record stating “I have no relationship with this company, even though I know it well.

Certainly his words or not lies – but they are not truths either.

For anybody that has even the slightest clue about organised crime/mafia in Odessa, where, how and with whom Mayor Trukhanov fits is no secret, and any criminal organagram places him nowhere near the bottom of the heap – far from it.  He sits loftily along side Zhokov, above the likes of “Lampochka” Galidilnik and Ruslan Bodelan.

However, it is not of Gennady Trukhanov this entry is written.

There is now a legal challenge by Sasha Borovik relating to Mayor Trukhanov’s first round win, specifically regarding accusations of fraud and electoral violations (and fraud there was – albeit not only by Trukhanov).  At the very least a recount seems likely which may, or may not, cause a second round run off between Messrs Trukhanov and Borovik.  Yet a recount in no way addresses the lawlessness of this election campaign.

If there is a second round, then it is probable Trukhanov will win anyway- and lawfully (so why a first round victory at any nefarious cost) – but the legal challenges, and certainly a recount, should be supported given the flagrant disregard for the rule of (electoral) law during the entire electoral process in Odessa that ran from the very start of campaigning through to ballot counting.  Regardless of who eventually becomes mayor, prosecutions have to occur lest the next elections follow the same illicit route.  Simply moving on will not help Odessa, nor Ukraine.

rule of law

Whether Mr Borovik will win or lose in any second round is secondary to the rule of law being seen to be upheld.  If “The Revolution of Dignity” is rightly named, and during which it saw Ukrainians die, as well as Viktor Yanukovych and his odious courtiers flee, then the rule of law and democracy were certainly a core theme for those that protested (and those that died).  To simply accept unchallenged and without consequences so many violations of electoral law is to fail each and every one of those people.

Yet what seems to have the local social media attention (again) is not the rule of law being treated with the same disregard as it was in elections a decade ago, but the fact that the man who has submitted claims of fraud, and who may or may not force a second round of voting, has a KGB past.

It is indeed a KGB past that he admits to – perhaps in the same half-truth fashion as Mayor Trukhanov admits to the depth and involvement of his organised crime associations – but nevertheless he admits it.  Mr Borovik is on record stating that his father was a fairly high ranking regional KGB officer.  That Mr Borovik himself attended the Dzerzhinsky KGB institution and studied there for 3 years he does not hide.  He then claims to have lied his way out of the Soviet Union on the premise of a chemistry conference in then Czechoslovakia never to return.

Naturally the latter part is raising questions amongst the local media and social networks about what – or perhaps why – his high ranking KGB father remained so placed if his son had gone AWOL in Czechoslovakia during 1989, a time when revolution was in the air?  The inference perhaps being, that having completed 3 years of KGB schooling and with revolution in the air in Czechoslovakia, he was sent, rather than escaped, if his father retained his high position.  What of the secrets Mr Borovik is presumed to have known?  What of his knowledge of the latest KGB techniques and tradecraft?  These are questions asked as if the KGB would never allow such a tale as Mr Borovik tells.

Well, to burst one of those local media bubbles, despite the KGB generally having good tradecraft, what constituted KGB trade-craft was hardly unknown to the West in 1989.  Indeed KGB tradecraft was actually well known and understood in the West.  As for the “latest” in late 1980’s tradecraft and technologies, what it didn’t already know, Oleg Gordievsky could have filled in the gaps with a timely update after his 1985 defection.

Whether Mr Borovik knew any secrets worthy of hunting him down, if he went AWOL of his own accord as he claims, firstly depends upon the presumption that he knew any secrets, secondly rests upon the presumption that any secrets he may have known were actually still unknown to the West or whether the KGB believed them to have already been compromised.  As he wasn’t hunted down – he either knew no secrets worthy of chasing him, or secondly was simply sent to Czechoslovakia by the KGB.  To burst another local media bubble, the West was not that bad at learning Soviet secrets.

The answers to any and all of the rumination above may remain unknown (at least in the public realm), but certainly in 1989 the KGB was a year or two into preparing for the collapse of the USSR.  It at least saw it coming if others didn’t.  The “Chyornaya Kassa” was already filling with funds, the Fifth Directorate (renamed Directorate Z in 1989) was well on the way to creating KGB backed new political parties for the new realities that seemed to them assured (and they were right).

The Fifth Directorate in 1989 was busy putting together both the RNYe Party and Liberalno-Demokraticheskaya Partiya Rossii under the careful eye of KGB General Aleksei Sterligov, and General Filipp Bobkov.  Both parties officially launched in 1990.

Of course Mr Borovik’s father as a high ranking but regional KGB officer will probably have had no knowledge of what was going on in Moscow Centre, and certainly not within the leading echelons of the 5th Directorate – nevertheless, this tells even the most naive that the KGB, and certainly the Fifth Directorate, were aware of the impending collapse of the USSR and were actively preparing for it during the late 1980’s – both financially with the “Chyornaya kassa”, and also creating political parties to step into the void behind which they would remain.

(For those wondering what the “Chornaya Kassa” was for, it was/is a nefarious fund from KGB days of old (and is by many accounts is still operating today) employed to fund bribery, “political interests” wherever and whatever they may be, and launder cash (from the “rents” and official budgets both then and now).

Suffice to say, it is questionable during such times of internal preparation for the foreseen Soviet collapse, and notwithstanding the structural disintegration upon the “Communist fringes”, as to whether the “naughty” Sasha Borovik disappearing within revolutionary Czechoslovakia  warranted any attention, and if it did, whether his father was powerful enough to simply cover it up – or whether he was sent officially and then decided to “disappear”, or whether he was sent and did exactly what his assignment (whatever it was) required him to do.

But in the grand scheme of things, how much does that matter?

If the local media and social sites are going to concentrate upon dissecting either Mr Borovik’s legend, despite his own admission to his KGB legacy, the question has to be to what end?

He is already elected to City Hall as one of the 64 city deputies – regardless of any second round of voting, and regardless of whether he becomes mayor or not.

The most logical and pressing questions for cynics, ex-spooks, counter-intelligence, are not what holes can be found in the history of a self-admitted KGB schooled newly elected local politician, but whether any relationship once held remains active – or not.

If such a relationship remains active, does it actually matter?

Lord knows The Kremlin does not need Sasha Borovik to tell them what is going on within Odessa City Hall, nor what plans (in the vain hope there are any) Odessa City Hall has for Odessa.

Governor Saakashvili stands to gain more by having Mr Borovik spy within City Hall.

How many former or current Kremlin spooks and/or sources sit amongst far higher and far more influential positions within Ukraine?  Who of the very highest Ukrainian elite were not either former Communist Party apparatchiks (be they believers in, or users of the system) back in the day?  If not, whom amongst them were not assisted by organised crime, or the secret services, or both, somewhere along the way to their places at the very top of the Ukrainian tree?

Ukraine as a nation, and Odessa is no different, remains heavily infiltrated by Russian security services.  It would be very wise for Ukraine, its media, its friends, and those simply looking-on, to work from the premise that Ukraine has no secrets from The Kremlin, whether it thinks it has secrets or not.

If your author can find out what is going on within City Hall, or the Oblast Rada, or what Governor Saakashvili is going to say to “diplomat X” before he says it without Sasha Borovik – then be absolutely sure that The Kremlin can too.

If your author can hear of whispered conversation in dark corners of the Verkhovna Rada all the way down in Odessa, be undoubtedly The Kremlin can too.

If the Ukrainian Security Services, for whatever reason suspect Mr Borovik, then that does not mean they have to do anything (overtly) about it – now or perhaps ever.  Counter-intelligence is a slow and patient game.   And to be blunt, there seems little evidence (not even rumour) to suggest the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) consider him a Kremlin agent, asset, source, useful idiot, or sympathiser.

If they did, the question would be whether to let things run, roll matters up, ponder whether any self-admission is a dangle to divert attention away from somebody else, or whether it is simply an admission for the sake of genuine political transparency (and beating the media to any “sensational discoveries”), whether it is to lower SBU interest (what self-respecting spy calls attention to themselves as a spy – or is that a clever plan to write him off as an ex-spook that has long since left the game) etc.  Whatever the case Mr Borovik ends up upon the SBU radar – by virtue his own admissions, notwithstanding any political public figure roles.

Yet the local media and social networks are not (yet) inferring Mr Borovik is an active spook.  They are concentrating upon his history from attending Dzerzhinsky KGB school to reaching Czechoslovakia (not even what he did whilst there).  Thus, the conclusion regarding renewed interest in Mr Borovik’s KGB past (no matter how brief or full, uninteresting or shocking it may be) would appear to have much more to do with raising the psychological spectre of the KGB within the minds of the electorate just in case there is a second round of voting.

Seemingly a known organised criminal holds some inferred higher moral or social standing than those with an association with the KGB.

However, be he ex-spook, current spook, or a shape-shifting Martian, the fact is that somebody has to insure the rule of law is applied to the fraud that occurred in Odessa.  If it is simply accepted, then people died in Kyiv almost two years ago for what exactly?

Of course a self-confessed KGB schooled, newly elected local politician can expect to have their historical closet rummaged through by the media, and all deemed “irregular” thereafter flogged in the realm of conspiracy.  Such things are interesting to the public.  But it is in the public interest (as well as his own of course), whether a voter of Odessa would vote for or against him, that he makes a stand for the rule of law.

Indeed, perhaps the local media (and social media) should be asking themselves why they are not making far more noise about the fraud and corruption that ran throughout the elections in Odessa.  Where are the demands, repeated and angry, for timely action regarding the fraud?  This is about values and principle.  For sure poke around in the closet of Mr Borovik for whatever that is worth, but it is incumbent upon the local media to robustly support the rule of law.

There is a difference between “interesting to the public” and “public interest”.  The latter should have primacy, which means supporting the rule of law, demanding investigations and accountability for legal violations during the recent elections – even if it means certain outlets finding a way to do so without being seen to support Sasha Borovik.

Listening to KGB tales, or trying to read KGB entrails is all very well – but what about the rule of law?

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All the President’s Men? – Kinda, sorta?

October 28, 2015

As is always the case with Ukraine, Ukrainian politics and Ukrainian institutions of State, there is a need to make distinctions, clearly labeling those that are political appointments from those that aren’t.

Constitutionally and broadly speaking, President Poroshenko is responsible for protecting and upholding the constitution, defence/security of the nation, and foreign policy – that, and for directly appointing institutional heads to several institutional bodies.  Almost all other issues are the domain of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada.

Amongst those institutional and constitution appointments that fall within the remit of the President are the regional governors and the Prosecutor General.

To be extremely pointed – thus far all Prosecutor General appointees have been abject failures as far as their roles within the rule of law are concerned.

As the documents below state, the current Prosecutor General, Mr Shokin, will in no small part be responsible for any failure to the national citizenry if Ukraine fails in its attempts to gain Visa-free status with the European Union.

Shokin 1Shokin 2

The obstructionism and deliberate refusal to reform and deal with the internal (and considerable) issues relating to the Prosecutor General’s Office are so blatant that they cannot be understood as being anything other on the part of Mr Shokin.

It is no secret that the EU, several EU capitals, and the US have repeatedly raised this obstructionism directly with President Poroshenko – yet Prosecutor General Shokin remains in office with dire consequences for the nation.

Should Ukraine enter the New Year with Mr Shokin still in office, then President Poroshenko had better be prepared for a serious and noticeable cooling of political, diplomatic and economic assistance for Ukraine other than that necessary to keep The Kremlin in check territorially.  If the President is banking upon “The West” continuing to support him as President, then Mr Shokin has to go.  If President Poroshenko is insistent upon keeping Mr Shokin, despite some very clear and blunt language from those external supporters of Ukraine, then that “Western” support will undoubtedly ebb (and quite quickly).  The President will be a complete fool if he thinks otherwise.

Another high profile perceived “President’s man” is Odessa Governor Mikhail Saakashvili.  Undoubtedly he was sent to Odessa in May 2015 when it became clear just how badly the President’s party, Solidarity, was doing in the local opinion polls – and it was doing (very) badly.  Something had to be done prior to the local elections (held two days ago).  It can be expected that Governor Saakashvili has done what he was sent to do with regard to the local polling/opinion – He stopped the ever-increasing loss of support for Solidarity.  He may even have given it a slight boost.  Final results for City and Oblast will be forthcoming over the next few days.

But, Governor Saakashvili, no differently to Mr Shokin, is not necessarily as compliant to the presidential will as some may expect from a presidential appointee (whose future is dictated by presidential whim by virtue of direct appointment – or sacking).

As written here some months ago, it became apparent that Sasha Borovik, Governor Saakashvili’s advisor and Mayoral candidate for Odessa, was not getting much, if any, support for the Solidarity Party for his campaigning – short of being able to use the “brand” name.  So clearly lacking was that support to those that can step behind the curtain and listen to whispers in the corridors of Oblast power now and again, it could only be inferred that a deal had been struck in Kyiv for Mayor Trukhanov to win another term.  If so, the Messrs Lozhkin and Kolomoisky will have been the two to strike such a deal.

Why would Kyiv strike such a deal?

For those that surround the President, Governor Saakashvili could become rather problematic in the future as far as their influence goes – ergo limited success is the safer option.  Within the space of 5 months, the Governor has inserted within Odessa Oblast his Prosecutor, his Police Chief, his Customs Chief, and Maria Gaidar will likely become the next Oblast Rada  – so getting the Mayor too would leave only the courts – and Sergei Kivalov and his control over the courts are clearly in Governor Saakashvili’s sights.  Taking on Mr Kivalov now the political local political landscape is almost set seems assured – whether Mr Borovik becomes Mayor or not.

A complete Saakashvili power vertical in Odessa serves few (if any) interests in Kyiv, neither politically for those with an eye on the future, nor for those that have simply taken over as chief beneficiaries of the established corruption lines between Odessa and Kyiv.

(The lack of central Solidarity Party support issue at a local level was not helped by Governor Saakashvili’s telegraphed intent to dismantle the Goncharenko Solidarity Party infrastructure within the Oblast Rada and replace it with his own – despite all being “Solidarity”.  Goncharenko is the President’s chosen regional party leader and previously a fairly recent Oblast Rada Chair.)

Misha

Thus in the absence of any tangible support from “Solidarity Central” (and he may have acted anyway) Governor Saakashvili became involved in promoting Sasha Borovik for Mayor – despite President Poroshenko making it clear he did not want Governors getting involved in the local elections.  They were to remain aloof and avoid any inference of employing undue influence.

So why did nothing happen to Governor Saakashvili when clearly so openly defying the President?

The answer comes via a technical argument made by Governor Saakashvili – In short he told the President that any appearances with Sasha Borovik were done in his own time and not on the official clock.  Appearances with Sasha Borovik therefore, occurred during “lunch breaks”, or if they occurred for several hours during the day or evening, Governor Saakashvili booked a “half-day holiday”.  His appearances alongside Sasha Borovik therefore were (technically) as a private citizen.  Other “supportive” instances occurred with the Governor acting in his official capacity, but with Sasha Borovik acting in his recognised role as official advisor to the Governor – at least technically.

One wonders if, in light of the elections for Mayor seemingly ruling out a second round (in line with any previously struck deals in Kyiv), whether the Borovik turn to the Regional Prosecutor proclaiming (and apparently providing evidence of) electoral fraud this morning, together with a bellicose Governor Saakashvili also proclaiming fraud by Mayor Trukhanov, have the tacit approval of President Porosehnko – or once again defy the Presidential line.

For those who would suggest the obvious, a recount under the strict and exceptionally close observation of the international observers that are still in Odessa – fair point – except who knows what has been done to the ballots since they have now left the polling/counting stations, and how many containers with now stored votes will mysteriously go missing or be accidentally destroyed by water or fire etc prior to any recount?  The entirety of the electoral campaigning has been a very grubby and all to often often illicit affair in Odessa, thus there is no reason to believe that would not continue if a recount was to be requested, or indeed occurred.

To return to the point of this entry however, some may ponder, following recent events in Kyiv and Odessa, whether all the President’s men are indeed all the President’s men – or simply kinda, sorta – even though he appointed them.

Will they prove to be the kind of appointments that were brave to make, and for one reason or another, almost politically or personally, dangerous to break?

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OSCE holds its nose and says it all went OK – Ukraine

October 27, 2015

Yesterday’s entry relating to the local elections in Ukraine stated:

“One wonders just what is going to appear in the official reports of the official observers – for this election has been nowhere near the standards of the presidential, nor Verkhovna Rada elections of 2014.

Indeed it has been so consistently illicit in its nature that it belongs with elections from a decade past.

Of course the content of the official reports very much depend upon who actually writes the reports – and equally upon who decides who writes the reports. So openly dirty, illicit and unambiguously grubby has this election and the associated campaigning been in comparison to those elections held last year, there is going to be more than a little room for doubting any official report that states anything to the contrary. The entire election campaign in Odessa (and clearly in other regions too) has been an affront to the rule of law from start – and it seems, to finish.

Yet, somehow, it will be seen to pass the international “official sniff test” despite the rank odour the campaigning has given off from the very start.

Admittedly, and it is right to note, not all of the recorded irregularities over the preceding months and today/tomorrow, are irregularities that would or could change the voting behaviour of the constituency. Nor effect the ballot counting. Minor irregularities clearly will not sway a voter or an electoral count, but they are nonetheless irregularities. Some irregularities certainly will be of that very serious category however.

Whatever the case, it seems likely that the elections will pass the “official sniff test” so as not to put (another) hurdle in the way of decentralisation.”

Unsurprisingly today the OSCE has held its organsiational nose to avoid the noxious odour when applying the “sniff test” of electoral international/Council of Europe standards.

ODIHR

The OSCE (via ODIHR mission Tana de Zulueta) opined that “the elections held in Ukraine conform to international standards in spite of pressure from big business and mass purchase of election advertising space in printed media and air time on TV and radio.”  It was further stated that in general the elections were well organised and competitive.

This despite no polling stations opening in either Mariupol nor Krasnoarmeysk, and the elections in Svatovo being declared invalid.

In fact the primliminary OSCE report has almost nothing positive to say about the elections whatsoever.

OPORA, a prominent and reliable NGO, as of the time of publishing, had recorded 1,128 violations of electoral law during the entire period of the election campaign.  In order of commonality rather than seriousness, in 1st place – 557 illegal campaign financing violations.  In 2nd place – 290 instances of voter bribery (some of which have been transfered to the police, some of which haven’t).  In 3rd place – 136 violations of election procedures, election commissions, (including those that influenced the election results.)

They recorded 46 recorded violent confrontations, 35 cases of misuse of administrative resources, 33 occasions where the work of observers was obstructed, and 30 cases of falsification of election results.

This before the results of their parallel vote counts can be compared to reported vote counts – which will lead to court appeals undoubtedly where discrepancies present themselves.

Further, the OSCE’s Tana de Zulueta added that the complexity of the legal framework, the dominance of powerful economic groups, and the fact that practically all media campaigns to cover the elections had been well paid for, pointed to the need to push ahead with reforms in the country.

So everything passes the OSCE/international “sniff test” – despite official concerns that the electoral law is an ass and urgently needs changing, the campaigning was hardly fair unless candidates/parties were sponsored by big business/oligarchy as media coverage was simply monopolised, and that there were several canceled or invalidated elections.  This notwithstanding the litany of recorded electoral violations, some clearly serious, recorded by the OPORA NGO.

There may yet be further issues of course.  Parallel vote counts may raise significant anomalies.  There will be court challenges.  There are numerous second rounds of voting for mayors on 15th November that have to be policed/monitored strictly, and also new elections to organise for Mariupol, Krasnoarmeysk, and Svatovo due to failures in those regions.

Thus we are left to ask what next not only for democracy, but the rule of law that underpins it?

1,126 recorded violations, means there is documented evidence of 1,126 violators.  What will happen to them?  As the entire election campaign and voting day has been an affront to the rule of law, will the rule of law be allowed to recover and actually deal with these violations and the associated offenders in order to send a message for future elections, or will it all be simply forgotten?

Will any official cautions, fines small or large, or imprisonment, be forthcoming from the 1,126 documented irregularities?  If so, how many?  1?  10?  100?  500?

With the OSCE holding its institutional nose and moving swiftly on, will the rule of law (or lack of it) do the same in Ukraine?

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Let’s play “Pick-a-Prime Minister” on the back of the local elections

October 26, 2015

The local elections are now due to swap from polling (where carousel voting, duplicate lists, fake exist polls, candidate agitators etc has been almost blatant, and with Odessa likely to see at least 30% of polling stations having irregularities recorded against them by election monitors prior to the polls closing – plus a transitional period to that of ballot counting whereupon yet more irregularities will be recorded due to deliberately slow counting, disappearing electoral commission members (with mobiles in hand), ballot box stuffing, stop and start counting again, vanishing ballot boxes, and then when everybody is so tired to pay due attention diligently, a rapid (and irregular) count is completed providing court-worthy considerations that may cast a darker and lasting shadow over events – possibly until 15th November and any second round voting for mayors.

Left outside an Left outside an Odessa polling station today - for stuffing perhaps?

Left outside an Left outside an Odessa polling station today – for stuffing perhaps?

This notwithstanding having gone through almost the entirety of electoral legislation which has been brazenly breached over the past month during the Odessa campaigning.  (No exaggeration, barely a law has been left unbroken.)

One wonders just what is going to appear in the official reports of the official observers – for this election has been nowhere near the standards of the presidential, nor Verkhovna Rada elections of 2014.

Indeed it has been so consistently illicit in its nature that it belongs with elections from a decade past.

Of course the content of the official reports very much depend upon who actually writes the reports – and equally upon who decides who writes the reports.  So openly dirty, illicit and unambiguously grubby has this election and the associated campaigning been in comparison to those elections held last year, there is going to be more than a little room for doubting any official report that states anything to the contrary.  The entire election campaign in Odessa (and clearly in other regions too) has been an affront to the rule of law from start – and it seems, to finish.

Yet, somehow, it will be seen to pass the international “official sniff test” despite the rank odour the campaigning has given off from the very start.

Admittedly, and it is right to note, not all of the recorded irregularities over the preceding months and today/tomorrow, are irregularities that would or could change the voting behaviour of the constituency.  Nor effect the ballot counting.  Minor irregularities clearly will not sway a voter or an electoral count, but they are nonetheless irregularities.  Some irregularities certainly will be of that very serious category however.

Whatever the case, it seems likely that the elections will pass the “official sniff test” so as not to put (another) hurdle in the way of decentralisation.  (This despite months ago stating it would be incredibly hard (though not quite impossible) to garner the constitutional majority of 300+ votes to facilitate decrentralisation as the situation stands in the occupied Donbas anyway.)

As has also been written more than a month ago, the local elections are a litmus test for populist politicians such as Yulia Tymoshenko.  Depending upon how close to Solidarity her Batkivshchyna Party gets, ultimately will decide upon her timing for leaving the majority coalition – or not.

She may decide to stay if she feels she remains too far adrift to gain anything by forcing an early Verkhovna Rada election.

Certainly the Opposition Block (soon to be Party of Peace and Regional Development) post local elections will be trying to force a new Verkhovna Rada election – especially if they can force the decentralisation laws through with the President’s party, for they are the presumed beneficiaries of any elections in the currently occupied Donbas for the Verkhovna Rada – The “separatist parties” simply won’t get reach any national 5% threshold and thus only a few single mandate, first past the post, seats would be theirs – at best.

Indeed, if and when the occupied Donbas reenters the Ukrainian political system and economy, it seems extremely unlikely to be accomplished through Solidarity, Batkivshchyna, or anybody other than the Opposition Block politically, and Rinat Akhmetov as the largest employer in that region.  (This political and economic reality may help explain why both Akhmetov and Opp Block leader Yuri Boiko remain in circulation rather than in prison – they may yet prove to be useful.)

Whatever the case in the occupied Donbas, Ms Tymoshenko will try (again) to leverage her position to Prime Minister on the back of the local election results either by trying to force a new Verkhovna Rada election (along with the Opposition Block), or via a Cabinet reshuffle citing her improved societal vote.

So, let’s play “Pick-a-Prime Minister” with the inevitable demise of Arseniy Yatseniuk some time next year – probably by the Spring.

Oleksandr Turchynov has a chance if Solidarity successfully assimilates the National Front and can maintain a majority that can operate without over reliance upon other existing coalition partners.  To remove a NF prime minister and reappoint a newly assimilated post-NF prime minister may be required as part of the assimilation deal.

The above, however, may ultimately lead to the uncomfortable possibility of a “managed democracy”, in which case Mikheil Saakashvili, Boris Lozhkin, Ihor Kononenko, and Volodymyr Groysman are all also in the frame post NF assimilation.

Groysman was Poroshenko’s preferred Prime Minister from the offset.  Kononenko is definitely part of the “grey government” and is very influential at present.  Lozhkin has been making noticeable noises and shuffles behind the curtain to the point that his ambition to hold the role seems quite clear – and that would explain why somebody has already tried to cut that ambition down to size by having Austria now question funds held in that nation that are attributed to Lozhkin.  (A smell has now deliberately been wafted around him that involves Austria and thus the EU to let him know his limitations.)  As for Saakashvili, if  Ms Jaresko was interested, he would have no chance – if he actually has any chance at all (ignoring media hype).

To be blunt, Ms Jaresko would be the only realistic possibility that could gather a domestic political consensus and also enjoy the support of friendly external supporters and donors -but is she interested?  She would probably take the role out of a sense of obligation to Ukraine to avoid internal implosion, but that does not equate to wanting the role.  Notwithstanding a serious corruption fumble between now and any ouster/resignation of PM Yatseniuk, she is perhaps the only “consensus: alternative.

However if the growing gap between Samopomich and an ego driven Yulia Tymoshenko continues to widen, then there is the option, (particularly if the reintegration of the occupied Donbas is to occur via an Akhmetov/Opp Block combination), of a coalition with the Opposition Block.  That would put Serhiy Lyovochkin as a solid candidate for Prime Minister.  (Poroshenko’s Solidarity is not exactly short of ex-Regionaires amongst its ranks after all.)

Alternatively, the oligarchy is now nowhere near as weak and flat-footed as it was this time last year.  A rallying around, for example (choose any political vehicle) the “Renaissance Party” by Kolomoisky, Lyovochkin, Firtash (vested interests before political stripe) – and with the fickle and entirely self-serving Tymoshenko being offered the Prime Minister’s role (and thus Batkivshchyna cooperation/coalition) would present yet another scenario that is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Nobody would be surprised that if Tymoshenko became PM in a grubby deal with the oligarchy, that the relationship with the IMF would sooner (rather than later) end – no differently than it did last time when she was PM and Ukraine had an IMF deal.  In fact a Tymoshenko PM would see continued unaffordable subsidies, recaptialisation and bad debt write-offs that fill the trough from which the oligarchy guzzle with unreserved gluttony.

Being extremely blunt, Ms Tymosehnko would be the worst of all possible potential candidates listed above for the position of Prime Minister should she decide, following the local elections litmus test, to try and force her way into that role one way or another.

A low voter turnout and/or a low Batkivshchyna vote however, may well remove any dreams for Ms Tymoshenko, so hopefully one or the other – or both -will occur.

Meanwhile, returning to the local elections, we can perhaps try and guess at the final percentage of ballot stations that will have irregularities officially recorded against them.  The opening paragraph stated at least 30% in Odessa.  It is almost guaranteed to be higher by tomorrow morning, when assuming vote counts have finished, perhaps 35% – 40% will have official irregularities recorded against them.

Higher irregularities than other regions?  We will soon see!

On a more positive note, it seems highly likely that Mayor Trukhanov will have to face a second round of voting against Sasha Borovik – which presents Odessa city voters with a very stark choice come 15th November – and Mr Borovik will have a further 3 weeks to campaign as well as having the political momentum to try and eat away any genuine (rather than nefariously acquired) lead the incumbent will have entering the second round.

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The significants of 751 – Ukraine & the EU

October 25, 2015

With the local elections tomorrow, and the repercussions results will have regarding an early Verkhonva Rada election, today with a voluntary purdah in place until polls close, a very distant, perhaps never to be obtained issue is the subject of today’s entry.

Having been recently asked what the major long-term obstacles to any Ukrainian membership of the EU are, and there are the commonly advocated reasons – a feckless political class (which despite two Maidans, one of which saw a president flee) still fails spectacularly to meet the aspirations of its constituency even at the level of the lowest common denominator, a “limited entry” economy monopolised by the oligarchy that gorge themselves on government subsidies, and fail to pay their debts to the State in the full knowledge that those they owe will either be recapitalised and/or the debts written off, a selective delivery of the rule of law, a wholly under-performing civil service and grotesquely corrupted institutions of State (to identify the very tip of the iceberg), there is also one unspoken long-term obstacle to Ukrainian entry.

Even if, taking a flight into what may appear to be (may ultimately what may prove to be) fantasy whereby Ukraine reforms, fully and successfully implements the Association Agreement and DCFTA as its ratified obligations demand, applies its right under Article 49 of The Treaty of the European Union to acceed and subsequently commences the Acquis Communautaire procedures etc – there remains a not so easily surmountable issue – that of power and influence (both perceived and real).

That issue lies within the European Parliament, and it is specifically identifiable.  It’s number is 751.

EU-Parliament

The European Parliament is comprised of 751 people.  750 MEPs and the president.

The maximum number of MEPs any nation can have is 96.  The minimum number any nation can have is 6.

Why?  Because the Lisbon Treaty says so.  It was wisely decided that a cap needed to be placed upon the number of MEPs.  The European Parliament could not simply expand with regard to the number of MEPs every time a new nation joined.

Thus, with a finite number being 751, every time a new nation joins, other Member States have to surrender MEP seats for them to fill.  The greater the population of a nation, the greater the number of MEP seats it is entitled to.

Let us imagine that Ukraine is to join.  Its current population would make it the 6th largest nation within the Union, behind Germany, France, the UK (should it remain within the EU – and if not, it raises the question of which nations gain MEP slots and how many), Italy and Spain.

Almost every nation, less those with the minimum 6 MEPs, would have to surrender MEP seats to accommodate Ukrainian MEPs.  With a population of about 45 million, Ukraine would be expected to garner about 55 MEP seats (about 7% of the MEP total).  Some nations would probably have to surrender more MEP seats than others when the woolly principle of degressive proportionality is applied.

So what?

There would be a profound regional power shift within the European Parliament – especially so if the evermore obvious strategic triangle between Poland, Romania and Ukraine develops and becomes consolidated over time.

Where currently France, Italy and Spain (Club Med) sit within the top five nations for MEPs, with Poland and Romania at 6th and 7th in number, a Ukrainian accession would see Ukraine come in at 6th, reducing the number of French, Italian and Spanish MEPs, but with an inferred regional (and if and when any accession came, possible tangibly strategic) ties with Poland and Romania.

The MEP reallocation would probably see (dependent upon how the woolly principle of degressive proportionality actually manifested itself after manipulation and negotiation)  a shift from “Club Med”, to “former Communist nations” as the dominant MEP number – and thus a perceived (and possibly very real) power shift within the European Parliament from Centre-Med, to Centre-East.

Does anybody really think that Italy, Spain, and in particular France, will make it an easy ride through the acquis communautaire toward accession when that prospect looms large?  Even if all criteria are met prima facie, it is an expensive event when a nation joins that has to be budgeted for – and EU budgets run on 7 year cycles and subject to unholy squabbling.

Of course this may all be entirely irrelevant.

It will take Ukraine a decade to fully implement the DCFTA even with a competent, unified and determined political class – which is entirely absent.  Perhaps then another 5 years to complete the acquis communautaire.  Then there are budgetary issues regarding Ukrainian accession.

Regardless of any Club Med objections and obstruction which will surely come and slow the process down, the EU in 20 years time will not look like it does today.  Ukraine may decide joining is not what it wants and that association is enough.

That said, 20 or 30 years from now, if the EU still exists and has not lost all credibility as a values based regional and/or global actor, with shrinking demographics, it may be courting Ukraine simply to include the demographics and economics in the block’s consolidated weight.

Returning to the issue of 751 – How often, in any discussions regarding Ukrainian accession (or not) to the EU, is the very real significants (and repercussions) of  the EP 751 addressed in the discourse?  About as often as a Ukrainian oligarch going to jail is the answer.

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