Archive for January, 2016


Unblocking the constitutional impasse

January 27, 2016

As long opined in numerous entries, and at several international round tables during 2015, this blog has stated that the 300 (+) constitutional majority vote within the Verkhovna Rada to enable “decentralisation” of more power to the regions – a much needed move toward the “Europeanisation” of governance and away from the central Soviet/post Soviet governance hangover – would fail to get the required votes easily.

There are several reasons for this, despite there being no real objections to the concept of decentralisation throughout the Verkhovna Rada.  The most talked about issue with the proposed constitutional amendments allowing for decentralisation, although far from being the only objection, is the single sentence that provides for a “Special Law” with regard to the occupied Donbas.

As such the Constitution if amended per the proposed amendments would provide no specific status in and of the Constitution itself, but would allow for standard statutory laws to treat the occupied Donbas separately – at least until such time as those laws were repealed (or expired should they be given a statutory shelf life within the text of any such legislation).

Whilst the other issues that do not sit well with certain parties will cost votes, it is the “Special Law” provision that costs too many votes and sees the Constitutional 300 (+) majority fall short.


President Poroshenko publicly claims to have the 300 (+) votes – which seems somewhat implausible.  If they were there now, the proposed amendments would be tabled for Verkhovna Rada vote this week in order to honour the President’s previously orated commitments to have them passed by the end of January –  As stated a few weeks ago (once again), this seemed highly unlikely.

There is also the Constitutional issue of Article 158, which places specific parameters and time frames upon constitutional amendment procedures.  This has caused hasty submissions to the courts to define interpretations of certain phrases that would effect how those time lines are understood.  In short, efforts are afoot in stretching the time lines as far as possible within the elasticity of the wording with a “helpful” judicial interpretation.

Suffice to say any such “helpful” judicial interpretation will only help so far.  It will at best buy a couple of months.  It is perhaps the presidential hope that the current circumstances within the occupied Donbas will have improved enough to change a few “nays” into a few “yeahs”.  “Hope” however, is not a strategy.  A rough count would have the constitutional amendments at best having the support of about 280 MPs, thus a few “nays” turned “yeahs” will still be short of the minimum 300 required.  Indeed the “nays” are gathering momentum within the Verkhovna Rada rather than the “yeahs” – despite almost all MPs accepting the nation both needs and wants decentralisation.

Naturally to simply remove the single sentence in the constitutional amendments that mention the Donbas would probably see the amendments garner sufficient support in short order.  The occupied Donbas, like the rest of the Donbas and every other region, being constitutionally treated the same and without any special mention.

Of course The Kremlin would immediately take umbridge, and its proxies possibly immediately up the anti.  The Kremlin would loudly lament Ukraine failing in its Minsk II obligations (despite doing nothing itself) and demand sanctions be lifted, or at least relaxed.  Certain weak European capitals may finally give way.

The question is therefore, are enough Ukrainian MPs prepared to see sanctions on Russia lifted at the expense of keeping the “Special Law” reference out of the constitutional amendments?  The answer may well be yes – and that, whether scaremongering or genuinely believed, is probably why President Poroshenko made a stark statement that a far greater war with Russia may occur without the amendments being adopted “as is”.  The President’s inferred argument being, not only will European sanctions probably be lifted, but there is a greater chance of more Ukrainian blood, treasure and territory being lost too.

Further, the delays in decentralisation for the rest of the nation will be accepted for only so long by a constituency that for the past 18 months has been conditioned to expect it.

Ultimately an already dysfunctional coalition could collapse, early Verkhovna Rada elections be called, and witness The Kremlin attempt to force a “parallel election” within the occupied Donbas at the same time as those for a new Verkhovna Rada.  Lest we forget, at some point, The Kremlin may push for MPs within the Verkhovna Rada from the occupied territories.  As they remain part of Ukraine, the argument will go, why do they have no MPs in the national legislature?  (As and when there is advantage for The Kremlin to do so.)

There is now the submission of a draft Bill (3781) that seeks to change the constitutional process, involving referendums and thus the inclusiveness of society, rather than simply allowing the political class becoming deadlocked in systemic crisis – like now.  This however will not be swift, and although far more democratic and thus difficult for the Europeans to argue against even if it slows decentralisation, it may have little bearing over the lifting of sanctions when Ukraine fails to fulfill its onerous Minsk II obligations – nor over any upping of the anti from those in the occupied Donbas unlikely to be on the better end of any referendum throughout Ukraine.

There is then the matter of how any referendum is put to the people.  The options must be clear and unambiguous to insure a clear and unambiguous answer.  The ramifications of any answer must also be clearly understood by the constituency answering it.  There will need to be sufficient turnout across enough regions to make a referendum outcome legitimate and/or binding.

Whatever the case, there is now an impasse within the Verkhovna Rada with regard to the constitutional amendments facilitating national and much needed decentralisation – as well as the aforementioned occupied Donbas issue.  Whilst the desperate attempt to kick the constitutional time frame down the road a little will probably prove successful, it will not provide a solution to the problems now faced, nor provide much additional time to find one.  It is going to take much more than a genuine ceasefire and prisoner swaps to turn sufficient “nays” into “yeahs” within the Verkhovna Rada for President Poroshenko – and currently there is not even a ceasefire worthy of the name.

Quite how this will be resolved – if it gets resolved – is unclear.  Despite any presidential proclamations that the required 300 Verkhovna Rada votes are already there, it is perhaps far more accurate to state an awful lot of political and diplomatic energy is going to have to be spent navigating a path to see these proposed amendments actually amend the constitution before constitutional procedural time frames prevent it.

* * * * * *

Post Script:  Regular readers be aware that your author will now be traveling on and off for the best part of a month, and thus daily entries and musings may become a little more sporadic.

However, there will be “Guest Posts” that will go some way to fill the (hopefully only occasional) void.

Therefore if the style and content suddenly seem at a variance to the norm, (and/or the quality far higher), do check the name of the author for that particular entry.


“Tyranny of taste” – The Babel Award, Odessa

January 26, 2016

It is with no small amount of personal pleasure that this entry is written, for the favourite Russian language author of this blog is without doubt Issac Babel.

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered; he may be considered a as storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter.  A major writer combines these three – storyteller, teacher, enchanter – but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer” – Vladimir Nabokov.

Babel is nothing short of enchanting – albeit somewhat brutally honest in his observations.

Babel monument

It therefore goes without saying that when among the many monuments of Odessa, 4th September 2011 saw a larger than life Issac Babel appear in the heart of the city on the corner of Rishelyevskaya and Zhukovskogo, there were no complaints from this quarter.

A grateful thanks to the World Club of Odessa for making it happen and giving Babel his rightful place in Odessa.  Would it not be a cultural sin for the author of such literary classics as the Odessa Tales not to have a monument in the city?

The 25th of January saw an announcement by Governor Saakashvili of a newly created annual Babel Award for Russian language literature – “The award aims to identify and support the best examples of modern art in the genre of narrative literature (novels), written in Russian, in Ukraine and Russia and in other countries. The main criterion for selection of entries for the award, in the words of Isaac Babel, should be a “tyranny of taste.”

This annual award is sponsored by the Odessa Regional Authority, The World Club of Odessa, the literary journal “Rainbow” produced in Kyiv, the Odessa Literary Museum, the Odessa National Academic Library and the daughter of Issac Babel, Lydia.

Issac Babel

Issac Babel

The first award ceremony will occur on 13th July – Babel’s birthday.

Bravo to all those sponsoring the annual award and continuing to push Babel to the fore.

Purely by coincidence, March 2016 will see the launch of a new printed, and on-line, heavily culture orientated (though not exclusively so) monthly journal called “The Odessa Review” – the first issue featuring English translations of some of Babel’s work.  For those that struggle with Russian, be sure to either get a copy or find “The Odessa Review” on-line (once it goes live) and give the Babel translation a read – it will be worth it.

(Full disclosure, this blog will be contributing to the contents of “The Odessa Review” too – as culturally retarded and prose challenged as this blog undoubtedly is.)

Before closing, a note to those within the Oblast Administration that read the blog – Whilst it cannot always accept the invitations to local events or the “no notice one to one chats” it receives, be certain that any received invitation for the 13th July inaugural Babel “Tyranny of Taste” Prize will be both graciously and keenly accepted.

(As an aside, if the Oblast Administration can find any way, by fair means or foul, to tie Gustav Klimt to Odessa even fleetingly, be sure the blog would attend any exhibition too.  Would-be donors to the blog, send not your money, though Benjamin Franklin has his charm – a simple Klimt sketch or small work similar to that below will find a suitable and respectable space on the wall and be gratefully received!)



Back to the occupied Donbas

January 25, 2016

Kremlin assassinations/wet work/мокрое дело – permanent solutions to irksome people – being international headline news with the publishing of Sir Robert Owen’s Litvinenko Inquiry this week, it is perhaps within the boundaries of a thought exercise to ponder current rhetoric in the occupied Donbas and the options ahead.

Let us suppose that due to the chronic economic situation facing a 2017 Kremlin, that it indeed complies with Minsk II – salvaging as much retained influence within the occupied Donbas as possible in doing so.

Regardless of whether any “elections”, or indeed genuine elections under Ukrainian law occur, there will be no genuine reintegration either physically or just as importantly psychologically, of the occupied Donbas with Messrs Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky remaining in any political office.  It is without question that the “Donetsk People’s Republic” currently under the leadership of Zakharchenko, nor the “Luhansk People’s Republic” currently under the leadership of Plotnitsky, would and could be acceptable to the Ukrainian State or the Ukrainian people in any reintegration.  Far too much has occurred under their “leadership” to facilitate any reintegration with them holding any political office.

A little bit more “мокрое дело” for the Kremlin security services – or can any unfortunate incidents that may permanently affect their health be misdirected before any return to Ukrainian control?  How to frame such events if so?

Claiming a Ukrainian operation removed both men deep in the heart of the “People’s Republics” would not be believed either within, nor without the “Republics”.  All within the “Republics” are well aware the recent assassinations of  militant leaders such as Bednov, Ishchenko, Mozgovoy and most recently Dremov are the work of internal actors and not that of Ukraine.  Thus any claims of a covert Ukrainian action neutralising Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky would be dismissed as fantasy too.

How else to frame it?

Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky

Perhaps promulgate a story of a feud between the two men, with million dollar contracts on offer to eliminate each other?  A story planted in and promulgated by the Ukrainian media?  A story that allies Plotnitsky with the GRU, and Zakharchencko with the FSB, both allegedly having offered their allied Russian security service $1 million for the elimination of the other?  After all, it doesn’t matter if the story is complete nonsense, it only matters that the story “is” as a preparatory frame for what is to come.

Should one or other come to an abrupt and violent end, the survivor is blamed – and perhaps removed by supporters of the deceased in revenge?  Neither Ukraine nor Russia involved the official story goes.

Are either man worth the determined effort to keep in place at any cost for the Kremlin?  It seems highly unlikely.  Will they simply be told they are moving permanently to Russia, their “political career” and life in Ukraine now over?  As neither man are the sharpest tools in the tool box, and thus are unlikely to say and do as they are told forever more, is it perhaps more expedient to simply bump them off from a Kremlin point of view?

Perhaps they will simply find themselves mysteriously conveyed to the Ukrainian side of the contact line, left to the Ukrainian authorities?  These things happen after all – as Nadiya Savchenko and Eston Kohver can testify to.

There will be less odious, less infamous, and less known alternatives that all sides may agree upon in any “elections” to bring matters to a “close” as far as Minsk II is concerned.  There is an ever-growing number of “political parties” within the “People’s Republics” among which there will be somebody.

Currently in the “Luhansk People’s Republic” there are the “Lugansk Economic Union”, the “People’s Union”, the “Lugansky District Don Cossacks”, the “Liberation Front”, the “United Russian land”, “The Military Community of Lugansk Region”, the “Union Lugansk Communists”, the “Lugansk Guard” and two “Communist Parties”.

The “Donetsk People’s Republic” is far less congested, with the “Republican Party of Donbass”, the “Union of Left Forces of Donbas”and the “Volunteer Union of Donbas”.

These number of “Republic” parties will surely grow if “elections”, or genuine elections with established Ukrainian parties contesting, become probable.

Whatever the case, if the Kremlin really does want out – or at least wants to be seen to be out – of the occupied Donbas, no reintegration will occur under its currently appointed mandarins in the “Republics”.  The Kremlin is no doubt aware of this – even if its less than bright “chosen men” aren’t.  There will be suitable alternatives.

Naturally if the Kremlin does want out – or to be seen to be out – of the occupied Donbas, with Kyiv and The Kremlin having diametrically opposed visions of the Ukrainian future, war will continue, and perhaps intensify, by other means across an array of other fronts.

Kremlin actions however, are yet to match its latest rhetoric – and actions have plainly failed to match its previous rhetoric.  Nevertheless, a reader may wonder whether any of the above possibilities are even remotely entertained by Messrs Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky every now and again – for they too will hear the Kremlin rhetoric.


Prosecutor raises charges for illegal weapons – but where are the guns?

January 24, 2016

The Prosecutor General’s Office has completed an investigation (almost exactly 2 years after the offence) relating to the illegal distribution – and thus illegal possession – of firearms from government depots.

The announcement is crude and cheap in its timing politically of course, made upon the second anniversary of murders at the “EuroMaidan”.

“To date, we have completed the investigation in the criminal proceedings which relate to the illegal issuance from mobilisation depots of the Interior Ministry of Ukraine in Kiev, of firearms and ammunition.  Issued were around 600 Kalashnikov 5.45mm and about 190 thousand rounds of ammunition.  Directly issued to the “titushky” were 40 firearms and 90,000 rounds” – Sergei Gorbatyuk, Head of the Office of Special Affairs Investigation Main Investigation Department of the PGO.

He went on to state that 12 people were officially wanted in connection with the illegal distribution of weapons and ammunition, of which 4 are in custody.  Of note however, was the fact that of the approximately 600 “issued” weapons, the Prosecutor Gorbatyuk stated only about a dozen had been recovered.  The whereabouts of hundreds of others unknown.

This announcement follows comments last week by Gennady Moskal, currently Governor of Transcarpathia, made after several Right Sector individuals where involved in a criminal incident at a tourist centre called “Dragobrat”.  Weapons were used, including one stolen from the sacking/raiding of a police station in Ivano-Frankivsk in February 2014.  Another 150 weapons were stolen with the storming of that police station almost 2 years ago.

Indeed, during 18th/19th February 2014 alone, some 1223 firearms and 60,000 rounds of ammunition were removed from raided/stormed police stations across Ukraine.  Who, if anybody has been brought to account, and how many, if firearms any of those stolen firearms have been recovered is simply not being discussed.

There is then the small matter of The Kremlin flooding the occupied Donbas with weaponry, to only belatedly concern itself over their smuggling back into Russia – an inevitability seemingly overlooked for quite some time, before more administrative accountability was eventually installed – many thousands of firearms, RPGs, grenades, mines etc later.


In July 2015 this blog posed the questions as to how and when Ukraine was going to (begin to) deal with the issue.

The options, in a nutshell, are expanding the ability to legally hold certain types of firearms and allowing voluntary formal registration for illicit weapons held subject to suitable firearm security, or a firearms amnesty with cash payment for the value of the weapon surrendered (to be done several times over a period of years), and an acceptance that quality policing will be required tracing the many thousands of illicit weapons that will undoubtedly be retained by individuals, groups and their quartermaster arrangements, and organised crime.  A mix and match/combination of some or all of those options awaits Ukraine.

Doing nothing however, is not an option.

The on-going daily use of firearms at the contact line in the occupied Donbas aside, the question has asked as to whether any efforts to remove illicit and unregistered/anonymous firearms from other regions around Ukraine should have already begun – discounting daily SBU raids as the only visible method?

Are the regional law enforcement agencies still too stretched to manage firearms amnesties?  Is it perhaps there is simply no cash for a “buy back” scheme – for insentivising any limited duration, but repeated amnesties, will be necessary.  As time passes the cash worth for many individuals will become more than the continued weapon possession worth (whatever the reason to hang on to it may be/have been).  Is it that ad hoc regional amnesties are shunned in favour of a national amnesty, and circumstances prevent a national amnesty?

Is the national plan to disarm the illegal armed groups first, and then deal with individuals and individually held illicit firearms using the various options?

Perhaps it is more basic – Is there a national plan?  If so what is it, and when does it begin to be rolled out?

If there is no national plan yet, why isn’t there one?

Illicit possession is a problem that will be with Ukraine for a decade or two.  It won’t be dealt with overnight.

No doubt in Northern Ireland and Eire there are still weapons stored in cashes, with quartermasters and held by the “ideological” – “just in case” – discounting those that simply made their way into standard criminality.

However, Ukraine has to tackle the issue for it’s not one that will “sort itself out” – so when will it start?


Khatia Dekanoidze throws down the policing gauntlet

January 23, 2016

Perhaps unnoticed, on 22nd January the recently appointed head of the newly rebranded National Police Khatia Dekanoidze, threw down the policing gauntlet to the regional heads of the nation’s policing with regard to crime.

Khatia Dekanoidze

Khatia Dekanoidze

Despite noting the “pains” of reform, she underlined the fact that all legislative acts for the newly rebranded police to get on with policing are now in place, and stated “As the head of the National Police, I give you a month to really show your work.

Very good – and it will be a statement, prima facie, well received by the Ukrainian constituency – at least it will be well received by those who actually become aware of it.

But –

Firstly her statement has no “or else” to it.  We can perhaps infer there is an “or else”, but if there is an “or else” that “or else” is unclear as to its severity – nor is the benchmark at which the “or else” applies (or not).

Having rebranded to the National Police, that does not necessarily equate to changing the institutional legacy/memory – particularly amongst the old “specialist” hands.

Part of that legacy/memory is that regardless of the actual crime rate, (which undoubtedly, and no differently to any nation, sees its crime figures “massaged”), has historically seen unbelievably high detection rates across the entire spectrum of crime (less those which historically involved “the connected” regardless of the evidence) each and every year.

This raises some fundamental questions about crime reporting, crime recording, crime detection and how a crime was/is detected.

How many crimes are reported compared to how many officially recorded?

How many are detected by genuinely quality and morally upstanding police work?

How many crimes are detected by an offender for one or more crimes, admitting to other crimes through coercion or “favours” that they did not commit but will ultimately make no difference to their sentencing (taking into consideration/TICs), and thus simply makes for an easy time in police custody for assisting in the clear up/detection rate?

How many are forced confessions?

How many are prison write-offs whereby a convicted criminal admits to numerous crimes whilst in prison (with no additional time to their sentence) and when “writing off” those crimes also insuring they are not subject to a prison gate arrest upon release for a crime they committed, failed to admit, but are now suspected of? When “writing off” such crimes, how many crimes they didn’t commit do they write off as a “favour” to the police in return for contraband/difficult to get goods in prison?

There is also a historical policing issue in Ukraine of revisiting victims/complainants and asking them to withdraw crime reports when nobody has been caught (or willing to have then “taken into consideration” or “written off”).  A withdrawn complaint means no recorded crime.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with an offender charged with a number of offences admitting to a host of other crimes to be “taken into consideration” at any court hearing in many nations.  There is also nothing wrong with “prison write offs” either.  These are practices that occur in many nations.  The question is one of insuring the offender/inmate actually committed the crimes they are admitting to whilst assisting in the crime detection/clear up rate and insuring they have no nasty surprises upon their release.

Does Ms Dekanoidze want to head a National Police that faithfully records crimes and detects them with professional integrity – in which case the number of recorded and undetected crimes will significantly rise, but in doing so provide a far more honest picture to the public and foundation for basing any National, Regional and Local Policing Plans around?  If yes, and in doing so publicly stating/forewarning that a significant rise in reported and undetected crime will occur because the police will not be rigging the statistics – as all Ukrainians know they always have – then that would be a major change in institutional behaviour.

It is perhaps bad enough that (in many nations) regional forces try to massage statistics to meet the national averages – for example the seriousness of assault can be categorised up or down depending upon detection (or not) to meet the national average, or burglaries recategorised as theft from dwellings dependent upon detection (or not) to meet national averages – but the national averages for detected crime of most nations have historically been much lower than that officially declared by Ukraine.  For example, and to pluck a random year, the UK national average in 2012/13 for detected crime was 28.6%, whilst in Ukraine it was 36.5%.

Of course there are differences between what actually constitutes crimes – or not – between nations.  There may also be differences between what constitutes “detected” – the UK for example uses the formal charging of a person with an offence – and not their conviction – but were the Ukrainian police really 8% better at crime detection than their UK peers in 2012?

How are figures going to be effected by the almost daily arrests for corruption in regions like Odessa?  Every arrest is a detected crime that previously would not even have been registered.  A lot of 1 for 1’s will effect crime statistics but also overall detection rates.

How will having prosecutors prosecute and not investigate (as historically they did) effect crime detection?

How will overhauling the Statute Book and criminalising acts that were previously not criminal, or decriminalising acts in an effort at “Europeanisation” (and rejection of post-Sovietism statute) effect crime statistics?  Will it be possible to compare historical crime statistics to those current – or simply too problematic?

Will root and branch reform of the entire law enforcement system transfer investigative responsibilities between the many agencies?  What effect will that have – if any?

Is there a case for systemic reform of crime reporting, recording and acceptable methods of detection?

Over the next month during which Ms Dekanoidze rightly wants to see results – what are the benchmarks?  Are the public allowed to know?

How do those benchmarks fit into a new National Policing Plan (if there is one) and how do Regional and Local Policing Plans (if there are any) dovetail with the National Plan?  Where and how does that fit with the “Europeanisation” of policing – for it has a part to play in the the EU CSDP with regard to cross border crime.

Having regional police chiefs simply increase detection rates/reduce crime rates by whatever means to serve up “better” statistics against unknown benchmarks to Ms Dekanoidze does little to install confidence.  The “means” are as equally important as the “ends” with the rule of law.

A police service, serves with the consent of its constituency.  Without that consent it is a police force.  Consent comes by way of public trust, by way of public transparency, by way of public accountability and by way of a public conversation.  That means the public knowing what the plan is and what the benchmarks are – especially if you want the public’s help in meeting them.  To be quite blunt, the public’s help is essential, because effective policing isn’t easy (whether it be proactive, preventative, or reactive policing).

What then does Ms Dekanoidze statement “I give you a month to really show your work” actually mean?  And does it mean the same to her as it does to those regional police chiefs that heard it?  Does the domestic constituency glean the same meaning as either of them?


The news from Davos……the Ukrainian Cabinet reshuffle timetable

January 22, 2016

Though it is tempting to forget Ukraine for the day and comment upon the now published Livinenko public inquiry in the UK, and mull what, if any, UK response will be forthcoming to an inquiry that publicly announced what everybody has already believed for nearly a decade, the blog will stick to home turf.

Thus one of many statements from Davos will be plucked from a multitude of possibilities.

The chosen statement comes from Christine LaGrarde which indicates that the next IMF tranche to Ukraine seems very likely to appear at the beginning of February.


The significance this time goes beyond the macroeconomics of the Ukrainian nation.

It has long been quite obvious that despite the imminent Cabinet reshuffle having been muted as long ago as the Autumn of 2015, the political thinking has deemed it necessary to firstly secure the IMF tranche – just in case the reshuffle has unintended and destabilising consequences for the dysfunctional coalition beyond that expected among the Ukrainian establishment.

Hence the “when”, the “outs” and the “ins”, the “possibles”, the “probables”, the “improbables”, the “scope”, the “depth”, and the overly proclaimed “difficulties” in arriving at “suitable candidates” – also known as stalling.  IMF funds first, reshuffle thereafter, and then deal with any expected or unexpected fallout over the coming weeks and months when the new Cabinet is unveiled.

Thus, once the IMF funds safely arrive, it will come as no surprise if suddenly, and as if by magic, a sudden focus and swift implementation of the reshuffle occurs – but a reshuffle that will remain “problematic/difficult” for “internal coalition reasons” until the funds arrive.

The domestic political timetable therefore, is IMF tranche early February, Cabinet reshuffle accomplished within a fortnight of the funds arriving, and sometime after that, perhaps a return to the reform agenda?


Trends within the ministerial boiler rooms – Ukraine

January 21, 2016

One of the side effects relating to the aftermath of EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity (choose your own widely used label of the two) was the willingness, through want of fear for themselves, of the established political class to swiftly try and dilute their number sufficiently enough to give the perception of change by sucking into their respective party ranks civil society members, journalists, activists and the intelligentsia.

This was accompanied by foreign (now Ukrainian) citizens, and Ukrainian citizens living and/or working abroad too.

One strata of the political central governance structures to see a fairly significant infusion of foreign, (now Ukrainian) citizens and Ukrainian citizens with experience within and significant exposure to “western systems/methodology” was that of the “Deputy Minister” across the Ukrainian ministries.

It is a policy that rarely gets mentioned, though it is difficult to find a Ukrainian ministry that does not have a (fairly) young, driven, western experienced Deputy Minister – normally fluent in English and keen to bring the best of their acquired “western” experience to their respective ministry.

To be blunt, it was – and remains – a good policy to have such driven Deputy Ministers within all the ministries who at the very least prevent ministerial regression, if not always being able to force progress.

Problems with this policy however, relate to the longevity any such Deputy Minister will remain in post.

All patriotically answered the call of Ukraine.  All gave up, or at least took an extended sabbatical, from what were better paid careers in doing so.  There is little doubt that few – if any – answered the cries of their homeland with the intention of entering Ukrainian politics as a career change.  Undoubtedly most answered that national call to prevent State collapse and do their patriotic bit for State building in line with the western models they lived and/or worked within – and always intended to return to.

Depending upon which Deputy Minister one may speak to, some decided to take a year out and reassess the situation thereafter, others two years out.  Almost all express an intention return to their careers after answering the nation’s call.

It is now more than a year since many of these Deputy Ministers have been in post.  Many whilst rightly proud of preventing a failed State and forging “western ties” and sewing the seeds of institutional culture within their ministries, are also privately as frustrated with the pace of reform as any reform activist.  Thus when it comes to assessing what they have achieved, what is still to do and the likely speed at which it will actually be done, difficult and thorny personal decisions are now having to be addressed.   To stay a little longer – or to go as planned? After all, those colleagues they left behind in their previous (mostly western) careers are progressing up the corporate career ladder in their absence.

This not to mention the fact that the legitimate salary of a Ukrainian Deputy Minister is a substantial pay cut for most.


With all eyes looking toward the reshuffle within the Cabinet of Ministers in the immediate future and the changes that will occur, it will be easy to miss the departure of the young, driven, western experienced and orientated Deputy Ministers, most of whom have and had little interest in a political career, but a desire to build the State from within the ministerial boiler rooms where creative thinking, planning, strategies and tactics are thrashed out.

With the President and Cabinet of Ministers having chosen the slow evolutionary reform path over the swift revolutionary reform path that would have fitted the “career breaks” of the youthful western orientated and experienced Deputy Ministers, the reversal of the “brain drain” witnessed during 2014/2015 will soon be again reversed as the resumption of suspended “western” careers occur.

Already the resignations are beginning.

Thus far First Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Vladimir Shulmeystera and First Deputy Head of the National Bank of Ukraine, Alexander Pisaruk, have now been joined by Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Ruslan Korzh, and Deputy Defense Minister, Yuri Husyev..

Mr Korzh summarised the position quite clearly in his resignation text – “Like most of my colleagues, I have come into the power from business, considering this step as voluntary aid to the country. Today, I am ready to go back to the real business.”

It is sadly, a trend that will probably continue – and one that will remove much of the energetic and western experienced talent that was domiciled within the “Deputy Minister” strata.

That they begin to leave their posts with Ukraine in a far better position than when they put their careers on hold is a credit to them – that Ukraine is nowhere near where it could be after their volunteerism says much more about the Ukrainian political colleagues they leave behind (and perhaps is part of the reason for their return to suspended “western” careers).

Nevertheless, when new Ministers are appointed in the Cabinet reshuffle, it would be wise to keep an eye on the calibre of replacements who sit behind them in the ministerial boiler room too – for they have in some cases of far higher quality than the Minister.


And what if the Constitutional vote fails? Come back next year – Ukraine

January 20, 2016

A few days ago an entry appeared outlining just how difficult it will be to raise the 300 (plus) votes among the parliamentarians of the Verkhovna Rada when it comes to the proposed constitutional amendments that allow for “Decentralisation” of powers from the centre to the regions – Amendments that contain a single line that would then allow for a standard statutory law to create special conditions for the occupied Donbas.

The final paragraphs read – “Nevertheless, bribery, coercion, effective legitimate party “whipping”/discipline across all (willing/supportive) political parties will not necessarily reach the required number of 300 (plus).  Even with such an enormous amount of political energy spent, and no doubt significant external diplomatic weight applied, the math would suggest it will be necessary to insure the maximum attendance of MPs – be they sick, lame, (or as too many parliamentarians appear to be part-time), lazy.   Only those recently deceased or currently in jail can be discounted (for obvious reasons) if the constitution majority is to be successfully assured – that or a major U turn by any previously unsupportive political party changing its view en masse.

Can the Verkhovna Rada gather 300 votes?  Yes.  Will it gather 300 votes?  Probably.  Is it a done deal?  Far, far from it at the time of writing.”

Almost a week later, obtaining the required 300 votes still appears far from certain, and may indeed rest with the indiscipline of certain parties that are against the amendments, and individuals therein voting with the government to see it over the line.  Who and how many will defy the Samapomich party line may prove to be critical.

The above-linked entry however, did not outline what happens should the vote fail – So what happens if the 300 (plus) votes are not reached?

As “decentralisation” of power to local governance has been a key national reform for President Poroshenko (and the government) since assuming office(s) it will be a significant political policy blow when Ukrainian society has been conditioned to expect it.

Specifically with regard to the occupied Donbas, it seems assurances have been given within the “Normandy Four”, that the constitutional amendments relating to decentralisation – and the single line within those amendments that then enables a statutory (and not constitutional) avenue to create specific conditions for the occupied Donbas – would be adopted by the end of January 2016.  A very brave assurance to have given.

So what if the Verkhovna Rada fails to find the 300 (plus) votes to get the constitutional amendments over the line?

The answer is (constitutionally) clear.

There will be no long expected decentralisation of powers to local governance across Ukraine.

Likewise there will be no prospect of any further progress by Ukraine toward the Minsk II agreement – for without the constitutional amendments containing the single line that provides a statutory “Special Law” avenue for the occupied Donbas territories, any such statutory “enabling” actions would remain (as they currently are) unconstitutional.

Not only does national “decentralisation” and Minsk II stall – both stall for a long time.

Article 158 of the Constitution of Ukraine states – “The draft law on introducing amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, considered by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and not adopted, may be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine no sooner than one year from the day of the adoption of the decision on this draft law.”

There is no ambiguity in “no sooner than one year”.   If not 28th January 2016, then constitutionally, it can not be revisited until 28th January 2017 – at the earliest.


Any attempt to try again before then is simply unconstitutional.

Ukrainian society is used to the failure of the political class to deliver – so a delay in “decentralisation” for at least one year, and in all probability longer than that, for the re-submission of the amendments, and the entire slow moving bureaucracy will have to be repeated, in all likelihood taking closer to two years, is not going to come as any great surprise if that be the outcome.

The consequences for the Donbas, and the Ukraine, if an unwillingness to adhere to its obligations (regardless of the other side) to Minsk II will swiftly see EU disunity manifest in further extending Donbas related sanctions on Russia.  Ukraine will be seen as responsible for delaying Minsk II, and for a significant length of time.

The only sanctions that could be excepted to continue would be those sanctions specific to the illegal annexation of Crimea – those Crimean sanctions are going to last for many years.

It now seems almost certain that these constitutional amendments will go before Verkhovna Rada parliamentarians on 28th January – a huge day for the future governance of Ukraine and with an outcome that is far, far, from certain.

The dilemma then, to go ahead and hope 300 (or more) votes are found and risk a delay of 1 year or more if not, or try and explain why assurances given cannot be delivered by the end of January as stated and provide a credible reason why there is any hope of reaching that 300 (plus) at some time in the near future (if ever).

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