Archive for March, 2016

h1

Taking aboard the political carcasses – Coalition building, Ukraine

March 31, 2016

With a new majority coalition remaining out of reach despite over a month of horse trading and an extreme amount of shuffling behind the curtain among the Grey Cardinals, it appears Block Poroshenko and the People’s Front will attempt to gather between them enough currently independent parliamentarians into their faction folds to garner the slimmest of Verkhovna Rada majorities.

Many of those they are currently wooing are long standing parliamentarians, known as “carcasses”, whose allegiance and vote have been bought and sold over the years and who generally do little else than vote the party line for reward – per vote – if they turn up at the Verkhovna Rada at all.  Occasionally they may make speech/TV appearance to support whatever policy, or put their name to authoring a (usually dubious) law vested interests want to become statute in return for favour of whatever kind.

In short, they are a complete waste of a democratic mandate – unless the buyer needs the votes for or against.

Requiring an absolute minimum of 226 votes to have a parliamentary majority, with Block Poroshenko and People’s Front managing 218 between them, 8 independent parliamentarians are required – more if possible.

Currently “negotiations” are underway with 10 such independent People’s Deputies (perhaps more).  The monetary cost to purchase them, or the coercive threats to their interests will be high.  The negotiations unsurprisingly are being handled by President Poroshenko’s enforcers, MPs Igor Kononenko and Sergey Berezenko, together with Vitaliy Kovalchuk of the Presidential Administration.  From the People’s Front, the role has fallen to the equally dubious Andrew Ivanchuk.

The cost, whatever it may be, will certainly be far less than the any the financial burder of early elections that both Block Poroshenko/Solidarity and the People’s Front are committed to avoiding if at all possible – and it is possible to do so, even if temporarily.

That said, not all those that may join these factions (rather than the political parties themselves) to save the coalition and avoid early elections will be “carcasses” devoid of moral fibre.  There are half a dozen or more parliamentarians banished from the Samopomich ranks for voting against the party line in August 2015 who are far from being overly nefarious.  There also other clearly targeted individuals such as Sergei Rudyk, Artem Vitko, Yuriy Derevyanko and Eugenia Rybczynski among the independents.

The question then is perhaps not whether Block Poroshenko and the People’s Front can gather in a minimum of 8 (preferably more) independent parliamentarians, but of that number how many will be identified as odious “carcasses” as opposed to being perceived as upstanding parliamentarians.

rep

It is a question of degree as to how further tarnished the political brand becomes by taking in some odious characters to make up the necessary numbers.  The perception perhaps of rats boarding a sinking ship for one last rummage through its larder.

There is no political chance of a coalition with the Opposition Block for obvious reasons.  It is a party (or perhaps two parties in the future should it split along oligarchy lines), that is destined to remain in opposition for another election cycle at the very least.  The Yanukovych/oligarchy smell remains far too rancid for now, and thus the other parties will have another chance to fail spectacularly before the electorate as forced to reconsider it as a potential party of power.

Samopomich seem quite content to remain independent of the coalition this time around – perhaps in preparation for the inevitable presidential challenge of Andriy Sadovy, and is thus free to vote for or against any particular legislation or policy.

The position of The Radicals is dictated by the spoils on offer to its leader, as is always the case with populists with limited opportunity.  That Mr Lyashko wants to be Prime Minister is no secret – no matter how fanciful.  That he would settle for becoming Verkhovna Rada Speaker is also no secret.  He will get neither as things stand at the time of writing.  As and when he accepts that fact, The Radical’s may yet join the majority coalition anyway if sufficient Cabinet positions are offered – a minimum of 3 would be required, however Mr Lyashko would try to insist on certain ministries that will not come the way of his party.

Yulia Tymoshenko and Batkivshchyna were on the cusp of joining the coalition but a few days ago, until last minute blackmail demands of not Cabinet positions but a raft of 18 populist laws be adopted were presented.  Some of those demands would have ended IMF cooperation (not for the first time at her hand), caused eyes to be rolled in every supportive embassy and capital in the western world, and thus ultimately brought the nation to its knees politically and economically.

That she is not demanding any Cabinet positions for her party to join any coalition and putting forward the populist demands that can always be attributed to her but never be met in the current circumstances, clearly indicates that she is already electioneering in the full expectancy that any new coalition will limp along for 6 or 12 months before its inevitable collapse and early Verkhovna Rada elections.  Ms Tymoshenko knows what is it like to hold a coalition majority of 1 after all – and the inevitable outcomes of trying to stay in power with a slim majority when relying on political “carcasses”.

If there proves a need to have a populist in the coalition, far better to throw Mr Lyashko (who does work hard, listens to all parliamentary speeches, and attends all his committees) and The Radicals either the Speaker’s chair or a few ministries. than to entertain Ms Tymoshenko once again.  (Ms Tymoshenko’s priorities remain what Ms Tymoshenko’s priorities have always been regardless of the effect upon the nation whenever she has been in power – that priority being Ms Tymoshenko.)

Coalition negotiations continue with Samopomich, The Radicals and Batkivshchyna nonetheless.  Perhaps one party will yet join if its leader feels the costs of being outside the majority coalition outweigh the deficits of being within it – if so a small bet on The Radicals.  The other leaders are oviousloy looking a little further over the political horizon.

h1

Nadiya Savchenko and Minsk

March 30, 2016

In recent days the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova commented upon demands for the prompt release of Nadiya Savchenko following the end of her show trial, under the provisions of Minsk (I and II).

She stated thus “Russia is not a party to the Minsk Agreements. These agreements only concern two sides that are part of the conflict.

We have the responsibility to influence the parties of the conflict exactly the same way as France or Germany should influence Kiev. That’s all, we owe nothing more.”

For the sake of clarity, the tripartite liaison group charged with resolving technicalities, on 12th February 2015 negotiated the following – “Provide release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons, based on the principle of “all for all”. This process has to end – at the latest – on the fifth day after the pullout of weapons.”

More than a year later whilst there have been occasional prisoner swaps, the pullout of weapons is yet to occur, so whether or not Nadiya Savchenko would have been included in the Minsk process, the basic conditions for an “all for all” swap are still far from being realised.  That notwithstanding any swap involving Ms Savchenko will probably be for high profile prisoners in exchange, not necessarily from within Ukraine.  Moscow still prides itself on getting its most (in)famous prisoners home after all – wherever they may be incarcerated.

Ever since the Minsk text was formulated, this blog has frequently lamented the fact it is was fatally flawed from the very outset by allowing Russia to sit at the table with the same standing as France and Germany – as negotiator and/or mediator – but unrecognised as a party to the conflict that it undoubtedly is.

A reader perhaps would question why such a negotiator and/or mediator would be subject to international sanctions for its part in the Donbas war, but apparently such considerations have no impact upon the status given The Kremlin in the Minsk document or negotiation formats.

Thus, it is simply policy necrophilia to continue try and force Ukraine to follow the Minsk text in the unlikely event of it managing to fully implement its part, to then be left with the hope that The Kremlin will then do the same.  Whatever political embellishments President Poroshenko may be telling his western peers, the fact is that he is a long way short of the 300 parliamentary votes required within the Verkhovna Rada to change the constitution allowing Ukraine to fully meet its obligations outlined in the Minsk document.  Indeed his political party currently does not even manage to lead a coalition that can gather the 226 votes necessary to pass basic statute.

This clearly being the case, this blog has stated that the focus of “The West” should be on pressuring Ukraine to reform and not pressuring Ukraine to adhere to the text of Minsk.

“Indeed only the foolish (or perhaps The Kremlin) would expect Ukraine to fully implement its Minsk obligations in the current circumstances within the occupied Donbas.  “The West” would be far better off publicly stating that it understands that is the situation and thus publicly lean less on Ukraine to fulfill such obligations while the circumstances remain significantly unchanged, and lean far harder on Ukraine to reform instead.

Perhaps such a shift in “Western” messaging would change the Kremlin calculus somewhat.  The entirety of “western” political and diplomatic energy pushing a reformed Ukraine, with less pressure regarding Minsk would at the very least raise eyebrows in Moscow.  Unless the situation changes dramatically regarding ceasefires and the ability to hold elections that in current circumstances would forever sully the reputation of the OSCE, it is policy folly.  Such a messaging shift would inevitably mean Kyiv actually moving “westward” slightly faster than it is doing.  As The Kremlin cares far more about the Ukrainian shift “westward”, and cares nothing about the occupied Donbas should it fail be to an effective lever over Kyiv, it is possible such a change in messaging could have an effect – or not.”

The above quote most recent example of many written here urging the need for western refocus in an attempt to force recalculation elsewhere.

However, Ukraine, like Russia and the “Republics”, have no legal obligation to adhere to the Minsk Agreement (I or II) – which is something that probably requires highlighting once more, lest we forget.

Far too often the Minsk Agreement is touted with the inference that it is somehow a binding legal document that cannot be broken.  It is not.  There are numerous legal international instruments, treaties and laws that have been broken in respect of Ukraine, all by Russia, but Minsk is not one of them – even if Russia were a fully recognised party to the conflict within the document.

Disregarding the Minsk document may be morally wrong (or not), but it is not unlawful to do so.

Neither Minsk I or II have any legal standing whatsoever.  It legally binds nobody to anything.  It is not even a signed and certified document enforceable by law comparable to the most basic of legal contracts.  It carries no signatures of the conflicting parties (recognised or unrecognised).  It has been ratified by no parliament.  It is therefore not a document that has been deposited with any international body or has any domestic power.  It is text.  It is a document listing bullet points along a possible path to the return (prima facie) to international laws and treaties – despite the perilous repercussions that its implementation would have internally for Ukrainian sovereignty as the text stands, if and when territorial integrity is returned.  It is a framework document, not a legal framework.

duress

The word “Agreement” is something of a misnomer to begin with.  It would be better identified as the Minsk Document or the Minsk Text.  “Agreement” masks the fact that Ukraine was coerced through both hard and soft Kremlin power, to concede its legitimate and lawful sovereign rights.  “Agreement” tends to soften the perceptions through the passage of time of what was, and remains, a serious violation Ukraine.  Minsk is a text forced upon Ukraine under duress.

In two years the Minsk document/text has not managed to secure even a ceasefire.  The closest it came to doing so was when Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande made it clear following a meeting in Paris that they were prepared to declare Minsk dead, prompting The Kremlin to turn down the heat for a while at the time when it had few other avenues to sit at the international table.  It’s actions in Syria have now changed that somewhat, thus allowing for Kremlin disregard of the Minsk text once again.

Further underscoring the absence of any binding legality of the Minsk text was The Kremlin’s clear desire to disregard and circumvent the Normandy Four (and lesser negotiation committees) and seek parlance directly with the USA via the ill-fated Nuland-Surkov channel initiated at the Kaliningrad meeting of January 2016..  No sooner was that channel opened than it was closed, with Berlin making robust representations to Washington and President Obama pulling that plug (no doubt to the ire of Ms Nuland).

A reader may ponder whether in pulling that plug the White House had already decided that no solution would be reached during the final months of an Obama presidency (ergo 2016) and therefore it saw no reason to become directly involved when reality suggests it would probably become an unfinished foreign policy legacy for any new president, or whether it was done to save face for Frank-Walter Steinmeier whose fumbling of the issues has thus far led the western response.  Any Nuland-Surlov solution would hardly be a fitting final chapter for his memoirs as he nears the end of his career.

All of the above said, and in full recognition that the Minsk document has no legal standing, and was necessarily born of entirely illegal Kremlin actions within Ukraine, a reader may now ponder that in the absence of binding legalities upon any parties within or without the Minsk text, how best western diplomacy be employed.

Is “western diplomacy” best employed in keeping Ukraine adhering to entirely arbitrary Minsk timelines during 2016 (and beyond), or it is better employed in finding reasons why Ukraine should not be held to such arbitrary timelines, unilaterally expected to fulfill the text of such an onerous document?

Should western diplomacy pursue the first option then the European neighbourhood is likely to become more rather than less stable.

If it be the latter, which would be the widely perceived path of integrity, then there is a need for either a Plan B to resolve the matter (which seems unlikely – and in fact given the outcomes thus far possibly yet more unhelpful for Ukraine in the long run), or a recognition that a war of exhaustion that will last many years, perhaps decades, presents itself for which it will have to be prepared to fully engage in – purely transactional necessities aside.

Whatever the case, every now and again it will serve us well to remember that the Minsk text in and of itself places no lawful obligations on anybody whatsoever, and is indeed not even a document of any legal standing.  Expectations of it relating to the release of Nadiya Savchenko necessarily have to be tempered accordingly – similarly to those long since discarded (and always misplaced) expectations of a ceasefire or weapons withdrawal.

That Ms Savchenko will not serve the 22 years passed down at the conclusion of her show trial there is little doubt.  Sooner or later she will become a bargaining chip and released long before.  When that occurs however, it will have little to do with the Minsk document.

h1

Shokin’s final reform sabotage, or Poroshenko’s plan? – Sakvarelidze sacked

March 29, 2016

A few weeks ago an entry appeared outlining the rapid and aggressive cohesion of the Odessa “Old Guard” around a plan to weaken and hopefully remove Governor Saakashvili before or upon his first anniversary as Governor on 15th May.  That entry underlined by a subsequent entry reaffirming its on-going execution by the plotters.

It forewarned that those around the Governor would be targeted by such forces, perceiving them to be far easier to depose off than the Governor himself in the immediate term.  “It is also clear that a slow burning scandal within the police in Iliychovsk/Chernamorsk may well be, or may be manipulated to be, a public death by 1000 cuts for Giorgi Lortkipanidze the Oblast Police Chief (who is beyond doubt the most transparent and public spirited Police Chief in the modern history of the Oblast).  Further there is likely to be an increased campaign against Davit Sakvarelidze the Odessa Prosecutor launched soon over the lack of successful prosecutions in the Oblast (despite no reform of the corrupt judiciary, and with “lustration” of the local judiciary simply not occurring – which puts any prosecutor at a disadvantage).

The plan to remove Governor Saakashvili by certain political forces/actors clearly includes trying to remove those around him and further frustrate any efforts at confronting vested interests before the “1 year and what has he achieved campaign?” reaches a crescendo.   The thinking is that if either Mr Lortkipanidze or Sakvarelidze be toppled, Misha will throw in the towel in an tantrum claiming “impossibility of progress” under such onerous and nefarious conditions.

How well such a plan will work against what are two of the most unsullied civil servants the Oblast has ever had remains to be seen – but such a plot there certainly is.

This notwithstanding the public trashing of the “Odessa Customs experiment” (and by extension Yulia Marushevska’s efforts) publicly in Kyiv.”

Since those entries were published, the “Old Guard” (infamous MPs from Odessa Messrs Pressman, Kivalov, Golubov and Bavinenko et al., together with some of the Kivalov educated and controlled prosecutors from Odessa), wrote to the reform obstructing Prosecutor General seeking the dismissal of Davit Sakvarelidze – as the above quote predicted.

ds

The writing on the wall therefore expectant of his imminent dismissal – particularly following several of Mr Sakvarelidze’s reformist prosecutor colleagues in Odessa being sacked by the Prosecutor General on 24th March.

Mr Shokin, due to have his resignation accepted by the Verkhovna Rada sometime in the afternoon of 29th March, promptly sacked Deputy Prosecutor General and Odessa Regional Prosecutor Davit Sakvarelidze in the morning – as a final act against the genuine reformers within the Prosecutor General’s Office.

sack 1

sack 2

sack 3

sack 4

sack 5

A reader may perhaps ponder how the newly “retired” Mr Shokin will receive thanks from these MPs from Odessa (and elsewhere), who will no doubt benefit from investigations into their alleged nefarious dealings and business interests (and those associated with them) mysteriously stopping, losing critical evidence from the file, or those investigations now generally suffering from lack of momentum.

A reader may also ponder just how any “guilty” verdict would ever have been handed down should any cases against such individuals and their interests ever reaching an Odessa court manifest, when for the past 15 years or so Mr Kivalov has run the establishments training prosecutors and judges.

(The last time anything associated with Mr Kivalov saw the inside of a court room, the case against him was dismissed by Judge Yaroslava Volodimirivna Balan – who happens to be an Associate Professor (since 2006) at the Odessa Law Academy that Mr Kivalov runs – a blatant conflict of interests for the Judge.)

Ergo the chances of a reformist Regional Prosecutor like Davit Sakvarelidze ever landing a successful prosecution against any of these MPs or their interests in Odessa were precisely zero.  He did however, make life uncomfortable for these entrenched interests nevertheless.  Whilst major successful prosecutions were absent, numerous cases were opened and evidence was gathered.  The ability to simply have cases closed, stalled or never opened, became somewhat more difficult to arrange for the nefarious.

In short the intangible effects of his presence far outweighed the tangible ones within the Odessa prosecutor establishment.  His prevention of skulduggery in the complete absence of the ability to cure, and deterrence rather than successful prosecutions should not be overlooked – albeit impossible to accurately measure those effects.

His presence also offered some degree of support and protection not only to Governor Saakashvili and his agenda, but also to Oblast Police Chief Lortkipanidze and Odessa Port Customs Head, Yulia Marushevska – notwithstanding the local constituency long accustomed to being ignored.

The question is who will next be targeted for a fall among the Governor’s team?

Ms Marushevska is already clearly being pressured by the old entrenched personalities, as well as the nefarious among the SBU and SFS that have always benefited from the very lucrative and nefarious scams that historically defined the Odessa ports – and thus looks favourite.  The slow burning scandal in Illichivsk/Chernomorsk policing seems more difficult to depose Mr Lortkipanidze swiftly enough to crescendo with the Governor’s 1 year anniversary in post.

Stepping back from the local picture, for it is important not to look at the minutia and miss the big picture and the clear messages being sent,  it is notable that Vitaly Kasko, another former reformist Deputy Prosecutor General who recently resigned due to Mr Shokin, has had his apartment in Kyiv arrested in another final act by Mr Shokin – the day prior to his sacking of Davit Sakvarelidze.  Revenge, Mr Kasko claims, for his public accusations against Mr Shokin when both worked at the very top of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

This not withstanding the opening of investigations into anti-corruption NGOs on 25th March by the PGO.

Further in a last act of “reform”,  Mr Shokin as Prosecutor General, has reformed the institutional reform he was so against, to complicate and perhaps permanently sabotage what will be a litmus test case known as the “Diamond Prosecutors”.

Though President Poroshenko claims that he had no knowledge, and had not agreed, any of the aforementioned actions by Mr Shokin (albeit officially he has no control over the hiring and firing by whomever is sitting Prosecutor General), it is a claim that is extremely difficult to believe considering the very obvious diplomatic repercussions these parting acts by Mr Shokin will undoubtedly have.

A reader may seriously ponder whether Mr Shokin’s final anti-reform functions are designed to deliberately stop, or seriously reduce, the flow of “western money” being spent on reforming the Prosecutor General’s Office.  No money equals no reform.  Limited finance equals limited reform.  An outcome the “old guard” vested interests will happily accept.

A reader may also look to the domestic political/institutional chess board from the President’s perspective (a man who has clearly reached his reformist limitations).  A “King” of the anti-reformist establishment has been toppled – but at the expense of two radical reformist “knights” within the same institution.  Thus two extremes have cancelled each other out within the Prosecutor General’s Office.  The slow moving (in fact glacial) middle ground remains allowing for dilatory, yet when pushed by “supporters of Ukraine”, not particularly uncomfortable reform to occur.

It is a set of domestic chess moves that will probably become something of a pattern in other institutions under this president.

Undoubtedly Governor Saakashvili will have no choice but to call publicly upon President Poroshenko to address the matter, having previously pretended not to acknowledge the complete absence of presidential support as he and those around him have been steadily undermined.

It seems highly unlikely that such presidential support will be forthcoming having engineered the removal of both the extremes of anti and radical reform within the PGO.  The outcome will entirely suit a President that has reached his limitations as his next appointment as Prosecutor General will probably confirm –  the most obvious candidates being Zhebrivskyi, Lutsenko, Sevost’yanov, Gorbatyuka, Sevruk and Stolyarchuk –  although Misha Saakashvili does meet the requirements to become the next Prosecutor General……and stranger and equally unforeseen things have happened.

h1

Reforming the reformers – The broad Church of Reform – Ukraine

March 28, 2016

In yesterday’s entry appeared this paragraph – “A reader may rightly ponder just how long reformist, anti-corruption, and democracy advocates such as Mustafa Nayem, Serhiy Leshchenko (and numerous others of similar ideology and moral fortitude) can continue to remain within the Block Poroshenko faction and retain their integrity and perceived moral high ground.  Clearly it seems that removing them in a similar manner to Messrs Tomenko and Firsov is currently seen as far too problematic given their high domestic and international profiles.  How many other morally upright and ethically sound new MPs would follow them out of Block Poroshenko if they left?  Enough to cripple the faction and party – thus perhaps forcing elections far sooner than Autumn 2016/Spring 2017?  Would it have sufficient resonance to change “western minds” regarding early Verkhovna Rada elections?”

The questions clearly arising are those of when this eventually occurs, but also when the reformers go, they go to where?

For those newly minted reformist parliamentarians, the “when” will depend upon whether they are subjected to Article 81 of the Constitution of Ukraine and thus exiled from their parties under the “party/faction loyalty clause”, or whether their moral code forces them to leave voluntarily, or the confirmation of the timing of early Verkhovna Rada elections becoming clear to provide the platform to do so.

They can have little faith in retaining any given a position on any party list under the proportional representation system now that law 3700 has become statute.  As already stated in a previous entry – “To go to the extremes, in theory, a party can stuff the top half of its party list with reformers that have traction with the public, fill the bottom half with odious hangovers from post-Soviet oligarchical politics, have the CEC recognise the result, and then strike down the reformers en masse leaving the seats to be filled by the loathsome – lawfully.”

Clearly many will try and remain in situ for as long as possible – for it is normally easier to effect change from the inside rather than the outside as any experienced agent of change would confirm.

As to the “where” the reformers would go is somewhat unclear – particularly for those that have already left or been expelled by their political parties and now sit as independents.

Some may decide to remain within their current party structures and fight the fight they believe to be right from within the bellies of those political parties and/or factions.

Others may gravitate from their current political parties to others more aligned with their vision for Ukraine.  It is not beyond possibility for example, that some in Block Poroshenko or the People’s Front would be drawn to Samopomich – this despite Samopomich having excommunicated the outstanding Hanna Hopko, a reformist icon.

There is also the NGO turned political party Democratic Alliance.  It was an outstanding NGO, part financed by Carnegie with many of its members subsequently trained in local governance, law and civil activism,  Indeed had it not been for the internal decision to move from NGO to political party at the height of the Yanukovych brutality towards civil society in order to claim “political repression” should it be targeted, it would still remain one of the best NGOs in Ukraine rather than one of the least known political parties.  An entity to join or co-opt perhaps.

Maybe the Movement for Cleaning now associated with Governor Saakashvili will move from being a “political movement” to a political party.  Although this entity predates any involvement from the Odessa Governor, it is now broadly associated with him.  That said, the Governor may create his own entity, for the Movement for Cleaning is not internally designed to accommodate the leadership model, nor style, that the Governor would need.  It operates on the horizontal and not the vertical in its decision making.

Perhaps any number of the “reformer High Chamberlains” will create their own entities.   The “reformist church” is not short of “individual reformist icons” – it is absent an overarching roof and strong reformist institutions.

The are several other established reformist possibilities that may directly enter the political fray too – but the point has been made.

Yet there are other issues aside from the current “individual reform icons” and personality clashes that may occur under one political roof.  There are also more fundamental issues within the reformist groups that no western punditry seems to recognise.

church

Reform is a broad church and thus has its schisms over the interpretation of its scripture.  How to reconcile the genuine reformers of the political left with those genuine reformers of the political right if a cohesive, effective and robust reform political entity is to emerge in a fight for constituency support?

Genuine democracy and rule of law reformers they may all be, yet their final destinations are quite different with regard to the contemporary, modern State they want to build.  Can they remain solid under a single reform roof long enough to put in place the reform mechanisms required without falling out over the paths such mechanisms then present once put in place?  Can they live under the same roof at all, despite their equally genuine reformist DNA?

It is very lazy thinking and pitiful analysis to lump them all together as a homogeneous reformist group that will have no internal weaknesses, but that will simply blaze a robust path out of the darkness and into the light for Ukraine to follow.

Perhaps they can all gather under the same reformist roof, perhaps not – but it will be problematic.  The concept of reform common among all associated actors, icons and groups may be a cross cutting cleavage that unites them all – but would it be enough given many other differences?  If it is enough, then for how long would it be enough?

There is a clear need, and it will undoubtedly occur, for a reformist political party to contest the next Verkhovna Rada elections, be they Autumn 2016 or Spring 2017.  The open question is perhaps how many reformist parties there will be.  Too many will play into the hands of the established Grey Cardinals of post-Soviet Ukrainian politics.  Under one roof it would seem likely to self destruct within 2 years (maximum).

The next question that would need to be answered for any such party/parties is with which others they would join in any coalition – either in power or opposition?  Perhaps an entry for another day once whatever reformist parties there will be have been created, and their leadership is known.

h1

Circling the ethical toilet bowl of Ukrainian politics – BPP

March 27, 2016

Following on seamlessly from yesterday’s entry regarding the Verkhovna Rada and President Poroshenko resorting to the passage of democracy affronting legislation to correct party political errors of the recent past for the sake of expediency, another day seemingly brings another circling of the toilet bowl of Block Poroshenko/Solidarity Party ethics.

Having successfully managed to remove Andrei Bogdan (the immediate political problem) together with Malovatskoho, Malashenkovoyi, Ryabykina, Vovk, Friedman, Raupova, Ilyashenka, Tarasovtsya, Revenko, Byedovoho, Leshyka and Velimovskoho from the official and CEC recognised party list under the presidential flag on 26th March, the Poroshenko faction is also seeking to employ an obscure, and never before used constitutional party/faction “loyalty Article” – presumably Article 81 of the Constitution of Ukraine – to rid itself of two troublesome MPs within its faction.

The two MPs in question, the experienced Mykola Tomenko and novice Igor Firsov have seen their faction vote to remove their mandates and have them replaced.  Their political sins are not rolling over for the Party Whip, being rather too vocal about the lack of action against corruption, and for actually highlighting corruption and naming names.

A reader may rightly ponder just how long reformist, anti-corruption, and democracy advocates such as Mustafa Nayem, Serhiy Leshchenko (and numerous others of similar ideology and moral fortitude) can continue to remain within the Block Poroshenko faction and retain their integrity and perceived moral high ground.  Clearly it seems that removing them in a similar manner to Messrs Tomenko and Firsov is currently seen as far too problematic given their high domestic and international profiles.  How many other morally upright and ethically sound new MPs would follow them out of Block Poroshenko if they left?  Enough to cripple the faction and party – thus perhaps forcing elections far sooner than Autumn 2016/Spring 2017?  Would it have sufficient resonance to change “western minds” regarding early Verkhovna Rada elections?

Mr Nayem et al., are no less critical of their own Block Poroshenko faction than those now subjected to the virgin use of the constitutional “faction loyalty clause”.

Indeed, Mr Nayem, having been somewhat successful when last calling the Ukrainian people to the streets in Autumn 2013, has once again called for them to demonstrate on 28th March demanding the removal of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin for the blatant sabotaging of reform and due process obstructionism with which he is nationally and internationally associated.

If it is difficult to see how presidential popularity will stop its increasingly swift downward trend without a genuine (rather than rhetorical) turn toward reform, it is yet harder to see how Block Poroshenko/Solidarity will survive if it continues along its current path.  The speed at which it now circles the political toilet bowl of ethics is increasing exponentially – far swifter in fact than its loss of constituency support which is nothing short of dramatic.

Some may ponder what outcomes if only those unethical means were designed to reach far better ends.  If such manipulations had removed the odious MPs with mandates and replaced them with reformers in an internal clean up, perhaps polling ratings would have turned favourable for the presidential power(s) – a flight of fantasy to be sure considering the ends for which such means have been created and employed.

Thus the speed at which the Poroshenko faction and political party now circle the ethical and political toilet bowl dictates just how quickly the reformers spin away in a centrifugally forced separation.

As and when they do, it will leave behind an ugly turd that will inevitably, and finally, display the President without his clothes – for what remains will be nothing more than the corrupt old guard that was drawn to power for the sake of self-preservation and/or continued self-enrichment.

In short Block Poroshenko is not a party nor a faction of shared ideology, nor even a collection of the reasonably like-minded, but nothing more than a collection of differing interests all of which used it as a platform to pursue very different ends – some noble and some nefarious.

What is perhaps most ominous for members of the Block Poroshenko/Solidarity Party is that both those they currently seek to repress through the virgin use of the “constitutional loyalty clause”, and the genuine reformers that will inevitably split off, will find a political home that will see them returned to the Verhovna Rada at any new elections.  That cannot be said for the rest of Block Poroshenko/Solidarity as it will certainly lose a lot of seats at the next elections – perhaps to the point of failing to be returned as the largest party in the Verkhovna Rada.  The most likely casualties being the middle strata of the odious.

It is for this reason that the President wishes to avoid new elections.

It is also why it has been so hard to replace Prime Minister Yatseniuk.  It is necessary to be blunt and state that should all concerned have been confident that Block Poroshenko/Solidarity could have accommodated most of Prime Minister Yatseniuk’s MPs within the Verkhovna Rada after any early elections, the usual theatre of faux loyalty to the end, swiftly followed by party hopping would have already occurred.

Clearly the legislative political expediency as well as the sullying of the currently virgin Article 81 are designed to purge political missteps and replace those too difficult (one way or another) to insure far, far stricter party discipline and personal subjugation.

phoenix

This is not the first incarnation of the President’s Solidarity Party, it will perhaps not be the last either – but certainly this political phoenix is starting to look rather sickly and the ashes seem to beckon it sooner rather than later.

h1

Politically expedient legislation – Poroshenko

March 26, 2016

After two days in locked in a room with incredibly wise intellectuals, practitioners, assorted spooks past (and probably some present), numerous ambassadors, policy, and strategy wonks, plus other assorted aficionados, (thus this blog rightly assuming the mantle of retard in residence), it is with reluctance entries once again appear – for it means this gathering and meeting of enlightened and erudite minds is over (at least when it comes to being physically present in the same room).

It is also begrudgingly noted that as early as March 2016 the highlight of the conference/forum season in Odessa and Ukraine has already past.  There will surely not be a gathering of such global expertise, the orating (and debating) of such insightful commentary, nor quality recommendations for the rest of the year in Ukraine.

Thus before getting onto the subject of this entry, a public thanks to those that sponsored, organised and attended the Odessa Security Forum.

Particularly for the sponsors, a shameless plug in exchange for sincere gratitude.  Thanks to NATO,  The Black Sea Trust, Pridunavie, the John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and Ukraine Today.

It was a good to see some old friends again, and also to make new and most valued acquaintances – some of whom with the passage of time will undoubtedly progress to the category of old friends.

This entry will not go into the substance of this two day event – though other entries subsequent may raise some of the issues discussed (Chatham House Rule applies if and when that occurs).

DSC_0001

Humble tribute made, and genuine gratitude expressed after being seen as worthy of having an invitation, it is time for a return to the grubby politics, strategies and internal disputes that provide the tainted hue of much of the Ukrainian political class.

On 16th February the Verkhovna Rada passed law 3700.  The law was rightly decried as being an absolute affront to democracy and will undoubtedly be challenged in the Constitutional Court if not amended, or preferably repealed in its entirety.

In short, law 3700 allows political parties to remove from their party lists (not single mandate, first past the post seats) those candidates they no longer want after an election and after the Central Election Committee has recognised them.

Thus a party who placed candidates on the proportional representation party list may remove those upon it after an election has occurred and been recognised officially.

It therefore follows that should an individual (or many individuals) vote for Party X because Candidate Y was number 27 on the party list, following CEC recognition, the party can simply strike off Candidate Y and replace them before they assume their democratic mandate.

To go to the extremes, in theory, a party can stuff the top half of its party list with reformers that have traction with the public, fill the bottom half with odious hangovers from post-Soviet oligarchical politics, have the CEC recognise the result, and then strike down the reformers en masse leaving the seats to be filled by the loathsome – lawfully.

The law is clearly undemocratic, and hands power to the party leadership to simply select their chosen (and far too oft nefarious) men/women to fill the seats won under the proportional representation system.  The invitation for internal party corruption and buying/selling of seats due to the arbitrary selection by party leaders is as plain as it is grotesque.

On 25th February, further sullying and already dubious commitment to reforms, President Poroshenko signed these poisoned prose into law – once again to rightful squeals and loud public laments from the reform orientated democracy advocates.

The questions are therefore why would President Poroshenko sign into law such a blatantly offensive and odious text when his reform credentials are now deeply suspect within the national constituency (and to be blunt the international community too)?  He has stated numerous times that there will be no early Verkhovna Rada elections this year, so why not send it back to the Verkhovna Rada with “Must try harder” scrawled across it?  Is there not ample time to produce something that holds democratic integrity if such a law is necessary whatsoever?  He must surely be aware that this law will be rigorously challenged and also adversely effect his steadily decreasing popularity.

The answer is that the law, whilst remaining the law, provides President Poroshenko with the (perhaps temporary) ability to correct a problem within the exiting party list from the last elections of 2014.

It seems likely that there will be some changes both within the Cabinet of Ministers and the Presidential Administration during the on-going negotiations over a reshuffle.  It is quite possible that any outcome will bring about the requirement to bring into parliament the next name (or perhaps several names) on the 2014 party list of Block Poroshenko.

Unfortunately for President Poroshenko the very next name on the list is Andrei Bogdan.

Mr Bogdan is the current lawyer and friend of Gennady Korban.  Mr Korban is currently in and out of prison pending trial for numerous serious allegations.  Some would say that he is indeed getting his richly deserved comeuppance for an entirely dubious history.  Some will state that as he is close to Ihor Kolomoisky, he is but a pawn in a game being played between Messrs Kolomoisky and Poroshenko.  It is also rumoured that Mr Bogdan is now also a member of another political party.

Either way, and any which way a reader may perceive it, there is no way as Mr Korban’s lawyer and chum, Andrei Bogdan can remain comfortably atop the party list waiting to enter the Verkhovna Rada under the presidential flag at a time of internal political flux and Verkhovna Rada reshuffling.  Hence the cynical may conclude that this clearly undemocratic and potentially corruption enhancing law was both passed and signed into statute within a fortnight to provide a lawful path to undo a previous political error.

Lo, it will come as no surprise that within one month of this law entering into force, on 26th March 2016, the “presidential party” has purged itself of those it no longer wants waiting upon its 2014 party list having now gained the approval and recognition of the CEC (under the chairmanship of Mr Okhendovsky) to remove them.

The very first name on that list of those struck off being that of Andrei Bogdan – (There were 12 others – Malovatskoho, Malashenkovoyi, Ryabykina, Vovk, Friedman, Raupova, Ilyashenka, Tarasovtsya, Revenko, Byedovoho, Leshyka and Velimovskoho).

The immediate issue relating to the required denial of Andrei Bogdan entering the Verkhovna Rada should any reshuffle present the opportunity is now resolved.  (Not withstanding another 12 on the party list too).

The law may or may not get struck down in the future, but certainly not before any early Verkhovna Rada elections that may occur during the Spring of 2017.  Those elections will require new party lists which will certainly not feature Mr Bogdan on anything associated directly with President Poroshenko’s official party – or indirectly and unofficially supported Bankova project/technical parties.

Whether this offensive legislation will survive and for how long remains to be seen, for it can also be interpreted as a very crude method of buying Verkhovna Rada proportionally represented party seats when the leadership can pick and choose who fills them post election and CEC recognition.  Perhaps it was never designed to last, then again, perhaps it was.

h1

Sex in the city (or not) – Odessa

March 22, 2016

There are perhaps few older professions than prostitution.  Those of espionage and warfare are possibly equally as old, and all have been actively engaged in by human civilisation for as long as civilisation has managed to record history for posterity (and no doubt prior).

The issue of prostitution, no differently to those of espionage and warfare, naturally lead to robust discussion and quite often polarised positions within society.

For the record, this blog is socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  It’s flag is very solidly planted in the ground is that of rule of law in order to have a an anchor within the myriad of smoke and mirrors, complex issues, tricks and deceits that being human and part of civilisation throws up to challenge individual morality and/or collective ethic.

That is not to say the law cannot be an “ass” as the Dickensian quote goes, nor that a law should be accepted unconditionally.  If “the law is an ass” then there generally are mechanics to amend or repeal statute.  There are also laws that are so widely ignored by society and unenforced by the State that their very existence de facto ceases to exist.

Regarding any legislation, especially proposed legislation, there are simple questions to ask.  Is the law necessary?  If “Yes”, OK  If so, does its content advance justice?  If “Yes” then OK.  Will it adversely effect basic and fundamental rights?  If “No” then OK.  Opposing answers to any of those given should give rise to reconsideration of the proposed legislation.

Ukraine will be revisiting a lot of its existing, post-Soviet legislation in an effort to “Europeanise” its statute book.  It will not find a “pan-European” answer to quite a lot of it.  Prostitution will be one of those areas where there is no “European” answer, despite every nation across the continent of Europe since time immemorial having active prostitutes (both male and female).

pros

In some nations, prostitution is illegal – it is that simple.  In others it is legal.  In many it sits in a grey area where some situations relating to prostitution are legal and other situations illegal.  In some nations, a prostitute (or two) can work from a domestic dwelling selling sex and remain within the law.  Three working from that dwelling then makes it a brothel as defined by law – and thus illegal.  In other nations, brothels are legal, taxed and employees subject to regular medical checks – yet street walkers are illegal.

Then there are the massage parlours, visiting masseuses, escorts, gentleman’s clubs, entertainment centres et al, which whilst offering services within the law, also infer (often correctly) that services outside the law are also available.

All rather complex shades of legal right and wrong – and no degree of illegality (or otherwise) seems to have any effect when it comes to absolute prohibition becoming a reality (as human history ably displays).  The question that presents itself for Ukraine when it revisits its prostitution laws, is whether to leave them as they are, or relax them – and if relaxed to what degree?

If legalising, or decriminalising (not the same thing) prostitution, is it done to the point of it becoming a taxable profession by the State, and thus a profession that need not hide from the authorities but can indeed expect its protection?

What effects would that have upon the associated criminality such as “pimping” and human trafficking (people smuggling is not the same thing) – regardless of any additional fiscal revenue?

Would there be societal health benefits to doing so regarding HIV or STDs?  What are the experiences of other European nations?

Odessa is a transit route from MENA, to MENA, (mostly via Turkey and Iran), it is also source as well as an end destination with regard to human trafficking (be it sex or labour related).

Whatever decisions are eventually made by the national legislature, will there be an associated “public education campaign” associated with any changes?  State institutions and authorities whilst the first line of detection are not and cannot be the be-all and end-all.  For a start, one of the obvious indicators of trafficking is the victim is indeed the fear of the authorities and state institutions.  There are other obvious signs at points of entry and egress that trained State employees would recognise.  Just as importantly for a Ukrainian internal strategy would be an awareness campaign among landlords, hotel staff, medical staff, housing authorities, pub, club and bar owners, NGOs and civil society that deal with domestic violence, prostitution, truancy  etc – as well as a well publicised hot-line to report suspect incidents that fall without any legal changes – and this is broad brush-strokes, without going into the nuts and bolts, but a more liberal approach to prostitution  should not lead to a blind eye to trafficking or coerced participation.

Currently in Odessa there seems to be something of a crack down, with 3 pimps arrested in one incident (21st March), and a “Cam-Girl” studio also closed down and the two organisers arrested (22nd March).  Of note, in these reports there is no mention of the outcomes for those involved in the physical delivery of services.  Were any trafficked and/or coerced?  If so were they treated as victim rather than offender?

Similar “flesh-cam” entities in Odessa have also been shut down following police action over previous months.

Of the strip clubs in Odessa city centre, Flirt, Axis, Casanova, Rasputin, The Office etc – at least one owner has had police visits too.  It may be coincidence such visits occurred as “flesh-cam” operations and pimping are also targeted.  It may be due to tectonic shifts in the underworld, it may be due to routine checks, or it may be due to intelligence led policing.

The crack down is of course both within and also upholding the current laws – just as a previous gambling (which is also illegal) campaign was.  The outcome, naturally, is that illegal gambling remains in Odessa, and unfortunately the proposed legislation allowing return of gambling in no way even attempts to legitimise what exists – and thus it will continue to exist illicitly.

The outcome of a crack down on the sex trade will be just as ineffective under current legislation.

Prickly as these legislative and societal issues may be, if there is to be a genuine attempt to re-orientate a post-Soviet society to a “European” one, they are issues that will have to be faced.

A reader may ponder whether as and when Ukraine (and it surely will in an attempt to legitimise currently vast illegitimate money flows) addresses its prostitution legislation (with a confused eye upon radically differing domestic European laws), it arrives at any legislative changes that aim to create a “pimp” free, trafficking highlighting, coercion-less, safer climate for the men and women that choose (whatever the reason for that choice) the profession at the forefront of any legislative text allowing for tax collection that may follow.

Simply creating legislation that creates conditions that can be met by only a few vested interests, and a newly State taxable part of the economy, seems unlikely to enhance justice (in the broadest sense of the word) – very much like the proposed gambling legislation fails to do.

Whatever the outcome, a conversation has already begun among certain legislators regarding changing the sex selling rules whilst the police in Odessa are rightfully and actively upholding (whatever the motivation and/or duration) the current legislation.

Sex in the city – or not – and if so under what new rules, is an issue that will undoubtedly reach the legislature in the near/medium term.   How Ukraine handles it is far from certain.

%d bloggers like this: