Archive for April, 2016

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Stability and Democracy for Ukraine Act/STAND for Ukraine Act

April 30, 2016

In the US Congress, Bill 5094 has been submitted, entitled Stability and Democracy for Ukraine – or STAND for Ukraine Act as a reader may prefer.  It has cross-party support, the charge through Congress to be headed by Messrs Engel (Democrat) and Kinzinger (Republican).

The core of the proposed legislation seeks to reaffirm several issues – clarifying existing U.S. policy toward Ukraine and unambiguously acknowledging the Ukrainian right to self-defense.  It seeks to robustly link sanctions relief for Russia to timely, complete, and verifiable implementation of the Minsk framework.  It ergo addresses the occupied Donbas issue.

It further cements U.S. Crimean policy in the same foundation as the doctrine of non-recognition set by the US for the duration of the USSR’s 50 year occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

It seeks to further tighten existing US sanctions on Russia by creating a seemingly stricter sanctions-evasion framework and demands a regular report on foreign financial institutions that are illicitly controlling Ukraine state-owned assets in Crimea.

Of particular importance is the imposition of an Arms Export Control Act founded upon a presumption of denial standard upon any NATO member that transfers certain defense equipment or services containing US technology and/or components to Russia while Russia is forcibly occupying the territory of Ukraine (or any NATO member – read Baltic reassurances).  A reader may ponder just how much of NATO allies defence equipment and/or services employ absolutely zero US technology – even if it contains no US components.

The Bill seeks to extend the reach of the Magnitsky Act to any and all territories occupied or otherwise controlled by Russia – presumably Abkhazia, Crimea, South Ossetia, and Transnistria where Russian military are physically present, rather than those areas that Russia de facto controls by other means.

Interestingly, the Bill also directs the US Administration to liaise with Kyiv in order to create an international consortium to drive private investment in Ukraine by minimizing and pooling political risk to would-be private investors.  An oblique reference to some form of international insurance scheme backed by States to guarantee entry into Ukraine for international corporations perhaps?

Regarding the wider Ukrainian neighbourhood, the Bill requires the Secretary of State to develop and implement a strategy to respond to the Kremlin disinformation and propaganda efforts aimed at the Russian-speaking areas in countries bordering Russia.  This is perhaps a somewhat narrow view, for Kremlin disinformation, agitprop and propaganda is aimed at a far broader audience than its diaspora and ethnic Russians in its immediate neighbourhood.  Much of it is aimed at the being fly-paper for the swivel-eyed in nations beyond its immediate boarders.

All important considerations.

However, perhaps the most important of all with a new US President upon the immediate electoral horizon, is that from a legislative stance the Bill places into statute the existing Executive Order sanctions imposed on Russia for the forcible and illegal occupation of Crimea.  It is easier for a sitting US President to cancel a pre-existing Executive Order than it is to repeal existing legislation passed by Congress and the Senate.

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The Bill would require that a US President, prior to lifting Ukraine-related sanctions, submit official certification to Congress that Ukraine has restored its sovereignty over Crimea, or that alternatively the peninsula’s status has been resolved to the satisfaction of a sitting and democratically elected government in Kyiv.

In short, Crimean sanctions, via this Bill, will stay in place for a very long time – as they should if the reasons they were imposed are to be honoured (namely a tome of international instruments and agreements completely disregarded by The Kremlin).

There is perhaps one concern, albeit currently certainly not an issue regarding Crimea now.

As there is no way The Kremlin will leave Crimea whilst Mr Putin is alive, and there is no reason to believe any successor will undo the annexation either (living President’s/former President’s legacies etc), a reader may ponder just how many years it will be before certain western capitals would begin to pressure Kyiv to reach that “alternatively the peninsula’s status has been resolved to the satisfaction of….” status.

A reader may imagine in a truly wild flight of fancy, that Minsk is actually implemented, (which it will not be, and those that “negotiated” Ukraine into Minsk should perhaps if unable to “negotiate” it out, then at the very least be “negotiating” its continued stalling), how many years would it be before the sanctions on Crimea became simply irksome to them and sustained pressure was then put upon Kyiv to “accept reality” and strike a deal to “its” satisfaction (or more to the point, its dissatisfaction)?

After all, this Bill, is part of a policy toolkit no differently than sanctions are – but neither are actual policy.  Perhaps, “the West” will actually arrive at a policy – but to do that, it must first decide what it wants in the face of a protagonist that has for many years unambiguously stated it does not want to be like, nor part of, “the West”.

Nevertheless, the most important issue here and now, on the presumption it becomes law, is perhaps the transferring of an existing Executive Order into the US statue book prior to US presidential electoral outcomes.

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A “negotiable rule of law” – Odessa & Ukraine

April 29, 2016

It has for many years been said, here at this blog and across the entirety of right-thinking people, that the rule of law will be the only foundation from whence something approaching a functioning State will emerge as far as Ukraine is concerned.

Rule of law with a functioning and professional civil service and State institutions to deliver it, monitor it (together with independent entities), and ultimately enforce it in a predictable and unbiased way would catapult the nation forward.

Sadly, the rule of law in Ukraine is anything but predictable or unbiased, rarely allowed to work without the meddling of external parties, and is unpredictable and often biased if and when applied.  Even then there are questions over the enforcement of judicial rulings should matters get that far.

It is not only the big or headline cases that make the national news suffer from meddling.  Local and regional rule of law suffers similarly at the hands of the local and regional elites.

Nor is such meddling confined to any specific area of law.  Criminal, economic, family law etc – none are free of meddling at any stage of proceedings.

Accepting that the Homo Sovieticus system and mentality of “Here is my offender – now go find me a suitable crime” – or alternatively “He is my man – there was no crime, forget about it”, still exists and thus represents direct perversion and manipulation of the rule of law, the institutions and all personally involved, there is also the matter of “negotiated law” enforcement.

As an example of just how easy it is for the public to be deprived their lawful remedy via “negotiable rule of law”, the on-going issue of illegal construction in Odessa city centre is a useful guide.

46 Pushkinskaya, a building registered as an architectural monument of local importance, has seen its tenants locked in a battle with a construction company called Hephaestus that is building a multistory complex at Pushkinskaya 48.  City Ordnance prohibits construction of more than 5 stories in the historical centre of which Pushkinskaya is clearly and unambiguously a part.

The planning permission documents held by Hephaestus provide for a 3 story building with attic – therefore falling within the rules.

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Hephaestus however, have currently completed the 6th story and have begun to construct the seventh – in complete disregard for City Ordnance and the documented planning permissions that they hold.  Hephaestus are building for an end client called Atlant, who also have not produced documentation that legitimises the current construction.

The residents/tenants of 46 Pushkinskaya officially appealed to City Hall for help, and People’s Deputy Eduardo Stas, who is a fairly decent man, took up their cause as a People’s Deputy should.  He created a commission to look at the illegal construction in the heart of the city – for the issues raised at Pushkinskaya 48 are sadly not unique.

As is always the case, when the law and rules are simply ignored and/or not enforced, fewer and fewer decide follow them as there becomes an inferred belief that tacit approval is given by the authorities.  (For the record, the unofficial stance of those at the top of City Hall regarding this particular construction is that nobody would build on this plot of land in the city centre if limited to 5 stories – so what can you do? – Unsurprisingly Mayor Turkhanov and his band displaying a complete disregard for the law and providing that tacit approval.)

After three meetings of the “Stas commission” held at 83 Kanatna, for the third time the representatives of the State Architectural Control body failed to attend – despite being based at 83 Kanatna, the same building in which the commission met.  Indeed Mr Stas rightly reached the end of his patience and went and found representatives of the SAC in the building, forcing their attendance.

Hephaestus, contrary to existing City Ordnance, continued to state they held all documentation for six stories – despite currently constructing a seventh – but failed to provide them.  Thus Mr Stas and commission found that the construction be unauthorised and therefore illegal.  The otherwise absent SAC then audited the construction.  A fine of UAH 1 million was imposed (although it is unknown if it has been paid).  UAH 1 million is not a lot of money, the land of 48 Pushkinskaya is worth considerably more than that, and with the illegal construction orders of magnitude more, measured in multiple millions of US$ rather than UAH.

Nevertheless work on the 7th story continues.

Hephaestus is attempting to negotiate a settlement with those of 46 Pushkinskaya that brought the matter to the attention of Mr Stas, but those tenants are not impressed and a settlement has not been reached.

Ms Stas and the commission have therefore arranged another meeting in mid-May.

None of this has played out in a courtroom.

Whilst it be the tenants of 46 Pushkinskaya that have brought the matter to the attention of the otherwise deliberately blind and tacitly approving City Hall, the real complainants are all the citizens of Odessa.  In short the complainants are “we the people” and not simply those living at 46 Pushkinskaya.

Whether or not Hephaestus and the tenants of 46 Pushkinskaya reach an agreement, the construction remains illegal.  Thus whatever deal is reached between them is somewhat irrelevant.

The institutions of due process and the rule of law are currently excluded from the workings whilst Mr Stas and commission are wrongfully trying to mediate a settlement between those living at 46 Pushkinskaya and those at building at 48.

The construction remains in breech of City Ordnance.  It remains without the planning documentation required.  It defaces the historic city centre.  The construction is about as aesthetically pleasing as finding a Damien Hirst formaldehyde corpse at a Monet exhibition.

An insignificant UAH 1 million fine (if ever paid) will do nothing to prevent others from ignoring the City Ordnance or sticking to parameters of the planning permissions they are given.

Once Mr Stas and commission arrived at the (rightful and obvious) conclusion that the construction was unauthorised and thus illegal, the matter should be passed to the courts.  It is not for Mr Stas and commission to mediate outcomes when the rule of law has been broken.  The rule of law is not “negotiated” by a City Deputy or his assembled commission.  The rule of law is the competency solely of those institutions charged with enforcement and due process – never more so than when the rightful complainant is “the people”.

“Negotiated/negotiable” rule of law by City Deputies in lieu of legal remedy will do nothing to insure compliance with the planning permission granted and/or City Ordnance in the future.  Official due process and enforced judicial rulings can be the only avenue.

The sad truth is that Mr Stas has actually done far more than most would have as a People’s Deputy.  Unfortunately he has now done too much and gone too far (as well meaning as he may be), and impinged upon the right of “the people” to legal remedy in a court of law by continuing to “mediate” rather than informing the court of his and the commission’s finding of unauthorised, and thus illegal construction.

This is but a single and seemingly unimportant case.  Yet it is an example of many thousands of similar cases across Ukraine where the rule of law is “negotiable” by those with no authority to “negotiate” it.

The end result of this particular case is already clear.  An illegal and undocumented construction (or belatedly documented some time hence) will remain.  An immovable Damien Hirst formaldehyde corpse will be a permanent feature at the Monet exhibition.

The construction company will not be forced to demolish all the illegally built floors and comply with the permissions granted.  “The people” will not get to opportunity for remedy by way of due process.  The rule of law will suffer another blow.  Others will follow in the footsteps of  Hephaestus and Atlant in the expectation of proceeding along the same “negotiated route” – and that route may be far less transparent than Mr Stas has been.  Nobody will be fired from within the SAC for failure to do their jobs.  Each and every step toward change in Odessa and Ukraine and the unchallenged ascendancy of rule of law will be an individual battle fought – won or lost – for a long time to come.

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Why Azov? Odessa

April 29, 2016

Having outlined over the course of several entries the escalatory and reckless politics of the local political class as the calendar moves ever-onward toward the second anniversary of the 2nd May tragedy in Odessa – entries that by no means mention every incident that has occurred – it appears Kyiv has finally stopped navel gazing and decided that assistance may be indeed wise, and has now offered such preparatory assistance.

“That said, 2015 did not see the local political class so openly manipulating events and forcefully pushing their own personal agendas in such a reckless manner – the tragic events of 2014 however, did.”

Indeed, the National Guard which sits within the Ministry of Interior structure, having first pooh-poohed the Governor’s call for assistance stating it did not get involved in such clearly reckless politically motivated and instigated nonsense, has now decided – or perhaps has been instructed – to send assistance.

As it would be a political disaster for President Poroshenko to watch any events in Odessa spiral out of control having ignored his own appointed Governor’s very public request, what choice did he have?

To be blunt neither the National Guard nor the police should get involved in reckless and politically instigated nonsense – unless the rule of law cannot be upheld in the resulting aftermath, at which point both, depending upon the perceived gravity of disorder have a duty to the State and society (and not necessarily the vested interests of the political class) to keep order within the parameters of the rule of law.

In an attempt to keep track of the law enforcement bodies that will be actively working in Odessa from 30th April, there seems to be approximately 1300 local police officers, 500 National Guard (most of which come from the Azov Regiment) and 1000 drafted in police officers from outside the region.

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Naturally there is no such thing as 100% security, be it  3,000 or 30,000 charged with preventing an incident occurring in the city, they cannot be everywhere all the time.  The point is to prevent the most grievous of incidents if possible, and contain the most disorderly if they manifest.

It is to be expected that there will be a zero tolerance approach taken by the authorities deployed to any stupidity – or worse – that occurs.

A reader may rightly ponder whether such attention will be solely focused on the city of Odessa – for there are politicians in the south-west of the oblast recklessly, yet deliberately, stoking the fires of ethnicity for political blackmail purposes to advance their own personal ends (and hoping to be able to keep the genie in the bottle if they get what they want having rubbed it profusely).  That said, those manifestations appear to be manipulated more toward Victory Day on the 9th May.

Such obvious and reckless political stupidity aimed toward 9th May is perhaps a secondary consideration for those looking to prevent lawlessness (or worse) on 2nd May in the city.  A matter of focusing upon one deliberately and recklessly politically induced incendiary date at a time perhaps.  9th May however, is also a date that will have to be well policed in the city too.

The decision to send the Azov Regiment (or several hundred of them) to Odessa is interesting – so much so that having dealt with numerous telephone calls and emails from various embassies in Kyiv regarding the general situation in Odessa over the past week – and notwithstanding a light grilling face to face with Nordic Ambassadors last week too – there have now been specific questions seeking speculative answers as to why Azov.  Why not a different National Guard unit?

Indeed only speculative answers can be offered, for only those that make the decisions can answer what considerations were involved in any final decision.

That it would be Azov was forewarned before any official announcement of any National Guard deployment, or indeed the troops of Azov arriving in Odessa.

So why Azov?

Starting with the obvious, officially, Azov is now called the Special Operations Regiment.  Perhaps it is therefore simply fulfilling the role its name suggests.  Perhaps there are some unstated doubts about the abilities and/or will of the local police to cope – be such doubts misplaced or not.

Perhaps it is the easiest unit to deploy to Odessa?  Mariupol is not that far away, but far enough for a reader to ponder whether there were not closer National Guard units available.

It may be that as Azov being the only unit within the National Guard to have combat experience (not to mention being one of the first units to have key personnel (if not the unit en masse) receive US training (Op Fearless Guardian) when assimilating into the National Guard, having its own tanks and APCs, and being trained as light infantry specialising in tactical interdiction and reconnaissance).   Perhaps the extreme political recklessness of the Odessa political class prompted Kyiv to decide only a National Guard unit with experience of war would suffice.

Indeed it maybe that it was thought that the reputation of Azov would be an additional consideration for any of those tasked with creating disorder – or worse.

It may also be that Azov and its command are seen as the least likely to pay any attention to the whims and laments of the local political class that are responsible for the current situation.  Indeed the perceived ideology that enveloped a percentage of those within Azov when created is hardly attune to that of many of the local political class that have deliberately manipulated and escalated the current situation.

Perhaps the association with Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch with some reach into Odessa, was deemed appropriate.

It may also be, as the public tiff involving name calling and flying glasses of water between Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Governor Saakashvili still remains in the memory, that Mr Avakov in sending Azov to the aid of Governor Saakashvili is to be seen as something akin to offering the proverbial olive branch.

Perhaps it sends an appropriate message to those with provocative self-serving political agendas that despite a clear unwillingness to support Governor Saakashvili is taking on the local vested interests (many of which see some of the cash flows head toward Kyiv), when push comes to shove Kyiv will back him – or perhaps not.

Whatever the case, the Governor has hardly been sent Dad’s Army.

There may be other reasons, or any or all of the above, or any combination thereof, that led to the decision to send Azov.

It rarely pays to speculate (publicly) but having been privately asked to speculate, why not share (some of) those speculations?

Would anybody care to speculate whether Azov will remain until after the 9th May Victory Day events, or whether they will disappear immediately after 2nd May has passed?  As already stated, 9th May may prove to be just as potentially problematic – particularly in the south-west of the oblast.

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Odessa Court refuses to satisfy City Council regarding mass events

April 27, 2016

It is not often – or certainly not often enough – that the courts of Odessa fail to satisfy the requests/petitions of City Hall.

Indeed much of the local constituency would perceive the courts of Odessa as being in cahoots with, or at the very least tacitly approving (by way of inaction) many acts of City Hall that would appear to breach the of City Ordnance to which it is meant to comply.

As stated in yesterday‘s entry. there is the possibility of some rather tense moments in Odessa over the coming weeks – the 2nd anniversary of the 2nd May tragedy, the 9th May Victory day events, and the first anniversary of Governor Saakashvili’s appointment.

All of these dates have the potential for mass gatherings and perhaps spontaneous, or agent provocateur instigated, or pre-planned violence, when considering the purely politically and artificially created atmosphere of complete intolerance among the local political class in recent weeks.

The “old guard” is clearly pushing back – Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk are pushing their agenda.  Anton Kisse in the south-west of the Oblast is making “Bessarabian” noises (again).  Mayor Trukhanov is under the Panama Papers cosh, Governor Saakashvili will face anniversary questions of accomplishments (or not), and the persistent mention of both Ihor Kolomoisky and Alexander Angert continues in the local political and underworld circles with regard to continued disservices to the well-being of the city (and region).  This notwithstanding continuing societal discontent over issues such as the perceived lack of rule of law and failure to tackle corruption within the local and national elite.

Considering these dates are upon the immediate horizon, City Hall petitioned the courts of Odessa to ban mass events from 1st – 10th May at Kulikovo Field.

Kulikovo Field, adjacent to the city centre railway station, has traditionally been the location for 9th May Victory Day military parades, and is also the location of Union House, the scene of several shootings and the fire that claimed so many lives in 2014.

City Hall claimed that allowing mass gatherings would “draw the attention of a large number of radical parties with an opposing civil position.”

Perhaps so.  Certainly a legitimate concern for those governing the city, and clearly a symbolic and tragic location.  It is to be duly noted that this was the only location that City Hall sought to ban mass gatherings between the dates identified.

The petition prima facie sought to prevent the opportunity for large scale disorder by preemptively banning large organised gatherings at Kulikovo Field, vis a vis the right of society to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of speech.

Such decisions are never particularly easy for any authority, albeit in a democracy the default position of a court should lean toward the fundamental rights of the constituency.  The case to curtail such rights must necessarily have a particularly high threshold.  Existing human rights outweighing the potential for human wrongs and all that.

(Reader’s will duly note that democracy and rule of law, and indeed the independence of the courts in Ukraine, can be perceived as somewhat subjective to be charitable.)

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The outcome was that the court in Odessa refused to satisfy the City Hall petition to ban mass events at Kulikovo Field.  The court stated that the City Hall arguments were simply not convincing as only one NGO had notified City Hall of its intention to carry out activities on Kulikovo Field during the period 1st – 10th May.

The NGO that notified City Hall of its intentions at Kulikovo Field was AutoMaidan Odessa, who planned to carry out “military/patriotic education of the youth” and familiarising “the youth” with MMGs (weaponry operation, size, weights etc) including their use and the use of pyrotechnics.

Quite rightly, the court banned the use of MMGs and pyrotechnics during the “military/patriotic education of the youth“, but not the NGO from holding its activities on Kulikovo Field.  It now falls to the police to insure that ban is robustly and uncompromisingly enforced.  (The lack of enforced court rulings across Ukraine is a significant problem – if a case gets to court at all.)

This raises the question of whether those that uphold the rule of law feel able to adequately provide for the safety of the local constituency – or not – when considering the risk of significant public disorder.  A reader may question what input, if any, the police and/or the SBU had in this City Hall petition to the court, and/or what evidence these institutions gave at the court hearing – if any.

All of that said, the vast majority of the local constituency will not be engaging in any AutoMaidan Odessa activities at Kulikovo Field, no differently from the vast majority of the local constituency not partaking in the tragic events of 2nd May 2014.  Indeed the vast majority of the local constituency have not attended any of the numerous 9th May military victory parades at Kulikovo Field of years past either.

It is therefore perhaps not the only the local constituency that City Hall fears when it states Kulikovo Field will “draw the attention of a large number of radical parties with an opposing civil position”.  Indeed, few would be surprised if “concerned citizens” (of various persuasions) external of Odessa were to arrive to “show their support” (to whomever).

Such non-local actors may decide it entirely unnecessary to inform City Hall of their attendance at Kulikova Field of course.  Ergo it may be the case that other organisations may be present.

What, if any, input from the SBU and/or police was given to the court with regard to intelligence is unknown.  The court can only rule upon the evidence and arguments presented.

If 2015 was an indication of what is ahead on these sensitive dates in 2016, then the court decision will certainly prove to be the right one.  That said, 2015 did not see the local political class so openly manipulating events and forcefully pushing their own personal agendas in such a reckless manner – the tragic events of 2014 however, did.

A few days of politically soothing rhetoric, a (perhaps unfortunately temporary) changing of modus operandi for some, and unambiguous stern words behind the curtain would seem in order to aid the court in its decision ultimately proving to be justified by events (or lack thereof) in the weeks ahead, rather than arguments presented upon which after due deliberation, it has now ruled.

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A tense fortnight ahead in Odessa? Yes if the politicians have anything to do with it

April 27, 2016

Ten days ago an entry appeared regarding the gaze of the reform orientated activists moving from the Odessa Prosecutor’s Office, having successfully ejected Nikolay Stoyanov from the role (albeit after he had closed a lot of cases into local vested interests and nefariousness), to that of City Hall and Mayor Trukhanov.

In short, the entry stated that flush with success at the Prosecutor’s Office in Odessa, the social activists would simulate their 24/7 protests outside City Hall.

Mayor Trukhanov (and City Hall) have aroused their ire after entirely inappropriate construction schemes on the historic Fransuski Boulevard, numerous secretive departmental meetings with no public input into decision making, abhorrent, (and in defiance of local ordnance), inconsiderate construction in the historic city centre,  the usual graft and inept use of the city budget, and notwithstanding the 20 (or more) offshore companies the Panama Papers linked to the Trukhanov name, together with his (alleged) holding a Russian passport.

As stated in that entry, the weather gets warmer and the 24/7 protests far easier to endure than was the case for the far cooler and wetter weather during the prosecutor protests.

The problem for Mayor Trukhanov therefore is that the protests are not about to disappear quickly.

Having already employed the Homo Sovieticus modus operandi of ignore, deny, deflect/distract to no avail, the entry stated – “The Homo Sovieticus doctrine regarding steps for further escalation are likely to make matters worse rather than better….”

With the second anniversary of the 2nd May tragedy, 9th May Victory Day, and Governor Saakashvili’s first anniversary on 15th May, the coming fortnight may well become quite tense. It may even boil over occasionally.  Thus escalation outside City Hall, as stated, would make matters worse rather than better in the lead up to so many difficult anniversary dates.

Having a 24/7 protest outside City Hall is clearly annoying for some within – particularly when visiting dignitaries are visibly reminded of the Mayor’s close association with organised criminality, and of the City Hall reputation for generally ignoring the rule of law and its own protocols and ordnance, notwithstanding graft and thievery.

It was with more than a little suspicion that greeted the announcement of City Hall’s politically controlled Praetorian Guard under the banner of “City Watch” which would help the police to police – despite having no legitimate powers to do so outside those granted to any and every citizen of Ukraine during the commission of crimes against a person or property.

Those protesting outside City Hall immediately perceived the “City Watch” entity as little more than a rent-a-mob/titushek/illegitimate paramilitary controlled by City Hall that would inevitably come into conflict with themselves when commanded by the politicians to do so.  The timing of the announcement therefore perceived as a shot across the protester bow then comfortably encamped outside City Hall.

However, the inevitable violence came during the night of 25/26th April.  Having gone without any incident outside the Prosecutors Office in Odessa for 17 days, in far shorter time period outside City Hall the titushek/rent-a-mob struck.

The tents were destroyed, protesters belongings were thrown into the back of a Kamaz truck, the protesters were beaten – some quite badly.

In short, the predicted escalation surrounding the events outside City Hall materialised – and will make matters worse and not better.in all probability.  There is now a further societal complaint – and one which is likely to swell rather than reduce protester numbers – that complaint being the absence of the rule of law even outside the Mayor’s office front door (which “mysteriously” are not caught on CCTV).

A reader may ponder that surely Mayor Trukhanov, albeit Homo Sovieticus to the core, would have realised that such an escalation would have significant risks – particularly as it was the beating of protesters that was the escalation that doomed former President Yanukovych and cemented the resolve of EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity.  Even Mayor Trukhanov is not that politically retarded to have failed to have learned that lesson – and even if he is, the wily, politically lithe, poisonous chamberlains that surround Mayor Trukhanov, such as Oleg Bryndak, certainly will not have forgotten.

Then again, maybe it is a double bluff in order to come out looking like the victim when indeed being the instigator.

Nevertheless, if to accept Mayor Trukhanov has successfully suppressed his Homo Sovieticus and organised crime instincts to crack the skulls of those that protest outside his place of work, then who managed to gather together approximately 40 titushek/rent-a-mob to attack the protesters and destroy their belongings in the middle of the night?

Who else gains from this escalation – and how?

The ever-slippery Oleg Bryndak was quick to publicly point the finger at Governor Saakashvili and his team.  His claim being that they need results and to force their agenda before the Governor’s anniversary this attack somehow significantly advances their cause.

Not only that, Mr Bryndak claimed that Governor Saakashvili’s people were behind an RPG-18 attack upon a Pivdennyi Bank headquarters the previous night.

Pivdennyi

Naturally a reader now asks why Pivdennyi Bank?

The blog will state only two things.  Firstly there is now a very close association between somebody in the City Hall treasury and the board of Pivdenniya Bank that appears to be questionable in its nature.  Secondly the OCCRP are looking at Pivvdenyi Bank too, although as yet they have published nothing.  The bank is very well run – but neither the OCCRP nor the interest of the Governor’s team is peaked by its daily operations.  There are other reasons.  For now, that is all that will be written regarding Pivdennyi Bank.

Whatever – when throwing accusations around, “in for a penny, in for a pound” it appears.  In short Mr Bryndak claims this is all a continuing provocation aimed at Mayor Trukhanov and City Hall by the Oblast Administration.

Also, the list of those happy to blame the Governor from the Odessa political class is also probably more notable for the few not on it, rather than the majority that are, for example the schism that exists between the reformers that identify with the Governor and the reformers that identify with Alexie Goncharenko, and those reformers that identify with yet others..  A united “reformer” front there is not.

Well perhaps, but Governor Saakashvili has just announced a major political win with President Poroshenko publicly “on board” with the Governor’s road to Romania project.  Prime Minister Groisman has announced a national customs reform programme will be unveiled within two months which seems likely to closely resemble the Governor’s project at Odessa Port.  The Odessa Port project therefore cannot be allowed to collapse under the enormous pressure of vested interests.  Even with a half-competent and reasonably honest appointment to Odessa Regional Prosecutor, and the wind would appear to be blowing (even if only slightly and temporarily) the Governor’s way.

Whether that proves to be enough for the Governor to stay, and whether his anticipated leaving be his decision or the President’s over the coming fortnight remains to be seen.  Perhaps he will stay for a while longer, for there is at least 6 months before any early Verkhovna Rada elections can be seriously contemplated.  How much does it matter?

The battlefield for Misha Saakashvili is far bigger than Odessa, and the “pocket Generals” of Odessa are unlikely to match him in a far bigger war theatre.  Both reformers and vested interests have won and lost battles in Odessa, but it is winning the war that will ultimately decide the fate of those fighting the Odessa battles.

Indeed, it will be a long war with many more battles along the way.  It appears that only the jailing of the Field Marshals of the Vested Interests will in any way change the context in which their regional “pocket Generals” fight.

So if not the Governor or his team, then who?

There are of course the vested interests and “pocket Generals”, some of whom have little liking for either Mayor Trukhanov or Governor Saakashvili – Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk, the protagonists/ideologues behind the political push for an Odessa porto franco being certainly among them, and both having a history employing titushek/rent-a-mob to further their causes.

The list does not necessarily end their either.

This is clearly a politically manipulated titushek-fronted incident.

There are others that would take no small degree of glee from putting Mayor Trukhanov under pressure.  For example former Mayor Eduard Gurvitz, friend of Sergei Kivalov, and not unknown to the Governor Saakshvili camp, has a particular and personal dislike for the man who currently runs City Hall.

There are yet others too but there is no need to go on, suffice to say that there are numerous political interests, some obvious and some less so, that could benefit from the titushek attack on the protesters.

The question therefore is discovering which one is behind this particular incident, and will it ever become known?

It seems that of the 40 people involved in the assaults on the protesters, and damage to their property, 5 were arrested by the police and criminal proceedings against them under Part 4 Article 296 of the Criminal code of Ukraine have begun.

Whether those that hired them will be identified remains to be seen.  Such people can be “professional Russians” one day, “professional animal rights” another, and “professional tree huggers” on yet another – depending upon who is paying for their muscle/actions.

It may very well be that they have no idea who ultimately sponsored/paid for their group, simply turning up, taking the money and doing their deeds.  Alternatively once their faces/names become known, it may well be that they are regularly seen in the company of certain aforementioned personalities.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, looking forward toward the Easter holiday, 2nd May anniversary, 9th May Victory Day and 15th May anniversary of Governor Saakashvili’s arrival, it may well prove to be a very testy time in Odessa – particularly so when there seems to be a good deal of deliberate political agitation currently coming from well known and old school odious personalities.

Governor Saakashvili has asked the President for the National Guard to be deployed – the National Guard has refused stating that the police should be able to cope and that the National Guard does not get involved with politically engineered shenanigans.  (A note to the National Guard, neither should the police, but rule of law must be upheld (as best they can)).

Let us hope that the National Guard is right and that the Governor’s call to the President is something of an overreaction.  Perhaps it is.  Giorgi Lortkipanidze appears a very reasonable police commander.  Neither President nor National Guard/Ministry of Internal Affairs will look particularly clever if despite the best efforts of the police matters spiral out of control, or spread over a wide geographical area however.

Whatever the case, the next week will be well spent politically attempting to defuse what has been artificially and purposely politically created after this recent and violent escalation.  It would be perhaps wise for those behind this political pantomime to remember that among any casualties that may result from their nonsense, they may ultimately be included in that number.

corrupt politician funny

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The road to Romania (The Odessa Oblast presentation)

April 25, 2016

Having mentioned recently (again) the necessity of maximising the relationship between Romania and Ukraine, the 25th April saw the Oblast Administration release estimates for a new 4 lane road from Odessa to Reni – and beyond into Romania, entering at the Orlovka-Isakchea border point.

There are 3 phases to the construction of this road.

Phase 1 is the Odessa to Shabo road, approximately 81 kilometers in length, including a bridge of almost 6 kilometers over the Dniester.  This cost has been estimated at $700,000 for the road – $400,000 for the bridge.

The second phase is a stretch of road to Orlovka of approximately 180 kilometers at an estimated cost of $2.5 billion.

The final stage, which seems likely to be part funded by Romania (and/or perhaps the EU via one of its many regional development budgets) is a 10 kilometer stretch of road, including a bridge over the Danube of approximately 4.5 kilometers in length.  The total cost $1.7 billion.

A grand total of approximately $4.6 billion for approximately 260 kilometers of 2 dual carriageways with a combined road width of approximately 29 meters, two substantial bridging projects, about 22 minor structures and an approximated usage of between 16,000 – 22,000 vehicles per day.

Aside from some Romanian (and/or EU funding) at the Isakchea end, the funding appears to be currently sourced from central government and customs duties payments allocated from those collected at Odessa Port (presuming the current transparent workings of Odessa Part are not toppled by the usual suspects/vested interests in the immediate future and the “old nefarious ways” return with a vengeance.)

Odessa Reni

$4.5 – $5 billion does seem a lot of money.  Questions will undoubtedly be asked about such a sum – and quite rightly.  Every single possible US$ return, both tangible and intangible, will have to be squeezed out of such a project.

To be blunt the existing road has long exceeded its lifespan, and to continue to employ “bodge it and scarper” patching contractors employing inferior materials and accompanying poor tradesmanship is financially self-defeating too.

That said, the new road, as Rome, is not going to be built in a day, ergo the budgetary costs will not have to be met in one budgetary period, but planned across several.  Construction is supposed to begin at the end of May 2016.

The new road is also about more than infrastructure and facilitating 22,000(ish) vehicles with a swift and quality trade/transport route.

The road is also clearly a political project too.  It ties Odessa as a city to the southwest of Odessa Oblast, and then onward to Romania and thus the EU not only physically, but also psychologically.  It is thus important to make the most of the proposed new infrastructure not only economically and politically, but also socially within and without the Oblast and national borders.

Courtesy of LB.ua

Courtesy of LB.ua

Briefly considering the above factual information, a reader may ponder whether there has been, is, or will be any thought toward a cycle lane.  In dropping this anchor into the Romanian and European infrastructure, then surely it should accommodate all the existing Romanian and European infrastructure that already exists at the other end.

There are numerous official Eurovelo routes across the EU.  One of those routes is Eurovelo 6.  This particular cycle route runs from France to Romania and could easily be afforded an official spur along the new road into Odessa city.

Indeed this blog was approached about just that, and whether there would be the interest and political support by the political class of Odessa.   If not could such interest and political support be generated?

Such things are not a problem.  A few words with a longtime good friend Petr Obyhov then of the Odessa Oblast Rada, and Odessa MP Alexie Goncharenko, et voilà –

_20160202_16335001

The only prerequisite required in getting such documentation swiftly is knowing which of the local political class are keen cyclists and which are not.  Knowing both Messrs Goncharenko and Obyhov are extremely keen cyclists guarantees the support.  Official political support as requested for the Eurovelo planning people in Brussels duly delivered (and “brownie points awarded to the blog for accomplishing such a simple task).

From a local societal perspective, as this blog occasionally glances at unpublished yet official opinion polls, there is a demand from the local constituency for an expansion of city-wide dedicated cycle lanes.  A most recent (official but unpublished) opinion poll had 5% of the city population “very keen” for the expansion of dedicated cycle lanes in the city.  (A percentage that can influence election results for any would-be Mayoral candidates in a city of 1 million plus.)

Ergo, cycling to and from Odessa – Romania (and vice versa) is likely to become quite popular, and also benefit the local economies of the towns and villages along the route in south-west of the Oblast.   Indeed when the Eurovelo people approached the blog, they had already completed the ride despite an existing road surface as cratered as the lunar surface.

E6

EV6 (Pink)

 

EV6

EV6

In summary, a reader may wonder how thorough the thinking by the Odessa Oblast Administration as to how to maximise the cultural and societal ties the proposed $4.6 billion Odessa-Reni road can bring.  What else lurks the other side of the Romanian border that can spur toward Odessa?  To squeeze every last intangible societal and cultural US$ from this political and economic investment, in pursuing the official EV6 spur to its bureaucratic conclusion, perhaps a marked cycle lane on the new road, and a few “EV6” signposts will go a little way in doing so.

When many within the Odessa community engage in 100 kilometer fun rides, cycling 260 kilometers on a quality surface into Romania will probably seem like a fun weekend for quite a few (perish the thought)!

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The Odessa Old Guard manipulates the OSCE

April 25, 2016

Since mid-2014 the infamous Sergei Kivalov MP, funder, founder and “ideologue” behind the local Ukrainian Marine Party in Odessa – which exists purely to put his people within City Hall and push and/or defend his interests – has been lobbying to turn Odessa into a Porto Franco, (or free port if you prefer).

Indeed, the Porto Franco concept for Odessa has been mentioned by this blog numerous times since the ex-Regionaires of Kivalov and Co arrived at the concept only when ousted from power – if indeed it was their concept back in 2014 – “…in Odessa, there are indeed seeds being sown over the past few weeks for a project amongst the conspirators, called “Porto Franco”.  In the past 3 weeks, a good deal of money has arrived in Odessa for the promotion of this project when the time to activate it arrives.

Those behind it are the usual political suspects – Messrs Markov (from afar), Pressman, Skoryk, Kivalov and Rabinovich.  Their aim is to give Odessa a special status in Ukraine as a free port – as the name “porto franco” infers.  The remnants of Party Rodina are preparing to be activated (now the money is here).  Trolls for the “Odessa Forum” and on-line media are being recruited.  The local media owned by these men is prepping to make the “porto franco” argument   A Bill to be submitted to the RADA seeking a special free port status for Odessa is being drafted in dark conspiratorial corners.

The motivations of these conspirators is naturally not the benefit of Odessa.  The special status has far more to do with yet more nefarious enrichment and far less accountability to Kyiv.  Defrauding and shameless theft of the decentralised Odessa budget sits atop the agenda.  Some of these men are also close to the Kremlin, and thus would have little compunction if the porto franco project was (mysteriously) co-opted by the SVR and GRU along the way.  The money that has arrived in Odessa over the past 3 weeks to finance this project is not theirs – despite them all being obscenely wealthy and capable of financing such an effort.” – 12th February 2015.

On 21st June 2015 – “Purely using a stick to try and beat the corruption out of the ports stands as much chance of beating it further inward, than it does of driving it out.

As for the ports, it may be possible to get vested interests both local and international “on-side” and reduce smuggling by turning them into free ports/porto franco where customs are much more “relaxed”, customs duties are wavered etc.

Unfortunately for the “separatist minded” forget the idea of political autonomy akin Hong Kong – think more of Copenhagen, Bordeaux or Bremerhaven.  With the DCFTA with the EU starting with effect of 1st January, turning the Odessa ports into international free ports/porto franco would seem entirely sensible from a national, regional and vested interests perspective.  It would sit nicely within any additional decentralised/devolved powers to be given to all regions, particularly so as the destiny of Odessa is set to remain in Ukraine by overwhelming constituency will.

That said, there have been numerous attempts and numerous discussions about this within the corridors of power under almost every president and parliament since independence – all have which have thus far decided against.

So, to rule in, or rule out, Odessa (and several other of its ports) as a free port/porto franco?”

There are other blog entries, however, as the two quoted above adequately imply, there is both something of a dilemma and also a requirement for clarity regarding any porto fanco/free port status that may or may not come the way of Odessa.

The first is to make clear to all – particularly those behind the pushing of the concept (Messrs Kivalov, Skoryk in particular, and to a lesser degree Messrs Pressman, Kisse and Rabinovichthat should it come, then it functions as porto fanco/free ports function in Copenhagen, Bordeaux or Bremerhaven – with absolutely no political autonomy by way of locally created foreign or trade policy.  It will not operate as Hong Kong did/does.

Stating clearly, robustly and repeatedly, until it is fully understood by those that fear “separatism” if a degree of foreign or trade policy is surrendered to Odessa by the centre, that such policy ground is not and will not be surrendered in granting any such status is necessary.  Foreign and trade policy will remain a national policy.

Likewise, the same has to be made entirely and unambiguously clear to the ideologues such as Sergie Kivalov who is the driving force behind the concept – or at least prima facie the driving force behind the concept.

Indeed, it is perhaps simply because Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk in particular are associated with the porto franco/free port concept that it brings with it fears of “separatism” for some.  Neither have a history of being particularly patriotic – at least toward Ukraine.  Thus the shadow of Moscow will continue to be cast upon this project in the minds of a great many within the local constituency.

That said, the genuine 2014 threat of separatism in Odessa was swiftly ended the moment Crimea was sanctioned.  Odessa is a mercantile city and sanctions would mean its economic death as all residents know – regardless of their Kyiv or Moscow leaning.  Ergo if separatism equalled sanctions in 2014, there ended any groundswell for separatism.

What is and was left were Potemkin facades such as the “Bessarabia operation,  which soon faded when the Russian Consular General Valeriy Shibeko  was made persona non grata and the logistics behind such facades seemingly left with him.  Indeed after his departure there was only one bomb explosion that readily comes to mind – that at the SBU building.  All others by recollection occurred prior to his departure.  A coincidence of course.

Over the past few weeks the Porto Franco concept has once again been reenergised.

Odessa MPs Kivalov, Skoryk, Pressman and Kisse have submitted a draft law to the Verkhovna Rada, imaginatively entitled “On the free (special) economic zone – Free port”.  (A reader should not hold their breath for it to see the Verkhovna Rada voting chamber any time soon however.)

Sergei Kivalov’s Marine Party and the Opposition Block have formed a local “For Free port” political group within City Hall – albeit meetings regarding the project have been held outside City Hall and thus subject to activist protests, as well as facilitating OSCE attendance.

It is from that YouTube above, Sergei Kivalov and Mykola Skoryk, have seemingly engaged themselves in fabricating the OSCE stance toward the porto franco issue, and in particular the criticising the dissent and disagreement by those against the concept.

kivalov

In true Homo Sovieticus manipulation of the media, an entirely fake OSCE statement mysteriously appeared, promulgated by Sergei Kivalov on his website.  Indeed, whilst the OSCE statement doesn’t even look particularly authentic in appearance, it is certainly not written in standard OSCE prose.

OSCE

The entirely fake OSCE statement reads “13.04.2016  Representatives of the OSCE recorded the failure of the joint meeting of the parliamentary group and scientists. The event took place at the following address: Odessa, Str. Sabaneev Bridge 4. The unknown persons who ruined a joint session of deputies of Odessa City, Regional Council, as well as scientists, have positioned themselves as “activists of pro-Ukrainian forces.”
Indicating a violation of international humanitarian law. This is due to the lack of evidence of effective and impartial investigation of the Ukrainian authorities, the crimes committed by the so-called “activists of pro-Ukrainian forces.”
This case adds to a huge number of examples of gross violations of human rights, the rule of law and international humanitarian law by the authorities of Ukraine, which led to the preservation, according to international organizations, the disastrous humanitarian and human rights situation in Odessa, in particular, and Ukraine as a whole.”

Clearly not the OSCE lexicon or turn of phrase ever likely to become public through official or unofficial channels.

Indeed the OSCE has categorically denied making any such statement regarding the incident, or giving any official view regarding the concept on its Facebook page.   There is nothing on the official OSCE website either.

Following the false statement’s promulgation, the OSCE asked the media that prior to publishing such statements, the media should verify them with the OSCE as genuine and accurate.  Well quite right – but not all the media of Odessa carried the fake OSCE report story.

Thus, it is perhaps necessary to take a closer look at those media outlets that did publish.

Putting to one side Sergei Kivalov’s own website, both  Slovo and Reporter that carried the fake story are owned by Sergei Kivalov.  Odesskiye Vedomosti and Odessa 1 which also carried it are owned by Mykola Skoryk – ideologue and deputy ideologue behind the porto franco/free port concept, as well as being politically odious old guard politicians, and forever defenders of the “old ways” of doing things.  The only other site to carry the story that day appears to have been Informacionnyi Centr, another site with a blatant bias.

That these local media outlets carried the fake OSCE statement and that others did not is hardly surprising.  The ownership behind the local media dictates what stories are likely to gain predominance – and/or retractions (of which there have thus far been none regarding the fake OSCE statement).

Therefore, a reader may perhaps conclude that the creation of the clearly fake OSCE statement promulgated predominantly by Mr Kivalov’s website and the local media outlets owned by Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk, has something to do with them.  That links still remain live to such officially refuted falsehoods within their respectively owned media outlets will perhaps also allow readers to draw inference.

Neither man would have been fooled by such a clear OSCE fake when deliberately circulating it.  Even a cursory glance at the political histories of both men would display far more than a passing knowledge of OSCE wordsmithery and diplospeak to the point where neither naivety nor ignorance can pass as an excuse for failing to recognise a fake when it is put before them.  Thus their actions were deliberate – and perhaps premeditated.

Why then, would they pursue such a brazen and clearly refutable media tactic – one likely to be frowned upon by the OSCE and its members, and thus by extension Kyiv?

Firstly, their gullible readership will have already accepted the misinformation, and who now believe that the OSCE are tacitly in favour of the porto franco/free port project and simultaneously very tired of “activists” who breach “international law” per the false statement.  It thus becomes part of a PR project to raise the profile of Operation Porto Franco, and by extension in part attempt to cleanse the very sullied reputations of the MPs involved.  That it is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon means any populist economic nonsense stated in connection with the project will not be tested.

Secondly, they see weakness in Kyiv and the opportunity to undermine the Governor’s “Customs Project” at Odessa Port which is clearly interfering in their vested interests there – notwithstanding the vested interests of those around them too.  Indeed the toppling of Yulia Marushevska and her team is a priority having managed to remove Davit Sakvarelidze as Odessa Prosecutor and install Nikolay Stoyanov just long enough to close all the cases Mr Salvarelidze opened.

Thirdly, they will be aware that the new Cabinet of Ministers is likely to arrive at a customs reformation programme within the next few months (3 months at most) that may well kill off any chance of a porto franco/free port for Odessa – and perhaps make all ports run in a a similar way to that of the Governor’s project.

More broadly, such brazen acts become part of the resurgence of the “Old Guard” and a return to “the old ways” – albeit those days as they knew them are gone, and the “old guard” is starting to look less like the traditional oligarch system and far more like a wider, more inclusive, set of financial-political groupings of smaller beings intent upon State capture.

As Mr Kivalov is unlikely to be included in such a financial-political group, and Mykola Skoryk is exiled Dmitry Firtash’s man in Odessa, both may find themselves outside (or peripheral at best) of the new coalescing structures. To take ownership of porto franco/free port concept and the nefarious opportunities it could (and would without customs reform) bring, its creation would have to happen in the immediate future whilst they still retain some, albeit fading, power.  It would also facilitate their greater relevance for the new coalescing structures.

Dune on power corrupts

Nevertheless, a rather brazen act that has the potential to bring about far more trouble than it was probably worth – desperate times requiring desperate measures perhaps?

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