Archive for April 3rd, 2016

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Media fumbles – Ukraine and Odessa

April 3, 2016

After what had been a surprisingly reasonable trip to Washington DC, President Poroshenko managed to leave the USA undoing much of what had been achieved in the US media (both MSM and social).

In short, when asked to comment upon a critical and prickly Editorial in the New York Times lambasting the unyielding corruption that prevails in Ukraine, he rejected out of hand all criticism therein and framed the Editorial as part of the “Hybrid War” being waged against Ukraine by The Kremlin.

Whether it was published as an act of “Hybrid War” by The Kremlins”s useful idiots, or whether it was published by the “supporters of Ukraine” to assert well meant pressure, or is a genuine “Editorial” behind which are neither, is somewhat irrelevant.  The content of the Editorial is accurate as evidenced by numerous public statements by European, US and Canadian diplomats, and is clearly perceived by the Ukrainian domestic constituency as such too (if opinion polls are anything to go by).

Ergo to simply dismiss the Editorial as but another act of Kremlin “Hybrid Warfare”, paying no heed to, and failing to address the contents therein, does only harm to the Ukrainian cause in the USA – not to mention undoubtedly making matters far more difficult for those trying to convince Dutch voters to vote favourably toward Ukraine on 6th April.

What is perhaps worse, is that such an article should have been expected – and therefore prepared for.

The US taxpayer is underwriting US$ billions of Ukrainian loans, providing hundreds of millions of US$ in other funding, sparing no effort in shaping IMF opinion, and is expending an awful lot of diplomatic energy over Ukraine.  President Poroshenko may believe he has already done enough to deserve a second term as president, (indeed he does believe so), but neither the domestic constituency, nor the external supporters of Ukraine are inclined to think so.  All consider him to have much more to do with regard to curtailing and reducing corruption and insuring the equal and unbaised application of the rule of law.

The US taxpayer and media have every right to publicly criticise, and it would (or at lest should) be expected by any competent Presidential Administration that such criticism would be most overt during the visit of a President of a nation that is simply not living up to expectations (or return on capital employed if you prefer).

Indeed at the time of writing, Prosecutor General Shokin is still technically Prosecutor General Shokin.  The final legal act of signing and publishing a Presidential Decree dismissing him from the role has still not been done.

President Poroshenko had ample to time prepare to deal with the content of the editorial.  As already stated such an editorial should have been anticipated during his time in the US, even before he boarded a plane in Kyiv and headed to Washington.  Even if it had not been published, it should have been anticipated and prepared for.  Preparation and planning prevents piss poor performance – and clearly a piss poor performance is what the world witnessed by way of public presidential response to the Editorial.

To simply dismiss it as Kremlin misdeeds suggests that the President is either in cahoots with the vested interests and will henceforth simply dismiss all criticism as Kremlin nefariousness, or that he is in a state of denial and so distant from reality it defies belief, or that he suffers from Homo Sovieticus media advisers and/or refuses media advice.  Perhaps it is a combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

Whatever the case the presidential response was a PR faux pas tarnishing what was an otherwise surprisingly reasonable visit to Washington, and a faux pas that also brought severe criticism from within Ukraine among media and the voting constituency alike.

There were a multitude of ways to suggest the Editorial was a Kremlin “Hybrid War” piece and still give an erudite and yet humble response to the accurate content.  It is content that he simply has to address with far more vigour to retain the trust of both the external supporters of Ukraine, and enough of the domestic constituency too.

To call this incident a media fumble is to be charitable.

In Odessa, on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon, the first protests of the year involving any number of people occurred in the city centre.

Quite by chance this blog witnessed several hundred people marching from Ekaterinaskaya Ploshad.  They were protesting against corruption.  From what was seen and heard, the protest was not against any particular individual, but was a protest against the corrupt system as a whole.  Bravo!

Odessa

(Undoubtedly the removal of Davit Sakvarelidze as Regional Prosecutor of Odessa, a man widely perceived to be a reformer both regionally and nationally, and his replacement being Nikolai Stoyanov, a man widely perceived to be of the corrupt old guard (and indeed he was part of the regional apparatus under Yanukovych) will have acted as a catalyst.)

Following the march, certain high profile figures bemoaned and lamented the fact that few journalists and bloggers covered the event.  As already stated, this blog witnessed it purely by chance – and this despite at least one of those high profile figures complaining having both telephone number and email address for it.

Clearly the preparatory media preparation for this march/protest was fumbled.  Most journalists and bloggers in Odessa either know each other or know of each other and thus have the ability to contact each other – yet if high profile individuals who are part of established entities want preparatory media coverage to either encourage turnout, or simply garner ample MSM/social media coverage, is it not beholding of them to let the media and blogging community know directly (if deemed necessary)?

How difficult is it to compile an email distribution list?  For those high profile individuals lamenting the lack of media and blogger attendance for the anti-corruption march/protest in Odessa, creating such an email distribution list is not a difficult thing to do – for all the local journalists and bloggers are already known to them.

This blog is on the distribution list of numerous embassies when it comes to receiving invitations.  In fact it is on several distribution lists of various categories within individual embassies.  As the blog is not a journalistic entity, the fact that is it on some but not all distribution lists within embassies is appreciated.  Turning up for the official opening of an envelope it would not do – but certain events have a guaranteed attendance (notwithstanding personally sent individual email requests to “have a chat”).

In short the Odessa anti-corruption march was not a failure with regard to turnout (though undoubtedly it could have been higher with wider preparatory coverage), but due to another media fumble and a lack of preparation, it failed to get the coverage desired.

Once again, planning and preparation prevent piss poor performance – and no differently to the widely perceived fumble of President Poroshenko, both could have easily been avoided.

The PR people certainly aren’t earning their keep this weekend!

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A cyber conundrum for Ukraine (and beyond)

April 3, 2016

Knowing so little about the workings of the cyber world, during a discussion initiated by a boffin from Oxford University at the recent Odessa Security Forum gathering this blog was taken into a world it hardly comprehends – at least on a technical level.

The cyber threats however are not beyond recognition even for those without any particular technical knowledge of how things are actually achieved.  Thus policy and strategy, despite no technical knowledge or ability, are not beyond the realms of pondering (even for the most technologically ignorant such as this blog).

Whether it be something approaching a temporary national convulsion as experienced by Estonia in 2007, with banks, the parliament, and broadcasters being downed, or the disruption of technical operations in conventional warfare experienced by Georgia in 2008, or the physical infrastructure damage such as that caused by the Stuxnet worm in 2011, or system wide computer malfunctions experienced by Sony in 2014, or the 2016 hack of the Ukrainian power grid, there would appear to be an empirical trend of escalation – or “pushing the envelope” to use the Tom Wolfe idiom.  (It is perhaps a blessing that so old and ignored is Ukrainian infrastructure since independence that manual systems still exist to rectify matters swiftly.)

Directly or indirectly lives may have been lost through such acts, perhaps deliberately so on the battlefield, and perhaps as a consequence of downing power grid (or other) infrastructure.

The above incidents are employed to simply display a perception of escalation – there are numerous public domain incidents that could have been cited, and undoubtedly even more incidents remaining without the public domain that could have been used that may have already led to the loss of life.

All of which leads to the especially difficult question regarding what, exactly, will be the threshold for a cyber act that is deemed an act of war?  Particularly so when such acts can be far more easily and deniably outsourced to non-State entities by the State?

Clearly those attacking any system have the advantage over those trying to defend it.  There is no such thing as 100% security – on line or off line.  Where there is a will there is a way with sufficient skill, determination, time, or money – or a combination thereof.

How do those on the receiving end recognise the difference between espionage (which all States engage in) and what is an attack (which perhaps not all States currently have the capability for) that will leave behind something nasty and that in the months ahead bring down critical defences and/or infrastructure?

Yet further, how easy would it be to misinterpret intent or miscalculate effects?  How to judge the proportionate response – at least in a timely manner?

cyber

Despite the media and some officials (who should perhaps know better) having irrevocably dubbed The Kremlin war upon Ukraine a “hybrid war”, it is not a label this blog has, does, or will employ willingly or comfortably.  It is a war on many fronts, hard and soft, diplomatic and military, economic and social etc – but none of that is new, nor historically are their simultaneous use.

That said, there is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and terrorism.  There is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and organised crime – indeed with some States it is not always easy (if at all possible) to separate the State from organised crime, or organsised crime from the State.  There is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and geopolitics.  All of which leads to the empirical convergence of the space between war and peace – and ultimately what will be deemed and act of war – or not?

There will never be an international law that bans espionage – because every State engages in it.  Domestic statute will predominantly deal with those caught engaging in espionage against the domestic interest, but will not ban the practice against others.  Espionage, war and prostitution are probably the oldest recorded professions of the human race.  All will continue to be engaged in.

Ukraine has no shortage of highly skilled IT professionals.  It is the number one IT outsourcing nation for companies within the European continent.  It has an incredibly high number of Microsoft and Apple certified programmers as well as programmers fluent in all those languages this blog simply does not care to understand (C++, Java and a dozen others no doubt).  Ergo on the other side of that IT coin, there are hundreds of thousands of hacker, black net, black hat, malware, and adware capable individuals.  If they are capable of that, they are capable of more strategic efforts too – either in the more difficult realm of defence, or in the easier realm offensive.

It is perhaps one of the few spheres where Ukraine can mitigate the Kremlin escalation dominance with equal potency.

Undoubtedly Ukraine has a policy for cyber issues.  It will thus have a strategy (although implementation will probably be problematic as Ukraine seems unable to implement most of its policies effectively).  Quite what the national definition of a cyber incident is that classifies a cyber act as an act of war, who knows – and perhaps ambiguity in the public realm is the best option anyway, for is it even possible to make strict definitions in a cyber environment where technology and complexity changes so swiftly?

With regards to Russia it perhaps matters not, for The Kremlin is already engaged in a war against Ukraine across all of the more traditional fronts.  As the war The Kremlin is waging upon Ukraine, it is clearly a war of exhaustion.  Thus as all fronts will therefore remain open for many years to come, cyber attacks will be a reoccurring theatre – yet it is a theatre that Ukraine has the ability to engage in with equal measure – putting to one side the issue of espionage.  (On the subject of espionage, Ukraine would perhaps be better working on the basis that is has no secrets such is the level of infiltration.)

One may wonder therefore whether Ukraine is proactively recruiting (either overtly or covertly) its best and brightest IT techies, and if so whether that is enough to keep Kremlin cyber attacks to a minimum in the knowledge that it is perhaps one of the few areas that it would not hold clear dominance?

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