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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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