Archive for July, 2016

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A bubbling underworld – Odessa

July 31, 2016

This entry perhaps requires something of a full (or as full as is necessary) disclosure, if for no other reason than to add some local provenance to a past practitioner career that very much rubbed up against organised crime, initially indirectly and latterly directly.

Within the family tree on the Slavic side there are, perhaps paradoxically given the author’s past career, several (in)famous Slavic organised criminals.  Indeed the godfather of the boy is, or was, a Godfather.  For the sake of this entry he will be called “Uncle V”.

Uncle V

“Uncle V” grew up in a life of criminality in Russia.  It would be perhaps incorrect to post current family – or “Family” – photographs, however above is a youthful photograph of “Uncle V – Number 9” with those who would go on to become members of (in)famous Russian organised crime groups of the late 1980’s/early 1990s – Dolgoprudny, Chechenskaya, Solntsevo, Lyubertsy and Hadi Taktash.

“Uncle V’s” career in criminality went from stealing jams and sweats as a boy, through stealing (lots of)  coal as a juvenile, to making the criminal “big time” during the “wild, wild east” of the early 1990s when he became a big fish within Solntsevo/Solnetsevo Grouperovka – making many $ millions and significant political connections along the way.

He still owns a huge apartment (with sauna) near Red Square on Old Arbat, despite spending much time in recent years living in luxury in a rather plush home in Beverley Hills.

When the blog decided to move from Moscow to Odessa more than a decade ago, “Uncle V” decided it would be wise to have somebody watch over his family members while adjusting to life in Odessa.  Upon arrival “Artur”, who apparently “ate the same bread” with “Uncle V” (a euphemism for serving time together and forging a “solemn bond”) insured that not only were all “acclimatising” troubles little ones – but that there were no troubles whatsoever.  “Artur” was and remains a long term resident of Odessa – although not a native.

“Artur”, it has to be said, is a particularly venomous specimen of the “homo odessamafiosi” category.  Over the many years of knowing him he has moved (physically if not mentally) from the less than salubrious Modovanka district in Odessa to the well-heeled Arkadia, “acquiring” car dealerships, car washes and various other business interests along the way – notwithstanding rather luxurious weddings and the production of children during that time too.

It follows that between “Artur” and several other locals like him, together with good relations among the Armenians of a similar career path within Odessa, plus many years as a practitioner upon the side of the angels attempting to curtail such criminality both indirectly and directly, this blog has retained despite leaving that practitioner career behind, an academic interest in organised criminality, particularly that of Odessa – be it resident, connected, or passing through.

As such there are numerous entries mentioning the top tier of organised criminality, past and present, within the years of achieves of the blog.  Messrs (Angel) Angert, Zhukov, Trukhanov, (Lamposhka) Galanternik, Milin et al., have all featured historically.

Those of a nefarious past but no longer resident (for long periods) here, such as “Uncle V”, and Messrs Angert and Zhukov both of whom are now predominantly London based, have spent a lot of effort in becoming (mostly) legit.

Those such as Messrs Trukhanov and Galanternik that remained in Odessa, whilst far from legitimising all their criminal dabbling have progressed in legitimising where they can, still unable to entirely walk away.  Beyond the pervasive nepotism of “favours” within this elite group, they are no longer interested in the majority of criminal opportunities – the schemes and scams have to be very big indeed to tempt them.  That said, it would be nothing short of an absolute waste not to employ the influence of Mr Trukhanov whilst Mayor of Odessa.

Provenance is now (hopefully) established to the degree necessary to now comment upon current local organised criminal events that have recently caught the eye.

There are, of course, tiers of organised criminality below the $ multi-millions/billions generated by the elite criminality mentioned in the preceding paragraphs over the years.  There are the secondary tiers in which “Artur” operates – and those yet further below.

Within the lesser tiers it appears that matters are getting somewhat fractious of late.

Disputes smoldering over the past 4 or 5 years are now beginning to bubble between several fractious organised groups.  New entrants are also arriving.  It is perhaps wise to paint with broad brushstrokes a picture of the current situation, lest matters boil over with few on-lookers understanding why.

Firstly, it is necessary to set aside the organised criminality of the Chinese and Vietnamese.  This group very much operates within its own ethnic parameters – with the exception of large scale black market money exchange.  Just as China rarely recruits a spy from outside its own ethnic group, likewise in Odessa, rarely do the Asian organised criminal groups work outside its own ethnic group.

(As an aside the Asian currency traders at 7KM Market give far better black market exchange rates than the illicit Slavic changers located at places like the Kniga market.)

There is also the rather insular Chechenski (Chechen) group, which like the Chinese and Vietnamese, tend not to tread on too many toes unless their toes are stood upon, also operating within certain parameters – much of which the group has managed to legitimise over time.  That said, loosely aligned with the Chechens are the drug dealers of Privoz market, “One eye” and “Lala” Luzya, and also two individuals dealing in smuggling and illicit freight, “Isa” and “Khaled”.

Aside from a few car-parking schemes within Odessa itself, the Gagauz Group very much stick to their turf within MP Anton Kisse’s fiefdom of “Bessarabia” in the southwest of the Oblast, predominantly dealing in stolen agricultural machinery and agri chemicals – including cross-border smuggling with Transnistria and Moldova.

There are also a number of independent operators, several Azerbaijanis, and Turks with very small groups, as well as small but well established individuals, for example in the Surovo district of Odessa, Mamuka Narindashvili, whose protection comes from within the criminal investigation community of the police.  Mr Narindashvili appears to have attracted the cooperation, or perhaps even mastery over, the youthful Eldar (aka Dagestan) wannabes, for now active only a long way north of Odessa City.

Now for the friction that appears to leading rapidly toward unpredictable outcomes.

16 years ago, when this century began, organised and disorganised “street crime”, for want of a better label, broadly occurred under the direction of, with the tacit approval of, or by paying “tribute” to, a Thief-in-law named Malkhaz.  His reign, lasting about a decade, saw the beginning of the end of the more disciplined criminal groups within Odessa of the 1990s “Uncle V” era.

Splintering occurred and groups became far more “fluid” in formation – albeit “declared membership” required between 10% – 20% of illicit funds to be “donated” to the group “common fund” as tradition dictated – and still does.

(Many of those that have left or who flirted temporarily within these groups during this particularly “fluid” period have become genuinely legitimate business people – some very successful and quite legitimately.  The problem being that the “kompromat” from those “eventful days” remains and despite the decades passed, is never quite forgotten.  As such, if and when influence is required within the visible world, the underworld comes knocking at the doors of its lost sons to get it.

Likewise, those that have sought justice – or injustice – outside of the corrupt justice system via local criminal groups are also thereafter never entirely free either.)

After nearly a decade in charge, Mr Malkhaz was replaced by Anthimos Kuhilava as undisputed head honcho of “street crime”.  Under his stewardship, Mr Kuhilava saw two rival groups vie for predominance – that of Omar Bekaev (aka Uncle, or Uma, or Omar Ufa), and Mindy Goradze (aka Hromy (Limpy in English)).

Now to the cause of the current tempest.

In 2012, Anthimos Kuhilava was arrested and deported persona non grata (PNG), leaving the top spot on the ground open.  Both rival organisations of Messrs Bakaev and Goradze could count upon about an even number within their respective groups (100 or so).  But before either managed to win any secession battle, in 2013 Mr Bakeav was arrested in Odessa, jailed for weapon possession, to then be mysteriously released and deported to Russia where he currently remains in prison for offences committed within the Russian Federation.  This however, did not remove his leadership of his group – nor lessen its loyalty to him.

Mr Goradze meanwhile, just over a year later was also arrested whilst in Moldova and returned to an awaiting Georgia.

Nature abhors a void, ergo a physically present leadership was required.  Mr Bakeav delegated group members “Bela”, “Ogaezov” and “Anzor” to run the ship – two of which are now currently on remand.  Mr Goradze delegated group members “Shusharik” and “Finsky” – yet due to fairly even criminal weight none have managed to secure the vacant crown and fill the void.  Both pretenders to the empty throne therefore unable to actually sit on it, nor appoint a temporary custodian in their absence.

It is this continuing absence of an acknowledged top dog, together with now long standing simmering rivalry which is to be noted – and perhaps has been by those of similar criminal creed.

It is surely no coincidence that over the past 2 months in Odessa, arrests and expulsions of three “Thieves-in-law” have occurred.

Between mid June and a few days ago, .Messrs David (Swan) Gerliani, Teimuraz (Tsrutsi) Chkhetiam and Vladmimir (Poltova) Dribnym have all being arrested and banned from Ukraine.

More will follow.

These are naturally headline grabbing events in the local media – and one look at Police Chief Giorgi Lortkipnidze’s curriculum vitae would tell a reader two things – he is adept at catching and dealing with “Thieves-in-law” and also with recruiting and running informants among those prone to terrorist activity.  (A particularly good combination when considering organised criminality and terrorism often overlap when it comes to revenue/funding streams.)

It is also apparent that Salifov Nadir Nariman Oglu (Guli), albeit currently in prison in Azerbaijan, has his group arriving and making waves within Odessa too.

Indeed it is rumoured that a dozen or so leading organised criminals and or “Thieves-in-law” have passed through Odessa recently.

It has all become rather congested between the existing, albeit fractious groups none of which have managed to successfully take control, and the appearance of both new groups, together with old-school individuals and their aging networks that still know opportunity when they see it.

This notwithstanding the influx and semi (or perhaps) permanent arrival of those internally displaced (IDPs) from the occupied Donbas and illegally annexed Crimea that are now resident in Odessa and the criminal elements therein.  Only recently 3 illicit MDMA factories set up by IDPs from Donetsk have already been closed by the police in Odessa.

Although this lower tier of organised criminality is perhaps not as directly effected as that above it by the the backdrop of disrupted organised criminality channels that existed between Crimea and Odessa prior to annexation, or some notable personnel changes of influence within Moldova, or any forthcoming repercussions from current events in Turkey that may also directly or indirectly alter existing top level criminal agreements, it nevertheless adds to the perception that it has all become somewhat more unstable – and unpredictable.

If the new entrants to the Odessa criminal market place become strong enough, or if the visiting old guard are wise enough and deft enough, either may become significant problems for both Mr Bakeav and Mr Goradze who remain equally close, and yet equally distant, from assuming the still vacant position within the organised crime of Odessa left by Anthimos Kuhilava back in 2012.

Pondering these recent and not so recent events, the question is how long before this underworld issue gets settled – at what cost and to whom?  Also worth considering is who may benefit from continued discord or power brokerage – after all, the spook community be they domestic or foreign, are not unknown to employ such proxies to further their ends when the opportunity present itself.

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The Kremlin to nominate Babich as its Ambassador to Ukraine? Better the devil you know?

July 29, 2016

Following on from yesterday’s entry regarding the surprise – or not – incorporation of the “Federal District of Crimea” into the Southern Federal District of the Russian Federation, and its forewarning (again) of Kremlin shenanigans that seem to concentrate both in the month of August and also around major international events (Rio Olympics this year also in August), the 28th July also saw The Kremlin remove its long-standing  Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov from his post.

To be fair, if he had been serving a “western” diplomatic posting, the rotation cycle would have seen him gone years ago.  Most “western” nations having 3, 4 or 5 year tenures, and Mikhail Zurabov is far beyond serving that time as the Russian Federation Ambassador to Ukraine.

The 29th July has witness the State Duma Committee for Foreign Affairs recommend Mikhail Babich as the replacement for Mikhail Zurabov – which will be seen by many as a provocative and inflammatory move.

Indeed, Ilya Ponomaryov (who this blog has met several times for the sake of full disclosure) and Olga Kurnosova whom a reader may class as a “Russian emigre” for want of a better label, both immediately raised red flags regarding this potential appointment, publicly appealing to President Poroshenko not to accept Mikhail Babich as the new Ambassador of the Russian Federation.

Whether a reader accepts, partially accepts, or fundamentally disagrees with the commentary Mr Ponomarov has publicly made – previously or indeed upon this occasion – having spoken with him on a personal level, he is clearly intelligent, very insightful and no fool when it comes to the workings within the Russian political system – as a reader would expect of a former Duma deputy.

With regard to this potential ambassadorial appointment, Mr Ponomorov stated Mr Babich would create a “spy nest” and was “guaranteed to coordinate the Russian special services and to organize election campaigns for the benefit of Russia.

That is, his purpose should be interpreted as preparation for possible early elections, upon which Russia can bet.

I just urge the President never give to consent to the appointment of this man as Ambassador. This is a classic candidate for interaction with the separatists to power operations.

Strong stuff and a strong reaction.

Nevertheless it was also to be expected that when replacing the long-standing incumbent that the following appointee will be a far more prickly and difficult individual – which then poses difficulties for the Ukrainian leadership.  If accepting the nomination and then having to deal with what will inevitably come (including external tutting when his activities suddenly become a stable of “western” communication) – or in refusing his appointment, a very rare but not unheard of occurrence, the claim will be of Ukraine creating “obstacles”, and being “unhelpful” (at the very least), or “provocative” by those prone to naively or willingly swallow the Kremlin discourse.

Indeed his nomination refusal may lead to the Kremlin simply not nominating an alternative, thus downgrading diplomatic ties, and that being used as yet another reason for belligerence toward Ukraine – Yet more noise to tiring “western” ears in what is now clearly a diplomatic, economic, social and military war of exhaustion.

What has thus far not been said in public discourse, is much about the history of Mr Babich which has caused such a reaction, and therefore which informs the public and very clear warnings given.

His official government profile, as a reader will understand, is not entirely a full expose.  There is perhaps a requirement to put a little more meat upon the bones contained therein – insofar as it is reasonable to do in the public domain anyway.

Mikhail Babich

Mikhail Babich

Mr Babich was born on 28th May 1969 in Ryazan.

In 1990 he graduated from Ryazan Higher Military Command School of Communication, then serving until 1995 within the airborne troops of the Russian Federation, leaving with the rank of Captain.  Part of his service was in Chechnya.

From 1995 until 1998 he was one of the heads of a Joint Stock Company (JSC) Antej Corporation (Moscow), and simultaneously it appears, was also studying at Moscow Institute of Economy, Management and Law, qualifying in 1998.  This company “somehow” managed to get the contract to supply the Russian secret services with food and uniforms.  “Connections” within the Russian secret services have not faded with time – as will become clear.

A reader is free to draw inference.

Briefly between 1998 and 1999 he became Chairman of the Board of Directors of Shuisky Chintz before becoming First Vice President of OAO Russian Trade and Industry Company Rosmyasomoltorg.  This led to his appointment as the First Deputy General Director of the State Unitary Enterprise “Federal Agency on Food Market Regulation” at the Ministry of Agriculture – another very brief appointment that lasted until 2000.

In 2000, Mr Babich apparently also qualified at the State Academy of Management.

In 2000, Boris Gromov ran for, and won, the office of Governor of the Moscow Region (a position he held until May 2012).  Gromov was a veteran of several tours in Afghanistan, and was also Deputy Minister of Defence during the events in Chechnya of which he denounced as “barbaric”, thus resigning from his defence role in 1994.  By 1996 Gromov was chief adviser the the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for military matters.

2000 saw Mr Babich become Chief of Finances for Boris Gromov’s successful election campaign, resulting in Mr Babich becoming Vice Governor for the Moscow Region.  This appointment may have more to do with  Leonid Terekhov than Boris Gromov, for Terekhov was then a heavy hitter in an inter-regional economic group.

Whatever the case, Mr Babich soon fell out of favour falling out with some very big fish behind the then Guta Bank over loans to the previous administration.  As so often occurs in the Russian system, having made the wrong enemies, a criminal case (Number 9247 for those wanting detail) was opened against Rosmyasomoltorg of which he had been First VP only a year previously.  The case claimed embezzlement of RUB 2 billion in humanitarian aid from the US and EU intended for Russian pensioners.

The upshot was that Mr Babich, perhaps with some “help”, shifted whatever responsibility he had (if any) onto his successor at Rosmyasomoltorg, Dmitry Ilyasov.

Nevertheless Boris Gromov sacked Mr Babich, a sacking he appealed, won, and then promptly resigned – such was the way of things then, such is the way of things now in the Russian internal game.

In 2001 Mr Babich became a member of the Economic Expert Council under the RF President Plenipotentiary in the Central Federal District, being reborn in the Ivanovo region under then Governor Vladimir Tikhonov (not unknown for corporate raiding rumour has it).  Mr Babich became Deputy Governor, and it appears simultaneously ran the “Area Mission” in Moscow – concentrating upon opaque deals regarding alcohol and logging which it seems were both plentiful in Ivanovo.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, Mr Babich made enemies which resulted in a $5 million fraud investigation (Case 9247) relating to alcohol enterprises, squashed only after Governor Tikhonov appealed directly to President Putin.

There are also rumours of banking shenanigans with the late Boris Berezovsky, – who knows?

In 2003, after noted lobbying by the FSB among Chechen Ministers, Mr Babich was appointed Chairman of the Government of the Chechen Republic.  It was a position he managed to hold for 3 months before falling out with Sergei Abramov, then Finance Minister of Chechnya, over control of RUB 5 billion.  It is claimed that such was the internal friction that on or about 10th February 2003, Kadyrov flew to meet with President Putin – with Mr Babich resigning the following day.

By July 2003, Herman Gref then Minister of Economy Development and Trade  made Mr Babich his assistant – another appointment that was not to last long.

On 7th December 2003, Mr Babich was elected to the Russian State Duma as a parliamentarian for Ivanovo (District 81) for the United Russia party.  A party to which his loyalty is forever being repeatedly proven in the public domain.

Aside from another brief political faux pas in 2005 when he tried to unseat sitting Ryazan Governor Georgy Shpak, apparently via the black arts and allegedly having local entrepreneur Natalie Suchkova claim she had lent Governor Shpak RUB 48 million in return for a Vice-Governors post but that he then broke his word simply taking the money.  In the resulting court case  Mr Shpak managed to prove there was no case to answer, thus ending Mr Babich’s attempt at becoming the Governor of the region in which he was born.

Mr Babich then briefly held the position of Assistant Director of the FSB Border Guards Service and Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade in his early Duma career,  ultimately ending up as long serving Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee until 2011.

In 2008 Mr Babich also became leader of the public chambers of the Prime Minister – who in 2008 was Vladimir Putin during his 4 year job swap with Dmitry Medvedev.

In December 2011 he became the Presidential Plenipotentiary Envoy to the Volga Federal District.

This very brief historical recap brings us to his current nomination as Ambassador to Ukraine.

So is Mikhail Babich a Putin loyalist without boundaries – absolutely.  Is he part of the Russian secret services machinery – unquestionably.  Organised criminality – clearly.  A practitioner of the dark arts to the detriment of those around him – of course.  Is he somebody prepared to throw the Vienna Convention under the same bus as so many international instruments have been due to recent Kremlin actions in Ukraine – naturally.  A character that Ukraine would be wise to be extremely wary of – yes.

Should President Poroshenko and Ukraine take the warnings of Ilya Ponomaryov seriously – very much so.

However, the above is but a historical glossary of Mikhail Babich (albeit perhaps going beyond what has been disclosed at the time of writing) ,  The Ukrainian spooks (and others) however are undoubtedly well acquainted with Mr Babich and his history in far more detail than will be revealed in this entry – and have a good idea of why he has been chosen, to do what, how, and with whom.

The judgment call for Ukraine is therefore, is it better the devil you know in deciding to accept or deny him as the next Ambassador for the Russian Federation.

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The Kremlin merges Crimea with its Southern Federal District

July 28, 2016

August is a month that in recent years brings with it increased difficulties born of The Kremlin for Ukraine.  This combined with a major sporting event, which has also coincided with Kremlin shenanigans fairly frequently over the years would perhaps prompt a reader to expect a difficult few weeks ahead for Ukraine.  The entrails of the Rio Olympics in August perhaps do not read particularly well for Ukraine.

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The 28th July witnessed its first “August surprise” a few days early – albeit perhaps not the surprise it should/could have been.  President Putin signed a decree ending the Federal District of Crimea and merging it into the Southern Federal District.

Southern District in Blue (less Crimea)

Southern District in Blue (less Crimea)

The more astute observers may have predicted such a move based upon a previous decree placing the Southern Military District and Crimea under the command of Colonel General Alexander Dvornikov following his recall from leading the Kremlin’s Syrian campaign.

A matter of consolidating military command and control, and also public administration, by moving it away from the peninsula itself and placing its power centers within internationally recognised Russian territory.  The result being occupied Crimea now squarely falls within both military and administrative control of the respective civil and military Southern Districts of the Russian Federation based in Rostov-on-Don.

The reasoning behind the move has been cited as being necessary to “improve governance” – which is entirely plausible (although perhaps not the real reason for canceling the separate Crimean status when assimilating Crimea into the Southern District control apparatus) considering the exceptionally poor governance and administrative abilities displayed by the current “authorities” since 2014.

As yet the repercussions of the Crimean assimilation into the command structures of the Southern District, both military and civilian remain to be seen – perhaps the forthcoming Duma elections will provide some indication.

For sure whatever grubby political deals had been previously arranged within the peninsula may have to be renegotiated with those now in control from Rostov-On-Don.  Alternatively, perhaps those in Rostov-On-Don have an entirely different plan for the elites within its newly acquired administrative territory.

Either which way, and at the very least, there will now have to be accommodation for the “rent seeking” expected by those within the Rostov-On-Don machinery.  Money flows from “rent seeking” will have to be, at least in part, redirected.  Organised crime structures too may need to seek new accommodations within the power centers of the Southern District.

For Ukraine and the West, the question is now what to do about Crimean sanctions – a far simpler matter when it remained a distinct stand-alone administrative centre post the illegal annexation.  There are now questions to be asked  and answered as to whether they will extend to those within the Southern District’s that will undoubtedly violate the sanctions imposed regarding Crimea specifically.

For those “western” capitols already wavering regarding sanctions, this additional complication may prove to be too much – albeit it already seems unlikely 2017 will conclude witnessing a continued unity within the EU Member States.  That said, the issue of sanctions specifically applied to Crimea have never been subject to wobbles – the issue of wobbles has always related to the sanctions that were imposed that are not Crimea specific but caused by the on-going Kremlin actions within the occupied Donbas.

This change of Crimean circumstance will perhaps muddy the waters somewhat.

A reader may ponder what August will yet further bring – for the month of August rarely heralds anything good, but rather a deliberate concentration of ill-deeds from The Kremlin in recent years.

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10 political parties adhere to the State funding requirements – Ukraine

July 27, 2016

There are some questionable issues relating to the current (and forever changing) electoral laws of Ukraine, particularly now when it comes to the introduction of State funding for electioneering.

The current laws for example, allocate State funding only for those parties that have passed the 5% threshold to enter the Verkhovna Rada under the proportional representation part of the (current) electoral system.

As such, those parties that are new, for example Khvylya, or are not such as the Civic Platform or Dem Alliance that gathered 2 or 3% in the last election, get nothing for their forthcoming electioneering campaigns from the State – despite the fact that two, or perhaps all three, will very likely pass the 5% threshold as a result of the next elections thus entering parliament via proportional representation (and not withstanding any single mandate victories).

As such new and/or small and/or developing parties are generally without, or hardly benefit from, oligarchy interest and sponsoring – ergo they are poor – and neither do they currently count among their ranks and friends unaffiliated media moguls that will donate large amounts of air time to their electoral campaigns for free/cheap – unlike most that will get State electioneering funding – it would appear to some a rather unfair situation.

That said, a line has to be drawn somewhere, lest this blog create a party with no hope of winning anything, simply to obtain State electoral funding and subsequently pocket most of it rather employ it for its intended and legitimate use.

That the law is extremely poor comes as no surprise.  Many laws in Ukraine are extremely poor.  Only on rare occasions does well written legislation pass through the Verkhovna Rada.

It also has to be said that the State electoral funding is not going to cover all electioneering costs for national campaigns – it is not even close to sufficient.  The system of funding currently works by providing the most popular parties via the proportional representation voting within a sitting parliament a Hryvnia value based upon the last electoral vote.

It follows that although the People’s Front is currently the most unpopular political party in the current parliament and is unlikely to pass the 5% threshold at the next elections (as of the time of writing), being the largest single party in the current parliament via the proportional representation part of the (current) electoral system, it therefore gets the most in State electioneering funding for the next election – closely followed by the President’s party – and funding works its way down the proportional representation voting percentages of the previous election accordingly.

To be fair, the $5 million or so that both People’s Front and the President’s party will get, gets nowhere near to covering the actual sums spent during their last electioneering campaigns.  No matter what the State funding will be for any party currently within the Verkhovna Rada, it will be significantly less than the financing of the previous election that put them there.

The (rhetorical in many cases) questions are therefore how these political parties are funded and by whom?

In order to qualify for the newly designed State electoral funding, aside from actually being a party that currently sits within the Verkhovna Rada having garnered more than 5% of the proportional vote in the last election, with effect from 1st July 2016, it is also required that quarterly reporting of party income and expenditure are submitted.

The first ever submissions are required to be submitted by 29th July.  (Needless to say that if a political party that qualifies for State funding but does not want said State electoral funding, there is no requirement to submit quarterly income and expenditure reports.)

As of 27th June, according to Natalia Korczak, head of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, 10 qualifying political parties have submitted the relevant quarterly reports to the NAPC.  (Those quarterly reports are then registered with the Ministry of Justice.)

Well bravo – prima facie a step in the right direction for political party transparency.

Unfortunately at the time of writing, which 10 political parties have submitted quarterly income and expenditure reports, and what those income and expenditure reports declare is unknown.  (In the meantime, parties like the Dem Alliance despite not qualifying for State election funding voluntarily publish their party funding on-line for public inspection and digestion.)

BK

Questions presents themselves however – whether the quarterly returns make it to the public domain or not.

Will these quarterly reports actually in any way relate to the real quarterly income and expenditure of any particular party.?  If “Party X” declares UAH 200 in expenditures for a service/function that clearly costs UAH 200,000 – is anybody formally tasked with verifying the expenditures?  If so what can or will they do about it?  The removal of a paltry sum in State electoral funding as punishment is hardly enough to correct their opaque and wicked ways.

How to check the validity (and integrity) of incoming donations?  Are they subject to scrutiny?  If so by whom, when, and under what circumstances?

What of those that simply decide not to pursue State electoral funding preferring to keep party incomes and expenditures from official scrutiny, or parties that simply do not qualify for State electoral funding but are subsequently elected to the national parliament?  No checks (meaningful or otherwise) upon party funding whatsoever in such circumstances?

When declared income and expenditure simply don’t add up to empirical evidence – as will assuredly be the case for most – and the inference is that there is a party “chornaya kassa” and/or secondary black book of dark magic funding, how then to pursue it – if it can be pursued at all?

Who will ultimately be held accountable for any fraudulent party quarterly submissions?  A random, anonymous and inconsequential minor party functionary who is clearly only submitting what they were given to submit?

With any fraudulent submission, there may exist the possibility of political accountability before the electorate – or not – but otherwise the returns will be deemed a collective responsibility, thus avoiding any of the party elite being individually held accountable (in any way).

It is a time honored custom within the wiser senior Ukrainian political ranks to have their decisions made (read agreed to) by “committee” with any subsequent official documentation signed off by lesser mortals.

It was a habit of Mr Yatseniuk, and it is the reason that Yuri Boiko (of Boiko towers infamy) is very unlikely to be successfully prosecuted by NABU.  All his nefarious decisions were made (read agreed to) by “committee” and generally signed off on official documentation by underlings.  Ergo collective responsibility and no personal accountability by way of signature.

All of this said, it would nevertheless be interesting to read and poke around within the smudged lines and erroneous figures submitted in the 10 submitted party quarterly income and expenditure statements.

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Zhittya – Rabinovych rebrands

July 27, 2016

In mid-May an entry appeared relating to the less than harmonious departure of Vadim Rabinovych and his “Centre Party” which formed part of, and exited the Oppo Block Party.  Indeed to say it was less than harmonious is to be charitable, with Mr Rabinovych and Mykola Skoryk trading very public, barbed and acrimonious statements.

The “Centre Party” is now no more.  It was renamed and re-branded on 26th July.  It is now called Zhittya (meaning Life in Ukrainian).

The “new” (renamed) political entity will pursue a platform of a neutral Ukraine with pragmatic relations with its neighbours, focusing upon transforming the national economy to one led by agriculture, IT/Hi-Tech, and banking – which is very much the transitional economic trajectory Ukraine is already on.  Ergo no change in the priorities for economic and market development.

The usual declarations of a serious fight against corruption, the defence of human rights, and a splash of populism regarding “extortionate rates” are needless to say also part of the party manifesto and rhetoric.

The party will also court the SME and entrepreneurial votes that are definitely the target demographic of the Dem Alliance and Khvylya too.  It will be a very congested contest for this demographic it seems, and despite the fact that Mr Rabinovich is a sly, prickly, entertaining, certainly not stupid, long-standing politician, it is somewhat questionable as to whether he will gather significant traction within his target voter base.

rabinovich

He is wealthy, but not wealthy enough to finance and promote a new/re-branded political party.  Thus this is either a particularly brave political move, which is doubtful for a politician as long in the tooth as he, or a backer for the Zhittya Party has been secured with sufficient money and influence to promote the party in a forthcoming election that will feature several new and/or invigorated parties.

Mr Rabinovych has already been joined by another (until 3rd June when he left) Oppo Block faction parliamentarian, Evgen Muraev, owner of NewsOne media, who arrived in parliament as an independent.  However, even together it seems unlikely they can fund an effective political campaign without further backing from somewhere, or somebody (probably from behind the curtain).

How many parliamentarians are Zhittya expecting/hoping to have elected when the next elections arrive?  Which seats will it contest, for it is unlikely to pass the 5% proportional representation threshold if standing and financing entirely unsupported by “others”.

If reduced to single seat mandates its electoral successes will be very limited indeed even if its energy draws several frustrated Oppo Block parliamentarians to it who are tired of doing very little in the comatose ranks of the Oppo Block.

Whatever the case its chances of implementing any of its declared political manifesto are naturally zero if alone, and extremely limited as part of a larger vehicle unless there is policy overlap.

Therefore, to which political faction would it gravitate and join?  Will it return to the Oppo Block Party fold as a constituent part despite a fairly fractious recent history – or the more encompassing yet looser association of the Oppo Block faction  – or will Mr Rabinovych head away from his traditional “Regionaires” comfort zone?

Numerous ex-regionaires  feature in Nash Krai.  They also do within Block Poroshenko.  Potential political faction resting places perhaps?  Nash Krai would seem the most obvious alternative to the Oppo Block, but would they want Zhittya and Mr Rabinovych even if he wanted them?

Maybe the issue has already been sorted out prior to the re-branding and it will be from these unknown quarters that sufficient electoral funds and backing will come – with faction membership following thereafter.

Whatever the case, it is always rather fun, albeit occasionally a distasteful experience,  to follow the exploits of Mr Rabinovych – perhaps more so now he will wish to give Zhittya a bit of a PR lift post re-branding.

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Projection and messaging – A stiffening Sea Breeze

July 25, 2016

Prior to the active phase of Sea Breeze 2016, the 24th July saw the USS Ross take its turn in hosting a gathering of Ukrainian politicians (both national and local), a diverse collection of diplomats, military people from assorted international commands, think tankers et al.

Sea Breeze is a long standing exercise in the Black Sea involving the Ukrainian Navy.

It has become an annual event that a US naval vessel hosts canapes and drinkies whilst docked in Odessa during Sea Breeze exercises.  This blog is now a long standing annual Sea Breeze attendee having attended similar functions on the Donald Cook, USS Porter etc (once on a State Dept “distro list” there’s no getting off – fortunately as far as this blog is concerned for the “distro list” is not restricted to Sea Breeze invitations).

Thus having attended such events often it is easy to become somewhat nonchalant about the messaging US military hardware being docked in Odessa and conducting various drills at sea sends.  Military projection is part of the messaging of course – all Sea Breeze exercises are, notwithstanding their training and interoperability mission.

Nevertheless it can become much of a muchness if care is not taken to remind oneself of the necessity of the message being sent.  Employing a rather poor metaphor, the pitch, the tone and the volume historically being somewhat consistent around these exercises it is easy to become accustomed to it like the background noise of the television or radio.

This year however things feel different.

Indeed this year things are different.

Instead of one US naval ship docked in Odessa, there are two – for the first time.

The USS Ross is moored along side the USS Whidbey Island, forming part of a 14 nation, 26 vessel, 20 plane and helicopter, 50 military “equipment unit” and 4,000 soldier exercise.

Stern/aft of the USS Whidbey Island

Stern/aft of the USS Whidbey Island

This year is different because the USS Whidbey Island is a landing craft – and on Wednesday 27th Ukrainian and American troops will indeed be making amphibious landings, together with parachute drops together.

A somewhat significantly different message is being sent than the usual sub tracking/chasing, mine clearing etc exercises of past Sea Breezes – necessary as those exercises are.

Moreover, of all the considerable coastline Odessa has to offer to practice the joint US/Ukrainian amphibious landings and parachute drops, the chosen part of the coastline is that of the southwest of the Oblast – “Bessarabia” – immediately adjacent to the Kremlin controlled enclave of Transnistria in Moldova.

Amphibious landings in, and significant parachute drops on “Bessarabia” will send messages to several different recipients – as it is clearly designed to do.

There is the obvious and clear messaging to those within Transnistria – and beyond to the Kremlin – in deliberately choosing the “Bessarabian” coastline.

A reader can only ponder what MP (and uncrowned Tsar of Bessarabia) Anton Kisse thinks of such events occurring on what is very much perceived as his undisputed fiefdom – a fiefdom over which many in 2014 had serious “separatist” (read Kremlin instigated and supported) concerns.  Be those concerns unwarranted or otherwise, in some quarters those concerns are yet to abate.  A wily politician may, if inclined, see an unhealthy leverage in such circumstances.

It is perhaps worth pondering whether or not the simultaneously running exercise “South Wind”, aimed at testing the planning and management capabilities in case of Martial Law is running in parallel, or as a “bolt on” (officially or otherwise), or is an entirely unconnected affair.  There would be numerous message recipients internal and external of Ukraine if there became a perception of a link – real or otherwise – between the two simultaneously timed exercises.

Whatever the case, having experienced the chit chat and atmosphere circulating among the canapes and drinkies of many historical Sea Breeze exercises, it is quite clear that this year is different.  This year is very much about messaging – and messaging several recipients at different levels.

The messaging is meant to be blunt, clear and unambiguous – and is very likely to be received that way.

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In a contested history is there room for inclusive commemoration?

July 23, 2016

Ukrainian history is a very sensitive and contested subject – both internally and externally of Ukraine.

Unsurprising when the nation, or parts of the nation, have at various times, and sometimes simultaneously, been ruled by external powers more often than not at a very bloody and detrimental cost to the people of Ukraine.

Very few, if any major or significant grim incidents within its past are without contesting points of view – particularly when academic historical research is cast aside and emotion is played expertly to further political interests.

There are also issues relating to the difference between nationalism and patriotism that many seem unable or unwilling to recognise that lead to less than objective consideration.

To rake over all the atrocities that Ukraine has suffered, including some self-inflicted to one degree or another, is not the theme of this entry.  What matters is that Ukraine has yet to honestly confront its history and recognise the wrongs done to it, and also the wrongs it too has committed.  If and when it does, how will the nation commemorate the good, the bad, and the ugly?

What seems a long time ago, this blog wrote an entry pondering a Stolpersteine styled project for the identified Holodomor victims.  It was of course a thought exercise rather than an expectation that it would ever be seriously considered – nevertheless it was an entry that seemed to capture the imagination  of many within social media causing a significant spike in the readership figures compared to other entries.

Whether or not, publicly or privately a reader considers Holodomor genocide or not, whether or not a reader recognises Volhynia as genocide as Poland has done in the last few days, whether or not a reader recognises the mass extermination of the Odessan Jewry by the Romanians part of a larger genocide, whether or not a reader recognises the mass deportation of the Tatar from Crimea under Stalin as ethnic cleansing, and whether or not a reader recognises the massive losses of WWII suffered by Ukraine at the hands of both Hitler and Stalin, (to name fairly contemporary examples), there are incontestable commonalities to all of those events.

All occurred and continues to occur within the current internationally recognised territory of Ukraine, and they all had victims – thousands and thousands of victims at the lower end of the scale, and millions upon millions at the upper end of that truly awful gradation.

Indeed a reader may ponder further where within the “captured State” that was and is Ukraine since independence, where the victims end?  For example, are not the thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians that die unnecessarily due to poor medial care and lack of medicines not victims of the various elites that continually raped and pillaged the health budget for their personal enrichment to the tune of $ millions and millions?

As Ukraine today fights the Kremlin in its east, victims continue to mount among the civilian communities on either side of the “contact line” and fatalities among the military ranks continue on a daily basis.

All historical incidents have naturally resulted in numerous monuments, large and small as time has moves on – with many of these monuments as contested as the incidents that are responsible for their being.

Clearly the removal of any such contested monuments to contested memory events will be contested – as few would contest.

Odessa has more than 2000 monuments (including one to Steve Jobs and one to Darth Vader) and yet an empirical perception is that there are very few to commemorate victims, or indeed “the fallen”, in comparison to “victory”.

Perhaps a little odd for a nation that has so often been the victim – even if on occasion simultaneously having been on the victorious side.

Scul

With a contested history around many a corner if and when Ukraine honestly, humbly and bravely addresses its past, and perhaps an equally contested future to which monuments will yet be built, how then to honestly, somberly and inclusively address the issue of monuments around which future generations, whatever their personal views and/or emotional bias will prove to be, will be able to commemorate without creating internal moral issues that fester, but rather creating a new holistic identity capable of managing and tolerating differing historical views ?

Can the answer be as simple as the creation of future monuments to “victims” – all victims – however and whomever those commemorating define a “victim” within their own moral system?  Similarly, can all monuments to “the fallen” – to all those who have “fallen”, whenever and where ever they fell – be a solution, however and whomever those commemorating decide to categorise “the fallen”?

Is that perhaps just too bland, or too elastic, or too inclusive to have any meaning at all for those that would commemorate?

A reader may of course consider this a small detail in light of the enormous issues and challenges currently facing Ukraine – and certainly not one that would seem a priority – but when attempting to create a Ukrainian nation of a new cloth, the stitching can be just as important as the pattern.

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