Archive for September, 2016

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Corruption, jurisdiction, and stopgap roles to European public figures

September 19, 2016

With the cleaners still clearing up after the YES Conference in Kyiv, and the Davos Conference in Kyiv on-going, a reader may be forgiven for missing the fact that Denmark has been appointed “point man” for the EU with regard to implementing a 3 year anti-corruption programme worth €16 million.

The Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, and the Danish Ambassador to Ukraine will have a difficult task when it comes to achieving any benchmarks (whatever the benchmarks are) relating to this programme and accounting for any successes or failures.

Indeed the Danish FM is on record sharing a very dim view regarding the retarded attempts by the Ukrainian political class to neuter the legislation it passed regarding e-declarations – “We fully share the view of the anti-corruption committee – there should be no changes made to the law.  Commissioner Hahn and I raised that in our meetings with Prime Minister Volodomyr Groisman.  Delays have already left a bad impression. No-one should forget that the EU is watching carefully as the final decisions are taken on visa liberalisation.

Anti-corruption activists however, perhaps naturally, expect more than robust rhetoric and diplomatic pressure and are advocating joint prosecutor teams for joint jurisdiction cases.

It has to be said that in the diplomatic and political circles there is indeed discussion over some European judges taking a role in any specialised anti-corruption court if and when one appears in Ukraine.  Quite how that will sit within existing Ukrainian legislation is unclear, or indeed how it would sit constitutionally too.

There are also issues over joint jurisdiction, what it actually means, and how it would fit within any Ukrainian legislation and/or the Constitution.  Lest it be forgotten the ratification of the Rome Statute – an instrument relating to the ICC – was long delayed (and was this year postponed for 3 years when it should therefore enter into effect in accordance with Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement obligations after Constitution changes).

It should be noted that the ICC jurisdiction is complimentary to national courts –  and even that complimentary status was a constitution hurdle – yet there are far less political (and perhaps socially) prickly issues than that of joint jurisdiction that is concurrent .  An issue perhaps irritated further by whether a State adopts a monoist or dualist approach to regional or international law.

None of that should prevent prosecutors and investigators working together of course, the issue will be at which court due process occurs and arguments over where any criminal act was actually committed.  Neither do such jurisdictional issues prevent any EU nation from enforcing its own laws (which they all seem to do with the Ukrainian elite far, far more often than not) regardless of Ukraine failing to enforce its own .

Whatever the case and the issues of joint jurisdiction, or indeed any agreed (or not) definition of corruption aside, as EU “point man” Denmark will be implementing a pilot anti-corruption programme in 2 regions of Ukraine – it is to be hoped that some irreversible headway is made.

Perhaps nailing and jailing the regional elites will be far more efficient than the attempts to do the same with the national elites which clearly remains a major problem.  “Family Yanukovych” may not longer be on a corruption, coercive, corporate raiding blitzkrieg, carpet bombing and plundering the nation of any State and/or private asset that took their eye, but a slightly more subtle “sniper-fire” of more targeted plundering and raiding still actively continues.

Only today was the blog approached asking if there were any names of European public figures it was in contact with that could sit as executive or non-executive directors on corporate boards where their presence may then keep “Mr Kononenko and Co” (their phrase) from acquiring them against their will (now or in the future).

board-member-vacancy-graphic

So, for the likes of Carl Bild, Lady Ashton, Stefan Fule, John Herbst et al., there is still a job they can do for Ukraine by actively assisting in the fight against corruption/coercive corporate raiding.

There are Ukrainian firms that would appreciate such personalities accepting positions on their boards for no other reason than in the hope that such public profiles can be sufficient to dissuade the current wolves.  Executive and non-executive roles are waiting for such specific personal qualities only such a cadre can offer.  There is clearly a demand and there is a very practical role that can be played which will not interfere with the richly deserved lecture circuit/punditry/think-tank leadership/consultancies and the rewards they give.  It is not the “offensive” (ability to open doors, insightful comment, strategic awareness etc) perceptions that come with such names, but the “defensive/preventative” capabilities that come with them name that are sought.

It is of course a stopgap solution being sought by some in Ukraine to the continuing failure of the current elite to get a firm grasp on the rule of law.  Hopefully The Kingdom of Denmark will implement a trail-blazing anti-corruption programme that is spectacularly successful and swiftly repeated throughout all regions, but as  innumerable European diplomats and bureaucrats have said ad infinitum, when it comes to removing corrupt leaders in Ukraine, then “Ukraine has to own the process” (read “do it”).  As that is not going to happen at the very top, in the meantime a few emails to a few “European public figures” have to be written.

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Not a question of “why” but “who benefits” – Ukrtransgaz

September 17, 2016

It is no surprise to anybody that Ukraine takes two steps forward and one step backwards having opted for evolutionary rather than revolutionary reform.

Evolutionary by its very definition is a statement of change over time.  Evolutionary also manages to allow for grubby, if perhaps occasionally necessary, deals with those that once held power and/or significant control over the national economy.  Such deals theoretically (and empirically globally) set about the reduction of influence of old elites insuring that they and their patriarchy systems decide not to try and return to power and roll back to old methods in return for avoiding their otherwise deserved comeuppance – or at least the full force of justice.

That thinking perhaps works if the new leaders that come to power, recognising that this option is preferable to other radical and perhaps more risky options presented, are not products of the old system but are unsullied.

The “Revolution of Dignity” offered no such unsullied leaders to Ukraine in its immediate aftermath.  The presidential elections of 2015 essentially offered a choice between Mr Poroshenko and Ms Tymoshenko.  Mr Poroshenko won, which considering the choice facing the nation was the best possible outcome.  Ms Tymoshenko was, is and will forever be a political disaster for Ukraine should she ever hold the office of President, or become Prime Minister again.

Nevertheless, President Poroshenko is far from unsullied and is not a leader.  He is a manager that believes he can do deals with everybody keeping the elite more or less equally (un)happy, which whilst significantly slowing any reform progress, doesn’t actually stop it entirely – and to stop it entirely is simply politically impossible for reasons internal and external of Ukraine.

During the YES conference in Kyiv 16th/17th September, whilst President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groisman, Prosecutor General Lutsenko and other senior political and institutional figures predictably put a veneer upon reform progress.

To be fair there have been a few reforms that are on balance probably irreversible, albeit most are certainly not irreversible, many are half completed, the majority poorly implemented or otherwise exist on legislative paper but are de facto all form and no tangible substance.

With so many intellectuals, lobbyists, journalists, opinion-shapers, policymakers and otherwise erudite and wise people gathered at the YES conference in Kyiv, a reader may ponder therefore why this time was chosen for an undoubtedly retarded and backward step within the halls of power.

utg

Contrary to agreement with the EBRD, perhaps inadmissible to Ukraine’s obligations to the EU’s 3rd Energy Package (which requires the “unbundling” of energy monopolies), flying in the face of understandings given to the US regarding Ukrainian energy and the font of corruption that it is, Ukrtransgaz was quietly moved from within the Natfogaz empire and transferred to the control of the Ministry of Economic Development for no apparent or justifiable reason.

This despite agreed plans about how to “unbundle” Naftogaz Ukraine with the EBRD prior to the EBRD jumping in to assist Naftogaz to the tune of $300 million.

Clearly the EBRD has expressed its displeasure publicly, and during the YES conference, calling for this retarded decision to be reversed post haste.

Further it jeopardises a World Bank $500 million loan to Naftogaz too.

Naturally given the YES conference circumstance, it does not put President Poroshenko, PM Groisman et al in a particularly good or comfortable light – whether they had any involvement or prior knowledge of the incident or not.

Unsurprisingly it does little for investor confidence if the Ukrainian State breaks its agreements with a major, frequent and reliable inward international investor – particularly when that investor is in the same YES conference room in Kyiv as a leadership telling the world that this government and executive can be trusted to meet its obligations.

In short, whatever decisions are made regarding Naftogaz, Ukrtransgaz etc., they necessarily have to be consistent with existing agreements.

Was such a retarded decision/action timed to deliberately project a poor image of the current leadership?

If complicit, did the current leadership expect the YES conference media noise to drown out or ignore a planned nefarious act?  On balance was it considered a good weekend to bury nefarious news?  If so it failed.

That Ukrtransgaz would be split from Natfogaz to meet the Ukrainian obligations to the 3rd Energy Package is an absolute requirement.  Resolution 496 of the Cabinet of Ministers dated 1st July 2016 clearly plans for this eventuality.  That Resolution calls for the Public Joint Stock Company “Main Pipelines of Ukraine” to be created under the management (temporary or otherwise) of the Ministry of Energy and Coal.  In summary the substance of that Resolution moves Uktransgaz from Naftogaz, renames it – or transfers the assets to be more accurate – to PJSC Main Pipelines of Ukraine which will operate under the Energy and Coal Ministry (at least initially).

This is all to have occurred within 30 days after a currently pending Gazprom v Naftogaz arbitration in Stockholm – but no asset transfer is to occur prior.

Does this decision affect the arbitration process in Stockholm in any way?  If so how?  To the benefit of Gazprom?

Without going too deeply into Resolutions and plans – suffice to say there are publicly available Resolutions and plans about how Ukrtransgaz was to be dealt with as declared by the Cabinet of Ministers – none of which caused angst or ire of the EBRD when published (or since).

It follows that with the current nonsense surrounding Ukrtransgaz, a reader is therefore asking “Why”?

A good question, but perhaps not entirely the right question of “Who”?  Or more precisely “Who benefits?”.

Whenever there is a retarded and backward policy step in Ukraine, the first question that should always be asked before any other is “Who benefits?”.  The next question is then “Why (this way from several possible ways was chosen)?

Recognising that the Ukrtransgaz issue will be resolved to the liking of the EBRD and to try and reduce reputational damage to President Poroshenko, PM Groisman etc., the full question is “who benefits from the fairly short window of opaqueness and unaccountable management decisions in and surrounding Ukrtransgaz during this time?”

For who exactly benefits from what damage can be done/what gains can be made during this time?  Cancelled tenders, or alternatively swiftly awarded tenders will ultimately come to light as will any asset sales, acquisitions, or theft.  The EBRD is not a complainant that the PGO or NABU can ignore when its contractual agreement is with the Ukrainian State.

As yet it is not entirely clear who specifically benefits – but somebody does for such a retarded act to have occurred.  Sooner rather than later it will become clear who benefits (and who clearly believes that any repercussions will be acceptable – as nobody within the elite goes to jail).

In the meantime sadly, as the incompetence of a mere breakdown of communication is rather unlikely, a reader is left to choose between either yet more dirty deeds within the current ruling elite (or at least some of them), and/or a complete lack of government control, or a brazen breach of its obligations.

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Odessa Port Side privatisation – Group DF (predictably) raises its bidding head

September 16, 2016

During the 13th YES conference in Kyiv, President Poroshenko repeated once again the intention of Ukraine to privatise many State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) (most of which are a drain upon the State through subsidies and corruption).

The first on the list is Odessa Port Side (OPS), which Ukraine has already once tried and failed to privatise a few months ago due to lack of interest.  As stated many times by the blog, considering the outstanding debt to oligarch in exile Dmitry Firtash of $251 million, the best possible sale price would be between $350 – $400 million and nothing like the ridiculous starting bid price of $527 million the Ukrainian State initially put forward.

OPS will undergo a second attempt at privatisation very soon – this time the Ukrainian State opening bid price is a dramatically $150 million, a figure that is likely to see something like competitive interest occur – and possibly reach the $350 million(ish) the blog notionally qualified OPS asset worth at so very long ago.

The claims of Ihor Kolomoisky regarding OPS ownership via a previously quashed privatisation have been dismissed by the courts, leaving the major issues as the debt to Mr Firtash and the clauses within any purchase regarding asset investment, workforce etc for any potential bidders.

OPS has long been a State asset that both Ihor Kolomoisky and Dmitry Firtash covet, neither having been shy about their desire to own it historically.

Of the foreign interest muted, Norway’s Yara Norge, US-based IBE Trade Corp, Koch Fertilizer LLC, CF Industries Holdings Inc, and Poland’s Ciech S.A etc, missing any mention has been Dmitry Firtash’s Group DF, or Ostchem, (significant among the and other subsidiaries under the Group DF umbrella).  Perhaps with Mr Firtash being an (in)famous Ukrainian oligarch he is/was seen as a potential domestic bidder regardless of the long-standing foreign homes of his corporate machinery.

Indeed little is mentioned of Mr Firtash since he became marooned in Austria following a US attempt to extradite him following an indictment against him being opened in 2014.  Having checked with people within the State Department only a few weeks ago, US policy toward Mr Firtash remains unchanged, thus Vienna looks likely to remain home for some time.

Boris Krasnyansky

Boris Krasnyansky

Nevertheless, it has become clear via Boris Krasnyansky of Group DF during the YES conference, that there remains a real interest in purchasing OPS.  “For our business in the production of mineral fertilizers it is a logical asset for the completion of the corporate structure and is therefore definitely interesting.”

No surprise.

Perhaps even less of a surprise when Group DF can write off the $251 million it is owed should it become the owner of OPS which owes it.  Internal write-offs happen all the time, particularly within somewhat opaque accounting structures.

Few would doubt Mr Firtash can afford it too?  He is a $ billionaire oligarch after all.

Well maybe he can, and maybe he can’t.  There is a significant difference between asset worth and cash flow/cash on hand.  There is also a question over what Mr Firtash owes others too.

In making his $155 million/€125 million bail in Austria, that available cash came via Vasily Anisimov (Chairman of the Russian Judo Association) – “I have known Mr. Firtash for a number of years, though he is neither my friend nor business partner.  I confirm that I loaned 125 million euros to him. This was a purely business transaction.

Undoubtedly a reader is now considering President Putin’s affection for Judo, and how and why the Chairman of the Russian Judo Association would lend “neither a friend nor business partner” so much cash, and the contractual details of this “purely business transaction“.

Whatever the case, Mr Firtash was clearly unable to raise that cash sum himself back in 2014.

Perhaps cash on hand issues have improved since then, but if not, where will anywhere between $150 and $400 million come from to buy OPS, and can the gas debt simply be written off within the Group DF structure if it owes money elsewhere?

Who would it owe money to?

Where has Group DF and Ostchem found its money before?

Historically it has come from Gazprombank whilst directly/indirectly under the control of Yuri Kovalchuk (currently under western sanctions) and euphemistically known as “Putin’s personal banker”.  Gazprombank has a reputation of being the “collective Putin” pocket bank.  That bank has had at peak, somewhere between $7 – $12 billion in lines of credit open to Mr Firtash’s business empire.  In 2011, for example, Mr Firtash owed Gazprombank $2.08 billion but it went on to lend another $2.2 billion (about 25% of the bank’s total capital.)

Perhaps those debts have been repaid – perhaps not.  It is rumoured that Mr Firtash’s gas intermediary business made between $1 and $2 billion per annum, but assuredly that money was not all his.  In such deals, there are outstretch hands – and everybody’s got to eat.

The question therefore is where and who the money comes from for any Group DF (or Ostchem) bid regarding OPS if the apparent cash flow issues surrounding 2014 bail payments have not been overcome?

As those recognised by the Ukrainian State as “aggressors” will not be allowed to compete and win in any (strategic) asset privatisation (read Russia), how will Group DF be viewed legally, politically and economically as a corporation if still in hock to Gazprombank for $ billions – even if a different lender provides credit for any OPS purchase?

If Group DF is now with more than enough cash on hand without lines of credit or loan borrowing, how would the Ukrainian constituency react to selling OPS to a man widely known to have close Kremlin associations, pro-Kremlin views, and perceived to have been involved in numerous nefarious schemes?  Currently he personally is out of sight and therefore, for the most part, out of mind – even if his business partners and rented politicians are less fortunate when it comes to continued public scrutiny.

Fortunately for Ukraine, even if holding the most transparent OPS privatisation, being the highest bidder does not mean automatically becoming the owner – there is thus significant wiggle room to avoid that outcome if necessary.  Further, it is not as though OPS has to be privatised at any cost, whether that cost be counted in $ or political points (albeit understandable to get it off the government books when it requires so much modernisation and subject to management that is perhaps not the best available).

The end of September will see the second attempt to privatise OPS begin when interested parties will have to declare their interest.  By the middle of November, OPS may well have a new owner.  It probably won’t be Mr Firtash – but never say never.

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Romania to spend €43.5 billion on infrastructure – Anybody in Odessa know?

September 15, 2016

Although it becomes wearisome to continually state that Kyiv has to radically improve its relations and communication primarily with Warsaw and Bucharest in the immediate neighbourhood, it is once again stated.

15th September witnessed Romanian Transport Minister Sorin Buse unveil an infrastructure master plan for Romania between now and 2030.  A total of €43.5 billion will be spent on roads, railways, airports, ports etc.

Sorin Buse

Sorin Buse

The reason for this huge investment?  The fact that Romania is consistently losing significant inward investment from EU manufacturers due to poor infrastructure – or at least that is what the EU manufacturers are consistently telling Government Romania.

With regard to the investment into roads and rail specifically, for there is a clear interest insofar as Odessa is concerned, 6800 kilometers of new roads and 5000 kilometers of rail modernisation is planned within Romania.

Most of this new and revamped infrastructure will naturally head from Romania toward neighbouring EU nations in order to remove/mitigate the current hurdles to inward EU manufacturing investment in Romania.

However the political leadership in Odessa (and/or Ukraine) may be wise to pay a visit to their Romanian counterparts (something they simply do not do enough of anyway) considering the previously mentioned Odessa-Reni road that is meant to swiftly link Ukraine to Romania, and Odessa ultimately to Bucharest, not withstanding plans to rehabilitate dilapidated rail links between Odessa and Chisinau, ultimately leading to Bucharest and Sophia.

First and foremost, do these routes still feature in the Romanian grand plan for its infrastructure following this announcement?

Does the Romanian grand plan open up any other opportunities as far as Odessa (and Ukraine) is concerned?  Not only road and rail, but ports, airports etc?  Cheap commercial flights?  Air cargo?  Are any of the ports to be modernised situated on the Danube Delta?

In short are there any feasible “bolt on” infrastructure projects that can reasonably be developed on a similar timescale in the Odessa side of the border?

Did anybody in Odessa or Ukraine know about the small matter of a €43.5 billion Romanian infrastructure grand plan next door?

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BoJo in Ukraine

September 15, 2016

Having been asked many times about Brexit and the repercussions for UK-Ukrainian relations, both in person and by email, it is perhaps time to share some thoughts – and they are only thoughts.

Putting to one side any free trade agreement issues that would be upon a very long list of free trade and other agreements the UK is going to have to renegotiate, there are perhaps more immediate matters to raise.

The UK has been a robust supporter, and not without influence, within the EU when it comes to Ukraine.  Therefore the reaction of the Ukrainian leadership to both Brexit and then Theresa May becoming Prime Minister with a new cabinet and a basket full of EU problems probably went along lines thus:

Innumerable calls, letters and visits both to HM Embassy Kyiv and King Charles Street, London, will have occurred – all seeking insight into any change in the UK position toward Ukraine, a hint as to who will be handed the UK baton within the EU when it comes to leading the Ukrainian cause (probably Poland), and many questions over existing funding and also on-going bilateral programmes (whether they are hosted in Ukraine or the UK).

Needless to say there will also have been a lot of lobbying regarding insuring the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet Ministers either visit or receive their Ukrainian counterparts before those from The Kremlin.

In short, probably quite blunt requests to have London visit Kyiv, or have Kyiv visit London, before London ventures to Moscow or having Moscow arrive in London.  The usual framing and diplomatic messaging about priorities and positions matters.

Undoubtedly Ukraine’s FM Klimkin (who is a very good and capable FM) has held many telephone conversations with the UK’s FM Boris Jonhson (who thus far the FCO and 6 have managed to keep under control).  On a personal level, a reader would expect both men to get on very well – and personal relationships do count.

Innumerable verbal and written reassurances will have spewed forth from the FCO to reassure the Ukrainians.

bojo

Lo it has come to pass that Boris Johnson is in Kyiv 14th -15th September (and thus manages to escape before the Yes Conference) bringing soothing and comforting words, as well as the desired diplomatic message of “visits” delivered at his level.  “I am very glad to visit Ukraine soon after his appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs. This visit is a clear indication of the long-term strong relationship between our two countries. Britain stands side by side with the people of Ukraine for the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, particularly in the Crimea. The support that the United Kingdom has to reform in Ukraine, is unchanged We are pleased to work closely with those who implement the program for the development of transparent, accountable and stable government, and strengthening the economic outlook for the whole territory of Ukraine.”

(It remains to be seen whether Theresa May will visit Moscow before Kyiv, or host/be hosted by President Poroshenko before President Putin.)

It also has to be recognised that the Ukrainians will be very aware – as HM Embassy Kyiv probably is too – that UK influence has now diminished across most (but certainly not all) policy areas.

BoJo has also announced an additional £2 million for the HALO Trust mine clearing in eastern Ukraine between now and 2018.

Thus the boxes ticked for diplomatic positioning/messaging, soothing words and gifts delivered – as a reader would expect.

But this will not be enough.  Both Ukraine and the UK will be looking for other ways to reinforce a relationship that is clearly weakened due to Brexit.  There is a requirement to find bilateral agreements that will drop anchors between the nations not only either side of Brexit, but also either side of the next Presidential election in Ukraine and also either side of the next General Election in the UK.

Medium term bilateral agreements, 5 or 7 years in duration would seem wise when so many existing agreements will end with Brexit.

There are things that the UK does do particularly well and that the Ukrainians clearly appreciate (apart from money laundering) which are obvious areas to look toward when trying to find 5 – 7 year agreements that will be useful and genuinely meaningful and that will not be complicated by Brexit issues relating to the EU Association Agreement and DCFTA, and assorted other treaties, agreements, memorandums, read missions, etc.

The first is defence/military.  The second is intelligence. Both are matters that will remain priority issues for Ukraine for the next decade at least, and both are areas where the UK is no slouch.  Announcing a bilateral 5 – 7 year defence/military agreement (whatever its limitations/parameters), and/or announcing a 5 – 7 year bilateral agreement regarding increased intelligence sharing (whatever its limitations/parameters) would be a well received gesture as far as Ukraine is concerned, and for the UK it will assist in keeping HM Embassy Kyiv relevant until Brexit is over and an entire raft of new agreements with Ukraine will be required as a result.  (Relying upon a small Chevening Alumni won’t do it, and neither will knowing where the money is hidden.)

Some bilateral medium term agreements beginning and concluding either side of Brexit and significant elections would not go amiss for either nation.

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Road maps to a road map – Minsk

September 14, 2016

With French and German Foreign Ministers now in Kyiv,  and Ukrainian FM Klimkin talking about implementation roadmaps to implement the Minsk document/text which is itself little more than a roadmap.

A roadmap to implement a roadmap may well be en vogue, but is there any point to it?  In theory of course there is, but then in theory, there should no difference between theory and practice, something many practitioners can claim as a falsehood.

A reader may note the use of “document/text” rather than “agreement” in the opening paragraph, for “agreement” is something of a misnomer and infers/gives the impression that the process was entered into without significant coercion.  That by extension and over time gives the perception of a “softer” version of what is a serious violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and trampling of international law.

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

It is a political document and not a legally binding document.

Further, of the numerous western diplomats spoken to privately over the past 2 years, not a single one has expressed their personal opinion that the Minsk document will ever be fully implemented.  Indeed the consensus has been that while it is important for Ukraine (or the West) not to “kill Minsk”, there are perhaps wiser uses of political and diplomatic energy with regard to Ukraine.

team

Ukraine cannot be seen to be the assassin of Minsk, first and foremost as it would place serious strain upon European resolve to maintain its (surprising) unity toward Kremlin actions thus far.  Whilst sanctions are not officially tied to the actions of Ukraine – to be clear Russia was not sanctioned over anything Ukraine has done – de facto the passage of time has witnessed the sanctions policy “understanding” in certain capitals either warp, creep, or intentionally become attached to Ukrainian actions as a negotiating lever over Ukraine – as if Ukraine invaded itself and severed Crimea voluntarily or is somehow liable for continuing illegal Kremlin actions within Ukrainian territory.

Nevertheless, if Minsk is to be officially recognised as dead, then it has to be seen to occur at the hands of The Kremlin.

The problem with allowing The Kremlin to kill it is that eventually a Minsk III – or worse Yalta II – would probably not be favourable to Ukraine unless the Europeans found their backbone if they were involved in any serious renegotiating process.

As of the time of writing a ceasefire where the firing actually ceased during the past 2 years has yet to materialise – and to be blunt nobody thought it would, just as nobody thought the Minsk document(s) would ever be fully implemented even before the ink had dried.

The immediate and medium term horizons look far more like an incendiary Nagorno-Karabakh than a frozen Transnistria.

With The Kremlin building permanent military bases not far from the Ukrainian eastern border, clearly it plans to prevent and dissuade a repeat of the Croatian Operation Storm in the years ahead – should such a thought ever enter a Ukrainian policymaker’s head in the future.

The question is therefore whether “western diplomacy” is best employed in keeping Ukraine adhering to entirely arbitrary Minsk timelines to carry out “x” or “y”, or it is better employed in finding reasons why Ukraine should not be held to arbitrary timelines, or unilaterally be expected to fulfill the text of such a (currently) onerous document?

A bad peace will not bring a lasting armistice (insomuch as military conflict is concerned), and war on every other front will continue – economic, social, political, diplomatic etc.  Any interaction between Ukraine and Russia for a generation will now only be transactional regardless of how any peace actually arrives (if/when it does).  As difficult as it is to take the current spate of posturing and rhetoric over Minsk implementation seriously when it comes to its full implementation,  during a war of exhaustion roadmaps to fulfilling roadmaps etc  must surely be expected as part of the diplomatic arsenal available to all sides  and is both an offensive and defensive weapon.

Will we still be talking about unfulfilled Minsk implementation this time next year?  Yes, for no side will be entirely exhausted within 12 months.

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Your name’s not down…… Opinion Surveys/Polls

September 12, 2016

A few days ago, a wandering policy maker from the aesthetically splendid institutional bunker on King Charles Street, London, peered under the rock and sought out the blog for a chat in the Odessa sunshine.

The conversation was wide-ranging and almost in its entirety will not be repeated – however the banal and certainly not sensitive issue of Ukrainian opinion polls and potential candidates for future office was raised.

Polling/opinion surveys in Ukraine, and Odessa, are a permanent and never-ending exercise – the vast majority of which are carried out with no intention of publication for a wide audience – certainly not for the media nor the electorate.  Most are for internal use only for those commissioning the surveys/polls.

Thus on occasion a questioningly raised eyebrow curls upon the wrinkled forehead of the blog when a publicly published opinion poll/survey has very little resemblance to three or four different political party surveys/polls commissioned for their internal use, the statistics from which may have somehow reached the blog Inbox.

There are always methods to skew opinion polls/surveys in the way they are conducted, (physically/phone/internet), the exact wording of the questions, and even the emphasis placed on certain words within the questions when they are asked – this notwithstanding the ability to “buy/dictate” the survey/poll outcome for use in any information operation/social framing of political issues.   There are obviously other tinkering options with regard to demographics, locations, and accurate recording of answers etc.

survey

The above being accepted, more to the point with Ukrainian and local opinion polls other more fundamental matters also surface. for example, with the latest presidential opinion polls/surveys and the projection of anticipated voting.  The usual historical and wearily repeated names are polled, Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Boiko, President Porosehnko and a perennial assortment of other aged politicians.

The next presidential election is more than 2 years away – which is a very long time in politics – and yet despite many sitting Prime Ministers having historically stood for presidential election, inexplicably Prime Minister Groisman was not a name who appeared among the possible candidates in the last polls/survey.

It is easy to state he would have no chance, or that he is simply a Poroshenko puppet, or that he has little top level policy experience today – but 2 years hence?  He is already starting to show subtle signs political maturity, PR awareness, and appears to be at the beginning of an effort at forging his own, more Poroshenko-independent persona which is something to watch looking forward.  There is also every chance that in the coming two years he will also have a public (be it part of a pantomime or more genuinely) spat with the Presidential Administration that will further forge his own more independent space in the political arena – or at least that perception.

He is also not alone when it comes to absent names on presidential polls, there are others that in the coming two years may well become prominent figures who will also run.  It seems unlikely that Opposition Block can remain a united party for that long, so from within the current Opposition Block fold, it will be Mr Boiko and one other.

The question becomes who takes votes from who – and what effect it would have on the current opinion polls that don’t even name today certain likely candidates of tomorrow and current polling missing some obvious possibilities such as the current Prime Minister therefore have limited meaning – if any so far ahead of the event.

Ultimately it will become a choice between slow, steady and occasionally faltering centralism verses loud, reckless and probably disastrous populism.  The names perhaps somewhat less important.

Turning to Odessa, if not Mayor Trukhanov then who?  The Mayor’s confident Oleg Bryndyk?  Others such as Kolomoisky’s Andrei Kotlyar, or Valerie Matkovsky, Sergei Kalinchuk and Anatoly Orel?  Perhaps Michael Shmushkovich or Anatoli Urbanski despite their preference for Oblast and not City governance, could be tempted too should Mr Goncharenko decide to run his men – both have been Oblast Rada Chairman.   Maybe Mr Potapsky Mr Goncharenko’s man currently Secretary/Speaker of City Hall?

None are doing any preparatory work now to give themselves a good chance of beating the current Mayor at the ballot box.  If by some miracle Mayor Trukhanov is taken down by NABU, who are the obvious candidates with real societal traction to replace him and who can capitalise most effectively upon his falling popularity figures?

The Mayor’s falling popularity can be measured, but who if anybody is becoming more popular as an alternative?

What of Governor Saakashvili?  Who are the candidates to replace him when he eventually moves on?  (Perhaps that may be quite soon depending upon Georgian electoral outcomes on the immediate horizon.)  Whatever faults he may have, or questionable judgements he may have made, when looking at his predecessors such as Mykola Skoryk, Eduard Matviychuk etc., he remains a vast improvement upon what came before him – for in truth to be any worse would be close to impossible.  Who will replace him that does not give the perception of rolling back toward the worst Odessa has suffered?  Is this really the best there is to offer the constituency of Ukraine and/or Odessa?

The rest of the conversation will remain permanently unwritten – but a few lines relating to current opinion polls/surveys are probably worth writing.

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