Archive for March, 2017

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Wetwork and ammo dumps

March 23, 2017

23rd March has been a somewhat eventful day for Kyiv.

The assassination of Denis Voronenkov is perhaps not a surprise.

A former Russian Duma parliamentarian fleeing Russia after corruption allegations, who then obtains Ukrainian citizenship and openly cooperates with the Ukrainian authorities giving evidence regarding former President Yanukovych and his appeals for Russian military intervention – notwithstanding outspoken remarks regarding Crimea – is sure to draw Kremlin ire.

That the assassin was slain is no comfort.

Presumably those such as Ilya Ponomarev will now receive increased security.

Ukrainian authorities have unsurprisingly swiftly pointed the finger at the Kremlin for this wetwork operation in Kyiv – and for sure The Kremlin has a well documented history, both home and abroad, of carrying out wet work against those it feels betrays it.

How swiftly any connection between the assassin and The Kremlin can or will be made public remains to be seen.

Despite the probability that this assassination is Kremlin wet work, and despite the very swift finger pointing by Ukraine at Moscow, there are obviously other possibilities that must be investigated.

It may well be that he was slain on a paid contract by those that are still in the Yanukovych orbit, and that it was done without the direct or tacit approval of The Kremlin.  It may also be an assassination for other business related reasons.  While both seem far less likely than a Kremlin approved wetwork operation, they are clearly possibilities that must be considered, however unlikely, and ruled out (or in).

President Poroshenko has stated that is was “no coincidence” that the assassination occurred upon the same day that a significant arms depot, Balakleya, Kharkiv) was blown up.  Clearly the inference being that the arms dump explosion was an act of sabotage by Russia.

It has to be noted however that ammo dumps have blown up before with the initial allegation from Kyiv blaming Russia only for the cause to be identified as negligence of ammo dump employees – Svatove in 2015 being one example.

That said this particular ammo storage facility, without going into too much detail, was a major artillery dump that will undoubtedly have a real effect upon artillery ammunition logistics for Ukraine.  (A reader may ponder why Ukraine employs a policy of ammunition storage that is (more or less) centralised rather than more dispersed and therefore less of a military problem when such incidents (no matter how caused) occur.)  Initial official statements claim about 50% of the stored munitions are lost.  Unofficially that figure appears to be understated.

Regradless, such is the extent of the ammunition loss it seems very likely that in the absence of suitable domestic manufacturing capability, Ukraine may have to seek out and purchase stocks from the former Warsaw Pact nations.

Would any reader be surprised to note that The Kremlin also made a statement on the 23rd March to the effect it does not see the Minsk deal being implemented any time soon?

Thus reading between the lines, perhaps a reader may now expect some form of escalation that would require a Ukrainian artillery response over a period of time designed to yet further reduce remaining arty ammo stocks significantly?

Dependent upon the true scale of the munitions loss due to the blast, how quickly Kyiv can locate, purchase, and store old Warsaw Pact calibre artillery ammunition from neighbours remains to be seen.  Whether the decentralising of ammunition storage is a policy result of this incident also remains to be seen.

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Eurovision – A reflexive control win for Russia

March 22, 2017

Over the years, both the subject and application of  reflexive control has appeared on the blog.  It is not new.  Neither is Eurovision.

For those unaware of what reflexive control is, the above link provides a very reasonable definition thus – “Reflexive control is defined as a means of conveying to a partner or an opponent specially prepared information to incline him to voluntarily make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action.”

This entry however is the first time that both reflexive control and Eurovision appear together.

Though many readers may pooh-pooh Eurovision, it was quite a big deal for Ukraine when it won the competition in 2016 giving it hosting rights in 2017.

That it won with an entry sung by a Crimean Tatar themed upon 1944 Stalin implemented mass deportations of the Tatar from Crimea will have deliberately irked the Kremlin as much as rightly attempting to keep the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in the headlines.

Naturally Ukraine could expect some form of Eurovision reciprocity from Russia in response – and it has now come.

Ukraine has banned the Russian singer Samoilova from entering Ukraine, and thus from performing the Russian entry in Kyiv.

The reason for this ban is due to the Russian artist entering Crimea directly from Russia, rather than via Ukraine therefore undermining Ukrainian sovereignty, and also her performing there in 2015 – post the illegal annexation.

Samoilova joins a very long list of Russian artists banned from Ukraine for performing in Crimea since its illegal annexation.

Obviously The Kremlin is well aware of the Ukrainian policy of banning entry to Ukraine for Russian artists that perform in Crimea.  It is a policy that is nothing short of consistent.  Prima facie there have been no exceptions.

Ergo Samoilova was deliberately chosen to perform the Russian entry in the full knowledge that either Kyiv would make an (extremely unlikely) exception allowing The Kremlin a policy-breaking win, or that Kyiv would remain robust in its policy and in doing so knowingly causing some angst with the Eurovision establishment and quite possibly among the Eurovision faithful.

As predicted by The Kremlin, Kyiv has remained true to its policy and Samoilova has been banned from entry into Ukraine due to her performance in the peninsula in 2015.

Also as expected by The Kremlin (and probably Kyiv) the Eurovision establishment has issued a statement that hardly paints the Kyiv decision favourably – “It has been confirmed to the EBU that the Ukrainian authorities have issued a travel ban on the Russian artist chosen for the Eurovision Song Contest, Julia Samoylova, as she has been judged to have contravened Ukrainian law by entering Crimea in order to perform. 

We have to respect the local laws of the host country, however we are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the Contest, and the notion of inclusivity that lies at the heart of its values. 

We will continue a dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities with the aim of ensuring that all artists can perform at the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv in May. “

Hosts Kyiv left looking less than entering into the spirit of the competition, despite the obvious Kremlin maneuvering to create this outcome via the most blatant of reflexive control operations.

The whole affair however was avoidable -. and thus questions have to be asked as to why it wasn’t avoided?

The Russian artist in question performed in Crimea in 2015 and therefore could have been barred from entering and performing in Ukraine immediately thereafter – as many Russian artists have been,   That she was not barred from entry and performing in Ukraine in 2015 has led to this belated, Kremlin engineered banning in 2017 – and the policy consistent but undeniably poor public framing Kyiv has allowed itself to be put in.

All in all, something of an easy (and avoidable)point score for The Kremlin vis a vis Ukraine.

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Ukrainian judicial transparency (not something you see every day)

March 21, 2017

With the distinct whiff of (at the very least partial) transparency, the disclosures/declarations of the 50 candidates for the highest judicial positions in Ukraine have appeared upon the website of the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine.

To say this event is extremely rare would be misleading – this is in fact precedent setting, not only the public listing of all the candidates, but also their declarations (of hopefully legitimate) wealth.

Whether there is anything within these disclosures that will prove to be somewhat smelly for any particular candidate remains to be seen, as will the fullness of the disclosures – nevertheless, a flicker of light in the otherwise dark and grubby world of the Ukrainian judiciary.

A moment to savour in fact – for there are too few and they are far too far in between when it comes to the Ukrainian judiciary.

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Ukraine acceeds to (parts of) COSME

March 18, 2017

Long has the blog opined that the “deoligarchisation” of the Ukrainian economy will not manifest by the removal of the oligarchs (for that won’t happen), but by their oversized role within it being reduced by a transformation of the economy.

In short, conditions should be created to see the parts of the Ukrainian economy without outsized oligarch interest grow as rapidly, but as prudently, as is practicable.

There are obvious sectors in which there is no oligarchical monopoly/hidden barriers to entry.  The first industry sphere with no serious and dominating oligarchy interest, and where Ukraine is already strong with regard to internationally qualified personnel, is IT.  It ranks fourth globally for Apple and Microsoft certified programmers for example.

The second by its very nature is the economic sphere of the small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

The accepted wisdom is that SMEs create competition, and competition creates better goods and services thus driving the economy ever onward across a plethora of business sectors.

Clearly such economic shifts will not happen over night – or even in a year or two.  This is especially so when Ukrainian SMEs still struggle with unnecessary, outdated, pointless, and no small amount Soviet legacy regulation and statute at every turn.

To be entirely fair to the current authorities they have canceled and/or repealed hundreds of irksome, discombobulated and/or Acts that were simply more than a little fractious with other existing laws and regulations.

(On 23rd November 2016 Gov UA claims to have axed 367 bureaucratic abnormalities – and occasionally lists can be found regarding some of that which has been cast asunder.)

Another 100 statutory nonsense filled acts are slated to head to the bureaucratic waste bin very soon – with yet another 400 under examination.

To be clear, this is still the tip of a very large statutory/regulatory iceberg much of which never had any economic benefit other than to impose another method of extracting bribes from businesses that when adhering to one statute, were immediately were at odds with another.  (Undoubtedly some of the most lucrative legislative flapdoodle will remain simply because it is so nefariously lucrative.)

Nevertheless it cannot be said that nothing has been done, even if it can be said not enough has been done thus far – even when allowing some mitigation for parasitic bureaucrats deliberately slowing (or stopping) the reordering of their corrupt administrative fiefdoms.

On 22 February the Verkhovna Rada paved the way for Ukrainian accession to specific parts of the EU’s Competitiveness of Small Medium Enterprises (COSME) scheme.  The specific parts being improving access of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to markets, improving the regulatory environment for SMEs functioning, and creating a culture of doing business.  The 18th March witnessed President Poroshenko complete the process.

It remains to be seen whether Ukrainian SME associations/business NGOs/civil society will form solid partnerships with EU counterparts, and whether that in turn can be used to encourage the Ukrainian leadership not only to expedite the removal of unnecessarily hindering rules, but also approximate any new legislation/regulation with any relevant European normative.

Just how much remains to be done is difficult to assess, however measurable (somehow) it must be, for it is surely achievable.

There is then the question of timeliness – both for the SMEs and by extension the reduction of an oligarchy (almost captured) economy.

(The SME demographic will also be a key battleground constituency for elections upon the distant (or not so distant) horizon.)

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Questions of confidence and reshuffles

March 17, 2017

Almost a month ago when a few lines appeared relating to the “Donbas Blockade”, it was inferred that an almost inevitable reshuffle of the Cabinet would occur very soon – “None of this bodes well for Prime Minister Groisman and his Cabinet with such a small (and often infrequent) majority in the Verkhovna Rada.” and  “How can the Energy Minister survive if those manning the blockade are to be pacified?  With who to replace?”

That reshuffle remains very likely, and it is said that Prime Minister Groisman has already privately put two Ministers on notice.

But what makes this reshuffle imminent?

As of 14th April, Volodymyr Groisman has been Prime Minister for 1 year, which therefore triggers the ability to engage in votes of “no confidence” – and a vote of “no confidence” there will surely be.

It is likely (at the time of writing) the PM and the Cabinet will survive (this first attempt) with a little encouragement and/or coercion of parliamentary votes from without the (slight) majority coalition.

Nevertheless changes will have to be seen to be made, albeit what is made to be seen will change nothing.

The theatre being required give an additional veneer of credibility to the argument against early Verkhovna Rada elections, despite the internal dynamics of the Verkhovna Rada being unchanged by a ministerial merry-go-round.

(Would the dynamics of the Verkhovna Rada change with early elections?  Only if a critical mass of genuinely reform minded new faces entered – and remained – rather than be subjected to deselection games on party lists post election.)

Ergo – a questions for the next few weeks are which Minister’s will go – and who will replace them?

Inevitably another question is how many populist statements will come from Prime Minister Groisman prior to the inevitable vote of “no confidence”?

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NABU – 2017 a make or perhaps break year?

March 16, 2017

A few weeks ago an entry appeared regarding the surprise (including to many within the Verkhovna Rada) physical appearance in the chamber of Nigel Brown as a candidate for external and independent assessor/auditor of NABU .

A candidate suddenly put forward by Block Poroshenko and the People’s Front on the day that the candidacy of  Robert Storch, a former Deputy Inspector General of the US Department of Justice was due to be voted upon.

The entry concluded with an old and all too familiar question – “Nevertheless, readers are left with an all too familiar question – Who benefits from a last minute further delay in the Verkhovna Rada fulfilling its oblations surrounding NABU?”

Things have now progressed in the usual discombobulated, opaque, and generally disorderly way that a reader would expect from such a “surprise” – obviously orchestrated by Block Poroshenko and the People’s Front – that aims to work in somebody’s favour.

Suddenly parliamentary support for Robert Storch has disintegrated and political support for Mr Brown has grown – albeit not quite yet to the point of the necessary 226 votes behind his candidacy.  A reader can however, feel fairly certain that Mr Brown will get over the finishing line by fair means or foul (unless there is significant and direct external pressure put upon the Presidential Administration to rethink matters).

(Nobody should be surprised that if in the fullness of time it becomes known that Mr Brown has had dealings with somebody powerful in Ukraine – he certainly wasn’t simply plucked from obscurity via a LinkedIn search.)

All sorts of shenanigans occurred within the Verkhovna Rada Committee on 16th March to enable Mr Brown’s (almost certain) appointment.  Somebody is seemingly trying to get him appointed as soon as is possible and the ends are seemingly worthy of ill-considered means.  Committee protocols and rules appear to have simply been savaged to this end.

Court appeals and internal Verkhovna Rada procedural appeals will almost certainly follow.

The question is whether this will deliberately further delay the necessary appointment of an individual to the vacant role, or whether the appointment will occur regardless  -leaving a lasting shadow over the appointment – and by extension for far too many, upon Mr Brown.

Why Mr Brown and not Mr Storch?

Is Mr Brown likely to be far more critical of NABU Chief Artem Sytnyk, paving the way for his desired toppling?

A reader should be quite clear that there is a majority in the Ukrainian political and institutional elite that would be more than happy to see Mr Sytnyk removed and a more controllable candidate replace him.  After all, NABU was not a domestic idea whereby the Ukrainian elite decided they wanted an independent body specifically designed to investigate themselves.

To be entirely blunt, it was a body created because the EU, IMF, USA and other donors insisted upon it if further funding was to come.  Thus every effort is made to frustrate and neuter a most unwelcome entity where ever and whenever possible.

It also became apparent on 16th March that NABU had busted several SBU operatives in a $50,000 bribe incident, rather than the SBU internal organs that have quietly been weeding out their own rogue elements without much fanfare or publicity.

The interesting question would be if that bust relied on SIGINT/wiretapping – or not – for the Verkhovna Rada in a continuing effort to frustrate and neuter NABU, refuses to grant it wiretapping ability thus making it (wrongly) reliant upon the SBU for such operational intelligence.  In  short collaboration between the two entities, or grounds for an institutional war?

Needless to say key capitals such as Washington, Berlin and London are closely watching this unnecessarily ugly theatre play out.  All will have been quietly content to see NABU arrest (and with society’s assistance detain) Roman Nasirov some weeks ago (although don’t hold your breath for a conviction, there is a long way to go yet).

Clearly there are increasing efforts to weaken and subdue NABU.  Do moves in that direction require finding a foreign, independent, officially appointed voice that may raise sufficient criticism enabling an attempt to topple Artem Sytnyk – despite the broad support from international donors he currently has?

Will the Ukrainian elite manage to neuter, and thus effectively break NABU in 2017?

Undoubtedly the foreign donors that forced NABU upon a very unwilling Ukrainian elite are now going to have to defend their time, effort, and investment in this institution if it is to remain even remotely effective in 2017 and beyond.

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The VR Clown goes to the CoE

March 14, 2017

It appears that Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party and bellicose clown of the Verkhovna Rada will soon be practicing his truculent comedy as a member of the Ukrainian delegation to the Council of Europe.

It appears that Radical Party MP Andrew Lozovoy resigned from the Ukrainian COE delegation to be replaced by his party leader who has stated he will “firmly and stubbornly defend the PACE national interests of Ukraine.

My faction has delegated me a member of PACE, the situation in the Assembly today is very complex, there is an attempt to return the Russian delegation, I will rigidly and stubbornly will defend the national interests of Ukraine at PACE.”

Perhaps Mr Lyashko should be forewarned that PACE has a Code of Ethics by which he will have to abide – unlike the Verkhovna Rada.  Maybe he should be forewarned the shouting the loudest and swearing the most from a podium works far less effectively at the CoE than it does within the VR.

Per chance he could also be a little more transparent about his motivation – a motivation suddenly found despite previous rumours of a return of the Russian delegation last year causing him far less reason to engineer his presence at the COE.

Undoubtedly he will be a very vocal advocate for Ukraine – though not necessarily (in fact probably not) the best advocate for Ukraine in such a forum.  More to the point however, a reader may well perceive this internal engineering within the Radical Party as an effort to raise the profile of Oleh Lyashko beyond the borders of Ukraine.

There is a presidential election in 2 years time after all – and pre-election electioneering is already underway with candidates such as Poroshenko and Tymoshenko already having international recognition and political experience on their curriculum vitae.

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