Archive for April, 2017

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Impeaching the President (of PACE)? Ukraine delegation leads the charge

April 24, 2017

There appears to be a push (rather than putsch) to impeach President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,  Pedro Agramunt.

Something quite unheard of – in fact it would be set a precedent for PACE should Mr Agramunt actually get impeached.

At the core of the attempts to impeach Mr Agramunt was his recent visit to Syria.  A trip that apparently occurred in the company of the Russian PACE delegates and Duma Deputies.

Among a fairly large number of PACE representatives there is naturally a feeling of disgust at one end of the spectrum to one of inappropriateness and poor judgement at the other.  For many a visit to Syria by the President of PACE in the company of Russian PACE and State officials can be perceived as support for both Syrian President Assad and the actions of Russia in supporting the Assad regime.

Seemingly leading the charge to impeach President Agramunt is the Ukrainian delegation which tabled for vote a change to existing regulations to allow for the President of PACE to be impeached.   That 24th April vote to facilitate such regulatory change failed by only 2 votes.

President Agramunt has apologised to PACE members for his mistake and attempted to mitigate matters by claiming he went under the auspices of a Spanish Senator and not as PACE President.  Naturally that is not a distinction that many would make when his visit occurred surrounded by Russian PACE delegates and Duma Deputies..  He has not, however, done the honorable thing and resigned as President – at least not yet.

President Agramunt will participate in a hearing on 25th April regarding the incident and hope to further douse the flames of a rightfully irked Assembly – however it seems fairly certain that whatever he may say by way of defence and/or explanation, the Ukrainian delegation will seek to return the changes to regulations to allow impeachment for another vote thereafter.

Within the next 48 hours Ukraine may actually manage to create a legal framework to impeach a president – despite several failed domestic attempts to do the same.

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The first fatality of the OSCE SMM in Ukraine

April 23, 2017

It is perhaps to view matters in a somewhat fatalistic way to be less than surprised by the tragic news of the first fatality, and serious injuries to others from among those that compose the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The war in the Donbas has claimed yet more lives of non-combatants.

It appears that a SMM vehicle drove over a mine in the occupied territory of Luhansk with fatal results.

A reader can expect swift claims that the SMM had traveled along an unauthorised route – and also that it was the Ukrainian military that entered the occupied Lugansk territory and laid the mine in question.  From the viewpoint of those controlling the occupied Luhansk territories it is a natural reaction.

The reaction of the Ukrainian leadership will be equally as obvious.

Curators of the occupied territories in Moscow may or may not think a little more carefully before making statements considering the lost OSCE soul is apparently either a US or UK citizen (it is unclear at the time of writing), the injured a German, and depending upon what can be achieved not only within the realm of foreign public consumption, but also any opportunities for tweaking that they may wish to make within the leadership of occupied Luhansk.  The Russian domestic audience is unlikely to pay much attention to such an incident – if it features on the Russian news cycle with any prominence at all.

For Russia to consider altering course it perhaps depends far more on any destabilising seepage back into surrounding Russian oblasts than upon anything else.

A reader will also expect blunt statements from the European political community regarding the need for a swift and transparent investigation into this fatal incident.  If MH17, or more generally the inability of the SMM to fully carry out their mandate within the occupied territories is any guide, then they will be statements of hope rather than expectation.  What statements, if any, from the US are perhaps a little less predictable these days, even if it turns out to be a US rather than UK citizen that died upholding an international mandate.

For all the disparaging remarks made about the SMM by those among the Ukrainian, occupied territory and Russian commentators, when taking a step back and assessing the overall SMM effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate – a mandate which is one of monitoring and not peacekeeping or peacemaking – then it has to be said that Alexander Hug has done a very good job under very difficult circumstances.

The mission operates in an environment swimming in mistrust between opposing sides and also by both sides regarding the SMM mission.  In effect it operates within its mandate but also within the parameters that either side provide it on the ground.  Further there are some rather suspect monitors among those that have made up the SMM team which adds to the distrust by both sides and no doubt also complicates matters for Mr Hug internally and externally of the SMM set up.

It is almost a forgone conclusion that this incident will be barely mentioned in European news cycles due to the French going to the polls, despite this being the first fatality and serious injuries received by SMM monitors in Ukraine since 2014 when the mission began.  Long since have near misses and SMM vehicles getting hit by bullets made the news.

Social media will be filled with less than nuanced commentary that pays no regard to the parameters of the SMM mission – regardless of whatever limited effectiveness that is perceived in fulfilling it.  Aside from the role it plays in documenting events, and the daily public SMM reports do not necessarily equate to the detail contained in reports that are not made public, it is particularly difficult to measure prevention – and who knows what skirmishes, battles and  other acts were considered and abandoned due to the SMM presence?

Whatever the case, the war in the Donbas has claimed yet another life of an unarmed non-combatant.

Due to the precedent set (if a somewhat expected eventuality) by the loss of the poor soul involved, it remains to be seen whether it is a life that may actually stand out among the others in the daily summaries relating to eastern Ukraine that are wearily pushed in front of European government ministers.

It may perhaps focus minds, even if temporarily, on the role of the SMM in eastern Ukraine, notwithstanding the tools/equipment and vocal diplomatic support they have to achieve it.

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NABU Arrests, Political Posturing and Citizenship stripping

April 21, 2017

Quite rightly the headlines in Ukraine surround the NABU arrest of former People’s Front MP Mykola Martynenko, for embezzlement of just over US$17 million via various schemes and scams within the energy sector through his VostGOK and Austrian registered intermediary Steuermann.

Also arrested and long associated with VostGOK was Sergei Perelom (unsurprisingly also a former senior figure at Odessa Port Side where other Martynenko shenanigans have long been suspected/known).

Mr Martynenko at the time of writing is currently in the courtroom where a decision to remand him in custody ,or proscribe a significant bail figure (UAH 300 million is the prosecution request) is yet to be decided.

Several MPs and Government Ministers have attended the court stating they are willing to personally accept Mr Martynenko on bail – the optics of which can be viewed in many ways.

Firstly loyalty to a former colleague and more importantly political party funder.

The public however are far more likely to perceive government ministers of the People’s Front standing so overtly by Mr Martynenko as pure cronyism and solidarity with a partner in crime.

Yet others will see the presence of government ministers and their public statements supporting Mr Martynenko as little more than political pressure upon the judge.

It may well be any or a combination of all of the above depending upon the minister/parliamentarian.  (For the sake of interest those People’s Front Ministers and MPs  are Minister of Youth and Sport Igor Zhdanov, Lily Grinevich Education Minister, MPs Pavel Pynzenyk, Georgei Lohvynskyy and Infrastructure Minister Vladimir Omelian.)

Nevertheless it is unlikely that the image of these politicians will suffer at the voting both – for the voting both may well be avoided in the near future, and whether it is or it isn’t at the time of writing the People’s Front would be slaughtered, nay eviscerated at the alter of democracy via lack of public support.

Ergo public perception possibly doesn’t figure particularly strongly either way for these politicians in comparison to supporting the man that finances the internal working of their party (and other mutual interests).

Whether the NABU arrest of Mr Martynenko will unsettle the (slim) majority coalition with Block Poroshenko will perhaps hinge upon whether those within believe that President Poroshenko can influence the timing or actions of NABU.  That perception is perhaps questionable considering the NABU scalp of Roman Nasirov, a scalp prima facie, claimed without the apparent knowledge of President Poroshenko until after the fact.

Indeed NABU has been very busy, and publicly so these past two weeks, perhaps in the case of Mr Martynenko because foreign States appear to be concluding their investigations into him without Ukraine having opened one, but more generally to increase public support prior to the appointment of an external NABU auditor, the report of whom could provide grounds for the removal of the NABU Chief.

NABU is a body supposedly independent of political influence, but it does not lose its ability to influence politics via public opinion.

Whilst all of this is rightly grabbing the Ukrainian headlines, the Prosecutor General’s Office has made an official request to the Interior Ministry to strip the Ukrainian citizenship of MP Andrei Artemenko.

That would be the same Mr Artenenko who funds Right Sector and who was peddling dubious and certainly unsanctioned plans to the Trump White House via Felix Sater and Michael D Cohen that many in Ukraine regard as treasonous, and resulted in his ejection from The Radical Party.

It has to be said that stripping Mr Artenenko of Ukrainian citizenship is very unlikely to leave him stateless – for it is strongly believed he holds several other citizenships (including that of Qatar).

The question however, is why the Prosecutor General’s Office is requesting his citizenship be stripped rather than prosecuting him?  Are the votes not there within the Verkhovna Rada to strip an MP kicked out of his party for “treason”?  There must surely be when so framed.

Is it that in stripping the funder of Right Sector of his citizenship for “anti-Ukrainian activity” rather than prosecuting him is a deliberate framing that it is felt will prevent the Right Sector franchise reacting in his defence?

Is it that the Prosecutor General’s Office simply cannot make a case against him for his unsanctioned (and “treasonous”) interaction with the Trump Administration – and whatever other skeletons are in  Mr Arteneko’s cupboard are deemed better left due to wider ranging repercussions among other parliamentarians?

The Martynenko corruption case is rightly headline grabbing – but the Artenenko issue is far more interesting.

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RISI – US election interference and Ukrainian planning

April 20, 2017

It is not often this blog commits to prose about Russia.  The author writes elsewhere when it comes to Russia keeping the content here by and large entirely Ukraine-centric.

However, a recent article by Reuters relating to the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS or RISI) is worthy of comment simply for no other reason than it caused a wry smile.

Currently RISI is certainly not what it was prior to 2009 when this think tank was then taken under the control of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.

Naturally any facade of independence that may have previously existed thus ended.

The appointment of “retired” SVR Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov as RISI Director, together with an officially slight change of scope from providing “information and analytical support to the relevant government authorities” to also include “ideological and propaganda” coincided.

The dice therefore cast when placing a former senior spook who had previously headed departments that had looked after information and analysis in Yugoslavia, Greece and Bulgaria.  The direction of RISI would take on a far more subversive nature, and its output/analysis far less analytical and far more ideological and propaganda sensitive.

That is not to say that the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov produced much of anything of use to The Kremlin relating to RISI output.  Indeed those that have long rubbed up against or have even a modicum of knowledge relating to RISI and its internal workings watched as RISI became a subject of ridicule within think tank and academic circles both within and without Russia.

Mr Reshetnikov is a “White Russian” (just as Mr Putin is).  He is also an ex-spook (just as Mr Putin is).  But Mr Reshetnikov is also a very/ultra conservative Orthodox follower (in which Mr Putin fails to convince).  Indeed Mr Putin whilst allowing a conclave of swivel-eyed ultra Orthodoxy in and surrounding the Kremlin hierarchical organagram seems very happy to distance himself using his personal priest Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov as postman to the Church and also this swivel-eyed conclave.

Leonid Reshetnikov is also one of those behind Katehon, where donning a tin foil hat is a pre-requisite before clicking the link.

But what to do if you are an employee of RISI under Mr Reshetnikov?  It is not necessarily a distinction to be grateful for.  Do you throw your academic name into the rubbish basket or hope that if remaining your peers will understand that such jobs are not easy to find and that morality does not feed a family?

Some employees did leave by choice (or otherwise).  Others grew beards and placed religious icons about the institution adopting the mantra of White Russia, orthodoxy and empire.

One of the first tasks set was to address historical falsification by the Soviets against White Russia.  Whatever historical falsification there may have been, clearly a distinct move from analysis and toward ideology and propaganda for, primarily, internal consumption.

Meanwhile new appointments were made via the usual cronyism that qualifies as the system.  Ability coming a distant second to loyalty.

Tamara Guzenkova was put in charge of matters Ukrainian – based upon cronyism networks and a spattering of a dozen or so Ukrainian language phrases.

Naturally within a now coercive and cancerous environment the starting point for any RISI “analysis” was that there was no such thing as the Ukrainian State, the Ukrainian language was an Austrian-Polish construct designed to undermine Russia and Russian historically, and if there was anything Ukrainian is was the Galacia region – which was really Polish and therefore after a little further thought, there was nothing genuinely Ukrainian of provenance.  A solid base for Ukrainian analysis apparently.

She was joined by Mikhail Smolin which enhanced the anti-western narrative of western support for homosexuality and other spiritual “blasphemies” and also added a splash of antisemitism and conspiracy for good measure.

By now a reader will have arrived at the conclusion anything emitted from RISI under the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov was struggling to wear the label of analysis with any comfort.  Needless to say those within and without Russia familiar with RISI had begun to subject it to rightful ridicule.

Naturally RISI submitted analysis to The Kremlin regarding Ukraine which was rather easy under former President Yanukovych, for he could be bought and paid for and thus “one of theirs”.  Easy analysis that is until Autumn/Winter 2013 when “EuroMaidan”/”Revolution of Dignity” took hold.

All that previous RISI “analysis” and propaganda passing as analysis that stated snuggling up to Europe would be a disaster for Ukraine economically and culturally now called into question.   Ms Guzenkova as “Head of Ukraine” within RISI, adopted a perhaps reasonable position from a Russian point of view when it came to protecting its interests – squeeze Ukraine and President Yanukovych economically.

To be blunt, who knows whether her “analysis” was even read by the Kremlin, for such use of economic Statecraft was hardly an unknown lever within the Putin Kremlin.  That being so, it seems rather unlikely that the RISI analysis played much of a role – at best perhaps filed under “supporting arguments” for a decision that had already been made.

What is clear is that RISI analysis did not foresee the possibility of “EuroMaidan”/”Revolution of Dignity” – leaving it to fall back upon the usual boilerplate of CIA machinations behind events.  Needless to say that previous analysis expressing the belief that Ukraine was not a State and that Ukrainians would not stand for Ukraine proved to be more than a little flawed.  Once again however, just what weight if any The Kremlin placed on such analysis when illegally annexing Crimea and starting its war with Ukraine is unknown.  Decisions within The Kremlin had already begun to be made by an ever decreasing circle.

And so to the US elections and the RISI plan/analysis designed to interfere – which will have been the last RISI effort under the leadership Leonid Reshetnikov who then left (encouraged to resign) in December 2016.

Given that such analysis and plan exist, yet considering the standard of “analysis” that continually spiraled downward during the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov between 2009 and 2016,( to the point where very few took RISI seriously as a center of analysis), it must surely raise the question of whether whatever it produced would/could or perhaps even maybe have been of any use whatsoever.

In response to the Reuters article, and to paraphrase a statement by the current Director of RISI, former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradov, himself the spook Chief of the SVR until taking over at RISI, such claims are beyond the abilities of RISI and such fantasies are not commensurate with the realities.

Something of a half-truth (or less than half, perhaps 20% truth).

Many familiar with RISI under Leonid Reshetnikov may well arrive at the conclusion that it was well within the abilities of RISI to arrive at a plan, based on its analysis, to affect the US elections.  What is far more open to debate among those that know RISI will be the question of the quality of such analysis and the use, if any, that it would have been to those implementing any such plan (if it was read by any decision makers at all before or after decisions had been made).

It may well be that under Mr Fradov and his on-going restructuring within RISI (or attempts to undo some of the damage caused by his predecessor) it may yet produce that which will better its current academic/think tank image – even if limited to its image when it comes to analytical output.

It goes without saying that is not about to gain an image of independent think tank whilst ever it remains under the control of the Presidential Administration and a succession of senior SVR spooks are appointed Director.

In summary however, a reader is left to ponder what influence – if any – RISI under Leonid Reshetnikov had upon Kremlin decision making given its woeful image within Russia and beyond during his tenure, and whether anything produced could actually have been of any use.

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A Bulgar uprising? – Odessa

April 19, 2017

It has been several years since the blog noted the rise and subsequent failure of the Kremlin backed “People’s Council of Bessarabia” in the southwest of Odessa Oblast.

That several leaders were jailed on separatism charges and subsequently exchanged in prisoner swaps (to then head over the border of Ukraine’s large aggressive eastern neighbour), notwithstanding the failure to get MP Anton Kisse “on side”, who as unofficial Tsar of the region would have to give his support to any such entity for it to succeed, the idea to create separatist enclave in the southwest of Odessa died a strategic death.

That is not to say Mr Kisse is necessarily ideologically against a “Bessarabia” per se, only that he is quite aware of the negative economic outcomes upon his personal interests in creating one.  Nevertheless he is known to provoke the Bulgars, Gagauzes and Albanians in Bolgrad specifically, to call for independent territorial administrations.

As leader of the ethnic Bulgar community (the first leader, Theodore Karazhekov, disappearing never to be seen or heard of again when Mr Kisse decided he wanted to head the organisation) Anton Kisse nevertheless has clear empathy with the sensitivities of the Bulgar community.

Two years on from the failure of the “People’s Council of Bessarabia” and a return to clam within that region of Odessa, the rapidly approaching anniversaries of the 2nd May tragedy and 9th May Victory Day, appears to witness the ethnic Bulgars once again being subjected to Kremlin intrigues.

It has to be noted that from mid-April social media in Odessa has witnessed advertisements/recruiting for “professional Russians” to engage in anti-social and violent acts – the offered pay UAH 1000.  By “professional Russians” a reader should understand that these are people who only turn out to protest, whatever the cause (be it pro-Kremlin, tree hugging, or whatever) for money.  No money = no protester.

The offered UAH 1000 is sure to draw some in, for it is far more than most paid protests pay for turning out for their cause.

Ergo, the question is how big is the budget to sponsor trouble on 2nd and 9th May in Odessa?  For that will dictate the maximum number of paid protesters – less the expenses of busing in numbers if the locals aren’t sufficiently interested, plus placards, assorted smoke and gas grenades and perhaps a firearm or two in order to provide the necessary media spectacle.

Some figures being banded about seem ludicrously high even when paying a sizable mob for 2 days of protest, agitation, and perhaps riot.   MP Vadim Rabinovych, who may be entertaining but who is also often a stranger to the truth (perhaps unsurprisingly for a man jailed twice in his life for criminality) has stated up to a staggering UAH 27 million is available to destabilise Odessa between now and the 2nd and 9th May dates.

What has this to do with the ethnic Bulgar community?

With regard to the UAH 1000 “professional Russian” recruiting probably very little – if anything.

However it appears the ethnic Bulgars are to be used yet again in Kremlin shenanigans in Odessa – whether ethnic Bulgars are actually involved or not.

It has become known that the Russian secret services sent a man via Kharkiv to Odessa to meet with a known Kremlin agent provocateur called Nikolai Dulsky who heads the NGO Наждак (Najdak which means Emery (as in Emery cloth), or abrasive).  The NGO indeed lives up to its name.

The plan was to have the Bulgars appear before the Bulgarian Consulate in Odessa at the monument to the poet Hristo Botev and produce placards and flags chanting for the equal rights for an oppressed Bulgarian community – or perhaps more accurately to have people appear to be ethnic Bulgars from Odessa carrying out such acts as it is entirely unclear whether any Bulgars were involved.

Indeed the SBU has detained Mr Dulsky and seized placards, cash and weapons – the standard preparatory fare – as well as flags of both Bulgaria and Ukrainian nationalists.

The intention it would seem, to create two sides, ethnic Bulgars and Ukrainian nationalists, brawling outside the Bulgarian Consulate over “ethnic issues”.  Mr Dulsky’s fee to The Kremlin for creating this theatre was UAH 80,000 – which was to include the payment of those purporting to be ethnic Bulgars, and perhaps Ukrainian nationalists had Ukrainian nationalists failed to show up.  (One of the things those with extreme views can be relied upon for, is to react to carefully constructed reflexive control operations – not withstanding the ease at which agent provocateurs can work within such organisations.)

The Consulate of the Russian Federation in Odessa is located about 500 meters from the Bulgarian Consulate thus guaranteeing that had the plan come to fruition, lots of unsightly video and photographic propaganda would ensue both within Ukraine and of course Bulgaria.  That such active measures involving the ethnic Bulgars (or those pretending to be such) have (thus far) has been thwarted will probably garner no traction within the Bulgarian media.

Thus the prelude to what seems very likely to see Kremlin attempts to provoke discord in Odessa are once again are under way.  No doubt the first 2 weeks of May in Odessa will be filled with intrigue, active measures and reflexive control operations.  A reader might suspect the same in Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Kherson too – but perhaps a watchful eye should once again also be cast upon “Bessarabia” if yet further attempts at manipulating (even if only in name) the ethnic Bulgars are once again on the Kremlin agenda.

In failing fast and in failing cheap, a foiled operation that cost UAH 80,000 hardly makes a dent in the extraordinary (and frankly highly questionable) UAH 27 million Vadim Rabinovych claims is available to destabilise Odessa over the coming weeks.

It remains to be seen how Odessa will police these coming weeks.

Thus far it has not requested external assistance during 2 – 9 May as it has in previous years.  The police are also trying to recruit a further 400 officers which indicates that perhaps the thin blue line is actually particularly thin already – without what will be significant public safety operations.  The SBU will no doubt be working flat out too.

An interesting few weeks ahead perhaps.

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Back to NABU Auditor candidates

April 18, 2017

During February and March entries appeared about the intrigues, procedural violations and parliamentary vote hijacking surrounding the nomination of the external auditor of NABU.

It is a position that carries some clout – for the outcome can be used per Ukrainian legislation to oust the head of NABU if the audit is deemed to provide a report below expectations.

Needless to say the shenanigans and intrigues outlined in the above entries caused more than a collective “tutting” among the external supporters of Ukraine and undoubtedly Artem Sytnyk the NABU Chief will have been feeling the heat (and anticipating a “stitch up” to remove him).  Undoubtedly barbed diplomacy took place behind closed doors.

So where are we now?

Despite the nonsense surrounding Mr Brown and his unexpected candidacy to run against former Deputy Inspector General of the US Department of Justic Robert Storch, he is seemingly no longer in the running after failing to have been forced over the finish line.

The relevant Verkhovna Rada committee gleefully opened another unsullied competition which closes on 3rd May, thus seeking to begin a new process after the parliamentary games that stomped all over the initial efforts of the committee.

There are to be at least another two candidates placed before the Verkhovna Rada.  Spanish Prosecutor Carlos Castresana and US Attorney Martha Boersch will participate.

Time will tell whether more quality candidates come forward and successfully get through the Verkhovna Rada Committee’s due diligence/vetting before 3rd May, yet regardless it seems unlikely that there will be another attempted hijacking of the process and parliamentary vote by elements within the (slim) majority coalition.

This time around it seems to be rather more encouraging as far as following process is concerned.

Whether the Verkhovna Rada can generate 226 votes (or more) for any candidate may be a different matter entirely.

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Savchenko prepares her political (re)launch

April 16, 2017

Nadya Savchenko appears to be close to completing the formalities surrounding her own political project – and why not, for nobody expected her to remain within the Batkivshchyna Party when her personality would so clearly clash with that of Yulia Tymoshenko.

That being so questions of finance, promotion and all those other requirements of a political party will have to be properly addressed if political oblivion is to be avoided at the next elections – whenever that may prove to be.

Presumably therefore, odious oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk will be spending some money very soon, together with supplying those skilled in PR and spin that have historically worked with his toxic NGO Ukrainian Choice (now renamed Ukrainian Choice – The Right People)  to support the Savchenko party (and Medvedchuk project).

How much Mr Medvedchuk will spend, and how much expertise he will provide, perhaps depends upon his other political options behind the curtain.

Currently those options would appear to be limited to whatever the equally odious Nestor Shufrich decides to do (stay within the Oppo Block or go it alone) and what, if any offered involvement the Rabinovych-Muraev tandem will agree to within their fairly recently rebranded Zhyttia Party.

All else would appear to be otherwise limited to local politics rather than the national stage.

Ergo  Nadya Savchenko is therefore perhaps the best of the Medvedchuk options despite her rapid and continuing fall from political grace.

Clearly having little option other than the continued backing Nadya Savchenko will not be perceived by many as backing a winner – but with so few options perhaps Mr Medvedchuk’s definition of “winner” have been radically redefined in recent years.

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