Archive for April, 2017

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Oil and tempestuous Libyan waters

April 29, 2017

Off of the coast of Sidi Said, to the west of Tripoli, the Libyan Navy detained two tankers for allegedly smuggling oil.

One was an African flagged vessel, the Stark

The second a Ukrainian flagged vessel owned by Odessa Manchester Shipping SA called the “Ruta” – (Call sign Urse,  IMO number 8711899 and MMSI 272973000.)  Manchester Shipping operates from an office on Polski Spysk not far from Odessa Port.

The vast majority of the crew will therefore in all probability be residents of Odessa.

Libya claims the oil was to be smuggled from Libya to Malta (presumably to be the Maltese oil refinery).

According to Libyan claims, the apparent smugglers were detained after a 2 – 3 hour incident that involved a gun battle.  It is unclear whether that involved one or both suspected vessels.

Nevertheless, such is the contested nature of power in Libya, it is perhaps an open question as for whom this oil was being smuggled – if indeed it was being smuggled.

If it was being smuggled (and it probably was) the question is then was it purely for criminal gain, or for financing one of several groups of actors rivaling the very weak official government?

What do the “on hire” documents state for the Ruta?  How was Odessa- Manchester Shipping paid/to be paid?  How was it to be received in Malta, officially or otherwise?

An incident to follow for there may be some rather interesting answers over the coming weeks..

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Falling Angels and blood in the water – Ramifications for Odessa City Hall

April 27, 2017

A few weeks ago an entry appeared relating to Mayor Turkhanov that concluded “………. a somewhat unwelcome setback to a recent and on-going local media blitzkrieg that has been nothing short of a “Trukhangelical” campaign to whitewash his (criminal) history and project an image of papal infallibility when it comes to running City Hall.”

A reader should be clear that an Evangelical/Trukhangelical attempt to project Mayor Gennady Trukhanov as having nothing short of the mayoral equivalent to papal infallibility when it comes to running the city is  well under way.

The question naturally is why, and why now?  There are no serious local political challengers to Mayor Trukhanov, nor imminent elections.

The answer lies perhaps in his dark history, criminal associations and the current, in some cases most blatant continuance and/or oversight of large scale nefariousness.  (He is long since past petty criminality.)  Mayor Trukhanov’s nefarious links to Alexander (Angel) Angert, Alexander Zhukov,  Vladimir (Lampushka) Galanternik and others are well documented within the blog over the years – as are the current puppets within City Hall when it comes to who is owned by who.

Part of that criminal empire seems to be crumbling a little however – something that first began to come to light during the Autumn and Winter of 2016 – as this entry regarding a confrontation between Mr Angert and President Poroshenko’s leg-breaker Igor Kononenko alludes to.

Mr Kononenko appears to have come out on top – something which certain circles in Odessa claim is due to Mr Angert now being unwell (a rumour of about a year that gains momentum) and seemingly would rather avoid than to enter into criminal/business wars.

Indeed it is said that Mr Angert will “retire” now that rumours of serious health issues have focused his mind elsewhere.

Further it is for this reason that it is stated that “Angel” did not help finance Vadim Rabinovych when he created “Zhittya” in the summer of 2016 – something he was expected to do.

Of the sprawling and diverse assets and interests of Mr Angert (and assorted partners therein), it remains to be seen what will happen to them in the fullness of time.  (Those assets range from Odessagaz to construction, to property and much, much more.)

It does however have an effect upon Mayor Trukhanov.  An “Angel” falling, or indeed lost for Mayor Trukhanov would be a significant blow in both terms of power perception and perceived nefarious enforcement ability.  The heirs and takeovers of strategic assets could also undermine the Mayor via their levers on the city.  His relationship with Mr Angert is a significant intangible asset which when lessened or lost will leave a trace of Trukhanov blood in the water – and the sharks both local and national will undoubtedly attempt to nibble at the body.

That will have consequences.  It will change dynamics of the political understanding made between Mayor Trukhanov and The Bankova.

It may also be part of the reasoning behind such blatant fraud recently at City Hall, and the eventual NABU raid relating to it.  More NABU action may follow as reformist Verkhovna Rada MPs have begun to appear at Odessa City Hall as recently as 26th April, decrying such blatant frauds and threatening requests to NABU to investigate yet more nefarious schemes and tenders.  (Naturally there are no complaints from the Verkhovna Rada MPS of Odessa.)

Those local sharks such as Boris Muzalov may make a play for commercial retail assets (such as Privoz), or Adnan Kivan in construction.  (The later has a poor relationship with Mayor Trukhanov but has secured a decent one within the Presidential Administration over the past 12 months.)  There are then those such as Messrs Kaufman and Granovsky who will gladly gorge upon the body of a weakened Mayor and outgoing/retiring mafia Don.

With a media unfriendly and entirely civil society distant Oblast Governor in Maxim Stepanov (regarded a Kolomoisky man by many) any understandings are transactional for Mayor Trukhanov.

There is of course the enmity between Mayor Trukhanov and Misha Saakashvili to consider in the media sphere.

Perhaps investigations surrounding the Panama Papers, Russian passports and off shore companies will also be revisited, and the Verkhovna Rada petition to remove Mayor Trukhanov suddenly witness the current 60 (or so) signatories gather momentum if a suitable political replacement can be identified – albeit at the time of writing it seems there is no local alternative.

If Mr Angert completely withdraws, or his illness gets the better of him, what of the numerous City Hall and Oblast Deputies over which he has control?  Will they remain loyal the Mayor Trukhanov, will they scatter to other curators, or will they swing en masse to a specific curator – if so, which one?

The loss of an Angel may very well have some serious repercussions for Gennady Trukhanov – as Mayor and as criminal – which no amount of current Trukhangelical/papal infallibility propaganda will be able to mitigate.

If crudely dividing organised criminality into the street and ports mafia, the current void in/undisputed criminal leadership on the streets may soon be joined by that of the ports.  Interesting times.

In the meantime a reader may like to keep a watchful eye upon the sharks to ascertain the true extent of Trukhanov blood in the waters of Odessa.

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Busting a Dragon – Ukraine

April 26, 2017

Dragon Capital, probably Ukraine’s premier investment company was subjected to a raid by the SBU on 26th April.  The company facilitates direct investment and financial services, providing a full range of investment banking and brokerage services to corporate and private clients.

The mens rea behind the SBU raid, the alleged use of illegal software.

Prima facie anybody would ask why not raids to recover the tens of thousands of government and local administration computers that run on pirated Microsoft software?  Why a private and successful business before the issue of State hardware running on illicit software?

Yet others would ask whether this be a SBU priority in the current circumstances Ukraine finds itself within.

The SBU has stated that Dragon Capital was but one of eight companies using illicit Russian software within which is naughty Russian spyware.  “Last year, law enforcement officers in criminal proceedings opened under Part. 2, Art. 359 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine stopped the activities of businesses which illegally implemented in Ukraine, the Russian software. During the pre-trial investigation operatives of intelligence agencies have established several companies, associations and companies, the leadership which knowingly bought illegal software.”

In response Dragon Capital has stated that its software is legitimate and paid for.

Upon learning of the SBU raid, Prime Minister Groisman made a carefully worded statement “I have no right to interfere in the work of the SBU, but I believe that everything should be done adequately without paralysis of the work of the investment fund.”

Clearly the Prime Minister is quite aware that the SBU actions may cause investors to leave Dragon Capital and therefore the Ukrainian market, but is also mindful that overt and direct interference in the SBU operation is also not a PR win either when there is a perception of a weak grasp of rule of law and within that weak grasp political meddling.

As it seems clear that he was not aware the raid would occur, he may also be fence sitting (for now) lest what the SBU discover be damaging to the private clients of Dragon if the Russian spyware is particularly effective – no doubt any intent would be malicious.

Without knowing which particular software is the subject of this investigation, it is difficult to understand either narrow or broader consequences for Dragon, its clients and Ukraine.

If the SBU produce a case that is clearly harmful to clients and or the State via what is extracted through the Russian spyware/software, rather than a simple (and many will perhaps perceive lame) copyright case that is one thing.

If however Dragon Capital do have entirely legitimate and lawfully owned software, the question is therefore who benefits, or sought to benefit, from the Dragon Capital raid and any subsequent repercussions?

There is currently something of a “smell” about this incident.

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Visa Free issues – Ukraine

April 25, 2017

The 26th April is slated to be the day upon which the representatives of the Member States of the EU sign off on the impending Visa-free regime with Ukraine following the overwhelming favorable decision by the European Parliament.

It will be the penultimate bureaucratic step.

Thereafter on or around 18th May the EU President and Malta due to holding the rotating EU presidency will add the final two signatures allowing the agreement being published and thus coming into force 20 days thereafter.

During those 20 days, the Ukrainian authorities will hopefully blitzkrieg the media in all its forms to drive home exactly what the Visa-free agreement provides for – and just as importantly, what it does not.

Ergo, unless an existing specific date of  symbolic importance is chosen as the date of implementation (which seems unlikely), some time during the first 2 weeks in June visa-free travel to the Schengen nations will become a reality.

An achievement perhaps more significant in its symbolism than anything else.

However there are other visa-free opportunities that came to light this week.

The People’s Republic of China made clear to Ukraine that not only was it supportive of the EU-Ukraine visa-free decision, but also that China was prepared to offer visa-free to Ukraine too – naturally on the condition of reciprocity.   The message being that China stands ready “at any time” to advance the issue.

Like many nations, Ukrainian visa-free with regard to China currently involves only Macau and Hong Kong.  It is a very short list of nations that enjoy visa free status with mainland China (approximately a dozen with one or two pending at the time of writing).

When it comes to China there are perhaps few nations so entirely (and selfishly) focused on doing only what is in its national interest.  Outside of that (for example the Iran deal) the bare minimum of engagement necessary occurs.  Whether a reader begrudgingly respects or riles against such a policy, it is for the most part predictable.

However as China is unlikely to sees hordes of Ukrainians heading to China and spending huge sums generating inward tourism revenue – and neither would Kyiv necessarily witness the reverse either – the Chinese offer can only be seen as a step upon a longer road that has very little to do directly with reciprocal visa-free tourism.

Visa-free tourism is hardly the platform that provides the legislative and institutional framework and enforcement that would witness the current $7 – $10 billion of Chinese investment in Ukraine expand by the orders of magnitude which potentially can be realised.

The question therefore, if accepting the premise that the visa-free offer (if accepted at some time in the future) as a step upon a longer road and not an end in and of itself, is whether China foresees this as a small step required for the sake of engagement/momentum in lieu of a large step that cannot be taken for quite some time due to the Ukrainian inability/unwillingness/dilatory attempts to provide a business framework/environment upon which it can comfortably make great strides?

With this offer comes the question of Chinese motivation.

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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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