Archive for September, 2017

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Civil society Trojan Horses trot to Brussels

September 29, 2017

Brussels knows a thing or two about bureaucracy.  In some regards it is this bureaucracy that makes it difficult to dismantle.  In others, it is this bureaucracy that prevents both timely and/or nimble responses.

It is also a hub of NGOs, NFPs, conferences, round tables, and those seeking funding thereof.

It is a place of experts (who generally shun that label and prefer labels such as “specialists” or similar).

It is also a place of “experts” who will happily adopt that label despite being anything but.

As a general rule of thumb, the specialists will be able to talk in depth about their subject, and also present sensible and insightful proposals (often detailed) for solutions – without skipping a heartbeat.  An “expert” will merely talk about an (often blindingly obvious) issue and offer vague and flimsy thoughts regarding solutions if forced into a corner.  Clearly the latter are not those to be heard when setting policy.

Who is who becomes self-evident if not during panel discussions, then certainly during the informal “social” time among “peers” at such events.  The difference between a sturdy broth and a weak soup takes little identification.

That said, in the experience of the blog, having been asked on panels and to attend round tables, labels and personal bios are often made questionably grandiose by the organisers to inflate the perceived impact of invited panelists/attendees (and give a warm glow to sponsors or justification for further funding to grant givers).  Form over substance.

By extension, the problem with that being, what is then emitted into the public realm as “expert” commentary (if anything reaches the media at all.  Not all conclaves are open to the media – and for good reason.  Such private gatherings are the only events the blog actively participates in)  is anything but expert.

Whatever the case, Brussels is one of those hubs that attracts the insightful, the informed, and the ignorant (pretending to be anything but).  The quality of what reaches the ear of diplomats and politicians, civil society leaders, and the media, therefore varies (sometimes greatly).

Having set the scene, before continuing with the subject of this entry, a reader should be aware that there are two issues.  One is the method and mens rea of the intended events outlined below.

The other is the subject of the intended event – media freedom.  The second issue, relating to media freedom, will not be covered in this entry, albeit undoubtedly something to keep a watchful eye upon as electioneering for 2019 has already begun.  To be blunt, it has been a long time since word arrived from Kyiv stating something that appeared here was “particularly unhelpful”.  Thus pressured this particular blog is not.

This entry will concentrate upon the vehicle, or perhaps Trojan Horse is a better description, that the inteded message was to be transported to Brussels upon.

It is of interest to see that the SBU and National Police in Ukraine made public a(nother) Trojan civil society Horse aimed at Brussels.

“Employees of the Security Service of Ukraine, in co-operation with the National Police, warned in Kyiv of an anti-Ukrainian action organized and funded by Kremlin customers.

Operators of the Security Service of Ukraine found that the Russian intelligence services planned to hold an action in Brussels to discredit Ukraine in front of the European community. Provocateurs planned to accuse the Ukrainian authorities of allegedly harassing journalists and the “free press”.

To this end, several Ukrainian citizens left for Brussels as “speakers” of the round table on “Violation of human rights, restriction of freedom of the press and political repressions in Ukraine”. To enhance the “effect” of their speech and provide additional “truthfulness”, the organizers planned a direct inclusion from Kyiv, during which paid “bloggers” and “journalists” were to confirm information on harassment and persecution.

Employees of the secret service documented that “bloggers” and “journalists” organized their actions according to the tradition of hiring at the “black labor market” for 100 Hryvnias each. In order to prevent their identification with European partners, the victims were obliged to wear “black” glasses in connection with alleged persecutions in Ukraine and fears for their own lives.

The only widely known person in this fake event was the People’s Deputy of Ukraine V, VI, VII convocations Elena Bondarenko, who refused to give explanations to law-enforcers. However, for her it was graciously done by the hired “show” participants.

The Security Service of Ukraine is aware of the partial change in tactics of anti-Ukrainian activities of the Russian side and the allocation in a separate vector of Ukraine’s discredit in the eyes of the world community from the standpoint of European “information platforms” and using still false and false data.

Within the framework of existing criminal proceedings, it is planned to conduct interrogations of the organizers of the fake meeting of “bloggers” for documenting the illegal activity of the special services of the Russian Federation.”

Some readers may have the perception that the SBU has its own active measures campaign – albeit generally more subtle than those of their Russian counterparts.  Some won’t have any such perception.

Ergo, while to some Ukraine watchers this may appear to be an extension and variation on a theme relating to shenanigans that occur within Ukraine under the guidance of The Kremlin via entities such as Dulsky’s Najdak NGO (to name but one Trojan Horse NGO within Ukrainian civil society space), but now projected into Brussels – is it?

Relating to the specific event above identified by the SBU, then attendees and mailing lists can expect emails from the Uspishna Kraina political party and Restoring Donbas Community Initiative which unsurprisingly they, like almost all Ukrainians, will never have heard of.

This instance appears genuine prima facie – not only because it involves a household name of known political calibre, but also the information about the event is very specific and verifiable beyond the “through the looking glass” abilities of the SBU within Ukraine.

What catches the eye in the SBU statement is that it claims to be “aware of a partial change in tactics“, and the statement in general infers that tactical change relates to Trojan civil society Horses at the gates of Brussels.

Hopefully this “awareness” is not a new revelation – but that this “awareness” relates to intelligence specific to an intended up-tick in such pantomimes beyond the Ukrainian territory.

The blog has several good, longstanding friends within the Brussels (rule of law and human rights) machinery who regularly attend Ukraine related forums and round tables.

Since 2014, every so often, a list of speakers from Ukraine presenting in Brussels has been emailed to the blog by these Brussels functionaries asking what is known about them (in effect an unofficial speaker and/or organisation bio is requested) so they, as audience members, can know what to expect and the degree of bias in any oratory – or not.  Such information has led to some prepared and difficult and awkward questions from these individuals at events – jolly good.

It is fair to say there have already been one or two Trojan Horse events held in Brussels during the past few years, and numerous individuals have been “speakers” that would feel very much at home within the massed ranks of the Trojans.  (These events occurring when Ukrainians required visas to be in Brussels – which is no longer the case.)

As such this is not a partial tactical change per se, but it perhaps rather may indicate a shift in emphasis tactically.

However, it is not the role or function of this blog to forewarn a Brussels audience (or friends that are part there of) of the biases of speakers or the shenanigans of Trojan Horse NGOs within Ukrainian (or “Ukrainian”) civil society.

For a start there is a matter of consistency – the blog simply answers the queries of friends who are attending certain events.  They do not attend all Ukraine related events, therefore “background requests” for all Ukrainian speakers/NGOS are not asked for or provided.  The blog certainly does not keep a watchful eye over which Ukrainian NGOs and/or speakers may be polluting the Brussels well – whatever their bias.

Ukrainian civil society, with the exception of a coordinating body for Ukrainian civil society/think tanks  in Brussels is almost non-existent.

Ukrainian civil society flies in, speaks and/or presents, and flies out.

One week, and four other conferences/forums/round tables later, almost all is forgotten from the wisdom/pleas/lobbying/presentations made by whichever wandering Ukrainian NGO/speaker landed in Brussels.

As such, whatever connections Ukrainian civil society may have with European diplomats and mandarins in Ukraine, it fails to have the same level of connectivity and relationships in Brussels.   Equally Brussels has nothing like the understanding that the European diplomats and mandarins based in Ukraine have.

(To be fair, there is a noticeable absence of all EaP nation civil society based in Brussels.)

Spotting a Trojan Horse (Ukrainian, “Ukrainian”, or Russian) at the Brussels gates is therefore problematic.

The questions therefore follow, how does the Brussels Bubble understand what it is told, and what is its understanding of those telling them?

Clearly there are rights relating to fundamental free speech and assembly.  However, there are indeed limits to free speech (as many court judgements ably display).  Further there is no fundamental right to promulgate propaganda or disinformation (as many court judgements ably display) – or participating in/facilitating anything else that falls under the umbrella of “active measures”.

The question is therefore who decides what is what?  And who decides who decides?

There is no requirement, nor should there be, for Ukrainian speakers and/or NGOs to have to go via the Ukrainian NGO/think tank coordination entity based in Brussels.  It certainly does not exist to track visiting speakers and/or NGOs on behalf of the Ukrainian security services or to forewarn the Brussels Bubble it is about to receive copious amounts of flapdoodle from a visiting fellow citizen.

Visas are no longer required.

The management may refuse the right to hire a venue, but it is rare that it does – or bothers to check the bona fides of those hiring.

The SBU is busy – in fact too busy doing things it has no reason to do, such as taking part in the execution of court warrants on premises that has nothing to do with its core tasks and competencies – counter-terrorism and counterintelligence.  Thus it is not going to become aware of every Trojan Horse or soldier appearing in Brussels and produce timely attempts at mitigation on every occassion.

Perhaps the FISU should keep a watchful eye upon such incidents in Brussels, but it too will struggle to prevent them (without the risk of a Brussels backlash should such attempts be discovered).

Undoubtedly the Ukrainian Head of Mission (there is no Ambassador according to the website of the UA Mission to the EU) and staff are already very busy too – public and private diplomacy eats up the hours in a day.  It may, should it so wish, push a list of names and organisations of dubious nature across numerous desks within the Brussels Bubble.  It may also attend those round tables and forums that it may consider credible, and avoid those it does not as a tacit seal of authenticity.  The problem comes when nobody can attend a credible forum – for inferences would be then wrongly drawn.  It is unlikely to do much more than the above.

Either way there are those within Brussels that would be irked by such interference and publicly proclaim so – both damaging the image of the UA Mission and amplifying an event that may otherwise have been a washout.

As previously stated, as there is an absence of Ukrainian civil society based in Brussels, thus it cannot therefore give a tacit nod of approval, or disapproval, to connections made within the Bubble relating to visiting Ukrainian civil society actors.

There is therefore a hole – and thus a weakness to be exploited by those that would seek to do so.  It has already been exploited on several occasions and to various degrees over the past few years.

If the SBU has received intelligence that this tactic is to be exploited further and more often, then efforts at mitigation would be wise – even if the audience is almost certain to forget almost everything they hear within a few weeks (if not sooner).

Considering the financial restrictions upon many Ukrainian NGOs it is unfair to expect them to open offices in Brussels and help fill the hole that will be exploited – though Ukrainian civil society perhaps does itself no favours by its (almost complete) absence anyway.

Even if some did open permanent office in Brussels, should they be de facto giving nods of approval or disapproval relating to the bona fides of other Ukrainian speakers and/or visiting NGOs?  It is a competitive world when it comes to funding, and self interest may raise conflicts of interest or accusations thereof.

Is it beholding upon the European diplomats and mandarins based in Ukraine, and who know far more than those in their native countries about the state of play, to publicly “tut” when certain speakers or NGOs are to make an appearance in Brussels?

It would certainly be a mistake to believe the Brussels Bubble will educate itself regarding the who and what they are listening to – for they listen to a lot each and every day and simply do not have the time to educate themselves upon all the “who’s” they will hear and the credibility of the “what”.

There may be a way to sew together parts of all the above to create some form of “awareness/”watch list” when it comes to Trojan Horses and soldiers within the Brussels Bubble – but there would be a requirement to decide just who is responsible for collecting and disseminating that information, and how that information is fed in (for some may be collected by sensitive means).  Required also is an understanding of how any such information would be received – and the consequences of how it would be received.

There are also considerations regarding Trojan Horses galloping around European capitals on a tour de force should a way to mitigate not be implemented.

Something to keep an observant eye upon.

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A Cabinet reshuffle looms large

September 28, 2017

In February an entry appeared relating to a clearly apparent necessity to reshuffle the Groisman Cabinet.

Since then it is clear that early elections will not occur (unless President Poroshenko sees (personal) political benefit in doing so – which at the time of writing appears very unlikely).

Prime Minister Groisman is therefore assured of surviving until the next scheduled elections, unless his increasing political weight and “independent streak” demands a robust political response from The Bankova – in which case perhaps a Prime Minister Volodymyr Omelyan (or similar) would be anointed to hold the line until those scheduled elections take place.

Whatever the case, scheduled elections do not occur for either President or Verkhovna Rada until 2019 (despite presidential electioneering clearly already being underway) and the current Cabinet has a number of “Acting Ministers” (some “acting” for a considerable time).

There are also those that either the Prime Minister, or the parties of the (slim) majority coalition seek to change.

The ministries of Health, Information, and Agriculture all have “Acting Ministers”.  Also the Finance and Energy & Coal Ministers are certainly two individuals with a large number of detractors.

There may be yet others that have quietly let it be known they would be happy to leave their posts.

Further the National Bank of Ukraine is also without a Head, and has been for months.

There is also the current composition of the CEC of whom all but two members have seen their mandates long since expire.

A continued absence of a Head for the Accounting Chamber too cannot be overlooked.

It would certainly make political sense to deal with any reshuffle and appointments now, to allow all time to assume their roles and have a chance of setting and/or implementing policy, the results of which would become clear before the scheduled elections.

For the first time in a long time, the name Igor Kononenko appears in an entry – for the “presidential leg-breaker” within the Verkhovna Rada (relatively absent from significant public statements since his mercury poisoning in  January)  has mooted a day should be set aside to deal with such issues and appoint all key personnel in early October – next week or the week after by definition.

Thinking caps on therefore, when it comes to placing probable/possible names against current (and perhaps currently filled) positions.

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Another munitions dump blows – Kalinovka, Vinnytsia

September 27, 2017

Life is full of coincidences.

Each and every reader has met somebody they know by coincidence – simply by being in a certain place at a certain time without prior warning or forethought.

Some coincidences are not what they appear.

There will be times when a reader has been in a certain place and at a certain time on the “off chance” they may meet somebody who they would reasonably expect to be there.  Some may even feign surprise when such a “coincidence” occurs.  To the other party however, it may appear to be a genuine coincidence.

There are then those “coincidences” that are manufactures by one in the absolute knowledge of a desired outcome.

Those with a dose of cynicism in their DNA are perhaps less inclined to instantly accept a coincidence is just that – a coincidence.   They may also question the events that thereafter unfold from such a coincidence.

There are also those that wear a tin-foil hat and to whom nothing is a coincidence and everything is a therefore a conspiracy.  The dots must be joined – even if the picture produced is but one variation of  joining many dots from among the numerous possibilities.

It is possible to go “through the looking glass” and enter worlds within worlds, and to see things that are not there – and to miss the things that are.  It is then necessary to decide whether the things that are there are so obvious as to be a (possibly deliberate) distraction to all else that is there.  To become lost in the hall of mirrors is not difficult to do unless insuring a firm anchor prevents drifting or falling down rabbit holes.

The 26th September was President Poroshenko’s birthday.  It also witnessed a major explosion at the Kalinovka munitions dump in Vinnytsia.

Vinnytsia is perceived to be President Poroshenko’s political stronghold (and that of Prime Minister Groisman too).

It also happened to be a date when the Canadian Defence Minister met with his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss involvement in a joint munitions production facility (among other things discussed).

(Perhaps the Canadians, if joining such an effort, would be wise to insist upon production and storage facilities.)

Happy Birthday Mr President.

However, the coincidence that catches the eye was a public information notice issued by the Vinnytsia Oblast Administration during the afternoon of 25th September, relating to a SBU, National Police, National Guard, Border Service, and military exercise within the oblast to be carried out during 26th and 27th September. – “The UBU in Vinnytsia region requests the residents and guests of the region to understand the measures that, according to Art. 15 of the Law of Ukraine “On Combating Terrorism” will be conducted within the framework of an educational antiterrorist operation (checking of citizens’ identity documents, temporary restriction or prohibition of traffic of vehicles and pedestrians on the streets and roads, an overview of things that are located or transported to them them, etc.) .

In case of detecting suspicious items or receiving information about unlawful actions of unknown persons, we should immediately inform law enforcement officers by phone numbers (0432) 53-13-09 (next UBU).”

It would seem somewhat short warning to the local population.

Odessa normally has a few days notice relating to impending traffic chaos when President, Prime Minister, or lesser mortal with a convoy, intents to bring about collective tutting from the constituency as the city inevitably grinds to a halt due to traffic restrictions.

Likewise military and/or National Guard maneuvers near the Transnistrian border are broadcast a few days in advance.  Misunderstandings and societal anxiety are sought to be avoided.

Perhaps Odessa is simply more organised than Vinnytsia when it comes to forewarning its constituency about abnormal occurrences that may effect and/or otherwise concern the locals?

It goes without saying that the Kalinovka munitions dump would be a major terrorist target in Vinnytsia Oblast.

The question therefore with regard to Vinnytsia is perhaps how long in advance had this exercise had been planned and how much warning were the locals given?  Is it entirely coincidental that such an anti-terrorism exercise would occur at the same time that the Kalinovo munitions dump exploded?

Was this exercise something else, under the mask of an exercise?  If notice to the public was short, and the exercise far more “snap” than “planned”, was this “exercise” an operation acting (under the deliberate misnomer of an exercise) as a result of (perhaps imprecise) intelligence received?

This is the fourth major munitions dump to explode in Ukraine in recent years.  Svatovo, Balakliya and Novoyanisol being the other three.

Perhaps a reader will choose one path over another if they decide The Kremlin or Kremlin agents are responsible for this latest incident.  The “exercise” therefore being an attempt at interception and mitigation.

Alternatively, perhaps a reader will decide that once again poor munitions storage and handling have resulted in this outcome – and that the exercise (being exactly that) is perhaps a contributory factor if due care was not taken at such an obvious site by those involved in the exercise.

Undoubtedly there will be speculation and those that prefer one version to another.  Eventually the circumstances will become known.

Whatever the case, there are more questions to ask other than who did it, and/or how did it happen?

What lessons have been learned from the previous three munition dump explosions, and did those in the command chain above, or those at the Kalinovka munitions dump heed them?

Both security and safety are issues for a munitions site that is about 7 square kilometers in size and long known to be far beyond its storage capacity.

As photographs from the site in 2013 ably display, there are pyramids of rusting and degrading munitions piled up all across the munitions site.

Clearly much of this should have been destroyed not years, but decades ago.

No doubt munitions experts the world over would have palpitations should munitions be stored in the open for years under their supervision.  Equally security experts would have the same palpitations when the munitions security is such.

Perhaps it is indeed a positive that much of these munitions that should long ago have been destroyed will now be so.

It would stretch a reader’s belief that the military leadership of Ukraine were not aware of the storage and over capacity situation at the Kalinovka site.  In a time of war, and with three previous munitions sites exploding, a visit and inspection will surely have taken place.

That naturally does not equate to a decision not to continue to exceed storage capacity or to deal effectively with the handling and storage facilities at the site was either made, or if it was, implemented.  That costs money, and no doubt the defence budget is deemed to have higher priorities – despite the costs, both in terms of munitions lost and their replacement, of the three previous explosions at other munitions sites.

How much serviceable ammunition will remain once the fires are extinguished and the munition stop exploding remains to be seen.  What, if any in underground storage will be unaffected is also unknown.

It is however, perhaps time for the Ukrainian MoD and NSDC to start asking questions about munition dumps, how best to secure them, and actually storing munitions properly.

There is no such thing as 100% security.  It is a question of making security breaches as difficult as possible.  There is no voodoo required to store munitions properly.  There is no mystery to handling munitions safely.  This is not rocket science (as Ukraine can and does do rocket science well).  It is not a controversial and/or painful societal change.  It is very basic and failure to address such issues simply undermines Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.

There are pros and cons to having huge munitions sites vis a vis numerous smaller munitions sites.  Those pros and cons are logistical, security and infrastructure related.  However Ukraine is not a nation that is struggling for space, and it now has a National Guard capable of providing additional security personnel and patrols.

Accidents, and/or negligence, and/or sabotage, at one of numerous smaller sites is perhaps less likely to have the same military impact as those incidents that have occurred at Svatovo, Balakliya, Novoyanisol and now Kalinovka.   A matter of eggs and baskets and the risks of putting all in one.

There will no doubt be an investigation.  It will concentrate upon the “who” and the “how” responsible for causing the explosion.  The outcome will be believed – or not – depending upon how many a reader decides upon their interpretation of the “coincidences” atKalinovka  and within the Vinnytsia Oblast on 26th September.

It would be wise to also give equal weight in that invetigation to the “what” can be done to mitigate the internal contributory factors that always appear to amplify the outcomes rather than diminish them.

 

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Education Law (language issues – again) Beyond the international tempest

September 26, 2017

It appears a storm in a tea cup, or perhaps given the current (and no doubt momentary) circumstances, a tempest in a tea cup may be more accurate, rages over the newly adopted Ukrainian law on education reform and the primacy it provides to the Ukrainian language as the language of tuition.

Romania reacted by cancelling a State visit by President Johannis to Kyiv and also cancelling a visit by the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Speaker to Bucharest.  It adopted a Resolution declaring it expected Ukraine to adhere to European standards with regard to minority rights.

Poland expressed its displeasure.  Moldova too.

Russia did what Russia does – and claimed oppression as it always does.

Hungary however, has stated it will now thwart all Ukrainian efforts at further European integration, and perhaps all Ukrainian initiatives across wider international arenas.

The objections appear to be centered around Article 7 of the newly adopted law.  In summary Article 7 provides for ethnic minority languages to be used as the language of tuition (to deliver all lessons) from pre-school until the conclusion of primary school.  Thereafter Ukrainian will be the language of tuition, albeit the minority languages will still be taught – but as a subject not as the language of tuition for all other lessons.

As of the time of writing no statements were found from Belarus, Israel, or Greece which also have notable minorities.

Naturally the Ukrainian State has an obligation to the State language – Ukrainian.

Such is Ukrainian statute, without a solid understanding of the State language, certain vocations are simply not attainable, and others will be difficult.  The rules relating to the Civil Service demand a solid understanding of the State language.  Those entering the arenas of law or politics would also struggle without a solid understanding of Ukrainian.  University study in Ukraine without a knowledge of Ukrainian would be a heavy burden on a student.

Equally, there is a pilot programme, yet to be rolled out, where students from minority language ethnicity have a kind of symbiotic lesson where key terminology is also taught in their native tongue to provide for a possible university education in their ethnic lands.

To be clear, the issue here is not about Ukrainian education being delivered in Ukrainian, but rather a perceived roll-back of the current ability for an ethnic Hungarian to be taught entirely in Hungarian in Ukraine throughout the duration of their State education for example.

Undoubtedly this law will be challenged within the chambers of the Council of Europe, the UN and sent to the ECfHR by those affronted by it – and such is their right.   It is difficult to see how Ukraine would lose such a challenge, but a specialist in minority rights this blog most certainly is not.

So much for the legislation – and the tempest it brings.  It will be eventually be resolved – perhaps more swiftly than it currently appears.

As always with legislation in Ukraine however, implementation is so often lacking – either through lack of will, or lack of ability, or a lack of resources.

The current situation in Odessa for the school term that began on 1st September does not bode particularly well with regard to implementation of the new law.

Odessa currently has vacancies for almost 400 teachers.  This is an increase in the number of vacancies from the previous school year.  Few will be surprised to discover a further increase in teacher vacancies when 1st September 2018 arrives.

The authorities have accommodated the shortage of teachers by increasing class sizes – again.

The average age of a teacher is getting older and older.

Further, approximately half of the schools in Odessa use the Ukrainian language to deliver all curriculum lessons.  The other half of the schools use Russian to deliver all curriculum lessons.

This is not driven by local politics, no matter how it may appease or dismay certain local politicians and/or activists, and thus is perhaps wrongly perceived by an uninformed outsider.

It is driven by an acknowledgement that the increasing numbers of teacher vacancies, an aging teacher stock, and combined with Russian being the de facto lingua franca for the past few hundred years among the numerous established ethnic groups that form the very cosmopolitan and mercantile city and surrounding oblast.

Quite simply there are insufficient teachers – and among those existing there are insufficient teachers – capable of delivering all lessons in Ukrainian in Odessa.

No doubt many can understand and stumble through in Ukrainian.  That is not in dispute (albeit it may well be the case that the teacher’s Ukrainian linguist ability proves worse than the student).

It is an entirely different matter to deliver quality education in a language that would require not only proficiency, but a deep understanding of its nuance and intricacies..  Education is more than simply being about retaining knowledge and/or accepting perceived wisdom.  It is, if it is to be of use, primarily about genuine understanding and insight.  That requires a level of communication and teacher-student interaction that will undoubtedly suffer from an average, or below average ability to speak Ukrainian.

There is no quick fix for this, regardless of the previous or newly adopted law.

When the city (and oblast) cannot attract teachers, the teaching vacancies grow annually (as do the class sizes), the existing teacher stock gets older, and the youth see no attraction to teaching as a profession, then by extension the ability to be able to pick and choose on the basis of a teacher’s Ukrainian language skill comes secondary to whether they can and want to teach.

It is possible of course to transfer or import Ukrainian speaking teachers into the city – but it is an expensive city to live in by Ukrainian standards, and teacher’s salaries are woeful.  A teacher’s salary goes a little (or a lot) further in other less expensive towns and cities.  Clearly thus far not enough teachers from other regions have found sufficient reason to leave their current existence to move to Odessa.

Thus whatever international issues some may have with the new Ukrainian education statute, it may well be that they will be resolved far more swiftly than the ability to actually implement it in certain regions of the country – simply through lack of local human capital resources.

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A new Financial Investigation Service – Under which umbrella?

September 25, 2017

Ukraine is considering, perhaps rightly, the creation of an independent Financial Investigation Service.

The rationale behind this being that financial investigations should be conducted by a single entity with that singular remit – rather than spread across various agencies and divisions with varying degrees of professional competence, as is currently the case.

Minister of Justice Pavel Petrenko is rightly adamant that the independence of this new entity be codified and thus preserved by statute.  “……the procedural and functional independence of this service should be absolute.”  

He is also robustly of the belief that the new service should have codified parameters regarding powers and guidelines regarding how it interacts with government and business.

Nothing to disagree with thus far – and certainly with regard to how a new FIS would interact with business, the time should have long since passed when the sight of fully kitted SBU members are broadcast upon Ukrainian television daily conducting raids with National Police and/or other law enforcement bodies on business and government premises.

The SBU’s core competencies are counterintelligence and counterterrorism – their place is not kicking down doors to businesses, fully kitted up, making the execution of every court warrant look like a dry run through the SAS Killing House.   Firstly there is simply no need for it.  Secondly they have far better things to do in the current circumstances.  Thirdly the perception it projects is entirely disproportional to the threats faced when executing 99% of warrants.

Perhaps the only exceptions would be due to police (or other law enforcement bodies) having insufficient personnel available when executing a warrant – and that in turn would suggest an inability to draft in sufficient personnel to do so – which in turn would suggest matters of timeliness relating to the target/warrant execution.

However, as is always the case in Ukrainian politics, the primary question appears to be under which ministry the new independent FIS should sit.  Naturally, as this is Ukraine, there will have to be a minister responsible for a non-ministerial independent body that will apparently be the sole body charged with financial investigations.

Justice Minister Petrenko has dropped the Finance Ministry into the hat of potential overlords.

However, the obvious question is whether such a new and independent investigative body should have a ministerial overlord at all.

The UK Serious Fraud Office, another non-ministerial independent financial crime investigative body is directly responsible to the Attorney General.

That said, in Ukraine the current Attorney General is Yuri Lutsenko – a man who was, is and will remain a politician, and who was installed, having had the law amended specifically to facilitate his absence of a law degree, for no other apparent reason that to insure presidential/Bankova control over the Prosecutor General’s Office.

It follows therefore that there would be no less attempt at political influence under Yuri Lutsenko’s umbrella than there would be from a Minister of Finacne.  The (at least intended) independent NABU on a daily basis fights off the attempts of Yuri Lutsenko to subordinate and control it (on behalf of The Bankova).  (Quite simply the current, (and probably subsequent) leadership are just not brave enough to allow the prosecutors or judiciary full, complete and interference-free independence.)

Having mentioned NABU, which is charged with dealing exclusively with corruption within the political, judicial and civil service elites, care will have to be taken when drafting statute that would make financial investigations the sole purview of a Financial Investigation Service.  Undoubtedly almost all NABU investigations will have a financial crime aspect or aspect that involves criminal finances within.

There is going to be a smudging of the investigative lines unless extreme care is taken – or indeed there may be a deliberate intent to smudge those lines to facilitate claims and counterclaims to statutory jurisdiction over investigations.

Will any consideration be made to provide by statute any wiretapping ability, or will the new independent entity be entirely reliant upon a politically compliant SBU for such intelligence and/or evidence as NABU is now?

Although it is easy to state “follow the money”, financial investigations are frequently complex, always slow moving, and often difficult to successfully prosecute – so avoiding a turf war over investigative jurisdiction (and perhaps a defence relating to that investigative jurisdiction) would seem to be a priority.

Perhaps the new FIS should be a division within NABU?  Ergo avoiding jurisdiction issues set in statute and also avoiding the direct political influence over (intended) independent investigative institutions – those institutions that by their very nature will investigate the nation’s political and business elite (if and when it is possible to separate them).   Clearly there will be no political will to further expand a thus far untamed NABU, but that does not negate considering it as a potential home for a new FIS.

That said, perhaps a new independent FIS would sit better as a specific division within the National Police – thus part of the Ministry of Interior empire?  After all, financial crime is not the preserve of the Ukrainian elite alone, and therefore being a “common crime” is it not predominantly a policing matter?

Perhaps the best home for a new and independent FIS can only be identified once the statute clearly setting out the parameters, powers and scope of its investigative role have been adopted – but as is always the case when powers are taken from one, and surrendered by another, the existing institutions and their political masters are hardly likely to make this a sensible and seamless process.

Perhaps therefore if not necessarily more prudent, it may be at least more likely, that a decision upon the political and/or institutional home will have to be taken before any statute will be allowed to gather sufficient votes to pass through the Verkhovna Rada, thus creating a new and independent Financial Investigation Service.

How swiftly this can or will be progressed with so many eyes already on elections 2 years hence, will be interesting to observe.

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A “who dunnit?” with a short list of suspects – Odessa

September 23, 2017

At then end of August, a (sadly all too) rare entry relating to local Odessa shenanigans appeared regarding the lawlessness surrounding Odessa Yacht Club and the impotency (or deliberate avoidance) of the Odessa courts to deal with a matter that has dragged on for years.

Not only is there extreme friction between the owners of the company that lease the harbour from the State, but there are countless attempts by the State to have the leaseholder comply with the lease agreement – and in both cases the courts of Odessa seemingly refuse to get involved.

The entry concluded thus – “Sooner or later this dispute between owners and/or the dispute between owners and the State seems destined to end in violence in the absence of an unwilling judiciary to robustly deal with the matter.  There is enough revenue at stake to burn cars, lob a hand grenade into somebody’s garden, or inflict a serious beating to encourage a change in an individual’s position.”

Some three weeks later, that prophecy has come to pass almost exactly as predicted.

Instead of lobbing a grenade into somebody’s garden however, a RGD-5 grenade was thrown through the window of Andrei Bondarenko’s home, the director of the company leasing the harbour – “Odessa Yacht Club 2009 LLC”.

No serious physical injuries were inflicted.  Mr and Mrs Bondarenko were uninjured and their 14 year old son apparently suffered some form of hearing deprivation – whether that be permanent on not remains to be seen.

All rather predictable – for it was indeed predicted.

For those knowledgeable readers, be wary of hastily viewing this as a herald to a return of the bloody 1990s, or indeed the more sporadic, yet nevertheless annual fatal political and/or business score settling (assassinations) that continued throughout the 00s in Odessa.

Undeniably the underworld in Odessa is currently is a state of flux due to various reasons.  That state of flux may yet produce an outcome that proves to be beyond the control of both the authorities and the underworld itself, but this is not the spark that will ignite that particular powder keg, for it is not directly related.

The police have opened a criminal investigation into attempted murder (and as obvious as that may be, often cases of a similar nature involve the initial investigation beginning under “Hooliganism” legislation (the equivalent to The Public Order Act in the UK), until at the very least suspects have been identified raising some hope of detection – though not necessarily conviction).

Nevertheless a keen local eye will long  note this to be the case, therefore either Mr Bondarenko is of significant clout to warrant the usual initial classifications being discounted, or the police believe that suspects will be swiftly identified.  After all, an undetected case of hooliganism (which like the UK POA has a scale of seriousness) sits better on the crime statistics than an undetected case of attempted murder behind which sits a well known and unresolved issue.

Clearly, given the well known history of judicial inaction, and of animosity between business partners, and indeed of the exasperation of the State, (and irked by this long-running unresolved situation some within Odessa City Hall will be – notwithstanding some perhaps with a roving eye on the lease themselves) the list fairly short insofar as those who could be swiftly identified as having arranged/ordered this crime.

The executioner of the deed itself will naturally have been outsourced.   It remains to be seen how hard the tree will have to be shaken to discover who the would-be assassin is – or alternatively how long it will take for loose lips to reach the ears of the authorities.

However, this will not put an end to the situation whilst ever the courts fail to deal with the original matter.  Mr Bondarenko will probably not be intimidated and now seek negotiation and/or resolution.

Now that (predictable) events have finally taken this matter unambiguously into the criminal realm, it does not follow that there will be any increased willingness to deal with the issues that appear, prima facie, to be the root cause, by either antagonists, claimants or the judiciary.

It is thus questionable as to whether this will be the last grenade thrown, or whether cars will be burnt or severe beatings occur to complete the list of prior predictions made.

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The Prosecutor General verses NABU (again)

September 21, 2017

Once again it appears that Prosecutor General Lutsenko and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine are in public conflict.

It is not the first time, and it will not be the last as long as the nation’s leadership cannot find the integrity required to allow for genuinely independent institutions.

To be blunt, looking at those currently in power, and those that will run for presidential office, there are few brave enough to remove their influence over the prosecutors or the judiciary.

Indeed looking at the potential presidential candidates with a reasonable chance to make it to a second round of voting, President Poroshenko represents either political stagnation, or, if he decides to go down in Ukrainian history as a Statesmen rather than just another politician, a second term that will see vested interests (both his own and those of his circle) kicked to the curb and the interests of the nation firmly put first.  (While political stagnation is certainly more likely, there is also an attraction to enter history as a Statesman in a final term of office and that international speaking circuit.)

Yulia Tymoshenko simply represents political disaster.

Slava Vakarchuk, having recently met with “his people”, represents chaos (unless they swiftly get their act together) and will probably be eaten alive by the current political and business class very quickly should he win.

Dear World – Apologies several years in advance of the next elections – regardless of the outcome.  Be assured that while the political class is feckless, the business class criminal, the country and its people are strong  – Sincerely, Ukraine.

Nevertheless, pre-election electioneering is under way.  President Poroshenko has to reverse a few percentage points in the polls.  He would be the first Ukrainian president ever to achieve such a polling reversal.  Thus he must either deliver high profile developments at home or alternatively employ the State apparatus to his benefit – or both.

As such, prosecutions, judicial verdicts, and the media landscape form part of the mosaic of reelection no differently to issues such as reforming the current electoral laws, establishing an anti-corruption court, successful bond issues (negating the IMF reliance), public broadcasting financing, etc., etc.

Like many reforms, the political class have accepted many of them begrudgingly – particularly those that shine a light into the lives of the politicians, judiciary and civil service.  E-declarations, NABU and the anti-corruption prosecutor are suffered and endured while simultaneously sabotage or attempts at such are made to mitigate their unwanted intrusion.

Yuri Lutsenko, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, for whom the law had to be changed specifically to facilitate his appointment, was, is and always will be a politician.  Loyalty before ability is the code of the Bankova/Presidential Administration.  Thus laws were changed to insert a man as Prosecutor General sufficiently loyal to President Poroshenko, and a time served political grey cardinal capable of overseeing politically sensitive investigations and/or prosecutions to arrive at the “right outcome”.

From the moment of his appointment there has been friction between NABU and the Attorney General (and the man behind him).  Thus far Mr Lutsenko has failed to gain (the politically desired) control over NABU.  Many public and unnecessary spats between the Prosecutor’s Office and NABU have resulted.

There was indeed a national state of shock, applauded by the public and appalling the elites, when Roman Nasirov was taken down by NABU.  The dangers of independent institutions put into sharp relief among the ruling class.  The UK was swift to pour a little more fuel on the Nasirov fire by revealing that Mr Nasirov also held UK citizenship, releasing the details of his UK passport.  President Poroshenko is yet to strip Mr Nasirov of his Ukrainian citizenship, though he was swift to remove that of former MP Artemenko and also Misha Saakashvili (leaving the latter stateless, seemingly contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution and ratified international Ukrainian obligations).

The Ukrainian political elite have failed to abide by their own legislation with regard to appointing an external (international) auditor for NABU – an audit long overdue – through failure to agree upon the identity of auditors.  Unsurprisingly, the scope of any such audit, even if auditors be appointed, is also ill-defined within the legislation.

There is a huge bottleneck of anti-corruption cases at the courts – which remain unreformed, and as previously written the reform of the Supreme Court is a farce.   With political control remaining after the judicial reform, it is unsurprisingly that the President would prefer an “anti-corruption chamber” within a court system very much open to political interference even after “reform”.  However kicking the anti-corruption court into the long grass was clearly policy long before now – and became self-evident in July.

Nevertheless many EU nations, the US, reform orientated politicians, and NABU, all call for an independent anti-corruption court – which following the example of NABU clearly cannot be allowed to come to pass if preordained, politically expedient rulings are to be delivered for specific cases.  An anti-corruption chamber created within in existing courts, comprised of existing judges however, facilitates exactly that outcome when the need arises.

There is, at a time of pre-election electioneering, a perceived requirement to begin to get a grip upon the State apparatus, and push the presidential line as levers of external influence (the IMF etc) are no longer desperately required.

The idea of an anti-corruption court, (as opposed to an anti-corruption chamber), must be discredited.  Therefore the idea that an independent NABU has brought results must also be discredited – despite the fact that it is not NABU that delivers a verdict or has any control over the speed at which judicial wheels turn.

One of the main IMF, EU, US, Canadian, and NABU requirements has been the ability, and legislative authority to conduct its own wiretaps.  Currently only the SBU has the means and lawful authority to conduct wiretaps.  This has meant that NABU since its inception has been entirely reliant upon the SBU for such evidence gathering.

The process being that NABU receive a warrant for a wiretap from an investigative judge, and then the SBU carries out the wiretap and provides NABU with the results.  Far from ideal for any investigative body to rely upon a politically appeasing SBU for evidence against the political, judicial and civil service classes.  Investigative integrity is surely at risk and stands a very real chance of being compromised.

Naturally there is almost no political support within the political elite to allow an independent NABU such power – particularly having nobbled Mr Nasirov to the genuine surprise of all.

Needless to say granting NABU the wiretapping ability has been a major issue for those that support an independent NABU – and hence it became an IMF requirement as well as an on-going diplomatic issue for many western embassies in Kyiv.  There has been much blunt comment and prickly public diplomacy over this issue.

Eyebrows will therefore have been raised when Prosecutor General Lutensko allowed his Press Secretary to release a statement relating to the illegal wiretapping of 114 telephones belonging to Cabinet members, judges, civil servants, the presidential body guards, National Police, SBU, and the Ukrainian Foreign Intelligence Service – plus a few others – during 2016 by NABU.  The Prosecutor General making similar claims himself on 20th September.

Clearly there are questions to be asked and answers to be given – for either the Prosecutor General is spouting spurious nonsense for political reasons, or NABU has gone far beyond the existing legal boundaries within which it operates.

What would NABU have to gain by illegal wire taps, beyond intelligence that could not be converted into evidence in a court of law?  Without a warrant and lawful collection, there is no evidence that can be presented in a court from a wiretap.

NABU itself, or at the very least operatives within, would end up in court.  Indeed, according to Yuri Lutsenko’s Press Secretary, “The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine conducts a pre-trial investigation in criminal proceedings on grounds of criminal offenses, stipulated by Articles 365, 366 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine,”  Apparently it will be a few months before anything comes of this investigation into NABU.

Where did NABU acquire the wiretapping hardware – and the expertise to operate it?

If they desperately required illicit tapping of these telephones for intelligence and not evidence value, could not those foreign powers that listen in on Ukrainian officials have unofficially and deniably assisted in certain cases in an effort to prevent NABU transgressing domestic legislation?

Over what time period were each of the alleged 114 telephones tapped, and does NABU have the staff to deal with all those intercepts as well as continue other investigations?

Are there none within NABU who would not have blown the whistle during this time – even if to the diplomats of supportive nations to then “have a word” with NABU leadership?

There are questions also of when, exactly, the Prosecutor General (and office) became aware of the 2016 wiretapping?

Without doubt it is not necessary, or perhaps even wise, to bust such alleged criminality immediately.

The collection of evidence of illegal wiretapping however, would not require, nor justify its preventative action, for a particularly long period – especially when both institutions are battling against each other to preserve their authority.  To prove systematic illegal wiretapping does not require allowing 114 telephones to be illegally tapped.  After a certain (and a fairly low number 6 – 10 instances) there is no evidence value to be gained by allowing it to continue.    At some point, becoming complicit is a legitimate issue.

Does a reader believe that somebody such as Yuri Lutsenko could sit upon, and not action, such information when trying to assert his authority (and The Bankova influence) over NABU if he had become aware in 2016?

As many readers will not believe he could sit on such a revelation for long, and assuming he is not simply making spurious allegations for political purposes, at what point did AG Lutsenko become aware, and what evidence was presented to warrant such public claims now?

The question of why now is important as President Poroshenko dismisses the idea of anti-corruption courts and promises to bring in (already compromised) anti-corruption chambers within a month.

Is it the case that these wiretaps were conducted legally, and via the SBU, however Yuri Lutesnko is being more than a little disingenuous?  For every telephone conversation there are (normally) two people and two telephones.  Thus any wiretap captures those under investigation and also thus who are (probably) not.  Ergo it maybe the “illegal wiretaps” are actually incidental collection from lawful intercepts, being deliberately misrepresented for immediate political expediencies.

Is a deliberate and perhaps baseless besmirching of NABU simply part of a framing to introduce a flawed anti-corruption chamber?  An unwise attempt at creating anti-corruption equivalency in the court of public opinion?

If such illegal wiretapping had occurred and on the scale Yuri Lutsenko claims, would such criminality have come to light during a NABU Audit?  (The auditors of which the political class simply cannot bring themselves to appoint and therefore there is no accountability – either external or horizontal.)

NABU have naturally completely denied the accusations of AG Lutsenko.

It will be interesting to see how this develops, and ultimately how it will be resolved.

In the meantime, anticipate the arrival of Anti-Corruption Chambers that can be subjected to political influence, and don’t hold your breath for NABU to get an independent wiretapping ability before the elections – or perhaps afterward either.

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