Archive for September 29th, 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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