Archive for November, 2017


Legislate in haste, repent at leisure – NABU

November 30, 2017

When NABU, the SAP and (now increasingly discredited) NACP were created the current Ukrainian authorities were in a far weaker economic, political and diplomatic position than they are today.  (Not that it is particularly strong.)

External supporters and international institutions had hefty sticks to wield, and absolutely necessary carrots to dangle.

Time stands still for no man.

As of the time of writing, the IMF has currently lost a lot of its stick wielding ability due to Ukraine successfully reentering the international debt markets.  (Though that ability may return.)

Low hanging reform fruit that avoided vested interests has long since been picked.  Unavoidable reform that did impact vested interests when Ukraine was weaker, more often than not is now seeing a system of “compensation” via other methods to those who temporarily suffered (unless entirely out of presidential favour).

President Poroshenko/The Bankova are firmly focused upon reelection in March 2019.  Thereafter it will be the Verkhovna Rada elections in October 2019 that will be the focus.  The president is a micromanager.  He is also a very vindictive man (despite how counterproductive that can be).

There are two immediate issues for the president/Bankova.  The first is getting the current president into the second round of voting in March 2019.  The second is trying to manipulate just who that run off will be against in order to win.

The “easy win” would be to have President Poroshenko in a run off against Yuri Boiko or Vabim Rabinovich.  A second round vote simply framed as a “pro-western verses pro-Russian” ballot.  At a push Oleh Lyashko would be another fairly easily beaten alternative.

With regard to Ms Tymoshenko, it is likely that President Poroshenko would still emerge victorious.  With Ms Tymoshenko it is not a matter of looking at the percentage of those that would vote for her – she has a die-hard 15% or so that would vote for her regardless.  The problem for Ms Tymoshenko is the equally robust, and far larger constituency of the “anybody except Yulia Tymoshenko” within the electorate.  Her chances of becoming president at the time of writing, would necessitate also facing Messrs Boiko or Rabinovich in the second round with similar framing in the paragraph above.

Yet other presidential candidates will run, not to win the presidency, but to test the electoral waters for the subsequent Verkhovna Rada elections.

Many Ukrainians would look toward a new face, entirely unsullied by current or historical political shenanigans, should one appear in the second round of presidential voting.  Thus popular personas such as Slava Vakarchuk (currently in the US on a political crash course), or a similarly popular entertainer potentially present a real problem.   (In turn, their problem if successful, would be creating a majority parliamentary force that could support them – lest they be eaten alive by the vested interests that dominate the Verkhovna Rada.)

Nevertheless such unsullied candidates of household fame could, and probably would be a disaster if they reached the second round for any old corrupt political faces.

Currently it may well be that “foreign supporters” may turn, if not a blind eye, then apply a deniable squint toward the “reasonable” misuse of administrative resources – if, and only if, it is thought that President Poroshenko represents and remains the “least worst option” among candidates.

It has to be said that the current trajectory of President Poroshenko and The Bankova is very much downward in that reckoning, and it appears that President Poroshenko believes that “foreign support” will remain because he is the “least worst option”.

Thus a reader witnesses the slow gathering in of the power structures, both central and regional, by the current presidential incumbent.  There will likely be a real need to misuse administrative resources to reach the desired outcome – reelection.

There will also be an equally important requirement to avoid “rocking the domestic boat”, unless so directed by President Poroshenko, with regard the current balance of vested interests.  Bluntly stated it will be necessary to gather in the majority of the oligarchy, their key minions, and their (media and other) assets to the presidential cause.

In avoiding rocking the “domestic boat”, there will be, by default, a rocking of the “foreign friends” boat – but it is not the “foreign friends” that vote and can manipulate the voters as easily as the old, tried and tested, machinations.

NABU will become one of the eyes of that storm.

What was legislated for in haste by the elite at a time of little choice, is now clearly being repented.

As much as the halfhearted  judicial reform that still provides for significant political influence (when required) can slow, or deliberately bungle NABU cases (await the bungling of the Nasirov case for example), that will not be enough.  NABU itself, which is one of the more trusted of State institutions, will have to either be brought to heel, seriously discredited, or destroyed.

The latest in a string of recent events unambiguously (even if deniably) is very close to a declaration of open warfare.

“Oh to have been able to sabotage this institution from the outset as the new State Bureau of Investigation has been” is undoubtedly a muttered lament within the corridors of Ukrainian power..

No doubt the arrest of Interior Minister Avaokov’s son weakened the People’s Front defence of NABU as the presidential circle began to employ the SBU and PGO to sabotage it many months ago.  This before the presidential campaign really begins – for he is yet to choose a campaign manager – perhaps Ihor Rainin, or to keep the People’s Front less prickly and/or obstructive, Alexander Turchynov?  (Less likely campaign manager candidates would be Vitaly Kovalchuk or Sergie Berezenko).

Naturally it will be necessary to rally the citizenry and external “foreign supporters” in the defence of what is probably perceived to be the only reasonably influence and corruption free State institution operating within Ukraine – NABU.  For now its survival under a leader with integrity will be the immediate goal.

Undoubtedly there will be numerous public statements from leading diplomats, reform orientated parliamentarians, and hopefully popular Ukrainian public figures (who are self-reliant and do not depend upon The State for anything), and those yet braver public figures that will voice their concerns despite a dependence upon the State (grants/funds etc).

The media will howl – insomuch as it can (considering the owners are mostly those that fall within the NABU remit).

Social media will be aflame.

However none of this will be sufficient for the president/The Bankova (and others) to cease the assault upon NABU prior to the elections.  A stable domestic boat of vested interests floating on fairly calm and predictable waters (and no chance of incarceration) is essential for President Poroshenko if reelection be the goal.

He is a politician and not a Statesman when all is said and done.

It will be necessary for the “foreign supporters” of Ukraine to clearly and publicly separate – in the most unambiguous terms – the support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine (in the many forms that comes) from any and all other support.

Privately, it is perhaps now time to play very hardball indeed – before matters progress/regress beyond saving.  A move beyond terse, prickly and barbed conversation behind the diplomatic curtain.

A move that may privately choose to highlight the vulnerabilities of certain individual vested interests beyond or passing through jurisdictions outside Ukraine, the concrete steps required to prevent those highlighted interests attracting unwanted attention, and ultimately, taking action against them if the right domestic outcomes relating to immense foreign political, financial and diplomatic energy placed into institutions like NABU is not forthcoming.

The failure of NABU will not simply be a significant loss for Ukraine.  Far too much time, effort and energy has been spent on it by numerous “foreign supporters” of Ukraine whose perceptions will also suffer immensely should this institution be allowed to crumble.

As with any policy – even the perceived least worst option – there can become a time where such policy becomes indefensible and a review of that policy is required.  The question therefore, how long can President Poroshenko be viewed as the least worst option?


Cyber security/cyber defence Ukraine – Structural changes ahead

November 29, 2017

It is no secret that Ukraine, over the past 5 years in particular, has become something of a petri dish for the testing and/or implementation of cyber incidents by hostile actors.

That is not to say every such cyber incident is the direct or indirect action of the same particular hostile actor.  While many can and will be attributed privately to direct or indirect Kremlin attacks via both evidence and intelligence (and evidence and intelligence are not the same thing at all), it is not the case that Ukraine suffers only from malevolent Kremlin or Kremlin supported cyber incidents.

Indeed this entry is not concerned with attribution, but rather the broad brushstrokes of resilience.  It will be deliberately superficial for reasons that will become apparent at some point during 2018 (if publisher’s deadlines and other whims be met.  If they be so met, dear readers, please buy the book).

Naturally with The Kremlin waging war upon Ukraine across all possible fronts, cyber security is one such front.  It is thus a front that requires a structured response from government with regard to protecting vital infrastructure.  Fortunately for the Ukrainian government, Ukraine is home to a very high number of (Apple and Miscrosoft among others) certificated programmers.  Per capita, Ukraine would sit in the top 5 nations in the world for such people.

The caveat to “fortunately” for the Ukrainian State is that “fortune” very much depends upon whether these people are wearing their “white hat” or “black hat” on any particular day.  That notwithstanding any specialisms they may have such as penetration, exfiltration, analysis etc. – to be competent at one does not make somebody competent at all.  There are limits to what a “patriotic hacker” can do alone – regardless of to whom they are patriotic toward.

Ukraine has created the Cyberpolice, and CERT UA, among other specific public, public-private, and rather more cloaked entities over recent years.

In October 2017, President Poroshenko signed into law, “About the basic principles of providing cyber security of Ukraine“.  It is worth reading for it clearly identifies not only definitions, but what is, and just as importantly what is not covered by the law.  It is framework legislation from which clearly numerous other statutory acts will have to be born and subordinate to.

It also identifies institutional responsibilities – CERT UA, the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine, the State Center for Cyber ​​Defense, the National Police, the “agencies” (SBU, and FISU), the MoD and the NBU – all of whom are currently represented at the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC).  Indeed the framework law linked above was developed in compliance with the the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine dated January 27, 2016, “On the Strategy of Cybersecurity of Ukraine.”

Clearly a potential horizontal overlap (which is better than matters falling through the gaps) and no overarching institutional command and control until reaching the NSDC itself, where all have their seats at the table.

The Ministry of Infrastructure is not directly represented upon the NSDC.  The Prime Minister, representing the Cabinet of Ministers would be the conduit through which this ministry would impart its thoughts relevant to national security and defence.

It is however, the Ministry of Infrastructure that is creating a “General Secretariat for Digital Infrastructure and a state-owned enterprise that will deal with cybersecurity.”

The name of this newly created State Owned Enterprise (SOE) is unknown at the time of writing – but it exists.  So to has a director been appointed (albeit your author recalls no candidate competition to lead this SOE).  The identity of the director (it is a he) is also unknown at the time of writing, however said director is currently assembling a management team.

Naturally, a specially created SOE within the purview of the Ministry of Infrastructure, or its latest bureaucratic  “General Secretariat for Digital Infrastructure” department, should be all about structure and process rather than an individual director or chairman’s personality – but Ukraine is still sadly severely hampered by the “cult of personality” and individual empire, to the extreme detriment of structure and process.

The creation of this cyber-SOE is being, at least in part, financed by the EU to the tune of UAH 60 million.

(Further it is rumoured that the leadership of this new SOE has already been poking around at Odessa Port with a view to mirroring, the systems in place there and the attacking/cyber war-gaming those copied systems. The results would be interesting.)

This is clearly an area upon which to keep a watchful eye – not only for the usual abuses of budget, but for a raft of legislation required to fill in the detail of the framework law.  There are questions of how to “encourage” the “too big to fails” and State insitutions alike to become wholehearted partners in a what can only become a truly effective cybersecurity/defence policy – a genuine public-private partnership.


A busy December in the Verkhovna Rada?

November 28, 2017

As the year end approaches, the usual psychology, or perhaps simply foolish thoughts, that a new year somehow changes reality nevertheless slowly begins to creep in.

It is as much an individual affair as it is within the structures individuals toil.

There is inevitably a sense of things that “need to be done” before the new year commences – often for no discernible or sensible reason, lest there otherwise be statutory requirement.

Thus it will be for the Verkhovna Rada.  An institutional motivation to tackle many issues it has ignored all year before the festive season – a festive period that provides a cooling off period for society should anything particularly unpopular or dubious be rushed through at the last moment.

The “headline legislation” will be the second reading of the “temporarily occupied territories”.  It may well manage to avoid all mention of “Minsk” during any amendments – for thus far there is no Ukrainian statute that mentions Minsk (and it should remain that way).

It remains to be seen whether the budget will be passed in a timely way, or whether the usual Verkhovna Rada Christmas pantomime during the final few days before parliamentarians go on holiday will once again be performed (oft with all kinds of dubious last minute amendments therefore devoid of public scrutiny).

There are personnel issues to address – some of which have not only been ignored throughout 2017, but in the case of the CEC, that have been ignored for several years.

It may be that the CEC members will finally be appointed and all will hold a valid mandate (which is far from currently being the case).

Perhaps a new Head of the NBU will finally be appointed.

Maybe an Ombudsman too.

The vacancy as Head of the Accounts Chamber might also find a successful candidate.

To begin a new year with some serious, currently vacant roles finally filled.

It seems likely that the embattled Ministers of Health, Finance and Infrastructure will fight on in their positions into 2018 – how long they survive into 2018 is an entirely different question.

There are but two more plenary weeks in 2017.  5th – 8th and 19th – 22nd December.

What, if anything, will be achieved before year end?

Maybe a surprise or two?  Perhaps the President will introduce the draft Anti-Corruption Court Bill (probably without sufficient time to vote for it)?

Will the parliament see out the year with a legislative bang – or a whimper?


Odessa Governor pays bail for city brawler – Rule of law

November 27, 2017

Not 10 days ago an entry appeared relating to the brawls between local people and the police of Odessa over the very unwelcome shenanigans of Mayor Trukhanov and City Hall and proposed construction in one of the possibly two most loved parts of the historical city centre – Gorsad (City Garden).

The “Summer Theatre” has been leased to Soling (Cyprus) by City Hall – which is an entity very much within the orbit of one of Mayor Trukhanov’s longtime organised crime partners, Vladimir Galaternik.

As a result of the violence (videos in the above link) in the very heart of the city, Mayor Trukhanov has said nothing.  Nor did he appear before the public.  20 people were injured, including the Police Chief of Odessa (who appears far too “comfortable” among the city “elite” these days).

The Oblast Governor, a position that historically rarely, if ever, has interfered in the affairs of City Hall, appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office regarding the legality of the lease and any planned construction – and rightly so, as tempers of the city residents over this incident are raised.

Any further attempt by Mr Galaternik and Mayor Turkhanov to permanently deface Gorsad (as occurred in Arcadia, and has been attempted along Fransuski Boulevard, Shevchenko Park) will only pour fuel on an increasingly hot fire.

Whether the Governor has taken this route to try and bring the matter back within the rule of law (such as it is), or whether the Governor has taken this course of action to add yet more pressure on a City Hall that has been subjected to at least four NABU visits (with more undoubtedly to follow) remains to be seen.  Perhaps both.  There are elections soon coming and both Oblast and City Hall will be expected to provide administrative resources if required in an attempt to insure the reelection of President Poroshenko, and latterly the Verkhovna Rada (notwithstanding the Mayor and City Hall itself).  City Hall, via Mayor Trukhanov, is running amok and the leash requires shortening.

Among those alleged to have orchestrated the violence at which the police suffered (even if some among them are also adamantly against the defacement of Gorsad) is Sergei Sternenko – the former leader of Right Sector in Odessa, now turned “activist”.

He and another alleged leader/agent provocateur have been arrested since the incident occurred and have been subsequently remanded – with the possibility of bail in Mr Sternenko’s case.

On 27th November, the Odessa Governor, Maxim Stepanov, paid the UAH 600,000 bail (approximately $22,500) to grant Mr Sternenko his liberty.

The Governor in a statement attempted to distance his public office from his personal motivation to free Mr Sternenko, stating – “I want my position to be clear and transparent, this is my human reaction to injustice. A pledge of 600 thousand hryvnas for someone who threw himself at the police and 128 thousand Hryvnia pledges to whose conscience damaged the lives of children in the camp “Victoria.”  Where is justice here?”

Naturally, few will readily accept the attempt at distancing his political position from his personal integrity.  The Governor could have had somebody else post the bail as a cut out if such a division of public and private persona was paramount.

Further, it is perhaps of political use to have Mr Sternenko at liberty.  He provides a motivational/organising force for the next time Mayor Trukhanov goes way too far in his plundering and permanent disfigurement of Odessa.

The Governor went further regarding law enforcement however, unambiguously stating that he supports both the police and the rule of law, and that he does not support the criticisms of the police action that day.  He also appeared to claim that the police had disrupted plans for a “revenge brawl” on behalf of those leasing the land.

His statement concluded “I, for my part, do everything necessary for the Summer Theater to become an integral part of the City Garden. The founders of Odessa gave the city a garden not for the profit of shameful dealers. They created a beautiful city. And the city should remain beautiful.”

Fair warning to Mayor Trukhanov and Mr Galaternik?  Perhaps so – at least until after the 2019 elections, and insofar as this particular location is concerned.

Enough to keep a lid on a severely irked city citizenry?  Probably with regard to Gorsad for a while, but Mayor Trukhanov is a man with no vision, and a man who likes money – however it comes.   He will assuredly provoke the local constituency again with odious and ugly schemes in the historical city centre.

In fact the “Seaman’s Palace” on what is probably the second most sacred part of the old city – Primorsky Boulevard – is likely to be the scene of the next violent incident.  A reader should expect, come February 2018, plans to be unveiled for a 7 story hotel upon a street replete with local history where no old buildings are higher than 3 floors.

There is simply no way the people of the city will allow it without a (probably literal) fight.  There will be further violence.  Mr Sternenko, already on bail for forcibly taking issues to City Hall over the crimes of Victoria (linked above) and the skulduggery and absolute thoughtlessness planned for Gorsad, will inevitably be arrested yet again.

Undoubtedly he will not be the only one.

More police officers will be injured, and members of the public too.

Mayor Trukhanov will go into hiding again.

Average, otherwise law abiding people will be arrested, in the full knowledge they will be arrested, having no faith in an Odessa courts protecting the city and their heritage above the vested interests of Mayor Trukhanov and those in his orbit.

From the perspective of The Bankova and Cabinet of Ministers, the people of Odessa will note the complete absence, once again, of the feckless wonders at the Ministry of Culture – a State ministry that has a legislative say over what happens in the historical city centre of Odessa.  (As one of the directors at the Odessa Philharmonic, it is no secret as to just how completely absent the Ministry of Culture is, and just how cosseted, and therefore uniformed, the Minister is kept by those around him.)

Of course none of this would be happening if there was rule of law in the city – but there isn’t the moment the veneer is scratched away.


WEF Organised Crime Index – Ukraine 113th

November 26, 2017

Ukraine, according to the most recent World Economic Forum Index, ranks at 113th with a score of 3.9 with regard to its Organsied Crime Index.

Of it’s immediate neighbours, Bulgaria is the only nation ranking worse at 119th with a score of 3.7.  Of the continental European nations only Bulgaria and Italy rank worse –  Italy ranked at 123rd with a score of 3.5.

This Index is based upon the results of 2016, and thus does not necessarily provide an accurate picture of how things are in 2017.

The WEF breakdown specific to Ukraine can be found here.

As with all indexes and league tables, it is possible to go up, or indeed down, while a nation in effect doesn’t actually change anything itself at all.  It simply requires other nations to get progressively better, or worse, to affect a ranking.  Thus what can appear to be improvement actually isn’t etc.

The WEF Index qualifies organised crime for its purposes, as “mafia orientated racketeering, extortion, costs imposed upon business“.  With such limited parameters it therefore offers an incomplete guide to organised crime and its effects in, and/or through Ukraine for 2016.

There is much more to organised crime than racketeering and extortion costs imposed upon businesses.

There are obviously other costs to society and State due to organised criminality,

Like some other nations, Ukraine is a source, a transit hub, and a destination for organised criminality – to some degree an unfortunate result of geography.  MENA is immediately to the south, Russia is immediately to the east, and the EU is immediately to the west.

Thus ever shall Ukraine be attractive to organised criminality simply for geographical reasons.   Lo, despite organised crime more often than not taking the path of least law and order resistance first and foremost, even if Ukraine were to become a bastion of law and order (which it is far from being today), it would still retain a certain attractiveness for organised crime.

Ergo, due to the parameters of the WEF Index, at very best, it can only hope to offer a reasonably accurate picture within the methodology employed, the remit set, and during the reporting period.

An accurate reflection on organised criminality in its entirety, in relation to Ukraine, it is not.


East Stratcom Task Force and the EUvsDisinfo Budget – Too much or too little?

November 24, 2017

In late March 2015, the EEAS created the East Stratcom Task Force in response to the tsunami of Russian disinformation flooding the western media space (both MSM and social).

As a recent entry makes clear there is indeed a need for a response – even if knocking the stuffing out of obvious flapdoodle is only a part of how to deal with the problem.

As the entry made clear, none of what is currently labeled “information warfare” is new – and further the West has had a full, unedited copy of this playbook since the 1980s – complete with the proscribed cure – per the testimony of numerous Soviet defectors (and subsequent Russian leavers).

Awareness, and via awareness, the resilience that may hopefully follow, are not the prescribed cure offered by those once tasked by the Soviets with implementing the same playbook we see today.

As the likes of Yuri Bezmenov (to name but one) made clear over 30 years ago, the cure to cancerous information warfare is found in education, historical and political awareness, and critical thinking.  A generational cure to a subversive and destabilising playbook that to be effectively implemented can take a generation to reach desired outcomes.  An outline of the playbook “chapters” and time frames can be found in the aforementioned link.

All that has truly changed – and changed does not equate to new – it the speed and breadth at which dissemination now occurs.  Thus institutional and/or national responses require equal ability with regard to speed and breadth too.

That is not to infer that equal opportunity in any way equates to equal impact.  (Perhaps fortunately considering some the nonsense that passes as “wisdom” or “expert opinion” in the current discourse..  Indeed some what what is spewed forth is not only folly, but is in fact counterproductive.)

Whatever the case, East Stratcom Task Force does not fall within the “armchair expert” community, nor those pretending or aspiring to be the latest “IW gurus”.  It is not in existence to enhance individual egos or self-aggrandisement.  It is not reinventing, re-orientating, or purporting to be what it is not in order to gather in grants for the latest en vogue funding frenzy.

As an entity it will be fully aware, due to its composition and environment, that it is possible to disagree with others and still avoid reinforcing an enemy’s narrative.  It will be aware that there is a point at which public diplomacy becomes propaganda.  That nuance is needed in any meaningful analysis, and that nobody has the monopoly on being right all the time.  It is part of an EU institution – the EEAS.  (The effectiveness of the EEAS a reader can argue, and there is perhaps an argument to redirect what is does, but that is meander from the point of this entry.)

To be entirely fair to the East Stratcom Task Force and its impact thus far with regard to constituency awareness, it is necessary to understand its terms of reference – before looking at internal benchmarking and external impact.  There is quite a lot there given a current budget of approximately €200,000.  Certainly it is tasked with more than combating disinformation, though how much is spent upon what to deliver its remit is unclear.

It appears that the EUvDisinfo, a product of the East Stratcom Task Force has just been granted its own budget.  €1.1 million per over the next 3 years.

Too much, or not enough?

Well it depends upon what this budget is meant to finance.  “The Task Force draws on existing resources within the EU institutions and the Member States, including staff from institutions and seconded national experts from Member States. The Task Force works within the existing budget for EU Strategic Communication at headquarters and delegation level. It also collaborates closely with the Commission to ensure a coordinated approach in support of the EU’s overall objectives in the neighbourhood.” is what currently appears on the Stratcom website.

The East Stratcom team currently comprises of 14 people.  How many are on secondment and therefore have their expenses covered elsewhere?   How many are volunteers?  Interns (paid or otherwise)?  Local salaried staff?  Remuneration varies by role naturally.

Will the increased budget be required to cover overheads currently covered by other means, or is it truly “new money”?

The initial response from the East Stratcom team was the additional financing “will be directly dedicated to the unit to potentially hire more staff, to increase awareness in European Union member states, and to boost its media-monitoring work.”

OK, so what are the tasks?  “The team’s main product to raise awareness of disinformation is the weekly Disinformation Review. This contains a compilation of reports received from members of the myth-busting network. It can provide valuable data for analysts, journalists and officials dealing with this issue. The Disinformation Review also brings the latest news and analyses of pro-Kremlin disinformation. To receive the review each week in English by email, please sign up here . Please subscribe here to receive the Russian language version.

You can also see and search the full record of the Task Force’s work on disinformation on its website, You can follow the team on Twitter @EUvsDisinfo and like its Facebook page “EU vs Disinformation”.

The team also runs the European External Action Service’s Russian language website. Russian is spoken and understood by millions of people all over the world, including in EU Member States. The EEAS Russian-language website communicates primarily about the EU’s foreign policy by publishing information about EU activities, as well as EU statements and press releases with relevance to the Eastern Neighbourhood in particular.”

This appears to be collection, collation, analysis, and dissemination via a website and/or email subscription – notwithstanding the usual social media channels.

The collection, rightly, is multiplied via a network of contributors –  “The network comprises more than 400 experts, journalists, officials, NGOs and Think Tanks in over 30 countries reporting disinformation articles to the Task Force. To inquire about joining the network, please contact the Disinformation Review team on”  

The usual disclaimer/caveats apply when what is produced is not all your own work – “The Review is a compilation of cases from the East Stratcom Task Force’s wide network of contributors and therefore cannot be considered an official EU position.”

In sum an EEAS project, staffed by EU mandarins, seconded nationals, local staff, interns and volunteers, now specifically budgeted for by the EU/EEAS, that produces something that cannot be considered an official EU position.

That said, is there any reason that what it produces should be an EU official position?  The point here is to act as a central and trusted hub for the network, from whence a weekly consolidated list of Russian (albeit not always Kremlin) codswallop can be highlighted, and thoroughly eviscerated and/or mocked in the public realm.

The twitter account @EUvsDisinfo has a 31.6k following.  The website has currently has the following statistics:  123,412 monthly views, an average visit duration of 1 minute 27 seconds, 2.16 pages per visit and a bounce rate of 40.4% (statistics according to SimilarWeb).  Quite what the overlap between twitter followers, other social media channels, and website visitors is – who knows?

Whatever the case, reach is only one metric – and not the metric that really matters the most.  This blog is well aware of which embassies, capitals, think tanks, academics, and NGOs that read it.  It knows because diplomats, academics, think tanks, academics, journalists and NGOs make themselves known – often in person, or via invitation to sit on panels or partake in round tables.  So when it comes to decision makers and policy influencers, it knows its audience – and its audience very often knows the author, be they in State Dept, FCO, Brussels or sprinkled across European, or ENP member embassies, or otherwise within European capitals.

Therefore care is taken not to preach to the converted, but deliver snippets of useful tittle-tattle that may otherwise be missed on very busy radars whilst otherwise trying to entertain those with interests Ukrainian.

Thus with all e-generated statistics, it is necessary to get behind the numbers to understand the real effective reach, and even more so, any impact.

It is the impact that East Stratcom has upon the recipient that matters (no differently to the bilge Russia pumps out).  Preaching to the converted would be difficult to class as impact – it is the waverers and the converts that equate to impact.

Therefore, realistically, it will be years before the true extent and depth of impact in the “information war” will be fully understood once all of the numerous  and relevant academic lenses have been applied.  The results pondered.  Reflected upon.  Thrown out for discourse and peer review.

Back to the new budget.

Is this a matter of the politicians being seen to be doing something, without actually doing very much at all, and doing it on the cheap?  Perhaps that depends upon the politicians and whose politicians they are?  Ergo is the new budget a consensus and/or mutual appeasement?  The lowest common denominator whereby all if not happy, are equally unhappy?

Are some nation’s prepared to handle matters in a different way unilaterally?

Do others think it more a NATO remit than an EEAS remit and would prefer not to pay twice for the same awareness campaigns?

There will assuredly be politicians who view the budget increase as not enough, and others too much for an instrument that is entirely unproven with regard to impact, or via what they may perceive to be the wrong conduit.

Readers will also no doubt have differing views.

If, as the Soviet defectors who handed the cure to this disease to the West in the 1980’s are correct, is not such funding better employed beyond any awareness (and any resilience that it may bring)?

If so, how to go about it?

Education, political and historical awareness can and will only be taken so far by any EU institution, lest it clumsily tread on sovereign/national toes irking one or more Member State in the process – and inevitably losing support for the mechanisms for the awareness East Stratcom is tasked with promulgating.

However, the Soviet defectors cited not only education, political and historical awareness as part of the cure.  Reinvigorating and teaching critical thinking was also part of their cure against what is today called “IW”.

Critical thinking does not specifically appear in the East Stratcom remit – but it can be massaged in as part of its awareness/disinformation role – and without concern about accidentally irritating any Member State sensibilities.  The question then, would be how to teach and/or reinvigorate critical thinking for those poor souls that don’t know how.

To answer the question of the budget being too much or not enough?  It all depends upon impact.  Nobody will know how effective that is until the impact has been measured.  The impact will not be measured unless somebody funds the research.

However, perhaps a better question relates to risk/reward when it comes to funding in the short term and current disinformation awareness campaigns.


ENP Summit, Brussels – Expectation Management

November 23, 2017

President Poroshenko arrived in Brussels on 23rd November ahead of the Eastern Neighbourhood Policy Summit on the 24th.

As of 23rd November, there was no agreement between Ukraine and the EU over the wording of the final declaration to be released at the conclusion of the Summit.  (Naturally the wording of such statements are usually negotiated ahead of a Summit – for what will be agreed or otherwise is also usually known ahead of the Summit.)

To be blunt, despite months of rhetoric about a Lithuanian devised “Marshall Plan” or as it is known “Europe Plan” for Ukraine, it seems doubtful that this will progress beyond rhetoric.  The failure of Ukraine to comply with the agreements it made for a €600 million macro-finance assistance programme (that concludes this year), will naturally not encourage those that have reservations about a proposed “Europe Plan” of €5 billion per annum over 10 years.

That is particularly so when previous agreements have been honoured with less than the integrity expected.

One of those agreements was the e-declaration of officials that still has no working and efficient verification mechanism to evaluate the e-declarations submitted.  This was a prerequisite of Visa-free for Ukraine.

The e-declarations system works.  About 1.5 million e-declarations were submitted by officials – of which about 100 have actually been thoroughly verified.  Thus the verification system doesn’t work.

Further, following whistle blower allegations last week from within the body tasked with those verification, there are alleged nefarious practices supported and instigated by the management relating to verification outcomes in concert with certain political bodies.   Criminal investigations have been opened.  Thus the verification system exists on paper (and in statute) but is simply (and deliberately) not implemented.

Thus, if there is to be any financial result for Ukraine from the ENP Summit, then it will be about just how much of the €600 million macro-finance assistance programme Ukraine can release from the EU before year end, without having fully upheld its side of the agreement.

The outcome is naturally not going to be optimal for Ukraine.  The President will blame the Cabinet, or the parliament, or both, and each in turn will blame the others too.  Collective finger pointing and ultimately no accountability.  Nevertheless, if one party to an agreement does not fulfill its obligations, then the other party of to the agreement has no obligation to fulfill theirs either.

This is not the only bone of contention.  The exasperation of the EU Ambassador to Ukraine, Hugues Mingarelli, over the stalling regarding the anti-corruption courts, and interference with, not to mention the resource starvation of the recently created anti-corruption bodies, is abundantly and unambiguously clear from recent his statements and speeches.  His words, naturally, are an expression of EU exasperation.

Clearly there will be little FDI into Ukraine from European corporations or SMEs without a reliable, predictable rule of law and anti-corruption measures.

Perhaps the EU can be persuaded to make available its “insurance scheme” for high risk investments/market entry that currently runs relating to Africa, in an attempt to encourage some to look to Ukraine?  It would be an accomplishment.

Depending upon which Ukrainian politician a reader may choose to believe (if any), the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement is somewhere between 15 – 20% accomplished (at least on paper via statute and/or regulation if not necessarily in implementation).  The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, if or when thoroughly implemented, would take Ukraine a long way toward achieving the criteria for the 30(ish) chapters of the Aquis Communautaire – and the Aquis is the benchmark to meet for EU entry.

Unless there is mention of Ukraine’s legitimate rights under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty to join the EU (when it meets the benchmarks of the Aquis (and not the benchmarks of the Association Agreement)) for the sake of inspiration and/or motivation, then there is really not much point in mentioning at all.  With a fair wind and clear horizon it will take 15 years to achieve.  And there is neither fair wind nor clear horizon internally or externally of Ukraine.

Society and civil society remain light years ahead of the majority of the feckless political class – would they consider any such mention as “inspirational/motivational”, or delusional should President Poroshenko attempt to put tinsel and bells upon any such mention?

A reader, and no doubt those within the EU and its Member States, will also be aware that reform will probably now slow yet more.  Not across the entirety of the reform spectrum, but certainly in some critical areas.  Much of the low hanging reform fruit that did not impact too greatly on vested interests has already been plucked.  That which did encroach upon vested interests but was nevertheless reformed, occurred during a time when national economic implosion was imminent.  Matters have eased slightly (if perhaps temporarily).

Now however, the wiggle room to avoid the further conflict with vested interests is dramatically reduced.  Schemes and scams are actively being created to compensate those vested interests that lost out in other ways.  There is a constant battle to prevent a reversal of some reforms.  And there are presidential and Verkhovna Rada elections 15 months or so that will probably also slow meaningful reform.

Thus far a perhaps pessimistic and grim read – but that is not the intent.  The intent is expectation management.  So onward!

In any Summit declaration there will be positives.  Motivational quips.  There will rightly be acknowledgement of successes.

It will be interesting therefore to note any specifics and see which are new and ne’er used before.

As genuine as past successes are, running off tired and weary reform highlights such as banking sector policy, or progress in energy reform, or the reformatting of the police ( all long since overworked as motivational accomplishments) require an update.

What will be the new successes highlighted?

Structurally, decentralisation seems to be working fairly well (despite far too many corrupt Mayors running decentralised budgets).  It is often an understated reform, yet the structure and process appears to work as intended.

What else?

Medical reform exists only in very recently passed statute – effective implementation has not begun.  Education reform, also recently passed, if it appears in any Summit declaration, would have to be carefully worded to get the consent of certain EU nations.  Judicial reforms are far from perfect and it will be some time before the outcomes of them can be assessed.  (Ultimately it will be the Ukrainian constituency that suffers the Ukrainian judicial system that will itself judge.)

Something new and positive will be found.

Should a reader actually be looking at what is in the Summit declaration, or rather than looking for what is not in it?

Whatever the case, it would be prudent to limit (quite substantially) any expectations from the declaration that will be delivered from the ENP Summit.


The “Luhansk Coup” that isn’t.

November 22, 2017

The on-going events in the occupied Luhansk territories have, unsurprisingly, grabbed the attention of many in Ukraine.

On 21st November “little green” men were reported to be taking over administrative centers within the “republic”.

The occupied territories of Donetsk sent a fairly notable deployment to Luhansk.

Speculation and “hot takes” naturally flooded the social media space.

The outcome of it all is still somewhat unclear, however the situation within occupied Luhansk certainly centers around Igor Plotnitsky, currently Kremlin anointed “leader” of the occupied territory, and the “republic’s” current “Interior Minister”, Igor Kornet.

Mr Plotnitsky is naturally a puppet of Vladimir Surkov, the man (currently) tasked with overseeing the “republics” by The Kremlin.  If he were not a subservient puppet to Mr Surkov, then obviously he would not be in the position he is allowed to hold.

It is no secret that Igor Plotnitsky is simply not a capable leader, or for that matter, administrator.  Since assuming his position many of those that held power and/or influence within the occupied Luhansk territories, and who recognised his weaknesses, have been sacked and “imprisoned”, or assassinated.   Thus it was unsurprising when Mr Plotnitsky was the subject of an attempted assassination.

Mr Kornet, to be able to hold the position of “Interior Minister” for the occupied Luhansk territory clearly does so with the “blessing” of the Russian FSB.   A Kremlin financed occupation, despite any pretense to independent structure and local leadership, requires those perceived to be looking after “internal security” to answer daily to the FSB – it can be no other way.

It has been apparent for a long time that Messrs Plotnitsky and Kornet have a cold relationship.

Whether that be due to Mr Kornet being very aware of Mr Plotnitsky’s leadership and administrative failings, or a dispute over corrupt money channels, or, at least in part, because they answer to different command structures in Moscow when it comes to daily affairs is unknown.  Perhaps they simply do not like each other – it happens.  It may be a combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

Whatever the case, Mr Plotnitsky decided to sack Mr Kornet a few days ago – with or without the Kremlin nod of approval is unknown.  Who knows if he bothered to inform the FSB at all – he answers to Mr Surkov after all.

The “Interior Minister” refused to accept or acknowledge his dismissal.  However Mr Kornet is obviously very aware of what happens to those that Mr Plotnitsky feels threatened by.

This seems unlikely to be a Kremlin instigated incident.  A public facing image of stability, regardless of realities, is much more likely to be the preferred Kremlin option – currently at least.

If it were a ruse to deploy “Russian peacekeepers”, why allow such a large deployment from the Donetsk occupied territories?  To instigate a small scale engagement between the “republics” first, and then send in overtly marked “peacekeeping” Russian military from Russia as a conclusion to fait accompli?  There has, as yet, been no such kinetic engagement between the “forces” of the two “republics”.  Nor does that seem particularly likely.  To “justify” the unilateral deployment of “Russian peacekeepers” across the occupied territories, it would surely require deployed in both “republics” and not only Luhansk.

A “unification” of the two “republics” through force perhaps, given the size of the Donetsk “military assistance” that was deployed?  Possible.  Perhaps more likely that “Russian Peacekeepers” at this moment.  That said, “unification” means bureaucracy, time, and money.  If Mr Kornets were to retain his position, then a “bonding” between him and Mr Zakharchenko would be required.  From a Kremlin management point of view however, it would have its attractions.

Having not entirely excluded those options, (for sometimes opportunity can appear too tempting to refuse) but considering it a low likelihood, then this incident would tend to suggest it is a “domestic” matter that The Kremlin had little interest in – which is perhaps why it escalated as it did.

Whether there was “radio silence” from the FSB, or whether Mr Kornet had serious doubts about the ability of the FSB to defend his retention in post before Mr Surkov and/or The Kremlin inner conclave would be speculative.   Whatever the case, it appears he felt there was a need to act swiftly to either save himself from a nasty fate, and/or to get a reaction from Moscow regarding the plight he perceived for himself.

It seems unlikely that Mr Kornet was seeking to achieve anything more than save himself.

He will no doubt be aware that the removal by “coup” of Mr Plotnitsky would require Kremlin approval first – and if The Kremlin was of a mind to replace Mr Plotnitsky, it could do so without setting the stage for a theatrical “internal coup”.

Indeed, Mr Plotnitsky’s signature sits upon some Minsk documentation (as does that of his counterpart in the occupied Donetsk).  Whatever their failings, would the Kremlin be any rush to remove and replace those signatories?  Further, both occupied territories leaders will be Kremlin bargaining chips in any negotiations for the reintegration of the occupied territories (if and when that occurs).  They are political sacrifices to be seen to be made (of little political consequence to The Kremlin).

From a Kremlin perspective, it is currently better to keep these men in place.  If there is a need to, the structures beneath them can be removed and replaced, leaving them but hollow figureheads with no local power whatsoever.

So the “little green men” that initially seized administrative buildings and took down local “republic” TV and radio on 21st November are likely to have been those most loyal to Mr Kornet.  That the rest of the occupied Luhansk security apparatus and/or “military” did not immediately react perhaps displays the weakness and/or contempt with which they hold Mr Plotnitsky.  A matter of not getting involved and waiting to see how the incident plays out.

The incident is still playing itself out.  Things can change.  Perhaps more solid information will come to light that will change the perceptions in this entry.

However, for now, this does not have the appearance of a Kremlin instigated operation.

Neither does it appear to be a misguided coup attempt.

The appearance is rather one of Mr Kornet sending up a very visible distress flare that could no longer be ignored by either the FSB nor Mr Surkov.

Time will soon tell whether Mr Kornet keeps his “Interior Minister” role or not.

Who will the Donetsk “military assistance” be perceived to support?

Naturally whomever they are told to by Moscow – but as the Donetsk “leader” Alexandr Zakharchenko is also necessarily a creature of Mr Surkov, should its forces be perceived to have a bias toward Mr Kornet, then that would perhaps give insight into The Kremlin decision on his future as “Interior Minister” within the occupied Luhansk.  It seems unlikely the FSB will allow their man to be rolled over for no reason, and it seems unlikely that Mr Surkov would strongly object to keeping him – to the ire of Mr Plotnitsky no doubt.

Time will also tell whether Mr Plotnitsky witnesses the removal of, and installation of, a new “administration” beneath him, effectively leaving him an entirely powerless figurehead – or not.

It will also tell whether this incident will cause any lasting friction between Mr Surkov and the FSB, or whether a “review” of daily occupied territories management will result in a more coordinated and micromanaged approach within Moscow.  After all, when it comes to governance in any nation, incompetence and/or issues falling within the cracks of the pavement between management/institutional structures, should never be underestimated.  Russia is certainly not immune in this regard.

Currently however, The Kremlin outwardly appears to be “comfortable” with how events are unfolding in the occupied Luhansk – whatever troubles may lay ahead, or regardless of any signals it sends for the future.

There can be no doubt that the distrust between Messrs Plotnitsky and Kornet will only further grow and ferment – which may or may not be exploited by The Kremlin to its advantage depending upon how it is managed.  It is a relationship that may yet again reach crisis point.

However, in sum, based on what can be currently ascertained, and with a little pondering, a Kremlin plot to deploy “peacekeepers” seems very unlikely.  The result of some internal Moscow conflicts between institutions/canters of power also seems unlikely.  A domestic coup to replace Mr Plotnitsky without prior Kremlin approval doesn’t seem likely either.

Thus, this currently appears to be the result of Mr Kornet sending up a rather noticeable distress flare to get the attention of Russian curators to his Plotnitsky instigated plight.  Thereafter, should Mr Plotnitsky go, it will be a Kremlin decision subsequent to, rather than the mens rea. for the currently unfolding incident.


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