Archive for the ‘diplomacy’ Category

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What is past is prologue (Shakespeare)

January 16, 2017

With Vice President Biden bidding adieu in Kyiv having been point man for the out going US Administration, naturally official statements are a mixture of thanks and platitudes for efforts past and also words of hope for the future.

Yet the words used by both President Poroshenko and Vice President Biden at their farewell meeting are hardly the most robust and unambiguous when it comes to confirming continued US policy toward Ukraine.

“We really count on the succession by the new U.S. administration in our common work” and “hope that the Ukrainian issue will further unite the entire American political spectrum and remain among the top priorities” the oratory of President Poroshenko is hardly that of a political leader confident in the future policy of an ally.

Further, despite President Poroshenko’s “hope” it is already fact that the Ukrainian issue will not unite the entire American political spectrum insofar as where Ukrainian issues overlap with Russian issues.  The reverse is abundantly clear.  Divisions are widening within the US political arena where Ukrainian and Russian policy overlaps.

In response, VP Biden stating “I hope that the next administration will also want to be a supporter and partner in your continued progress” does little to convey anything solid either.

Yet more “hope“.

Perhaps one more forlorn “hope” is that the in-coming administration even has a Ukraine policy around which the American political spectrum can either diverge or unite – particularly when it comes to overlapping Russia issues.

What is past is prologue (Shakespeare)

Thus what has gone before may have little to offer by way of predicting, and therefore understanding, what is to come.  It may be that there is, as yet, no policy regarding Ukraine as far as the in-coming Administration is concerned, and thus policy drift and/or meandering is what awaits to be exploited by those that seize the moment.

“Hope” no matter how many times it appears in presidential prose is not a strategy.  And it is certainly not a strategy Ukraine will be wise to employ with regard the emissions of the new US Administration.

If “hope” is to play any part in Ukrainian strategy, it is perhaps better replaced with “optimism” and employed within a domestic political and policy context.  “The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, or vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not abandon it to his enemy.” (Bonhoeffer).

It may be prudent therefore to deliver some swift, sensible, domestic inspiration by way of policy!

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Ukraine begins to lobby DC – professionally

January 7, 2017

Many times it has been written that Ukraine would be wise to lobby Washington DC beyond the abilities of its own diplomatic mission and occasional delegations.

So it comes to pass, and probably due to a Trump presidency almost being upon Ukraine, the national leadership has decided to engage professional lobbyists to champion Ukraine inside “The Beltway”.

That said, whilst Ukraine as a State has taken its time to arrive at this decision, many of the Ukrainian elite have long since lobbied their own causes/interests within DC.

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Ms Tymoshenko outspends all others (despite her meager income according to her e-declaration.)

The Ukrainian State has chosen to spend a seemingly meager sum of $50,000 per month having BGR Group strengthen ties between the USA and Ukraine, and further encourage US investment and/or US investors to look at Ukraine.

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Not before time, and perhaps only because of who the next US president will be, has Ukraine as a State started to spend money where many of its nefarious elites have done so for years.

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The contract would seem to last for the duration of 2017.

Although this is definitely the right policy for the Ukrainian State to engage in – indeed to belatedly engage in – a reader may ponder just what returns can be expected for $600,000 per annum when considering that Ms Tymoshenko spent more than that amount in 2014, that same amount in 2015, and would appear to have very little to show for it – unless her lobbying was intended to insure very little was publicly shown regarding her.

So, what do you get for $600,000 of lobbying inside “The Beltway” (even if leveraged with a cooperative Ukrainian Ambassador and embassy)?  BGR Group and 2017 will provide the answers!

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Moldavian meetings

January 5, 2017

For the first time since 2008, a President of Moldova, Igor Dodon met with a “President of Transnistria” Vadim Krasnoselsky.

Whether it proves to be anything more than a symbolic gesture by pro-Kremlin Moldavian President Dodon remains to be seen, for his powers as president are extremely limited (which is perhaps a good thing being a robust supporter of federalising Moldova).

Moldova is a parliamentary democracy with the President having very little sway over policy or legislation.  (As such the Moldavian parliamentary elections of 2018 matter far more than the recent election of Mr Dodon as President of Moldova.)

What was known to be discussed appears to have been all rather sensible – and occurred outside of the longstanding 5+2 format which may or may not further frustrate an already frustrated process.  Nevertheless issues such as agriculture in the Dubasari district, education and diplomas, and the movement of citizens across the Dniester river were discussed.

It is said they will meet again soon with proposal to solving the issues discussed and to set timelines to implement agreed solutions.

Time, as it always does, will tell when it comes to results, particularly as President Dodon would have to have the Moldavian parliament “on side” to actually deliver much (if anything).

With regards to meetings, and perhaps worthy of note for those in Kyiv, on 26th December, 3 days after Mr Dodon’s election as president, the odious and criminal Mykola Skoryk MP (Oppo Block) quietly visited Moldova attending a Party of Socialists event to celebrate Mr Dodon’s success.

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President Dodon had been a long serving Chairman of the Party of Socialists after leaving the Communist Party.  Needless to say the Party of Socialists is a robustly Russophile political entity.

That the obnoxious Mykola Skoryk would surround himself with russophiles is in keeping with his personal views (as inferred in the above link).  As regular readers will note however, it is not his russophile views that make Mykola Skoryk obnoxious.  Quite simply there is nothing about his political history, business activities, or egocentric personality that make him likable – russophile or not.

Time will tell whether Prosecutor General Lutsenko will actually get around to trying to strip Mykola Skoryk of his parliamentary immunity and prosecute him as he stated he would in September – but as yet hasn’t.  Perhaps he has forgotten, perhaps he opened his mouth before gathering sufficient evidence, or perhaps a grubby deal has been struck that he won’t now go after Mr Skoryk.  Neither Messrs Lutsenko or Skoryk have been adverse to grubby (and criminal) little deals throughout their political careers.

The question however is what was Mykola Skoryk doing at a Party of Socialists gathering for, and with, the newly invested President Dodon?  A shared russophilia is unlikely to be the answer in and of itself.  There will be more to it.

Perhaps it is a matter of insuring any cross-border “business” is not interrupted under a new presidency.  Perhaps there are now opportunities to expand “business”.  Maybe an arrangement made for an immediate “bolt hole” from Odessa should Prosecutor General Lutsenko actually put action where his rhetoric already exists.  Per chance some plotting and scheming regarding stirring up matters in “Bessarabia” occurred – as one domestic result of a Trump victory in the USA will probably be an emboldened pro-Russian political voice within Ukraine from those that have generally kept a low profile over the past 2 years – those like Mykola Skoryk.

Whatever the case, Mykola Skoryk did not become the first Ukrainian MP to personally congratulate Mr Dodon on his election simply because of a shared russophilia and as Odessa shares a border with Moldova he thought he’d “drop by”.  He is hardly otherwise a regular face at the Party of Socialists gatherings.

That Mr Skoryk has said very little about his trip probably means that more questions should be asked.

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Pinchuk & the WSJ

January 1, 2017

It has to be said that Viktor Pinchuk of all the Ukrainian oligarchy has always been the most intriguing for this blog.

Firstly, compared to the others, Mr Pinchuk is actually a clever guy.  He had managed to become a multi-millionaire through his engineering creativity before marrying the daughter of former President Kuchma – and thereafter leveraging that marriage during the Kuchma epoch to move from being a multi-millionaire to a billionaire.

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His time directly (rather than indirectly) in Ukrainian political life as a parliamentarian was really rather brief and began in the same year as his marriage to former President Kuchma’s daughter in 2002 and ended with the “Orange Revolution” of 2004/5 with Mr Pinchuk having backed Viktor Yanukovych.  Despite easily being able to buy his way into any parliament, he chose not to do so.

Since then his political influence has been indirect insofar as manifesting via parliamentarians both national and local that are loyal to him.  It should also be noted that “his people” are generally far more subtle than the drones of Kolomoisky, Firtash or Akhmetov.

He also has a penchant for collecting famous friends – The Clintons, Damien Hirst, Elton John etc.

In fact, aside from feeding from the State subsidy trough and self-interest indirect political machinations, Mr Pinchuk set about rehabilitating his image through philanthropy and his own foundation from 2006 onward with very little domestic public oratory or prose.

The annual YES conference is a Pinchuk brainchild that he funds – which in 2016 notably saw Mr Pinchuk pay Donald Trump to speak at (albeit a speech lacking in clarity and not without technical problems) via a video link despite his association with (and donations to) the Clintons for many years.

Perhaps a lesser known fact was that during the “Revolution of Dignity”, Mr Pinchuk funded the provision of medical supplies to treat the injured.

Aside from a few historical legal battles, most notably with Ihor Kolomoisky over assets, Mr Pinchuk rarely features in the news – unlike many of his peer oligarchs.  There is in fact very little that can be attributed to him personally by way of public statements or on the record oratory.  Clearly a deliberate policy on his part.

It was something of a surprise therefore when an article appeared in the WSJ, authored by, or ghost written and then attributed to, Viktor Pinchuk.  The article has ruffled many Ukrainian feathers, both political and societal, being prima facie interpreted as a plan for capitulation to The Kremlin.

In a nutshell he spoke (wrote) out in favour of elections in the “DNR” and “LNR” by politely forgetting about Crimea if it meant an end to the deaths in the occupied Donbas, the abandoning of any thoughts of joining NATO and the creation of a formal understanding that Ukraine would not be joining the EU any time soon.

Now to be fair, there are those on the Crimea Committee of the Verkhovna Rada, even of patriotic leaning, that have privately told the blog that they foresee Crimea returning to Ukraine only if the Russian Federation implodes in similar fashion to that of the USSR – and if that be so then the returning of Crimea will be an issue dwarfed by the ramifications of such an implosion for Ukraine more generally.

That said, there is none on the said committee that would advocate anything other than “Crimea is Ukraine” as a domestic and international policy – quite rightly.

With regard to the EU, as previously written the Association Agreement (and DCFTA) is not an instrument that takes Ukraine into the EU.  Only the completion of the Aquis Communautaire can do that – and that is a process Ukraine has not even asked to commence.  The simplest way to view the Association Agreement is as a document that brings “European norms” to Ukraine at a speed at which Ukraine can achieve them – ie it brings “Europe” to Ukraine at a speed and in chunks that Ukraine can handle/digest.  For Ukraine to go to the EU, an entirely different thing, then it is the Aquis that is the only route – a route more demanding than anything within the Association Agreement.

Likewise, whatever Ukraine may or may not do with NATO, it is currently a long way from being at a civilian and military standard by which it could join.

In short, Ukraine is decades away from meeting the requirements of the Aquis for EU accession – if it ever applies.  It is probably about a decade away from fully meeting the civilian and military standards required for NATO entry – should it ever ask to join.

Those are the bureaucratic realities and limitations of Ukrainian reformation and their speed – notwithstanding political limitations of those that would have to agree to any Ukrainian accession.  None of this is a secret.  The respective institutions know it.  The Kremlin knows it.  Ukraine knows it.  And Mr Pinchuk knows it.

The domestic angst naturally, insofar as NATO and the EU is concerned, comes from his call for codification of such matters and the legislative boundaries they would place upon Ukraine for at best, uncertain and ill-defined “gains”.  Peace at any cost does not bring peace – it brings an armistice fated to fail at some undetermined point in the future.

Why then, has Mr Pinchuk who rarely makes public statements, decided now is the time to make such a statement and one that is guaranteed to irk the public, the political class, and paint him as a Kremlin stooge domestically and among many of Ukraine’s “friends” abroad?

Is it a reaction to witnessing fellow oligarch Dmitry Firtash exiled to Vienna, or Ihor Kolomoisky lose PrivatBank to nationalisation, or seeing all oligarchs with fingers in high energy usage industries (including Mr Pinchuk) now subject to energy pricing that sees an end to subsidies/most favoured user status?  It seems somewhat unlikely.

Will the oligarchy now find common ground for a robust fightback against the government in 2017, and this is somehow Mr Pinchuk declaring unity?  Also somewhat unlikely.

Has Mr Pinchuk simply decided that giving in to The Kremlin is the only way to undo the current deadlock?  Maybe, maybe not.

Has he been bought off or manipulated by Moscow somehow?

As the chances of any of his WSJ points being implemented are currently very slim at best, and will make him extremely unpopular at home, how does Mr Pinchuk benefit from his unusual public intervention?

All questions to be asked.

Also to be asked are why make such statements now, and why chose the WSJ to do it in?

The answer may be that the article was written and published in the WSJ specifically for one reader.  That reader being Donald Trump.

It may well be that Mr Pinchuk has little belief that what he has written will become policy and be implemented.

He may well not believe that this is the right policy either.

However, just as with voting at the UN, it is not that uncommon to see some nations prima facie voting against their own interests in order to curry favour with others – in the full knowledge that the vote will be vetoed by yet another.

Maybe it was written to defend the business interests of Mr Pinchuk in the USA?

Perhaps the end result here, considering Mr Pinchuk’s penchant for collecting “friends” like the Clintons, Damien Hirst and Elton John etc, is that Mr Pinchuk may be seeking to become the Ukrainian “name” most liked and granted most access by Donald Trump – no differently than Nigel Farage is angling to get (and may succeed) more personal interaction with Donald Trump than UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

 

If Mr Pinchuk can achieve a personal status that grants him more access to Donald Trump (and a kinder ear) than President Porosehnko simply by writing something he believes Mr Trump would read agreeably within the WSJ, then he may feel it a gamble worth taking with the repercussions among Ukrainian domestic politics a prize worth chasing.

Perhaps a lens through which to view Mr Pinchuk’s rare public prose?  Perhaps all it takes is being a billionaire, a few well chosen (if never implemented) words in the WSJ agreeable to a personality like Mr Trump and suddenly Mr Pinchuk becomes “Don’s man in Ukraine”.

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Cultural dates for the diary – Odessa, Italy, Russia, Minsk (No Poland?)

December 15, 2016

For my erudite readers, a 24 hour hiatus from policy and politics and a climb from that grubby valley unto the high arts and cultural peaks with noteworthy and dates for the diary over the festive period.

The magnificent (seriously they really are very good) Odessa Philharmonic conducted by a true friend of the blog Mr Hobart Earle will be playing the following dates and venues:

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19th & 20th December – Tchaikovsky Christmas Gala at Odessa Philharmonic.  (20th December is Mr Earle’s birthday so be especially generous in your appreciation)

The New Year sees the Odessa Philharmonic performing 12 concerts at as many venues around Italy.

For the true connoisseur, there is no orchestra as accomplished with its Viennese programme anywhere east of Vienna, therefore expect a magnificent return to Odessa and all things Viennese on 15th and 17th January.  It goes without saying, highly recommended.

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26th January is for those with a taste for Haydin and Beethoven.

13th February is for the lovers, with the traditional Valentine’s programme.

21st February Mr Earle heads to Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall to dabble in some Grieg and Sibelius.

25th February for the many admirers of Verdi in Minsk who will receive a splendid performance of Aida.

Lo my erudite readership, if you are in Odessa, Italy, Moscow and Minsk (as many of you are if IP addresses are any indication) immerse yourselves in some high culture delivered by the Odessa Philharmonic under the baton of the only American cultural figure to have been awarded the “People’s Artist of Ukraine”.

Having made a particular point of lauding the Odessa Philharmonic with regard to all things Viennese when it comes to performance, it is worthy of pointing out that whenever it play its Polish programme, it is also at its best.

(Indeed Krzysztof Penderecki, who is undoubtedly the best Polish composer still with us (and one of the best ever) is hardly unknown to Mr Earle and vis versa.)

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Thus in the spirit of new annual culture budgets, Polish-Ukrainian relations et al., the question to intellectual Polish readers (and friends in some cases), is why the Odessa Philharmonic plays Italy, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine – but not Poland when it has a splendid, very well performed Polish repertoire?

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The EU Summit (15th December) & Ukraine

December 14, 2016

The 15th December is the date of the last EU Summit (of European leaders) in 2016.

The agenda is going to be full and no doubt the meeting will be prickly affair.

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The agenda sees Ukraine as the lunchtime topic for discussion – and perhaps that is because Ukraine is probably the agenda item least likely to cause indigestion compared to all other items up for discussion.

The day covers (in no particular order) Syria, Russia, sanctions, Brexit, Ukraine, Mr Trump and refugees/migration (and by extension Turkey).  Greek issues apparently do not appear this time – there are only so many hours in a day.

With regard to Ukraine the obvious agenda issues relate to 27 of 28 Member States and the European Parliament ratifying the Association Agreement (and DCFTA) with only The Netherlands outstanding, that and the issue to be finally put to bed sometime in February/March 2017 relating to Visa-free tourism for Ukrainians (on the assumption the European Parliament votes appropriately regarding the “Visa-free suspension mechanism” issue also on 15th December).

The issue with the Dutch Association Agreement is one of optics for the domestic Dutch constituency.  In order for the Dutch to ratify the agreement and finally close the bureaucratic process they insist upon official recognition that in ratifying the EU – Ukraine Association Agreement, it is not a pathway toward EU accession for Ukraine.  Further, they require official recognition that it in no way affords EU guarantees regarding collective security guarantees or obligations to military aid.  Lastly that it does not provide an entitlement (obligation) to financially support Ukraine.

It may appear politically ugly considering that only The Netherlands remains to ratify the agreement and now seeks such official understanding to pacify its domestic electorate, but to be quite clear the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement (and DCFTA) offers none of these entitlements/EU obligations toward Ukraine anyway.

Nowhere does the Association Agreement infer, let alone state, that the Association Agreement is a stepping stone toward EU accession.  The clauses regarding defence and security offer no expectations of collective security or obligation to military assistance.  It has always been abundantly clear that any and all financial aid to Ukraine comes with conditionality relating to reform.

There is only one way for Ukraine to formally accede to the EU, and that is to first formally apply, and then go through the Acquis Communautaire 31 (minimum) – 35 (the maximum thus far) chapters therein.

There is no denying that if Ukraine complies with the Association Agreement fully and in its entirety (at best a 10 year process, probably longer at the speed Ukraine is proceeding) that for almost all Acquis chapters it will have traveled perhaps 80% – 85% of that journey in each and every chapter.  However there will be few, if any, where it will have traveled the full distance whereby that Aquis chapter will be then closed.  Ergo there would be a few more years thereafter to complete that process if embarked upon at all.

Indeed perhaps there is a need to better conceptualise the legality and spirit of both the Association Agreement and the Acquis Communautaire in fundamental terms.

The Association Agreement exists for Ukraine (at its own speed – despite some timelines in specific spheres within) to bring European values/governance/processes/standards to Ukraine from “Europe”.  Thus the Association Agreement brings a notional/perceived “Europe” to Ukraine – it does not take Ukraine to the EU.

The Acquis Communautaire is a trial undertaken by nations seeking to accede to the EU.  It is the (only) process that would therefore take Ukraine to the EU.

Thus the AA (and DCFTA) brings “Europe” to Ukraine.  The Acquis takes Ukraine to the EU.

Therefore, as politically ugly and difficult to digest for some the Dutch requirements may be, they actually make no difference to the legalities of the Association Agreement, nor the spirit in which it was negotiated and offered.

Ergo, it can be expected, despite the ugly optics, that the Dutch will get the official recognition that they seek even though some Member States will cringe whilst agreeing.  To get the Association Agreement over the finish line by officially acknowledging what is not contained in the Association Agreement will ultimately be a price paid.

Clearly from the agenda items, the Ukrainian issue is the least likely to put a Member State leader off their luncheon.  For good measure the Brexit issues are to be discussed at evening dinner – after UK Prime Minister Ms May has left the Summit and the building.

In fact Ukraine for once (in the context of AA ratification and the possible mention of Visa-free), may prove to be one of the easiest agenda items.

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The official EU overview of Ukrainian progress 2016

December 13, 2016

A very short entry to bring a reader’s attention to the official EU overview of Ukrainian progress during 2016.

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Predictably the issues where Ukraine invariably fails (and highlighted by the blog) is left to the concluding paragraph.

“Reform in Ukraine is a long-term process looking to bring long-term results. As outlined in this report, many important reforms are ripe to move from the legislative and institutional phase to effective implementation, which will benefit Ukraine’s citizens and contribute further to its political association and economic integration with the EU. Ukrainian civil society and other stakeholders have suggested that the EU and Ukraine should do more to communicate publicly, both in Ukraine and abroad, and explain the rationale for, and benefits of, the reforms undertaken by the government.”

If only the blog had a Dollar for every time the phrase “effective policy” and “effective implementation” had been written during the many years it has been running!

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