Archive for the ‘EU’ Category

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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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Chernobyl reactor entombed at last

November 29, 2016

A very short entry to firstly acknowledge a major piece of engineering, and secondly the symbolic entombment of a toxic Soviet legacy within a western funded and built sarcophagus – (Sarcastic readers are now pondering whether the Verkhovna Rada should be next perhaps?)

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The full facts and figures can be found at the EBRD website, together with a video showing the final settling of the sarcophagus in place, outlining what a major feat of engineering the project has been.

Bravo to all concerned.  A truly significant achievement.

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The Firtash star falls yet further – Ukraine

November 27, 2016

Whilst all eyes will be upon Mikhail Saakashvili and the inaugural gathering of his newly minted “Rukh New Forces” in Kyiv on 27th November, and its possible political rise – not to be confused with the old “Rukh” political party which may well see a revival simply and deliberately to insure confusion on any ballot paper – the political/influential decline of Dmitry Firtash continues apace.

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As previously mentioned in historical entries, Mr Firtash once powerful within the Party of Regions machinery has seen his influence significantly reduced since its collapse.  More so than any of the other oligarchs associated with PoR, such as Rinat Akhmetov or Sergei Liovochkin etc.

He finds himself marooned in Austria following a thus far unsuccessful US attempt to extradite him over corruption accusations.

Though extradition from Austria may have failed, he remains wanted by the US.  Indeed in June, inquiries were made following a request by one close to him, via back channels, regarding any possibility of a change of US policy toward him.  The answer a definitive – No.  Those close to him again last week requested that inquiries be made via the same back channels regarding the possibility of an out-going Obama Presidential Pardon, resulting in another definitive – No.  (A reader would infer that any “pardon” must also relate to an admission of guilt – for how otherwise to pardon somebody who claims to have done no wrong?)

Matters will not improve for Mr Firtash – they will actually deteriorate further.

Mr Firtash has come to light in a German bribery case.

There is a matter of €500,000 cash being provided to ex-Stasi officer Nina Vilkening to facilitate desired outcomes via the Chief Commissioner of the Criminal Police Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, who received €300,000.

No doubt inquiries will continue and as none of the defendants are particularly youthful, it is not beyond the realms of probability that a deal can and/or will be cut with defendants in order to bring to light the full extent of Mr Firtash’s active involvement in bribery among the German institutions.

Thus it may yet prove only to be a matter of time before Mr Firtash is wanted by Germany – an extradition request that will not be denied by Austria.

Whilst this may now be appearing upon the horizon, the Spanish are far ahead of the Germans.

Spain has admirably been pursuing “Slavic” organsied crime for several years.  Russia has publicly decried Spanish investigations, reports and arrest requests for several years.  Ukraine is not exempt.  Only recently a number of Ukrainians, including the son (Stepan Chernovetsky), of the former Mayor of Kyiv, have been arrested for organised criminality and money laundering in Spain.

Bravo Spain – an example for Austrian and UK (in particular) banking and organsied crime investigative bodies to follow.

Mr Firtash, and two other as yet unidentified Ukrainian businessmen, have now fallen foul of Spanish investigations.  Judge Ignacio Sánchez García-Porrero leading the Spanish inquiry seeks Mr Firtash and the two as yet unidentified Ukrainian businessmen’s delivery to a courtroom in Spain.  The are suspected of leading a major money laundering racket in and via Spain (centered in Barcelona and Marbella).

(With the allegations specifically relating to money laundering presumably it is either the UCO within the Guard Civil and/or the UDEF doing investigative the leg-work rather than the broader Spanish organised crime institutions.)

Whether all the dirty money belongs to Mr Firtash, or whether some is from associates will perhaps become apparent as and when he is brought before a Spanish court.

With known associates ranging from Semyon Mogilevych the Russian “Don of Dons”, through the entire former Cabinet of Viktor Yanukovych’s ousted government, a debt and thus beholding to Russia’s Gazprombank of between $4 and $5 billion, and by extension a beholding to Yuri Kovalchuk (who is very close to President Putin) who personally arranged such loans, just whose dirty money Mr Firtash is suspected of laundering is unclear at this stage.

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There will be layer upon layer of shell companies, nominal directors, fictitious entities and front men to wade through to find and identify the eventual beneficiaries (ultimately based in the usual offshore havens undoubtedly).

Nevertheless, the Spanish have been diligently working upon the misuse of their territory and legislation for several years when it comes to Slavic organised naughtiness.  Clearly Judge Ignacio Sánchez García-Porrero believes all is now sufficiently clear to officially go after Dmitry Firtash (and the two other as yet unidentified Ukrainian businessmen).

Extradition to Spain, no differently than the possibly forthcoming extradition request to Germany, when received by Austria will be a far smoother, almost seamlessly slick affair compared to the request from the US – as all such matters within the EU Member States are.  That is the entire point of the EU Arrest Warrant and the EU Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.

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Therefore, whilst a reader may be caught up with the hype surrounding a possibly rising political party headed by Mikhail Saakashvili, the continued fall of the Firtash star may well become a very messy, public and revealing fall indeed.

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Once within Spanish jurisdiction, even if the Spanish case ultimately fails, by that time there will be the existing US request and a probable German case that the Spanish can extradite him to.

The outlook for Mr Firtash currently looks rather bleak – a lesson for Ukrainian kings and pawns alike.

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The EU Parliament sounds the alarm on propaganda……and?

November 23, 2016

There is far too much commentary, too many resolutions, and too statements that contain the word “must”.

This blog deliberately gives the word “must” a very wide berth, employing its use more than frugally.

The problem with “must” is that it infers consequences if whatever “must” be done, isn’t.

“Russia must…..”

“The democratic world must…..”

“We must stop……..”

“The EU must…….”

In short, a “must” has to be accompanied with an “or else”.

There is the “must” when talking to the collective “us” and/or “self” that highlights the folly of not carrying out the “must” with an “or else” that is advisory in pleasant terms, informing “us” that we have to adapt our position to avoid self-inflicted and counterproductive outcomes.

There is then the “must” that is imposing on the “other” with a necessary and proportionately punitive “or else” to avoid being impotent – and ultimately humiliating when it is otherwise ignored through lack of an “or else” that would cause a change of position.

Far too many “must”‘s in the poker game have been called by antagonists and when the “or else” has been played it has been dis-proportionally meek, has done little to change behaviour, and has not seen the “or else” raised to the point of punitive proportionality to reverse it.

Far too many internal “must”‘s have seen no shift in the “us” and/or “self” position either.

Lo, it is time to employ the word “must” much more prudently if the “or else”, whilst perhaps all that is politically possible, simply isn’t up to it.

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It is therefore something of a relief to find an EU parliamentary press release relating to Russian (and Daesh) propaganda that does not use the word “must” (although the actual Resolution may, unseen at the time of writing) – as many Resolutions historically do freely use “must” relating to these two purveyors of international criminality, spurious nonsense, perverted narratives, and incoherent and disingenuous flapdoodle.

As this blog centres upon Ukraine, a target of enormous amounts of Kremlin propaganda codswallop (hidden among which are some clearly identifiable reflexive control operations), the text relating to Russia is the more poignant:

“Russia seeks to divide MEPs warn that the Kremlin has stepped up its propaganda against EU since annexing Crimea and waging hybrid war in the Donbass. They note that ”the Russian government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks […], multilingual TV stations (e.g. Russia Today), pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik) […], social media and internet trolls, to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood”. The resolution stresses that the “Kremlin is funding political parties and other organisations within the EU” and deplores “Russian backing of anti-EU forces” such as extreme-right parties and populist forces.

To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest investing in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy, which would empower citizens to analyse media content critically. It is equally important to adapt communication to specific regions, including access to information in local languages, says the text. The resolution also suggests deepening EU and NATO cooperation on strategic communication, reinforcing the EU’s 9-strong strategic communication task force and providing more support to boost media resilience in EU neighbourhood countries.”

The Resolution was passed by 304 votes “for”, some 179 votes “against” and 208 abstentions.

“Must” has been replaced with “suggest” for ease of “us” to internally digest, for it is an inward looking Resolution.

(Unfortunately the term “hybrid war” remains – another term disliked by the blog.  No doubt the term “Alt Right” will soon be used instead of unambiguous words such as “Nationalist” or “Fascist” too, in order to make something prickly and uncomfortable appear somehow less barbed and normalising.  To be clear, objectivity is giving all a fair hearing, but it does not equate to creating some form of media driven false moral equivalence or normalising of uncivil and/or illegal behaviour. Things that are prickly and uncomfortable are by their nature prickly and uncomfortable and should be plainly identified as such.  There is no requirement for new and more “comfy” labels.)

So now what?

There is far too much Kremlin generated “propaganda noise” to mute or rebuff it all, regardless of well meaning MEP suggestions.

Perhaps some nations may decide to improve or simply apply their broadcasting standards to remove the drivel Russia Today pumps out from their licensed providers.  Others may not.  (Some of what Russia Today pumps out is actually quite funny – whether intended or otherwise).  Perhaps the argument against is that it is also on line anyway – so what is to be gained by removing it from the airwaves?  Theoretically it is possible to accidentally flick through your TV channels and find Russia Today and mistake its content for “news” – if the viewer has the IQ of a plant pot.  On line you have to go look for it deliberately, no different from porn, or puppy weaning tips, or Ed Balls’ “Strictly Come Dancing” highlights (or perhaps low-lights).

Perhaps consistent and large fines for breaching broadcasting standards are a way forward.  Maybe if Russia Today consistently fails to meet the broadcasting standards set by domestic governments who are too feeble to enforce their own broadcasting laws to the fullest extent for want of the widest possible tolerance for “free speech” then, as with twitter, Russian Today can be required to clearly label itself a parody news source as parody accounts on twitter must clearly state that they are such – or be removed.

More seriously however, the suggestions of MEPs have merit, but they are not going to see swift implementation even if the suggestions are taken on board by national governments.  The suggestions are probably very similar to those that national governments have already reached themselves, or have had identified for them from other domestic sources.  They are also, rightly, designed for the long haul but few, if any suggestions will have an immediate impact.

For some governments the priority will be the reflexive control signals within the general propaganda noise that clearly targets them.  Therefore focused, timely, objective and controlled countermeasures will take priority over more integrated broader responses.

Investigative journalism is a fine tool – but it is an expensive tool for a media owner, and there is no guarantee that investigative journalism will “naturally stumble upon” an investigation that would further the cause of pushing back the Kremlin narrative and/or machinery when it comes to nefarious activities within their own nation – or get the attention of the population.  Will 3 (or in some cases 4) letter agencies have to “whisper in journalistic ears” to assist in “direction”?

Is that necessary when targeting existing national laws regarding money laundering and/or organised crime would garner immediate media interest when numerous arrests are made and/or assets seized in a home nation?

What sort of media impact would there be if each and every European nation coordinated a round-up of 3 Kremlin spies at the same time on the same day?  Reciprocity would follow within Russia, so is that worthwhile?

What is the necessary “immediate impact” verses “long term education” ratio required to focus public opinion?

If the EU is perceived as weak (by those within or without) and thus Kremlin propaganda is a real threat, then what assessments have been made on those weaknesses and what can be done to strengthen them – if anything?  When the Cold War raged, both sides were very aware of their own, and the others, structural and ideological weaknesses.  That is surely true of today – for the strengths and weaknesses of both are no less apparent.

If this is the start of a European parliamentary review of what thus far has been a principled refusal to learn from experience when it comes to The Kremlin then bravo – yet it will not be in any way effective unless the sovereign parts within the European whole are convinced that the political energy required to actually do something is political energy well spent.

Nevertheless – no “must” seemingly acknowledges the anticipated limitations within the “us”/”self” when it comes to any actual implementation.

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Banking of interest (not with interest) Odessa

November 16, 2016

Much is written regarding the banking system in Ukraine.  Normally relating to the on-going clean-up of the nefarious Ukrainian banking sector by the NBU, or relating to the alleged nefarious actions of the NBU itself.

It therefore catches the eye when a small provincial bank in Odessa is to be bought by an Austrian investment banker with a curriculum vitae that clearly infers connections within the elite strata of Vienna.

The bank in question is called Investbank which certainly does not have much high street recognition in Odessa despite being a bank of Odessa.  Indeed, it is not a “high street bank”.

The Austrian purchaser, or at least soon to be majority shareholder, is Uwe Christian Eshner.  The current owners being Alexander and Tamara Nezvinsky, Nick and Igor Teplitz, and Sergei Yablonsky.

Unsurprisingly, for a provincial bank with no high street recognition, in the national ranking by size of assets, the bank falls within the smallest 25%.

That it was available for purchase is not exactly a secret.  Some years ago it could have been bought for $100 million or so.  No doubt the purchase price will be substantially less considering the dramatic change of circumstances Ukraine has found itself subject to.

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Clearly Mr Eshner is purchasing the majority share to own a fully licensed banking vehicle in Ukraine – though why Investbank when there are perhaps better deals to be struck with the NBU over insolvent licensed entities is perhaps a question some readers will ponder.

Austrian banks and bankers certainly have a “reputation” within Ukraine and among the Ukrainian elite and organised criminal class for being “helpful” when it comes to moving money out of Ukraine (and laundering it).  Who among of the very elite of Yanukovych/”Family” did not have Austrian bank accounts and expensive property in Vienna?

Mr Eshner of course will not be unaware of such things.  His Bloomberg profile boasts a history that began to “build up and develop extensive contacts to Central Eastern European countries” in the early 1990s.  Thus even if not partaking in, nor facilitating any nefarious activities, it is beyond belief that during the mad 1990’s when Mr Eshner began his banking expedition into the eastern-European nations he will have been unaware of what what brazenly going on in both Austrian and CEE banking.

(Indeed, a reader may ponder whether the infamous Udo Proksch was in any way related to one of the favoured Yanukovych Austrian bankers Reinhard Proksch.)

As a healthy level of cynicism is a requirement for living in Odessa, there are some questions that arise that may be without foundation – or not.

 

Considering the amount of elite “Ukrainian interest” past and present in Austria, who if anybody is behind Mr Eshner?

By extension, whose money is buying this banking vehicle?

What is this banking vehicle to be used for by Mr Eshner?

Is it to become a front for “interests” behind a respectable face?

Is it a bank where transactions will now be, or should be placed on a “watch list” if not by the NBU, then by the international policemen and spooks?

Did this banking purchase raise the same raised (interested) eyebrow with international policemen and spooks as it did the blog?

Why are the blog flags raised over this when there is nothing prima facie untoward?

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Ministry of Interior – The Deeva story (who benefits?)

November 13, 2016

A little scandal has broken in the Ukrainian media regarding the appointment of 24 year old Anastasia Deeva as Deputy Minister for European Integration for the Ministry of the Interior.

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Mrs Deeva has been working within the Ministry of Interior for a number of years since EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity, being closely associated with the outstanding Eka Zguladze during her tenure.  Indeed under such tutelage Mrs Deeva cannot fail to have both worked very hard and also become very competent at what she does.

During that time there was no public scandal surrounding Mrs Deeva or her work.

No publicly aired problems were seemingly forthcoming from her previous tenure as an assistant to former Party of Regions deputies Leonid Kozhara and Elena Nemockoy (working under her maiden name of Shalko – she married in May 2016).  No issues were raised with her departure to Scandinavia whilst the dust settled in the post Regionaire aftermath of 2014, nor her return.

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Her time in Scandanavia was apparently spent on “green” issues prior to her return to Ukraine and working once again within the organs of power in Kyiv.

Since her appointment within the MIA as Deputy for European Integration a few days ago however, the media environment surrounding her has rightly worsened.

Immediately a number of provocative and revealing photographs became public.

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The above, of those released, is the only one that with certainty does not break any service provider rules for this blog.  (It also contains a Klimt print on the wall and the blog appreciates Klimt.)

Putting aside wry, sarcastic commentary regarding the Ukrainian civil service seemingly going to extraordinary lengths of transparency if such photographs be a guide, this blog will take the position that such photographs are in no way a reason for preventing any such appointment – and neither are they reason for dismissal.

In fact, when it comes to kompromat/blackmail, they are far better out in the open than used as a nefarious lever over Mrs Deeva.  No matter how uncomfortable this may be for Mrs Deeva now, it is short lived in comparison to an ever-hanging Sword of Damocles.

There are however issues that cannot be allowed to slide regarding the nature of her appointment and the due diligence surrounding an individual that probably has had, and will have access to sensitive information and partake in sensitive dialogue within and without Ukraine from time to time.

There are laws and rules of procedure regarding the appointment of civil servants that came into force in May 2015 – and these seem to have been willfully disregarded in the case of Mrs Deeva’s appointment.  This in a ministry that is key to upholding the rules and laws of the land.

Excuses – there are none.

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Aside from a blatant disregard for the new statutory selection processes, there is a curriculum vitae that if genuine is blatantly erroneous and that should have been caught by any HR department when sifting such material – not to mention having raised flags for any relevant clearances regarding access to classified material (if any were done).    (Considering Mrs Deeva is now only 24, a declared ten year professional career within the halls of governance is clearly wrong – unless child labour is something entertained within the Verkhovna Rada.)

There are then matters of very expensive wardrobes (Luis Vitton etc) that do not fit comfortably a very modest e-declaration of a junior civil servant’s career.

Tempting as it is to make Mrs Deeva the story, there are perhaps more important questions to be asked and answered.

All in all, a very poor display by one of the “power ministries” has been brought to light through the seemingly illegitimate appointment of Mrs Deeva and the subsequent release of information about her to the Ukrainian media which then ran the story.

A reader may question whether the Interior Ministry actually requires a Deputy for European Integration, the position to which Mrs Deeva has been appointed, when there has been nothing short of direct inward assistance within that ministry for 2 years from the UK, USA, Canada, Japan, and several European nations – planning, financial, training, mentoring, equipping etc.  The Interior Ministry has been a point of focused and direct effort.

A more interesting question is perhaps why has Interior Minister Arsen Avakov allowed himself to be compromised so easily?  And why over such a quibbling matter?

Mr Avakov sits atop the only “power ministry” not controlled by a presidential loyalist.  That there would be no tears shed upon replacing him with a presidential loyalist would seem assured – if only good reason could be found to do so.  Needless scandals over such appointments should be something Mr Avakov is therefore particularly keen to avoid – yet complete disregard for laws and procedures occurred of which both the Interior Ministry nor he are in no position to claim they were not aware.

Why then was this risk taken?  As always, the first question is who benefits?

What was in it for Arsen Avakov to make such a decision?  How did he believe he would benefit?

Now this sorry tale has rightly grabbed the headlines, how can he mitigate the outcome?  Can Mrs Deeva be saved within his ministry, and with it the experience she undoubtedly gleaned from Eka Zguladze?  Obviously her retention in her recently appointed position is now untenable, but her retention within the ministry may yet be possible if she is considered worth fighting for vis a vis any continued political damage to Arsen Avakov should he try to do so.

If Mr Avakov jettisons her, how lasting the political damage that he has sustained?

Do the political wolves at the Interior Ministry door consider this needlessly self-inflicted debacle sufficient to force Mr Avakov out?  If so, and in calling out a coalition partner’s bluff, would the People’s Front really sacrifice their political future by leaving the coalition and the inevitable early Verkhovna Rada elections that would follow over the future of Mr Avakov – or not?

A needless mess.

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