Archive for the ‘Kyiv’ Category

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Not a question of “why” but “who benefits” – Ukrtransgaz

September 17, 2016

It is no surprise to anybody that Ukraine takes two steps forward and one step backwards having opted for evolutionary rather than revolutionary reform.

Evolutionary by its very definition is a statement of change over time.  Evolutionary also manages to allow for grubby, if perhaps occasionally necessary, deals with those that once held power and/or significant control over the national economy.  Such deals theoretically (and empirically globally) set about the reduction of influence of old elites insuring that they and their patriarchy systems decide not to try and return to power and roll back to old methods in return for avoiding their otherwise deserved comeuppance – or at least the full force of justice.

That thinking perhaps works if the new leaders that come to power, recognising that this option is preferable to other radical and perhaps more risky options presented, are not products of the old system but are unsullied.

The “Revolution of Dignity” offered no such unsullied leaders to Ukraine in its immediate aftermath.  The presidential elections of 2015 essentially offered a choice between Mr Poroshenko and Ms Tymoshenko.  Mr Poroshenko won, which considering the choice facing the nation was the best possible outcome.  Ms Tymoshenko was, is and will forever be a political disaster for Ukraine should she ever hold the office of President, or become Prime Minister again.

Nevertheless, President Poroshenko is far from unsullied and is not a leader.  He is a manager that believes he can do deals with everybody keeping the elite more or less equally (un)happy, which whilst significantly slowing any reform progress, doesn’t actually stop it entirely – and to stop it entirely is simply politically impossible for reasons internal and external of Ukraine.

During the YES conference in Kyiv 16th/17th September, whilst President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groisman, Prosecutor General Lutsenko and other senior political and institutional figures predictably put a veneer upon reform progress.

To be fair there have been a few reforms that are on balance probably irreversible, albeit most are certainly not irreversible, many are half completed, the majority poorly implemented or otherwise exist on legislative paper but are de facto all form and no tangible substance.

With so many intellectuals, lobbyists, journalists, opinion-shapers, policymakers and otherwise erudite and wise people gathered at the YES conference in Kyiv, a reader may ponder therefore why this time was chosen for an undoubtedly retarded and backward step within the halls of power.

utg

Contrary to agreement with the EBRD, perhaps inadmissible to Ukraine’s obligations to the EU’s 3rd Energy Package (which requires the “unbundling” of energy monopolies), flying in the face of understandings given to the US regarding Ukrainian energy and the font of corruption that it is, Ukrtransgaz was quietly moved from within the Natfogaz empire and transferred to the control of the Ministry of Economic Development for no apparent or justifiable reason.

This despite agreed plans about how to “unbundle” Naftogaz Ukraine with the EBRD prior to the EBRD jumping in to assist Naftogaz to the tune of $300 million.

Clearly the EBRD has expressed its displeasure publicly, and during the YES conference, calling for this retarded decision to be reversed post haste.

Further it jeopardises a World Bank $500 million loan to Naftogaz too.

Naturally given the YES conference circumstance, it does not put President Poroshenko, PM Groisman et al in a particularly good or comfortable light – whether they had any involvement or prior knowledge of the incident or not.

Unsurprisingly it does little for investor confidence if the Ukrainian State breaks its agreements with a major, frequent and reliable inward international investor – particularly when that investor is in the same YES conference room in Kyiv as a leadership telling the world that this government and executive can be trusted to meet its obligations.

In short, whatever decisions are made regarding Naftogaz, Ukrtransgaz etc., they necessarily have to be consistent with existing agreements.

Was such a retarded decision/action timed to deliberately project a poor image of the current leadership?

If complicit, did the current leadership expect the YES conference media noise to drown out or ignore a planned nefarious act?  On balance was it considered a good weekend to bury nefarious news?  If so it failed.

That Ukrtransgaz would be split from Natfogaz to meet the Ukrainian obligations to the 3rd Energy Package is an absolute requirement.  Resolution 496 of the Cabinet of Ministers dated 1st July 2016 clearly plans for this eventuality.  That Resolution calls for the Public Joint Stock Company “Main Pipelines of Ukraine” to be created under the management (temporary or otherwise) of the Ministry of Energy and Coal.  In summary the substance of that Resolution moves Uktransgaz from Naftogaz, renames it – or transfers the assets to be more accurate – to PJSC Main Pipelines of Ukraine which will operate under the Energy and Coal Ministry (at least initially).

This is all to have occurred within 30 days after a currently pending Gazprom v Naftogaz arbitration in Stockholm – but no asset transfer is to occur prior.

Does this decision affect the arbitration process in Stockholm in any way?  If so how?  To the benefit of Gazprom?

Without going too deeply into Resolutions and plans – suffice to say there are publicly available Resolutions and plans about how Ukrtransgaz was to be dealt with as declared by the Cabinet of Ministers – none of which caused angst or ire of the EBRD when published (or since).

It follows that with the current nonsense surrounding Ukrtransgaz, a reader is therefore asking “Why”?

A good question, but perhaps not entirely the right question of “Who”?  Or more precisely “Who benefits?”.

Whenever there is a retarded and backward policy step in Ukraine, the first question that should always be asked before any other is “Who benefits?”.  The next question is then “Why (this way from several possible ways was chosen)?

Recognising that the Ukrtransgaz issue will be resolved to the liking of the EBRD and to try and reduce reputational damage to President Poroshenko, PM Groisman etc., the full question is “who benefits from the fairly short window of opaqueness and unaccountable management decisions in and surrounding Ukrtransgaz during this time?”

For who exactly benefits from what damage can be done/what gains can be made during this time?  Cancelled tenders, or alternatively swiftly awarded tenders will ultimately come to light as will any asset sales, acquisitions, or theft.  The EBRD is not a complainant that the PGO or NABU can ignore when its contractual agreement is with the Ukrainian State.

As yet it is not entirely clear who specifically benefits – but somebody does for such a retarded act to have occurred.  Sooner rather than later it will become clear who benefits (and who clearly believes that any repercussions will be acceptable – as nobody within the elite goes to jail).

In the meantime sadly, as the incompetence of a mere breakdown of communication is rather unlikely, a reader is left to choose between either yet more dirty deeds within the current ruling elite (or at least some of them), and/or a complete lack of government control, or a brazen breach of its obligations.

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Eurovision goes to Kyiv – Political warfare will return to Odessa

September 9, 2016

A few weeks ago an entry appeared noting the facade of political comradery between Mayor Trukhanov and Governor Saakashvili and their attempt to present a united and stable political front when wooing decision makers to award the Eurovision contest to Odessa.

The undeclared, but nevertheless mutual feeling of both men was that after Odessa missed out on the European football championships in 2012 (despite building a brand new stadium) meant that Odessa was owed the hosting rights to a large international event.

The fact that the Chermomoretz stadium is situated in Park Shevchenko with a single access road and therefore simply failed to meet the minimum safety demands of the footballing authorities of two access/egress roads is not a particularly well known.  That it is not well known therefore means it is not understood as a reason why Odessa was refused Euro 2012 so far as the local constituency is concerned.

(It is even less known that (former Mayor) Eduard Gurvitz proposed creating tunnel to and from the stadium under Shevchenko Park to address the access/egress issue – a proposal that went nowhere.)

Whether or not the Eurovision organisers also require two entry/egress routes from any hosting venue is beyond the knowledge of this blog – maybe they do, maybe they don’t.  Nevertheless the only venue in Odessa large enough to host tens of thousands of “Eurovisioners”, TV crews, presenters, commentators etc is the Chernomoretz stadium – which is also open air and would therefore require a roof to insure those attending remain dry during early May.

New Odessa airport terminal

New Odessa airport terminal

The new airport terminal, which has taken years to get to its existing state, is months from completion even if the will and cash is found to complete it – and it is a terminal without any runway dedicated or connected to it.  The runway that exists naturally leads directly to the existing terminal (which will apparently eventually be “mothballed”).

Indeed when Governor Saakashvili first arrived in Odessa, one of the first things he muted was opening an entirely new Odessa airport, far from the existing one.  It is a prospect that has not entirely died a death with US interest in an entirely new air hub.  There is indeed a case for a passenger and freight air hub to be made.

That the city would have coped with accommodation demands, and found thousands of English speaking volunteers, done “enough” for disabled ablutions and access etc is not in doubt.  It caters for a million and more tourists each year and therefore it would have coped – and coped fairly well with all such matters if it had been successful.  The political and societal will existed in sufficient quantity to insure success.

9th September witnessed the decision makers award the hosting rights to Kyiv – a city that has previously hosted Eurovision in 2005.  The committee charged with making the decision voted 19 in favour of Kyiv and 2 for Odessa.  A very clear and unambiguous vote.  No doubt finances and (existing/lack of) infrastructure had much to do with the outcome.

The outcome of the decision will have repercussions of course.

As the vast majority of people from Odessa are oblivious as to why the city was denied the 2012 football tournament, this will appear to be yet another snub by Kyiv.  No more and no less.

It will portray, not only to those in Odessa but also all provinces, that major international events always go to Kyiv and thus decentralisation is something that is a selective issue (and in truth it is, as the genuine reasons Odessa did not get Euro 2012 display).  By extension it will give the perception that lacking infrastructure and/or infrastructure development will never arrive in the provinces when there is no apparent desire or incentive to take the world beyond Kyiv (or the war in Donbas) as far as central authorities are concerned.

There is now no need for Governor Saakashvili or Mayor Trukhanov to continue with their facade of political unity.  The open political warfare that saw a Eurovision inspired armistice begin a few weeks ago can now recommence – and undoubtedly will in earnest.

The parliamentarians of Odessa attempting to unseat Governor Saakashvili will actively return to that cause.

The 100 Verkhovna Rada parliamentarians (not one of the sixteen from Odessa) that have signed a resolution to remove Mayor Trukhanov will be joined by yet more colleagues.

In short open political warfare on all fronts both in and toward Odessa can now recommence without the necessary (albeit temporary) truce hosting Eurovision would have brought.

There may soon be a Waterloo moment in Odessa, but it will have nothing to do with Eurovision and everything to do with politics.

Will those that govern have the sense to explain why Eurovision didn’t come to Odessa and attempt to correct public perceptions – or will they do as they did for Euro 2012 and leave faulty perceptions to grow in fertile conspiratorial soil?

Who will emerge victorious from any political Waterloo?

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Kyivstar suffers massive TDoS attack

August 4, 2016

Over the past few days, the Kyivstar mobile telephone operator has been somewhat inconsistent – resulting in a rather peaceful few days for the blog.

Part of the reason for this is on-going is preparatory work for 4G throughout August, as the company forewarned.  It also forewarned of work in Odessa regarding new transmission equipment in July.

TDOS

However, on 3rd August Kyivstar was subjected to what it described as a massive TDoS attack, the outcome of which left Odessa completely without Kyivstar coverage.  At the time of writing, Kyivstar has yet to mitigate the TDoS attack by redirecting, scrubbing, and blocking offending source traffic.

TDoS attacks, no differently from DDoS attacks, do not simply happen.  They require a degree of either IT sophistication or manual coordination in order to overload a system.

As there is thus far no evidence to be found on the social networks organising mass participation in such a TDoS attack, and neither does there appear to be anything within the “dark net” – other than those advertising their abilities when it comes to DDOS and TDOS (many of which advertise in Russian) – it seems far more likely to be “bot” instigated.

There seems to be free VoIP and SIP software readily available capable of facilitating TDoS.  Which programmes are currently en vogue who knows – it used to be Asterisk, but technology surpasses the retarded knowledge of the blog so easily.

TDoS attacks are not particularly new across “eastern Europe” despite not getting the same attention that DDoS attacks do.  Likewise, on the “dark side” the (Russian language) advertisments offering DDOS and TDoS services are also not new either.

The question regarding this TDoS attack however is not the how, it is a question of motive.

Is it an attack aimed at criminal outcomes?  A matter of flooding the system to the degree it becomes impossible to cope with the amount of transactions going through the system, thus allowing for all manner nefariousness?

Perhaps it is simply a malicious tech nerd testing abilities to successfully carry out a TDOS attack?

Maybe somebody with sufficient ability who has a grudge against Kyivstar?  A disgruntled former customer?

Perhaps it is competitors in the marketplace keeping the system down long enough for customers to swap service providers, or sew the seeds of doubt in the reliability of the provider sufficiently to at least consider swapping?

Is it a Kremlin inspired attack, similar to the attack earlier in the year which hacked the Ukrainian power grid?  If so to what end?  To inflict commercial losses/damage upon a major Ukrainian company?  A “psyop” – or part of one – to remind the Ukrainians of Kremlin technological capabilities?  If so, a dangerous game, for the IT realm is one of the few in which Ukraine is quite capable of matching Russia.

Is it perhaps, unlikely as it seems, simply an excuse floated by Kyivstar for a technological fumble whilst carrying out its declared works?  Perhaps, but the Kyivstar signal did not disappear on the blog telephone, thus the issues seem related to the operating system rather than transmission.

What damage to the system, if any?

Rumour from reliable sources within Odessa state that the fibre optic cables of Kyivstar were deliberately severed – explaining no service in Odessa, rather than severely restricted service in other cities due to the TDoS.

Is this therefore a deliberate and coordinated attack on Kyivstar systems and “hard” infrastructure?  Are “pre-takeover” messages being sent the old fashioned way?  It seems unlikely.

Perhaps Kyivstar is capable of tracing and identifying the source of this TDoS attack – but if it is, will it publicly attribute the attack?

Maybe this is not as interesting as it appears prima facie, simply due to the fact that DDoS often gets the headlines whilst TDoS rarely does?

Whatever the case, this is not something that happens every day – so identifying the motivation is important.

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A Eurovision test (of sorts) – Ukraine

June 7, 2016

When Ukraine emerged as the winner of the 2016 Eurovision contest, and thus became the host (and de facto loser of Eurovision 2017 – for nobody wins twice in a row), Kyiv was one of the first cities to offer to act as host city (together with Lviv and Odessa as serious alternatives).

Eurovision is known for many things – unofficially political and predictable voting, expectantly awful “music”, (for the most part – exceptions such as ABBA’s Waterloo for example), huge TV audiences that seem addicted to the often excruciating spectacle, and thousands (more often than not in the tens of thousands) of dedicated attendees  who are, energetic, vibrant, colourful, socially liberal, and with a very heavy dash of “camp” – to a degree that the socially conservative, the orthodoxy, the intolerant and the under-educated all find either disturbing, unnatural, and/or un-Godly (etc).

A reader may well question why Kyiv has offered to host such a competition with such a well known socially liberal fan-base, when the Kyiv City Council no sooner than offering to act as host city, then tries to ban the annual Equality March (LGBT parade) that are scheduled for 12th June via the local courts.

gay

It is rather questionable as to whether offering to host the most “camp” annual European competition, whilst simultaneously attempting to ban a domestic “camp” march, is in anyway consistent with the minority issues generally recognised with both events – specifically the rights of the LGBT community.

What message does that attempt at banning the Equality March send to Eurovision organisers and attendees regarding the suitability of Kyiv as a host city when considering the “socially liberal” undercurrent of Eurovision?

It seems however, both the Ministry of Interior and the National Police are of the opinion that the Equality March will definitely go ahead – before the court has made any decision/ruling over the Kyiv City Council attempt to ban it.

To be so certain of the judicial outcome allowing to march to occur (and charitably allowing for an independent judicial outcome), presumably Kyiv City Council attempted to ban the Equality March on the grounds of being unable to guarantee (as far as guarantees go) the safety of the participants, the police, or bystanders/the general public, thus with the Ministry of Interior and National Police stating that 5000 police officers will robustly enforce the law during the march, those grounds are seemingly null and void.

Indeed, 5000 police officers dealing policing the Equity March may well mean more police than marchers at the event.

If so, then so be it, for there is a requirement for Ukraine to project two important signals to the Eurovision fans and Eurovision bureaucrats.  The first is that the LGBT community do have their rights protected by the State (at least during official events).  The second is that the Ukrainian State can deal with any aggression toward such minority groups (at least during official events).

For the Ministry of Interior, and National Police in particular, the Equality March may yet become something of a dress rehearsal  for Eurovision.

Indeed there is something of an argument to treat the Equality March as exactly that (as far as is practicable) – not only as far as the march itself is concerned, but also regarding the safety of those involved both prior to, and after it occurs – for when Eurovision “camps-up” whichever Ukrainian city plays host, it doesn’t “camp it up” for a few hours, nor even one night.  The host Ukrainian city will be “camp” and “socially liberal” for a week or more.  The Ukrainian State and the host city will have to pay far more attention, for far longer, with maximum tolerance and unerring policing city-wide toward perhaps tens of thousands of people that generally are otherwise left to fend for themselves.

As such a reader may benefit from keeping a watchful eye not only upon events at the Equity March itself, but also any incidents that occur on buses, the metro, in bars or restaurants etc., prior to, or post, 5000 police officers (probably) keeping a lid on the march itself (and those that would offer violence during it).  If the Ukrainian State fails city-wide in Kyiv on a single day – how well will it cope for a week or more?

A policing learning curve presents, and a thorough debriefing post 12th June will undoubtedly offer many lessons for Eurovision 2017 if the policing is tactically set as a full practice run city-wide.  It will not be enough to have the parade occur without serious incident, but to then have marchers attacked far from the event location when it’s over, or before it even begins.

 

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Something fishy? Cargill to invest $130 million in Yushni Port

August 18, 2015

A few days ago, your author bumped into the ever radiant Lily Lynch, owner of the Balkanist.  Rather flatteringly a request for a few (hopefully erudite) lines was subsequently requested for inclusion in the Balkanist in the near future  – albeit lines with little to do with the Balkans.

Today, those few lines were written relating to corruption schemes at the ports of Odessa, a brief look at the who’s who, the what’s what, and how far the scheme(s) climb up the nefarious Ukrainian hierarchical tree.

Upon completion and emailing, the first news read by your author related to Cargill confirming the long-known intention of a $130 million investment in Yushni Port, Odessa.

As such, this entry would be far better as a follow-on to the essay/article now in possession of the Balkanist awaiting editing if they decide to use it.  If not, undoubtedly it will appear here some time in the future.

Just as Lord of the Rings trilogy was shown in cinemas prior to the making of The Hobbit, you now have a far less entertaining, but equally out of sequence entry.

Suffice to say, what currently sits with the Balkanist outlines the relationship between nefarious and corrupt goings-on at port terminals in collusion with, and also expressly instigated by the Customs and Borders, State Fiscal Service,  Administration of Seaports of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Infrastructure.  It also identifies suspicious roles and personal relationships from Odessa to those in Kyiv.  Hence this entry would be better read post and not pre any Balkanist publication – but that’s life!  After all you watched Lord of the Rings before The Hobbit.

Anyway the Cargill announcement was long expected, it is of course good news for Odessa, and Yushni in particular.  Cargill is obliged to acquire 51% of the terminal to be built by MV Cargo and the new terminal will allow Cargill to ship up to 5 million (more) tonnes of grains and other goods per year.

Yushni

Yushni

Two things are striking about the announcement however, the first is that whilst the figure of $130 million is stated in the signed memorandum yesterday, the initial numbers mentioned by Prime Minister Yatseniuk were that of about $100 million only one month ago.

Does an additional $30 million class as “about” on a forecasted $100 million project?  Who costed the job so badly to be out by 30% upon initial costing?  Can there really be an additional $30 million in client desired “extras” added in the course of a month from Mr Yatseniuk’s first announcement?

Having shipped from, and heavily invested in other ports in Odessa since 1993, Cargill knows very well what it is doing – and the nefariousness of the ports and associated authorities.

None are more nefarious than the Administration of Seaports of Ukraine currently headed by Andrei Amelin – who just happens to be a “Yatseniuk man”, and co-signatory of the Memorandum with Cargill.

This leads to the other striking issue.  During the past 22 years it has managed to export enormous quantities of grain from Odessa ports that are nowhere near as deep as Yushni.  Yushni is by far the deepest Ukrainian port at 18.5 meters, yet such a depth requirement has never been an issue for Cargill in all these years.  In fact at 18.5 meters, Yushni is the deepest port on the Black Sea.

For some unknown reason, Andrei Amelin has stated the Administration of Seaports of Ukraine will dredge the bottom of Yushni port – despite it already being considerably deeper than existing ports that Cargill have invested in and work from.

So be it, although it would seem unnecessary prima facie and raises questions –  At what cost the (actual verses invoiced) dredging?  At whose cost the dredging?  Part of a $30 million investment hike in the space of a month?  An ask no questions, just send the invoice, way of facilitating the corruption chains that run from Odessa to Kyiv via the nefarious entity that is the Administration of Seaports of Ukraine?

Perhaps, coincidently (or not), Cargill having managed to rescue more than $100 million from Delta Bank when it liquidated, passing those losses on to the State Deposit Guarantee Fund and depositors with sums greater than the deposit guarantee – in short Ukraine – the deal was that the money would be reinvested in Odessa should the Ministry of Finance allow Cargill to save otherwise “dead” capital and turn it into capital that stands a chance of making a profit?

Keep these questions in mind, and await the Balkanist piece.

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Ukrainian opposition rally in Kyiv – A flop

May 14, 2012

For some months now I have been somewhat encouraged by the Ukrainian opposition political parties when looking at the opinion polls.  Not that they are certain to win the parliamentary elections looking at the polling figures, far from it.  It will be a close run thing as things stand today.

What has been encouraging is that now they shade the lead in opinion polls, the current government has actually started to do change things on the statute books towards a more favourable business and social climate, removing  state involvement in services they really have no need to be involved in.

A few examples in the last week alone, relate to food quality regulations and the proposal to scrap grain export certificates.  Such small but important changes  have been consistently happening for over a month where small but unnecessary bureaucracy has been scrapped or is proposed to be scrapped imminently.  The American Chamber of Commerce (Am-Cham) in Kyiv has been very supportive numerous government moves in the past few months, to the point they would be considered cheerleaders if it were not for the occasional and correct criticism intermingled with praise and encouragement.

Being non-politically aligned to either government or the opposition, and having far greater interest in policy, policy implementation and policy effectiveness, rather than political party or personality, for now I remain to be convinced that the benefits on paper that have been announced will translate into any changes at the point of delivery with the public, given the consistent obstruction of the regional fiefdoms and regional administrative agencies.

All things being equal, the Ukrainian opposition is part fulfilling its role by pressuring the current government to act over some issues rather than sit idly in Kyiv and simply count its ill-gotten gains.  Unfortunately the fact it is fulfilling part of its role, (and it certainly isn’t fulfilling the entire role opposition parties are meant to do), comes by default rather than design via popularity polls rather than any directly relevant opposition strategy over any particular issue.

To appear strategy-less with an election in October as the opposition is really very disheartening for people like me looking in, who live here and pay taxes here (but cannot vote).

So it was with some eagerness and anticipation I looked forward to the opposition rally that took place on 12th May in central Kyiv.  You would expect a huge public turnout given the circumstances surrounding Ms Tymoshenko (and others) amongst the opposition ranks, the fact Ms Merkel considers Ukraine to be “repressed” by the current authorities and the foreign MSM wondering where the protest marches are.

It would be reasonable to expected, given the impression Ukraine has, proclaimed by the opposition and media, huge numbers of protesters would turn out.  Even if those protesters were limited to Kyiv, you would expect 10,000 or more to attend from a city of 2.7 million.  30,000 or more from the surrounding areas if they came.

You would expect that the united opposition forces that took the stage would tell eager supporters of new policies and new approaches to issues that will change their lives for the better.  Domestic policies that are truly motivational and aspirational, what the opposition will do when in power relating to pensions, the stand-off with the IMF, how they will restart relations with the EU, how it will deal with Russia over the crippling gas contract.  Many, many issues that impact the lives of every one of their supporters.

In short, a rallying cry to those loyal to the opposition cause and policies to change Ukraine for the better and a road-map to those listening as to how it will be done.  Go home and spread the good opposition word to your friends and neighbours.  This is our creative and inspiring grand plan for Ukraine if you return us to power, and this is how we will deliver it!

Alas, that is not what happened.

On a warm and sunny Saturday in Kyiv, the opposition rally gathered a very meager 2000 supporters, some of which like me, can’t even vote and were there to see if the opposition have learned anything in the past decade when it comes to politics and policy.  In fact, if we subtract the number of people who will have been paid to attend (and at all political events in Ukraine, regardless of political party, there is a percentage of the crowd that has been paid to be there to bolster the numbers) the real number of genuine attendees will be reduced.

What is possibly even worse about the number of supporters present is that this was the sum total gathered by the “united opposition” and not just a single opposition party.  Given the easily accessible location, good weather and huge amount of publicity prior to the rally, the turnout is pitifully grim and should be a cause for concern to the united opposition.

So how did they do on policy and strategies?  Again, a dreadful waste of opportunity.  Aside from reiterating the united election list strategy amongst the united opposition, a strategy where they will field one candidate amongst all the parties to run against the current government to avoid splitting the opposition vote,  there were no new imaginative or clever strategies or policies announced.

This reiteration of the ballot strategy was announced in January.  It is not new or exciting anymore.  (It has also to actually happen without in-fighting causing this coalition to fall apart yet.)

Nothing has been learned by the opposition whatsoever.  There were statements such as this from Eugania Tymoshenko (daughter of Ms Tymoshenko currently serving a prison sentence for abuse of office), “Our sacred duty is to free Ukraine from this cruel and criminal occupation.”

Really?  Only a few years ago, her mother publicly stated she would be happy to act as Prime Minister under Yanukovych  if he became President.  She was then quite happy to be a major cog in such a cruel and criminal occupation back then.  The trouble with making public statements and then conveniently forgetting them is that people like me remember and document them.

Anyway, back to the point, the opposition had a significant opportunity to put forward new policy ideas and strategies to those in attendance and the listening foreign and domestic media – and what did they do?  They continued with the “us” verses “them”  mud-slinging, name calling tactics which doesn’t sway any voters that would not already vote for them.  There was nothing said that would or could entice the less partisan voter over to them on the basis of any forward looking policy.

In short it was “Kill the King, and when the King is dead, long live the King” but we can’t or won’t tell you how we will reign any better than the current King, or any better than when we were King last time you gave us the chance  either.

Furthermore, when looking at the politicians on stage, it was as depressing as watching the current government huddle for photo ops.  Looking at almost each and every person on that stage, you are reminded just how they came to be who they are and the nefarious routes they have taken before, and since, being in Ukrainian politics.  It is truly grim.

So, on a warm and sunny Saturday in Kyiv, is it really surprising that a meager 2000 people came to listen to the same old “us” verses “them” rhetoric, completely devoid of imagination, charisma, integrity or policy?  Who wants to listen to such a well worn record?  Where is the creativity, imagination and new policy that will lead Ukraine to a better future and will make me want to vote for the opposition (if I could)?

The answers were not found on the united opposition rally stage in Kyiv on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, that’s for certain.

Off the stage (and in English) Arseniy Yatseniuk had this to say when challenged to name some actual policies by the foreign media in attendance:

You wonder if he has told the fellow members within the “united opposition” of his ideas – then again, does it matter?  At the moment, according to him, everything is “conceptual”.  It needs to be far more than conceptual, and pretty quickly with an election soon, as the nation is full of disenchanted voters.

All-in-all, when an almost leaderless opposition movement in Moscow can still gather 10,000 people yesterday, a full 6 months after protests began, in comparison, you can only say 2000 people turning up to an opposition rally replete with numerous potential leaders on show in Kyiv on a very nice day, is nothing short of a flop!

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Proposed change in abortion law – Ukraine

April 12, 2012

One of the most notable achievements of European society (for better or for worse depending upon your point of view) has been the separation of church from State during the evolution of the continent, and the resulting secular State.

For most European citizens, the Church is the Church and the State is the State  and never the twain shall meet again given the consequences historically.  No longer can the Church burn the heretics and non-believers who make up a sizable number of voters which no political party could afford to lose.

The Church remains, however, a significant social actor within most nations and is recognised and engaged with by the majority of States, be the governing party or leadership agnostic, atheist or of a different belief.  It can be, and is, a significant NGO both arguing for or against specific political policy.

Generally the secular model works fairly well and is particularly noticeable during electioneering where a candidates faith  (or lack or faith) is not a subject that features in any campaigning.  Something one suspects Mr Romney would appreciate but it unlikely to get across the Atlantic very soon.

However the Church (of whatever brand) like all organisations has its positions, interests and needs which most States will listen too and accommodate where it fits with the governing party’s own position, interests and needs.  State and Church therefore rub along together as best as they can whilst attempting to morally or politically lead the same flock.

Problems occur when the Church lobbies to create laws or to change laws which meet their position, but that large enough sections of a far less conservative society would strongly oppose to make the issue politically difficult for the State.

Ukraine currently allows abortion up until the 12th week of pregnancy and in extreme (one assumes medical emergency cases) the 22nd week of pregnancy.  That is the law.

The Orthodox Church however has been lobbying hard and has managed to get some lawmakers to submit a change to this law on abortion, proposing the practice be banned in Ukraine other than for medical emergency reasons.  It will soon come before the RADA for voting.

Now I am not interested in getting into the pro-life verses woman’s rights issues of the argument.  Everyone has their opinion  to which they are entitled.  I intend to look at this from the difficult position of the State, the current leadership of which face an election in October 2012 and are now faced with a very difficult vote (should the issue be forced to a vote in the RADA).

The current government, when it came into power, vowed to increase the population of Ukraine having recognised the national shrinking demographic.  (A continental issue not just one for Ukraine it should be noted.)  Thus banning abortions unless medically necessary would be one way to possibly achieve a jump in birth rates and some form of demographic recovery.  Vow kept.

However, the number of abortions in Ukraine has been significantly and consistently falling for the past 10 years.  In 2000 there were 434223 abortions performed in Ukraine.  In 2010 there were 176774.  With such  a steep  downward trend in society, is there any reason for State interference when it is a trend both Church and State (for different reasons) would approve of?  Whilst the trend continues, is this not a prima facie case for a State to leave well alone?

If acquiesce to the Church would get it on board in the run up to an election where the current government will struggle to retain such a sizable majority, if it hangs on to power at all (which it probably will), the Church, should it get such a legislative victory would undoubtedly sing the current governments praises and thus influence a reasonable amount of voters in the governments favour (either overtly or covertly).

At the same time, despite the fantasies propagated by marriage agencies about the “traditional values” of Ukrainian women, Ukrainian women are very emancipated and have been for a very long time.  Who if not the women, rebuilt the USSR after WWII and 30 million Soviets died, the majority being men?  The myth they sit at home and cook and pop out children on demand for the male head of the household is exactly that – a myth.

Therefore changing the law and banning abortion in all cases other than medical emergency (and any other specifically stated circumstance) could very well alienate a huge number of female voters which is a decidedly bad idea with an election looming.

There are then the casual effects to society to consider should this Church sponsored bill change the law.  Many Ukrainian women would simply travel to have the abortion done and those who could not may well resort to back-street abortions with horrendous consequences.

Those that had children may very well give them up to orphanages which are already woefully underfunded.

If they kept the children the State has such a poorly funded social welfare system that they could not afford to stay home and neither could they work, removing any tax they did pay from the system and increasing the social payment burden in the process.  That could increase numbers of child neglect cases and that, ultimately, could put increasing strains on the orphanages.

As the State cannot even make people pay their due taxes, finding and getting absent fathers to pay any form of maintenance is simply a non-starter.  Those women and children in that situation now, rarely see any money from the absent father and the State does nothing to enforce payment or track the father down.  If they could they would have far better tax revenues.

Is a generation of poor single parents and child poverty what the government sees as a sound policy when heading towards European norms?  Unlikely.

Talking of European norms, in banning abortion (other than in statutorily stated circumstance such as medical emergency) which other EU nations would it have for company?  Would the EU see such a move as a further back-sliding in human rights and womens rights in particular?

All in all a very difficult situation for policy makers to be in.

Protests about this proposed legal change have already started.  FEMEN (as you would expect) have already been arrested for climbing the bell tower of St Sophia’s in central Kyiv, ringing the bell and going topless (as is their signature protest action).  One has to suspect that should this legal change be seen to even remotely gain any traction the protests will become much larger.

Not a particularly nice thought for a sitting government with a major European tournament being hosted in 2 months time.  Massed rallies by the collective European feminati sisterhood would be a major embarrassment.

Much, one suspects, will come down to how much the current government needs to give something to the Church in the run up to the election to influence the masses favourably, or alternatively, how much can be gained by the current government to publicly and noisily putting the Church in its secular place in order to win over a large part of the female voter base by standing up for their existing rights under the current law.

One to watch in the coming months.

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