Archive for the ‘Other Blogs’ Category

h1

Freedom House partners new Ukrainian anti-corruption blog

October 25, 2012

Bloggers against Corruption –  That seems fairly straight to the point as far as website titles go.

It is the latest civil society platform for bloggers to bring to the attention of others, corruption great and small – be it local, regional or national in Ukraine.

The platform has been created by the Institute of Mass Information in partnership with Freedom House and is designed, one has to presume, to fill in the gaps that the local “traditional media” miss when it comes to public awareness of corruption in their area, or to give a larger readership to those that don’t miss it.

Not that corruption is overlooked by Ukrainian local media, bloggers or local on-line forums – it isn’t.  In particular, both forums and bloggers are indeed quite feisty and blunt when talking about corruption in their localities and nationally.  – But there is a need for a high profile platform dedicated only to corruption with content generated by way of “citizen reporting”/blogging.

Other sites exist that do cover corruption in and amongst what they publish – Maidan.org for example, occasionally touch on the subject.  (That said, I have issues with Maidan, as on several occasions they have used what I have written without even bothering to notify me, let alone asking me, despite what I write obviously being copyright.  If it was not for readers here who also read Maiden sending me links to my words on their website I would never have known.)

There are however “issues” when it comes to such a platform, particularly when writing about corruption and those involved in it.  Naturally there needs to be far more than hearsay evidence, spurious claims and rumour – lest we enter the realms of libel and defamation.

Now a clever word-smith can make subtle inferences and literary suggestions to a reader without crossing the line of libel when direct first person evidence, documents, quotations or media footage is absent.  Anything more than subtle inference however would create legal issues in the absence of hard facts.

The Ukrainian Internet is a truly free realm that is in no way politically policed or censored when it comes the to content of forums or blogs.  Thus tremendous care must be used when citing from other sources that does not come first person from the author – if the reader gives the author any legitimacy and credibility to accept their first person accounts at all.  The Ukrainian media is not exactly always a bastion of professionalism either.

So this brings us to matters of “probability” when it comes to content that is based purely on inference and suggestion without first person experience or properly cited evidence.

Peer review is a very subjective issue even amongst the scientific community where little care can given by those who review if something is “probable”.

To quote Richard Horton of the British medical journal “The Lancet” – “The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability – not validity – of a new finding.  Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review.  We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller.  But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish and frequently wrong.”

Well quite!

And if that is the opinion of the editor of Britain’s foremost medical journal, the content of any blog relating to corruption needs to have the bar set extremely high – because “probable” does not mean it is “factual ” – libel and defamation await in the gap between the two.  In short peer review or acceptance that something was said or done in all probability, rather than fact and validity over claims of corruption, is not a necessarily good foundation for a new civil platform.

The concept and necessity of this platform are undoubtedly right and required.  How high the bar for content and contribution is set and maintained, remains to be seen –  As does the societal reach this platform will eventually have.

Something to watch with interest as it develops.

h1

Naked naivety or political statement?

August 2, 2011

Naked naivety?

Now here is the tale of Olexandr Volodarsky, Ukrainian blogger and “political activist”.

Before we wander into the details of the case, which of you dear readers, would deem it acceptable for a man and woman to appear completely naked directly outside the Houses of Parliament, the White House or Capital Hill and then simulate sex acts?

If we were of the mind to carry out such actions, would we reasonably expect to get arrested, charged and appear in court as a result of simulating sex, naked, directly outside the seats of our political establishments or would we expect no action from the law?

Well, naked simulated sexual acts directly outside the RADA in central Kyiv and in broad daylight is exactly what Mr Volodarsky, and a female accomplice,  carried out in a political protest to determine where morals reach the point of criminality in 2009.

Seemingly, Mr Volodarsky did not think prosecutors would charge him as it was a “victim-less crime”.   “I didn’t destroy property, I didn’t hit anyone, I was convicted for committing a victim-less crime, which can’t be considered hooliganism.”

Really?

Whilst it is often folly to compare laws of sovereign nations, there is generally a parity amongst them despite the specific words used.

Now those of us from the UK would fully expect him to have been arrested, to have been charged and to have appeared in court whether the charges were indecent exposure or Section 5 of the Public Order Act, an Act as a whole that deals, generally, with “hooliganism”.

In fact, Section 5 of the UK PoA covers pretty much anything that would alarm, harass or distress anybody witnessing it whether it is carried out in public or can be viewed by somebody in a public place even if the actual act is carried out in/on private property.  A general rule of thumb would be if your granny can see it, and is your granny would find it distasteful in any shape or form, then it is quite likely to be a crime under Section 5 of the PoA.

Would your granny find this acceptable?

The fact that your granny may not witness it is quite irrelevant, the point is she could as it was committed in a public place or could be viewed from a public place.  As such it can be a victim-less crime in the UK as well and still result in arrest, charge and legal recourse.   The victim, as such, can be society in general and the morals and ethics it accepts to be guided by as a majority.

As a result of his misguided idealism and will to test the boundaries, Mr Volodarsky spend over 6 months in jail and is now appealing to the ECHR for wrongful imprisonment and is being backed by NGO’s such as Stop Censorship and Ukrainian journalists who are saying “Whatever the aesthetic value of the performance against the Verkhovna Rada, this is not a matter for deprivation of liberty… this cannot be grounds for criminal prosecution.”

I am quietly confident that the ECHR will not allow his appeal.  I would also suggest that, on the assumption (dangerous ground to make assumptions) that part of the Ukrainian “Hooliganism” laws would move on a sliding scale similar to the UK Public Order Act (and completely discounting the Indecent Exposure and Gross Indecency laws of the UK which he would most certainly have been in breach of) that his actions are nothing but naive to be generous to him.

I would also be quite amazed if there is a nation on the continent of Europe that would not have a law to prevent its citizens copulating, or pretending to do so, naked in a public place (regardless of whether it is directly outside the building housing the nations legislators and politicians).  I feel the NGO “Stop Censorship” is rather demeaning its own position when there are far bigger and better battles to fight in Ukraine.

Whether this naive act justified a 6 month jail term rather than a fine is a matter for a judge in any nation.  Some courts in the UK would take a far dimmer view than others should this matter go before them.  If the ECHR are to rule in his favour in any shape or form (and I doubt they will) it will be over excessive punishment rather than being convicted of a non-existent crime.

That said, again using the UK legislation as a rough guide, the penalties for offences under Section 5 PoA are a fine of GDP 1000, Indecent Exposure can be 2 years imprisonment.  If this incident had occurred in the UK, he would most definitely be guilty of either/or both offences depending on which way the CPS wanted to pursue the matter.

Much will depend on the devil in the detail of the Ukrainian “Hooliganism” legal framework of course, however you cannot see how there is no law preventing such….ahem…active exhibitionism?

Maybe, if he loses his ECHR appeal, he should strip naked and pretend to have sex with a naked woman on the steps of the ECHR court in Strasbourg……and see what happens next.

h1

No more IMF money until after 2012 elections….but it’s not urgent‏

July 20, 2011

Well now, Ukraine and the IMF are at a stand-off once again, although this time it would seem to suit Ukraine, at least politically, and possibly spell the end of IMF assistance to Ukraine.

A few months ago The Democratist and I sat in Odessa discussing Ukrainian issues and the IMF came up. He seemed somewhat surprised when I said that Ukraine no longer needed IMF money urgently but that the government was keeping to the IMF conditions as a foundation and straight-jacket to push through unpopular reforms. It is always helpful to have somebody else to blame for unpopular changes after all.

Confirmation of what I told him months ago, now appears to have become public knowledge due to the Ukrainian government failing to push through additional charges for utilities despite the IMF insistence. The most difficult political issue of pension reform having now made it through the RADA under the guise of economic necessity and IMF insistence. It is yet to get the Presidential signature and become law it must be said.

Now however, what I suspected/knew to be the case, has become public knowledge either deliberately or accidentally. Ukraine is not reliant upon IMF funding and does not expect to get any more money until the utilities pricing issues are addressed.

There is no rush as the above link shows. Ukrainian reserves are at a record high.

The real issue is whether this is the end of IMF involvement in Ukraine. As it seems the current government will not address yet another unpopular issue until after the October 2012 elections and the previous and now unseated government broke the terms of the initial IMF agreement in 2009, there may still be no political will after the elections to reengage with the IMF.

That said, should the current government retain a majority after October 2012, it may well then address the issue rather swiftly, confident of another 5 years in power and the knowledge any utility price rises pushed through at the end of 2012 will be forgotten by 2017 when the following elections come around.

Should it lose having passed the unpopular utility price rises before 2012, you can guarantee the populist left of centre politicians such as Ms Tymoshenko would reintroduce the utilities subsidies and campaign on a platform that would include exactly that (regardless of the long-term outlook). It would seem politically inept to knowingly provide such a platform with an election only 14 months away and a winter heating season looming.

Another large financial shock to the global system resulting from the EU or the undoubtedly weak US budget deal that will emerge from negotiations in October within the bowels of Capital Hill, may well force changes in the current Ukrainian position should the US$ devalue rapidly.

Anyway, baring economic shocks, it would appear further IMF funding will not come until after the 2012 elections. Thereafter, it will depend upon who wins a majority in the RADA.

h1

Britian at its non-political best in Ukraine

June 26, 2011

It’s Sunday, and the summer sun has been temporarily replaced by rain, a not so glorious Odessa day and your author is going to get a few hours of rain, or maybe sun, as the day goes on.

I’m actually off out with the ball and chain on an exploratory shopping expedition in preparation for her birthday next month which means any rain or sun that will touch these tired old bones will be caught during fleeting moments in the streets of Odessa between shops.

Still, as I contemplate the costs associated with this event and the large dent it will inevitably but in the bank balance, here is a link to HM Ambassador to Ukraine, His Excellency Leigh Turner’s blog amply displaying UK charity involvement in Ukraine without any of those nasty HM Government political and diplomatic dilemmas and interventions.

(I must admit, Leigh looks to have caught the sun himself since I was last with him. Surely that didn’t happen on his recent holiday back in the UK. One can only suppose it has been sunny in Kyiv as well.)

Now I’m off shopping with the trouser-wearer. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…….. (Psalm 23:4

h1

Quo Vadis…..once more…..UK Ambassador’s speech at St Anthony’s

April 17, 2011

Well dear readers, I know you are now tired of the Quo Vadis Oxford University gathering, as I have mentioned it once or twice in recent blog entries.

I could link you now to the UK Ambassador to Ukraine’s blog with one of these wonderfully different coloured text clicky’s as I have to the previous posts of my own on the subject in the above paragraph.  I can even direct you to the Blogroll to the right of this text where you will find a link to his blog,  and normally I would.

However, the text of the His Excellency’s speech at the St Anthony’s College is worth reproducing in full to save you the bother of clicking in bizarre places on a Sunday morning, so here it is:

Speech delivered by British Ambassador to Ukraine Leigh Turner at Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Programme Oxford Model Ukraine Conference, 7 April 2011
Ukraine’s Domestic and Foreign Affairs: Quo Vadis?

Quo Vadis indeed? Is Ukraine moving towards the sunlit uplands of stability, democracy and prosperity? Or is it moving toward authoritarianism and sclerosis of economic reforms? In 20 years will Ukraine be as rich as Poland is now? Or still the third poorest country in Europe? No doubt by the end of this conference we will have answered these questions entirely to our satisfaction.

You may wonder where I’m coming from on all this. I’ve actually spent several chunks of my career in and around Central and Eastern Europe, starting off with a year in 1980 as a civil servant at the headquarters of the British Northern Army Group in Rheindahlen in Germany. We always used to joke nervously that this would be the target of the first Soviet tactical nuclear missile to launch hostilities in Europe. In the mid-80’s I spent three years at the British Embassy in Vienna, within line of sight of the Soviet Embassy. In 1992–1995 I was in Moscow dealing with Russian economic reform. You may argue I didn’t do a very good job. Then from 1998–2006 I was in Bonn and Berlin dealing mainly with economic and EU issues and watching what had been East Germany recover from Communism. I started work in Kyiv on 14 June 2008 – the day of Paul McCartney’s live concert in Independence Square.

So why are we here today? I think the exam questions for this conference are:

Why should we care about Ukraine? Why does it matter what happens in a country on the opposite side of Europe to the UK?
What’s going right and wrong in Ukraine at the moment?
What should we be doing about it – if anything?

Why Ukraine matters

Let’s talk about why Ukraine matters.

The first reason is that Ukraine is a large European country in a geographical location of great strategic importance. People who deal with Ukraine know well that it’s the largest country entirely in Europe – a bit bigger than France. That it has a population of over 45 million, a 1,500km border with Russia and a millennium of shared history. That it has borders with four European Union member states – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania – and that many of those borders have been subject to conflict and the exchange of territory in the 20th century.

But not everyone knows that. Ukraine has only existed in its present form for less than 20 years. I regularly receive in Kyiv intelligent visitors from the UK who are not quite sure which side of Russia Ukraine is on, or what language they speak there – admittedly a tricky issue. So if we say Ukraine matters, we can’t assume everyone thinks that way. We have to make the case.

I would argue that the size, population and strategic location of Ukraine makes it strongly in the interests of the UK, and also of the European Union, Ukraine’s other neighbours (including Russia) and other members of the world community, that Ukraine should be a stable, calm, prosperous, happy country.

A second reason Ukraine matters is rather negative. This is that a weak, dysfunctional or unstable Ukraine could risk seeming to offer threats to its neighbours. A dysfunctional or unstable Ukraine could lead other countries in the region to behave in ways which are unwelcome to us. That could itself spread instability in the region. That in turn could endanger the security and prosperity of the United Kingdom – our key goals.

Third, on a more optimistic note, Ukraine can also have a very positive influence in the neighbourhood. Forget the doom and gloom. Let’s imagine a compelling, desirable vision of Ukraine. A European country aspiring to eventual accession to the EU, based on democratic rights and values and with a prosperous, reforming economy.

Such a Ukraine could have a big demonstration effect in the region. Indeed, there is an argument that a successful Ukraine could be a swing-state for the whole of the FSU. It could demonstrate the benefits of democracy, European values and a market-orientated path – as set against the more authoritarian models that have prevailed in some countries in the region since the collapse of the USSR.

Conversely, if Ukraine fails, it would be easy for unelected or undemocratic leaders in the region to claim that “western” style governance has no place around here.

That would be bad news not only for Ukraine but also for its neighbours – and for the rest of us who advocate a rules-based democratic system as the most stable and prosperous model for running a country.

So I would say there are three key reasons why Ukraine matters – as an important neighbour; as a country whose stability can contribute to stability in the region; and as a potential swing-state for the future of the former Soviet Union.

How Ukraine is doing

So if that’s why Ukraine matters, how do we think Ukraine is doing? I am conscious that I mustn’t answer this question too definitively. Otherwise there won’t be any need to continue the conference. But let’s look at a few areas.

On democracy and human rights, there has been widespread concern that standards of democracy have deteriorated in Ukraine. Let me mention a few examples:

2010 Local elections: Baroness Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that “the electoral framework and the administration of the elections undermined public confidence in the electoral process and in the further consolidation of democracy in Ukraine”.

Freedom House in January this year downgraded Ukraine to “partly free”, in terms of political rights and civil liberties, having ranked it “free” every year from 2005 to 2010. Freedom House said: “a deterioration in press freedom, state efforts to curb student activism, intimidation of NGOs, local elections that were almost universally derided as neither free nor fair, and indications of increased executive influence over the judiciary. Ukraine had previously been the only country in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union to earn a Free designation, and its decline represents a major setback for democracy in the region.”

In recent months we have seen a spate of what look like politically-motivated criminal investigations and prosecutions of opposition leaders and members of the previous government.

Ukraine’s ranking against Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Barometer fell from joint 89th in 2009 to 131st in 2010.

In some cases we can argue about methodology and measurement; but I think this range of evidence does show there is cause for concern about the development of democracy in Ukraine.

I do not, however, think that the situation is abysmal or cataclysmic. The Freedom House report still placed Ukraine, alongside Moldova, as the freest country in the former Soviet Union. A recent analysis of different TV channels reported by the BBC Monitoring Service concluded that several of those which were owned by groups or individuals sympathetic to the current administration continued to report in an objective or critical way – albeit not all of them. Ukraine still has a pretty vibrant and free press; and freedom on assembly is much better than in most other former Soviet Union countries. Civil society, though weak by the western European standards, is well developed compared with some neighbouring countries.

That’s the politics. So what about economic reform? Let’s ask the IMF. According to them, there have been important achievements in the past year on key macro-economic indicators such as the budget deficit, monetary targets. The IMF also like some structural reforms – notably, a 50% hike in utility tariffs; drafting of pension reform bill; adoption of new tax code; new public procurement law. Much remains to be done; but some good progress has been made.

This links into the business climate. Again it is possible to point to positive changes: greater macro-economic stability. A potentially good new law on public procurement. Promises of actions on automatic refunds of VAT. Discussion of lifting moratorium on sales of agricultural land – this could stimulate massive new investment. The latest European Business Association survey on 11 March showed modest improvements in perceptions of Ukraine’s investment attractiveness over the last three quarters.

Against that, we continue to receive from business reports of corruption; problems with the rule of law and operation of the courts; and problems with the customs and tax authorities. There is also the fact that some changes, such as automatic VAT refunds, are repeatedly announced but not comprehensively applied. Then there are unexpected new challenges such as the recently introduced grain export quotas. Or proposals for a new grain export monopoly.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine in 2010 was ranked joint 134th most corrupt country out of 178. Less than ideal for a country that aspires to eventual EU membership.

All these developments make investors uncertain and deter investment. I am not yet convinced that investors sitting down together in a café in Shangai to look at all the countries of the world would see Ukraine as a top investment market compared with eg Poland or Turkey, let alone China or India. This really matters because although there are some countries keen to invest in Ukraine and some which are doing well, there are not enough.

That hits economic growth. According to the IMF, in 2010 Ukraine’s economy with its 46 million people was worth $137 billion. By contrast, Poland’s economy of 38 million people was worth $439 billion – three times more. That’s where Ukraine belongs and the league it should be playing in.

Another area to take stock is external policy. Before the election of President Yanukovych, he was often depicted as being “pro-Russian”. This is too simple. President Yanukovych certainly believes that Ukraine has to have a good working relationship with Russia. In 2010 he extended the lease of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol for a further 25 years, to 2042, with the possibility of a further extension. This was in exchange for a reduction in the price of Russian gas supplied to Ukraine.

In 2010 President Yanukovych met President Medvedev around a dozen times. Ukraine has adopted “non-bloc” status and abandoned its application for NATO membership. It has agreed to begin demarcation of the land border (a bilateral commission has started working to do this). And Ukraine has gone quiet about historical issues which Russia prefers not to hear too much about.

But we should not exaggerate all this. Often, there has been more talk than substantive shifts in Ukrainian policy. “Non-bloc” status excludes NATO accession, but it also rules out Ukrainian membership of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organisation. There has been progress over the land border, but there has been no movement as regards delimitation of the more complex and disputed bilateral maritime border.

On economic co-operation the Ukrainians appear cool about a merger of Gazprom and Naftohaz proposed by the Russians. Inter-sectoral deals in eg ship-building and aerospace remain entirely on paper.

Nor have the Ukrainian authorities show any sign of wanting to accede to the customs union – Russia/Belarus/Kazakhstan. One reason is that membership of the customs union would be incompatible with the prospective EU/Ukraine Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) – more on that in a moment. Recent comments from the Russian side about the supposedly dire consequences to Ukraine of signing the DCFTA have led to talk of Ukrainian-Russian relations hitting a new low.

Then there’s NATO. Clearly it is a matter for Ukraine and for the Ukrainian people whether they wish to join NATO and under what conditions. But I have been struck over the past 16 months by the fact that military cooperation in some important areas has in fact continued, or in some cases improved, over the period when Ukraine was actively seeking to join NATO. Examples include:

Ukraine agreeing to give up its highly-enriched uranium – a major gain for counter-proliferation efforts world-wide. Much welcomed in Washington
The fact that military exercises with NATO have resumed, eg Exercise Sea Breeze and Exercise Rapid Trident (the UK is also participating)
Continued training of Ukrainian forces to NATO standards – again, the UK is involved.

So, to conclude on how Ukraine is doing on democracy and freedoms; economic reform; the business climate; external relations; and defence, I’d say there are a host of different indicators showing movement in different directions – a mixed picture.

What we should be doing

So what should we be doing about all this? The question is actively being discussed in Kyiv: in a recent radio interview I was asked whether the EU should ban visas for oligarchs or politicians who wish to travel on the grounds that their actions were undermining Ukraine’s democracy. And the suggestion is sometimes made that the IMF should cut off its loans, or impose additional conditionality, in order to put pressure on the Ukrainian authorities in a range of areas.

This is a super area for discussion and one where feelings run high.

The debate, as always, is around whether it is best to have people inside the tent where you can influence them, or outside the tent in the hope that this will punish them and make them do what you think is right.

My own view is that we are still strongly in a keeping-Ukraine-in-the-tent scenario, i.e. there is still everything to play for and we should treat Ukraine as a partner rather than a pariah. But we should insist on tough conditionality for that partnership, particularly where that involves financial support or other major gains for Ukraine.

So what does that mean? There are several areas where we can work with and influence Ukraine in a big way.

The first is through the European Union. I’ve always seen the EU as a fantastic civilisation machine. This is nowhere more true than in its relationships with countries in its neighbourhood, which have aspirations to integrate with, or to join, the EU.

The UK continues to support Ukraine’s EU aspirations. We believe that Ukraine, as a European country, should have the right, under existing treaties, to join the EU once it has fulfilled the criteria for accession.

We’re realistic. We have to acknowledge that membership remains some way off. But meanwhile the EU can, and should, remain strongly engaged.

The EU/Ukraine Association Agreement now under negotiation will bring about strong integration between the EU and Ukraine. That will include a much closer political relationship. It will include an action plan to make travel between the EU and Ukraine easier. But the element that I want to focus on here is one that I touched on a few moments ago: the DCFTA.

The Ukrainian leadership has repeatedly said it wants the DCFTA signed this year. That is a laudable ambition: I hope they’re serious.

It’s obviously in Ukraine’s interest. Let’s look at the numbers again. The EU has a market of 500 million consumers with an average GNP per capita of $32,000.

How likely is it that the DCFTA will happen? The negotiations have been going on more than three years (with the 16th round held this week in Brussels). They are getting tougher as they draw closer to the finishing line. But that tends to happen in the final stages of a serious negotiation. What really matters is that Ukraine focuses on the bigger picture. What do I mean by that?

The DCFTA is the most ambitious FTA the EU has ever tried to negotiate. Like ‘orthodox’ FTAs, it envisages tariff liberalisation – in this case beyond what Ukraine negotiated with the EU when it joined the WTO in 2008.

But it’s much more than that. The DCFTA will require Ukraine to align much of its commercial-policy legislation and regulatory frameworks with the EU acquis. To a significant degree, Ukraine will become part of the EU single market. That’s what I mean by “the bigger picture.” That’s what is at stake. The DCFTA is an historic opportunity for Ukraine.

In my view this is all about political will: the “vision thing.” What kind of country do most Ukrainians want Ukraine to become, and does the leadership share that vision? So far I remain optimistic that both the leadership and the people of Ukraine feel more attracted on balance to the European model than to any other kind. If political will at the highest level – meaning the President and the Prime Minister – remains strong to move towards a DCFTA, I believe that has a good chance of happening.

Another key area of action for us is the macro-economic financial assistance being provided by the International Monetary Fund. The UK is of course an IMF share-holder. That means we will continue to press for the strict application of IMF conditionality in the current programme. That will entail difficult reforms. But that is what is needed to create the conditions for sustained economic recovery. Ukraine cannot and I am sure does not expect other IMF share-holders to give it something for nothing.

Another area where we can help reform is the Ukrainian energy sector. Ukraine probably has big undeveloped gas reserves both in the Black Sea and on land, including unconventional gas. Reform, including liberalisation of gas prices and other reforms required under the Energy Community Treaty which Ukraine has now ratified, would improve incentives to increase production. It would also stimulate energy efficiency – Ukraine remains one of the least energy efficient countries in the world. Both would reduce dependence on imported energy.

A final key area of cooperation is military. There’s a lot the UK can continue to do to work closely with Ukraine to help its armed forces to reform and to make them more capable of integrating into, and working with, NATO forces. That includes:

Developing Ukrainian military capacity and helping Ukraine to get into a position where it can support peacekeeping operations in third countries. Includes in-country teams helping Ukraine move towards NATO accreditation – eg 4-week training courses for naval infantry
Training and development of future defence civilian and military leaders
UK assistance for development of non-commissioned officers
A peacekeeping English project which has taught over 5,000 officers to speak English
Providing training through the British Military Advisory and Training Team based in Chez Republic
A special Defence Adviser who works in the Ministry of Defence in Kyiv.
It’s all good, crunchy stuff.

The position of the UK remains that Ukraine can become a member of NATO if that’s what the Ukrainian people want. At the moment they have voted in a government in a fair election which does not seem to want it. But the real point is that Ukraine has a highly developed relationship with NATO, institutionalised in the NATO/Ukraine Commission and a series of Annual National Programmes, which oversee the process of reform to NATO standards within Ukraine. What we should focus on is how to make those reforms a reality.

We basically see these reforms as good for Ukraine and good for our military-military relations.

Summary

In summary, therefore, I would, first, make a case for Ukraine being a country of great strategic importance, and one whose stability, democracy and prosperity we should do everything in our ability to underpin. That’s not altruism. So far as the UK is concerned, that in turn will help support our twin objectives of ensuring our own stability and prosperity.

Second, I would argue that the situation inside Ukraine presents a number of challenges, including in key areas of human rights and democracy, but that some things are going right too. We are not yet at crisis point but need to remain closely engaged and to continue to make the case for the type of reforms we wish to see.

Third, I would argue that we possess many strong mechanisms to encourage and influence Ukraine. We should use them. Thank you very much!

 

Why have I bothered to put the whole speech up for you to read?  – Well certainly not because I need the brownie points with the UK Embassy Kyiv, Whitehall mandarins in London or indeed with His Excellency Mr Turner himself.  Indeed if the mandarins in Whitehall have heard my name it is because there is somebody else who coincidently has the same name as me and are more worthy of note.

No, the reason I have put up the entire speech is that there is really nothing in it that does not reflect my own views on the situation in Ukraine, despite the much more negative image that is projected in some media and political quarters both in Ukraine and across the western world.

I hope that over the past year or two I have managed to portray to you an image that is very much in line with what has been said in this speech.  If I have not, then I have failed to communicate the realities of Ukraine effectively from the perspective of an immigrant who has lived here for quite a number of years, has no political allegiances, no vested interests in anything of considerable note and therefore no need to be diplomatic in anything I write.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. – Tomorrow you will read about the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine and the relevance (or not) of Isle of Wight.

h1

Who is responsible for comments on your blog?

March 7, 2011

Well dear readers, all forums and blogs are recipients of spam.

I delete at least 6 “pending comments” each day.   Some of the comments are fairly good and I would genuinely publish them……if they weren’t sent from commercial email addresses in an attempt to use my blog as a de facto free advertising node.

I take great pains to vet all comments published here…….although like all humans I err and an occasional “naughty” slips through.

Anyway, over at HM Ambassador to Ukraine’s blog, a blog I read regularly, the only comment to this linked article, simply states “Thx for the news http://!”£$%^&U.com/”. (Well it doesn’t, I have changed the http address so as not to allow my blog to advertise freely somebody selling homes.)

My point is, HM Gov is seemingly allowing this entity free advertising space by allowing it there. Subsequent deletion will stop future readers seeing it but not all those who have already seen it.

Comment is free on my blog, advertising is not. I have specifically taken the decision not to advertise or allow advertising.  My comments section is set to no comments being published unless I have read them and authorised them……hardly free speech, but……… get over it.

If HM Gov is going to allow advertising on HM Gov blogs (even in the comments), given the drastic cuts in the FCO budget, is it not better to charge?

By allowing such advertising in the comments, one cannot claim de facto “recommendation” of this home selling company by the FCO, but many stupid people may assume it.

I suppose any loosely implied association with this house selling site is better than some advertisements that could have been dumped into the comments section however.

Imagine a link in the comments section to an extremist website or naked celebrities on a UK FCO website.  Tsk-tsk!!

h1

Human Rights – UK Embassy Ukraine launches HR Page

December 13, 2010

Well dear readers, over at the UK Embassy Ukraine website, there is a new page to view relating to human rights:

http://ukinukraine.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/working-with-ukraine/human-rights-in-ukraine/

Human rights is a difficult issue covering a multitude of areas relating to certain freedoms and welfare of people.

Issues to consider when entering this minefield of practicalities, emotions, entitlements, considerations and ideology is that no nation has a historically clean bill of health in this arena  and  even currently very few are a Utopian bastion of all that is good.

We can condemn China for the recent Nobel occurrence but China has raised more people out of poverty in the last 20 years than any other nation on earth.

We can hardly say the UK is without fault, having just paid £ millions in compensation to renditioned, tortured, Guantanamo and other detention centre detainees, to prevent court action against HM Government.

The EU pays Libya to intercept and return asylum seekers heading to the EU despite the human rights issues of Libya itself.  Poland and Romania currently (pending Ukrainian EU association) are the front line to refuse asylum seekers from places like Chechnya even entering EU territory and thus preventing the claiming of asylum as they do not enter EU territory.

France and the Roma are another issue, not to mention the Burk-ah ban .

Then there was the 2007 report from the EU stating “black prisons” in Poland and Romania existed for US “persons of interest” to be unofficially held indefinitely and secretly.

Hungary and Italy have passed laws this year which could seriously be interpreted to stifle the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

The partial climb down of the EU over the SWIFT issues with the USA and personal data  another example of a trade off over human rights.

Then we can look at the larger picture of even the most Utopian nations having trade and official relationships with some of the most odious regimes on the planet such as Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe.

The prima facie case suggests duplicity of the highest order and in some respects this is true.

One has to ask the question however, if you do not engage officially and within such an odious regime, how do you expect to slowly try and change that regime’s outlook on human rights?  It is surely much harder to do so from outside the territory of the said regime.

Sanctions have a habit of  adversely affecting those who are already suffering rather than those who are causing the degradation of their subjects.

The current shenanigans with Wikileaks is another example.  If the US goes after Wikileaks then surely it has to go after each and every newspapers that has also published the cables, not to mention the now thousands of mirror sites that have sprung up.

All terribly difficult when you have to consider the seemingly duplicitous actions of your own nation, past and present (and possibly future) when trying to encourage change in another nation.

There are obviously issues with pragmatism via trade and engagement verses idealism of blanking a regime and shouting at it from afar when you can be more easily ignored.

To make any difference to any nation with regards to human rights (or any other issue for that matter) there needs to be a consistent attitude,  a set policy, a sustained focus, appropriate technologies applied when and where possible and all the aforementioned complimented by adequate resources to achieve the goals you have set…….or it is completely pointless.

Let us take one small example of the U K’s projects in Ukraine relating to human rights, one particularly close to my heart, that of disability.

I would 100% support the work that has been done over 2 years getting 132 disabled people into work, however how do they get to work?

A major issue in every city in Ukraine is the mobility of disabled people before they can even get to work.  If the lift does not work in their apartment block they are trapped until it does and it can take the Zhek months to repair a broken lift.

Once they are in the street, how many disabled buses run?  How many have ramps, hydraulic lifts and the space for a wheelchair?  How often do they run?  Are they advertised so disabled people know where and what time a bus that can accommodate them will be passing?

Once in the city, haw many shops, restaurants, banks, bars and buildings are accessible?  How many have ramps and lifts?

Now of course some buildings simply cannot accommodate ramps but many can.

How many places have toilets big enough (let alone equipped) for a disabled person to use a toilet even if there is a ramp to the toilet and not stairs?

How many European and US companies are in Ukraine and completely ignore their Head Office policies back in their home nations relating to disabled access?  Quite honestly almost all fail on this issue despite there are indeed laws in Ukraine relating to disabled access and mobility.  You can be quite sure such access exists in their locations outside Ukraine where legislation and fines are enforced.

If there are some EU Embassies which are pushing disabled issues in Ukraine, such as the UK has done, then surely pressing the companies and subsidiaries of entities registered in their nations to adhere to their own corporate policies here would be a very good start when it comes to leading by example.

It is not hard to do.  I wrote 5 letters for a disabled charity in Odessa to 5 foreign owned banks here to various head offices around Europe,  pointing out relevant Ukrainian laws they were breaching relating to disabled access and highlighting their own corporate policies at which they were in divergence.  3 installed ramps at several of their city centre branches where the environment would allow.

I am a nobody, completely insignificant to both my home nation and Ukraine and yet managed to get something done.  I would expect that a concerted effort from numerous embassies to their national corporate entities in Ukraine would have a much greater effect if they actively encouraged this, particularly as many such corporate entities enjoy a relationship with their embassies when it comes to representing or defending their interests with the government of Ukraine.

Is there consistent pressure on architects and city planners when it comes to disabled access and facilities or will new buildings be as unfriendly as the existing ones for the disabled community?  Who is pressuring the local governments to insure that such considerations are taken?  How many local government officials are looking at the new apartment blocks and asking that x% have slightly wider doors into the apartments?  A facilities management scheme to ensure timely life repair if communal areas are not adopted by the Zhek?

Are they pressuring the Zhek to prioritise broken lifts?

I am sure that the 132 people who have benefited from the UK Embassy project are incredibly grateful in the two cities targeted by the project but there is a simple and effective way to influence the issue on a national basis by each and every Embassy actively encouraging the corporate entities with Head Offices incorporated in their own nations, raising the issue about their subsidiaries inaction in Ukraine.  Just worthy of some thought maybe?

Anyway, this post which has turned into something of a rant (apologies), is here to highlight the new UK Embassy Ukraine human rights page.

If you are particularly keen to get involved in the disabled project highlighted by the UK Embassy, have a look at the below link:

http://www.eef.org.ua/index.php?page=catalog&id=18&lang=en

%d bloggers like this: