Archive for the ‘Ukraine Visa’ Category

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Italy to open Consulate in Odessa soon

April 2, 2013

A very short and sweet entry today.

Yet another diplomatic mission will soon open in Odessa – this time Italian – which will please the good woman if it has the ability to produce Visas, as Italy is a nation that particularly attracts her for reasons of history, architecture, food and of course fashion.

Very good.  That makes half a dozen Consulates opened in Odessa in as many years and leaves Odessa housing close to 20 diplomatic missions.

Naturally the UK isn’t one of them – not even an Honorary Consul, despite an ever growing and vibrant local diplomatic community – but I have come to expect nothing less.

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EU “Smart Borders” – Easier traveling for Ukrainians?

March 4, 2013

Now, as we all know, Ukrainian Visa-free travel with the EU should be a lot closer to reality than it actually is.  Particularly as this issue has been deliberately kept free of personality/government image/perception politics and kept fully insulated within the technical and legal requirements to facilitate it.  No more and no less.

The simple fact is, Visa-free travel for Ukrainians is not as close to being a reality as it could be because of the inaction of the Ukrainian politicians failing to pass the necessary legislation and fighting over the business interests when it comes to who will actually get the lucrative contracts to  produce biometric passports etc.

In truth very little blame can be attached to the EU over the failure of Ukraine to do what needs to be done to actually make Visa-free travel a reality for its citizenry.  The goal posts are not moving.  It is in fact an open goal free from effects of  playing field shifting political shenanigans.  Failure to score in the gaping goal is completely and utterly the fault of the Ukrainian political elite – who one suspects are on the receiving end of far fewer Visa refusals than the average Ukrainian.  Quite frankly, nobody else is to blame.

However, whilst the population of Ukraine patiently wait for their lackluster and self-centered elite to do what is necessary to remove what is often a very expensive, logistically burdensome, heavily and often overly intrusive bureaucratic process, the European Commission is trying to convince the European Parliament to engage in a “Smart Borders” project to make travel easier for people from “third countries”.

The cost of this project – an estimated Euro 1.1 billion.  In EU speak estimated is equivalent to saying “at a minimum”.

The system is supposed to divide visitors to the EU into two categories.  Regular visitors (RTS) and occasional visitors (EES).

Regular visitors will apply to be registered as such – and if successful will be given some form of smart/swipe card and can simply swipe their way into and out of the EU – like some form of electronic Schengen Visa centrally issued and centrally monitored.

Occasional visitors will rely on their biometric passports – or not in the case of Ukraine which is still to generate its first biometric passport for the reasons I have listed above.

Those with biometric passport will have the details stored for 6 months on entry – unless they have previously overstayed when such details can be retained indefinitely according to the proposal – Privacy activists no doubt will have issues with “indefinitely”.

Further, all information gathered can be “available to” all national police institutions.  Whether they will be legally bound to delete all information they may take that was “available” after 6 months, I suspect, will become another major issue.  In effect they can “obtain” all biometric data of any non-EU member entering the EU from a centrally held data base (until deleted) at any time – and may not have to delete it after 6 months as the central data base will.

Hmmm.

Privacy issues aside, surely there is only one simple question to be asked and answered here.

Will the new system make life significantly easier for the EU nations, easier for travelers, but strike the necessarily right balance against illegal/irregular migration?  At an estimated Euro 1.1 billion (guaranteed to be much more), “significant” is an issue here!

Anyway, if this manages to get past the European Parliament and actually become a reality, one has to suspect it will not become reality for a good 5 years at least – probably longer.

Will Ukraine have produced a biometric passport by then?

If it has, then many of the legislative (and business interests) that are preventing it actually making Visa-free a reality for its citizenry will have already been overcome.  The technical monitoring phase would be well underway.  Visa-free imminent, in effect.

So whilst the benefits for the EU from this “smart borders” project seem rather limited from the outset (whether that third nation is Ukraine or not) – and are replete with “privacy issues” – the benefits for Ukraine, as long as the politicians get their self-centred fingers out of their incredibly idle arses, should theoretically be zero given the time frames.

……..And yet, I write this in the full expectation of having to register my wife on the Regular Travelers Programme sometime after 2018 – which will have limited benefit to the EU, limited benefit for her and underline just how feckless the Ukrainian political elite across the entire political spectrum actually is.

Not that any of the above will help much with the UK – Due to my wife regularly swapping her eyeballs, altering her fingerprints frequently, and changing the bone structure of her face as often as the bedding, she will necessarily have to continue to haul herself to Kyiv to be “re-biometricised” every time she needs a new UK Visa.

Rather than be offered a postal service option, having already held 4 UK Visas and thus the UK having her biometrics that many times already – we will continue with the idea she is some form of shape-shifter.

Although to be honest, when the next one expires we may never go again – the UK really isn’t that interesting compared to the rest of Europe – and Schengen Visas are easy to get without leaving Odessa should the “Smart Borders” project be rejected and the old systems remain in place.

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Slovakia – the Ukrainian tourist’s best friend?

February 5, 2013

Well I was going to write something quite heavy relating to the forthcoming visit of Stefan Fule to Ukraine on 7th February, bit it will have to wait – if it ever gets written at all now.

Instead, we will have a look at recent statements coming from the Slovakian diplomatic missions in Ukraine.

“If a person already had a visa and used it within the law, that is if he had a tourist visa and really visited the stated place and returned on time, we can give him a visa for five years.” 

If the applicant for a visa has never been to a country of the Schengen area, he will receive a visa for a period of six months to two years, and if he has already had a Schengen visa, he can get a multiple-entry visa for two to five years.

“Slovak diplomats issued 6,000 visas to Ukrainians in January, or almost two times more than in December. They can be issued in Uzhgorod or Kyiv.” – Janka Burianova Slovak Consular General Ukraine

Blimey – 5 year Schengen Visas available from your nearest Slovak diplomatic mission in Ukraine!  (As long as you travel into the Schengen area and leave it via Slovakia).

There will be queues outside their mission in Kyiv and the airports of Bratislava and Kosice may well become a transit hub (after a short stay in Slovakia as per the Schengen rules), for a lot of Ukrainians wanting to visit nations that would otherwise turn down their Visa applications – particularly such long term Visas!

It certainly won’t do Slovak tourism any harm – even if many Ukrainian visitors are only going to stay 24/48 hours in Slovakia before heading onwards into deepest darkest Schengen territory.

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Questions over Christmas – Ukrainian civil society…..again

January 9, 2013

Whilst we here in Ukraine celebrated Christmas, esteemed colleagues, thinkers, policy makers, commentators, advisors, academics, think-tanks et al in western Europe had returned to work revitalised and energised from their own festive season.

So whilst 6th, 7th and 8th have been days of festive excess for me, my email has been steadily collecting questions from a diverse selection of people – from think-tanks in Brussels to PhD students at Surrey University to give you and idea of the spectrum.

From the assorted bag of issues to which my thoughts have been requested to wander and comment, these three questions I will share with you – as well as my initial comments.

1.  “How would you describe the level of activity of civil society in Ukraine?”

2.  “How would you describe the level of engagement with government of civil society in Ukraine?”

3.  “What is your perception of the effectiveness of EU democracy promotion in Ukraine?”

Blimey!

As normal academics ask such simple questions that always involve very long answers – none of which can be black or white, are exceptionally difficult to measure, and almost impossible to judge depending upon what time-frame we are to put on the answer.

So in order to keep this short (and less than academic for the purposes of this blog), I will combine the first two questions.  How would I describe the level of activity of civil society in Ukraine and how would I describe the level of engagement with government of civil society in Ukraine?

Well it is active – and it is vibrant.  It is also mostly ineffective and ignored by government and society alike.

The numbers of civil society entities certainly falls well short of those for most other nations in Europe per capita, if we are to stick to the hard definitions of recognised NGOs, think-tanks, NFPs etc.

It is very, very difficult to think of an instance where civil society has changed any Ukrainian government policy, past or present.  The reasons for this relate not only to the “arbiter/rental society” system that still very much runs through Ukrainian society itself, but also the same ‘rental society” system that covertly runs through civil society – not only in Ukraine.

As far as civil society goes, it needs funding and thus  becomes beholding to those that fund it.  This places it into two broad categories. The first, State funded, and thus assimilated, coerced, cajoled, controlled – anything but independent in the purest sense of the word.

That in turn leads to access to government and possible small victories at the very periphery of the cause the NGO was set up for, in return for defence of, or silence over, government policy that may very well seemingly run quite contrary to the cause of the NGO – but funding is needed for longevity and success requires access to, and a listening government.  Civil society, lest we forget, has become a profession unto itself for many, with access to the elite if you play the game right.

Needless to say, a government funded civil society entity can also be unleashed to pooh-pooh others in the same field who are less government friendly.  In short, and throughout global history, civil society has by and large been treated with hostility by almost all governments of every nation.  The need to now lobby for funds, or “rent seek” for want of a better expression, leads in many cases to complicity for those who receive State funding.

The other group falls into the category of externally funded.  By and large, in Ukraine, these actors in civil society are given nothing more than lip service by the government of the day – at best – and are completely ignored most of the time.

It is not only government that ignores civil society either.  To give two recent examples where civil society was ignored by Ukrainian society at large, the protests that drew more than 10,000 Ukrainians to the streets over the proposed tax code only a few years ago was certainly A-political, was not driven by any NGO, but was simply outrage amongst the populous from every corner of the nation.

Changes were made to the tax code – civil society little more than a witness.

The horrific case of the young girl in Nikoliev last year, raped, burned alive and who eventually died some weeks later, led almost to lynch mobs in the city streets when it became apparent that the well-to-do culprits may well bribe their way out of the repercussions.

Those responsible did receive lengthy prison sentences eventually, but no rule of law entity took that situation by the horns and led the populous either.

Ukrainian society is seemingly suspicious of civil society just as much as any Ukrainian government of the day.  This leaves civil society in its very own bubble, in most cases divorced from a listening ear in government and also divorced from society and the causes within society it claims to champion.

Thus civil society is left to have conversations with itself and any external sponsors it may have, but gets no traction in society or victories from government.

The next tax law amendment to be submitted to the RADA is being done after discussion with PriceWaterhouseCooper – a corporate entity – with almost no civil society input whatsoever – a case in point and an indicator to where influence truly sits and the implications for the future of Ukrainian policy making?

Ukrainian society it seems is prepared to wait for a serious wrong to occur before it will rise up and force government to amend policy – at which point it will return to daily life – with no place/use for civil society whatsoever as the intermediary.

I could go on and on, but now to the 3rd question –  “What is your perception of the effectiveness of EU democracy promotion in Ukraine?”

This is actually quite difficult to assess.  Over what time-frame should it be assessed?  It took the UK 900 years to become a “democracy” as we see it today.  Independent Ukraine is only just over 20 years old.  Not that time is necessarily a justifiable excuse.  Poland managed to progress very well in a very limited time-frame.

That said, Poland had a far more autonomous administrative infrastructure than Ukraine when the USSR and Warsaw Pact dissolved and Poland was left with a real and urgent need to modernise every part of the national psyche when Germany and not Russia became the most important geopolitical entity overnight.  Needs must – and in Ukraine the need thus far has not been a must.

Despite the Euro hundreds of millions pumped into EaP civil society by the EU, it is actually quite unclear how this money is being effectively measured when it comes to “success”.  What is “success” when it comes to Ukrainian civil society?  The longevity of the entities?  The number of entities?  The almost non-existent civil society victories when changing government policy?  The support of society for civil society?  Is it simply a case of getting to a stage where most Ukrainians could name just 5 civil society entities working in Ukraine – let alone their region?

It is difficult to assess the pros and cons of the EU and in particular the EPP headlining Ms Tymoshenko as a democracy issue – almost “the” democracy issue – when scanning the Ukrainian and European press.

Throughout her trial, arrest and on-going imprisonment demonstrations for her release have not numbered more than a few thousand, even if we include those demonstrators paid to demonstrate.  A beacon of democracy she is not in the eyes of the Ukrainian public – no matter how much she may quote or plagiarise Vaclav Havel (and others) from her current accommodation.

The sting in the tail of the final ODIHR report on the Ukrainian 2012 elections seems somewhat muted due to Ukraine taking over the 2013 chair of the very organisation that generated the report.

Internal EU issues with Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Roma, the Euro, ad hoc adherence to ECfHR rulings, the structural issues of the supra-structure itself etc also do not go unnoticed.  The EU and its constituent parts are far from walking their own talk and this creates an apathetic atmosphere towards the EU.  An atmosphere frustrated and multiplied by the hassles of getting Visas to enter the EU for many Ukrainians.

Furthermore, the EU, or rather its constituent parts, seem to have no clear and identifiable plan for Ukraine – neither short or long term.  Certainly not one that has been conveyed to the people of Ukraine.  What is the external incentive for the average Ukrainian to move from the rental society model to a model of a supra-structure that has no clear plan for them or their nation, should such a painful social upheaval take place?

What carrot is on offer to them as individuals to force change from the bottom up – particularly when the model on offer has had some very significant flaws pushed into the limelight over the past 5 years, none of which seem to have been dealt with?

“Do as I say, not as I do” will not float here anymore than faith in civil society will come from the masses as an unconditional goodwill gesture.  Perception counts in a nation that has a deeply ingrained cynicism towards “the structure” and those within “the structure”.

For whatever effort the EU is putting into promotion of democracy in Ukraine, it is quite unclear how they are actually promoting it to the people – let alone effectively – as government is listened to with a massive degree of cynicism (regardless of government) and civil society talks only to itself and has yet to work out how to effectively engage with the populous.  Yet there seems to be absolutely no direct communication (or even attempt) by the EU to engage the people of Ukraine, despite these obvious issues.

That said, many a citizen within the EU would state that the EU is exceptionally poor at reaching out to them directly also.

These are naturally my first thoughts in response to the questions asked, and empirical they are in their context.  I may return to this in more depth later in the year!

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More embarrassment? Barroso, Moldova and Ukraine

September 17, 2012

Only a few days ago I wrote this and suggested that the national embarrassment of coming in second behind Moldova, a nation that is the butt of all Ukrainian jokes when it comes to stupidity, may be a useful lever in EU/Ukrainian relations.

It seems other may also think it not a bad idea either.  Only 2 days after I wrote that, Mr Barosso of the EU added further embarrassment to the authorities in Kyiv by stating that the EU and Moldova expect to sign the Association Agreement between both parties in September 2013, such is the progress that has been made.

That immediately puts pressure on Kyiv to un-stick  the signing of the EU-Ukrainian Association Agreement  currently floundering over issues, most notably Ms Tymoshenko’s incarceration, preventing a signing that would in all likelihood have been completed by now if she had not been jailed.

Unfortunately, that however, now ends the wafting around of the Moldova stick as far as Ukrainian political ego is concerned by the EU.  Nevertheless it has been successful at getting the legislation for Visa-free back to the top of the political agenda now Moldova moves to Stage 2 of the road-map process and Ukraine remains mired in Stage 1 and maybe it will prove equally motivating for the Association Agreement.

When the electoral circus eventually leaves town, it will be the time to look at the policy priorities for the rest of the year.

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Embarrassment as a motivational lever? EU Visa-free and Ukraine

September 12, 2012

Last week the EU appraised Moldova against the Visa-free road-map it was given, pretty much at the same time as Ukraine was given the same road-map.

The up-shot of that appraisal?  Moldova has overtaken Ukraine and can now move from Stage 1 to Stage 2 of the said road-map.  In short it has its technical and legislative act together whereas Ukraine quite simply hasn’t.

Why hasn’t Ukraine got its technical and legislative act together?  The answer is of course, vested interests.  Vested interests alongside a RADA comprised of a majority, from all parties, that are simply unfit to be MPs due to the lack of intellect, law drafting ability and critical thinking.  We won’t even go down the integrity route.

The two major obstacles that have caused Ukraine to be overtaken by Moldova, which is a national embarrassment that I will explain shortly, have been firstly the vested interests over just whom would get the deal to produce tens of millions of biometric passports on behalf of Ukraine, in line with the road-map, and a very lucrative deal that will be.

Needless to say, there have been squabbles amongst the elite over just who would land this contract.  A decision has recently been made, but during the year or so this in-fighting has lasted, Moldova has plodded quietly along.

The second major obstacle has been that of legislation relating to data protection and a single consolidated list of just who lives in Ukraine that holds Ukrainian citizenship and thus would be entitled to hold a new biometric passport.

I kid you not, there is no single list of all citizens in Ukraine that currently exists.  There are regional tax lists, regional voters lists, regional OVIR lists, property registers, registered vehicle owners etc, but there is, as yet, no single national list where everybody is listed.

Again, here, Moldova has stolen a march, although it is a much smaller geographical area with a far smaller populous if we are in need of very limp excuses.

And now to the embarrassment issue.  Moldova and the Moldavians are seen by Ukrainians and Russians alike, something akin to how the Irish are  by the British – they are the butt of all jokes when it comes to stupidity and being intellectually challenged.

Therefore, to have been given a road-map to Visa-free travel within the EU at the same time (or there abouts) as Ukraine and to now be starting on Stage 2 of that road-map whilst Ukraine is nowhere near completing Stage 1, is nothing short of a national embarrassment for the current government.

So much of an embarrassment in fact, that on the day the EU announced Moldova will now begin Stage 2 of the Visa-free road-map, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Konstyantyn Gryshchenko issued a statement stating that Visa-free travel for Ukrainians was the upper-most priority for the Foreign Ministry.

Indeed, almost immediately, the laws on data protection topped the priority list in the RADA and on Thursday 6th September, almost immediately after the news from the EU relating to Moldova reached the ears of the Ukrainian legislators, some 254 of the 349 registered MPs that day voted for a bill on amending certain legislative acts of Ukraine concerning the protection of personal data.

The draft law proposes to change the scope of the law of Ukraine on the protection of personal data, particularly establishing that it applies to all actions on personal data processing, and not only databases with personal data.

The document also proposes to regulate the issue of the cross-border transfer of personal data, and define the European economic area countries, as well as the countries that signed the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data, as those that provide an adequate level of personal data protection in the case of transferring personal data to other countries.

In short, Ukrainian national and legislative pride was hurt by the EU announcement and the fact that Moldova has its act together, over this issue at least, far more than that of Ukraine.

Given that so far, EU carrots and sticks have a very limited effect on Ukrainian politics, even if they have a greater effect on policy, maybe continual embarrassment with comparison to the butt of all Ukrainian jokes, namely Moldova, will have much more of an effect in other areas?

It has certainly generated a political and legislative response this time.

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An open letter to the Foreign Office – Chernobyl Children’s Visas

September 6, 2012

To the very clever people in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London UK.

I write that opening sentence with some sincerity, despite the sarcastic tone it may convey.  I have in my many  years living in Russia and latterly Ukraine met a good number of UK Ambassadors, Charges d’Affaires and other assorted FCO staff as they have rotated through on their 5 year cycles, either at “Brit gatherings” or during “one to one’s” when my presence has been requested.

Not one has struck me as a dullard or as being obviously muddleheaded.  Maybe I have been fortunate.

Maybe it is FCO policy to keep the dullards and muddleheaded that somehow go into the FCO safely imprisoned in the catacombs of Whitehall where it is felt they will do little damage diplomatically or politically on foreign soil.  Then again, there is Craig Murray to disprove that thinking.

Whatever, it seems that somebody has dreamed up a policy that I simply do not understand.

I realise that my seat of university education is in no way deemed equal to that of the Oxford and Cambridge graduates I have met putting Blighty’s best foot forward in the former Soviet Union.  However, I did emerge with a degree in civil engineering and consider myself to be fairly bright even if not the sharpest tool in the tool box.

The policy that I do not understand is this one.  I am something at a loss as to why the UK would remove the gratis status of Visas for the children with the legacy effects of the Chernobyl nuclear incident and reintroduce Visa fees.

Is it an issue of cost?  Does the UK need a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch to step in and stump up the costs and in doing so improve their image whilst damaging our own?

I do appreciate that a six month Visa for a Ukrainian to the UK is UAH 1056, or in Sterling, about 85 quid.  A princely sum I’ll grant you.  After all, if 100 of these unfortunate children visited the UK for free, that would come to the value of a couple of  bottles of the better wine in the Ambassadorial residence in Kyiv – maybe even an average bottle in the FCO cellars back home!

Now I do not quibble of the cost of a good wine mind you.  Especially when entertaining people of import from foreign  nations.  Making the right impression matters and builds personal relationships that are essential.  And yet I wonder what impression the reintroduction of Visa fees for the living legacy of Chernobyl, namely this generation of affected children you now want to start charging for Visas,  also has.

I can only presume this is a matter of cost, although I do wonder just what percentage of cost to the UK it is, in relation to the Euro hundreds of millions that has been donated to complete the Chernobyl Sarcophagus Mk II.  How much did the UK put into that additional sum, on top of what has already been donated over the years?

I’d wager far more than waving a few Visa fees for those that suffer the on-going effects from that tragedy.

Maybe it isn’t about costs?  Possibly I have headed up the wrong path?

Could it be that the UK simply doesn’t want these children to visit anymore and the reintroduction of fees is a deliberate additional hurdle?

But no, that can’t be.  The UK’s consistently declared position over Ukraine is that it supports Visa-free travel for all Ukrainian citizens  within the EU and the people to people contact that brings.  In light of that support for abolishing Visas for Ukrainians with the EU, it would make no sense to add additional hurdles to such a small number of people, when championing the removal of Visas for all the people.

Well, maybe it can make sense.

After all, it is very easy to be a vocal supporter of such a policy if you know nations such as Germany are opposed and with kibosh any real chance of that happening in the near future.  The UK gains favour with Ukraine for the vocal support, even if actually against what it is supporting, safe in the knowledge others will continually stop it happening.

The added bonus is that supporting Ukrainian Visa-free with the EU doesn’t necessarily mean supporting Visa-free with the UK does it.  After all, the UK is not within the Schengen agreement.  The UK can sit back and see what happens before removing Visas for the UK.

Nevertheless, I am struggling to see a diplomatic, economic or political  reason for this change of policy that delivers anything positive for the UK, unless the additional savings equate to a better stocked wine cellar – by a bottle or two anyway – but it all adds up I suppose.

I can see the potential for a fair amount of negative public relations, possibly domestic in the UK and certainly regionally.

It seems strange to be continuing to acknowledge the on-going legacy of Chernobyl by throwing in a few million quid into the EU pot aimed at finally sealing the leaking reactor and yet to be quibbling over the cost of 6 month visitors Visas for a small number of sick children.

It would be bizarre to throw additional hurdles in the way of such children getting Visas when the UK official line is to support Ukrainian people to people contact via Visa-free with the EU – or has that long standing policy changed?

Maybe it is me that is muddleheaded.  Am I missing something obvious whereby this policy change is clearly in the interest of the UK?

This leaves me considering the possibility that this policy is the British “tat” for a Ukrainian diplomatic or political “tit” and whilst the “tat” may not be directly connected to the offending “tit” in this “tit-for-tat”, we all know that everything is connected even when it appears not to be.

Regardless, do feel free to enlighten me as this will be incredibly hard to justify when asked by the Ukrainians I live amongst – and I do always try to justify the actions of the UK positively where ever possible when asked, even if I don’t agree with them personally.

I remain Sir, etc etc

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