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The inevitable Tomos

October 1, 2018

Autocephaly and Tomos of the Ukrainian Orthodox Kyiv Patriarchate, which first appeared to be becoming a reality in April 2018, will assuredly occur before the year end.

A matter worthy of note for a blog that (willingly or otherwise) continues to be pulled toward matters of organised crime and national security (occasionally not withstanding “defence” more broadly).

As such the autocephaly of the Kyiv Patriarchate and church-wide recognition of the Kyiv Patriarchate as an independent and equal entity to that of the long-perceived subordinating Moscow Patriarchate is in a broad sense a matter of national security.  This not only as it will reduce Moscow meddling within the bureaucracy and hierarchy within the Kyiv Patriarchate (despite a number of its current subversive clergy within the Kyiv church), but also as a solid block within the foundation of nation building.

There will no doubt be media interest from just which patriarchate any potential/current parliamentarian will wheel out and be photographed with during the next Verkhovna Rada election period from summer to October 2019.

For some, such as Vadim Novinsky, Sergei Kivalov and Nikolai Skorik, clearly the choice is already made.  Certainly Messrs Novinsky and Kivalov have a decades long and very public association with the Moscow Patriarchate.

For others like Mr Skorik, he will follow the Oppo Block party line – or for as long as his ultimate master Dmitry Firtash desires such an association.

If proof were required, the 29th September visit to Odessa of the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine Onufry provided it.

Naturally also present were Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria and Metropolitan of Odessa and Izmail Agafangel.  Agafangel for 30 years has been a stalwart backer of Moscow and The Kremlin, and became particularly prominent due to a natural and undoubtedly prolonged shift in societal view away from Moscow since 2014.

Indeed, Agafangel has oft been accused (perhaps not inaccurately) of being far more than the shepherd of soviet and post-Soviet Kremlin leaning souls in the southwest of Odessa.  Occasionally he has been accused of being far more than a passionate useful Kremlin idiot, or even an agent provocateur too.

Of course Tomos and autocephaly will be robustly resisted by those aforementioned, despite its inevitability prior to the year end.

A reader may perhaps keep a watchful eye upon the permission to build Kyiv Patriarchate places of worship in deepest and darkest south-western Odessa – or not, when permission is not forthcoming, or forever stuck in local authority bureaucracy.

No doubt a rather defiant but pointless stand when, as the years and decades ahead pass and the Kyiv Patriarchate will come to dominate (if not completely replace) the Moscow Patriarchate.

It will thus be interesting to witness which Patriarchate the parliamentary and local political class wheel out for their election/re-election campaigns and festive season messages of goodwill and hope that will infect the local television broadcasts a few months hence.

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Activist shot in Odessa and claims Odessa City Hall responsible – Tzar or Boyars?

September 23, 2018

Odessa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov has just gone on holiday for 2 weeks.

No sooner had he done so, the following day Odessa activist and political agitator and public figure (People Power party) Oleg Mikhailik was shot the following day.

Despite being shot with military rather than traumatic ammunition, fortunately the bullet having past through his arm and entering his chest leaving his in a serious condition, it appears Mr Mikhailik is destined to survive (this time at least).

Those closest to Mr Mikhailik have been swift to point an accusing finger at Mayor Gennady Trukhanov – perhaps understandably, for Mayor Trukhanov’s criminal history is hardly one that is devoid of violence or a literal body count, and is a man often (rightly) targeted by Mr Mikhailik.

Perhaps a reasonable presumption to make – perhaps a leap a little too far without more substantial evidence of Mayor Trukhanov’s involvement.

So is the Tzar responsible?

Is it a coincidence that the Mayor went on holiday immediately prior to the assassination attempt on Mr Mikhailik?

If there is a connection as claimed by those surrounding the victim, is Gennady Trukhanov going to claim he wasn’t even in the city when it happened and it is therefore nothing to do directly with him – a flimsy and distinctly narrow alibi, but nevertheless a narrative for the media.

Certainly the odds appear to be very much in favour of Mr Mikhailik having been targeted for his social/anti-corruption and/or political activity.  The odds of a domestic/neighbourly dispute being the source of this incident appear to be far more remote.

However, Mr Mikhailik has also targeted others within City Hall and has thus made enemies among the Boyars too.  History dictates that the Tzar will blame the naughty Boyars when corrupt and nefarious matters make their way into the public domain.

So is this a case of the Tzar is away and immediately the Boyars will play – at the expense of Oleg Mikhailik?

Further, all of those within City Hall have their vested interests outside of City Hall – and some of those interests have also faced the interventions of Mr Maikhailik.  Perhaps those interests beyond City Hall and those involved in those vested interests from beyond City Hall have taken matters into their own hands.

Whatever the case, the incident is being formally treated as an attempted assassination by the police and prosecutors office in Odessa.  Mr Mikhailik is also under police protection – at least while still in hospital.

Some may find this somewhat ironic given a history of allegations from Mr Mikhailik (again not without empirical, prima facie evidence) of particularly slow, half-blind, or entirely absent investigative incidents by the police relating to City Hall and those within.

Time will tell whether the offenders will be identified with regard to this particular incident – or not.

However, Odessa over the past few years has witnessed a continuing trend of attacks upon activists, journalists, civil society members and social media individuals all of whom have consistently called out the Trukhanov City Hall as a cesspit of corruption.

The broader question is perhaps whether this trend will see a rapid up-turn now elections are upon the horizon and what will be done by way of preventative measures (either before or behind the curtain) – if anything.  If so, where will intervention with sufficient power come from?  Kyiv?  The Governor?  Clearly it won’t come voluntarily from within City Hall.

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State Bureau of Investigations – A false start awaits

September 22, 2018

It has been quite some time since the truly glacial progression of the State Bureau of Investigation has earned a mention by the blog.

Its glacial formation is no surprise – for it is political expediency driving its delivery, hence the sporadic and ad hoc updates thus far.

Suffice to say, as long, long predicted, the anti-corruption court, Financial Investigations Department and State Bureau of Investigation will not be fully functioning entities prior to the presidential elections (as intended), nor will any judicial outcomes from their most (potentially) prominent cases be forthcoming prior to the Verkhovna Rada elections in October 2019 – parliamentary immunity must first be bestowed upon the next gaggle of parliamentarians to facilitate behind the curtain deals.

Nevertheless there is a political requirement to have a “functioning” SBI prior to any elections for the sake of perception – even if there is no realistic chance of judicial remedies being delivered prior to elections.

Low expectations regarding time frames now set, it is perhaps worth noting how far the glacier has moved since the above linked entries.

According to recent statements by Director Roman Trub the first criminal proceedings of the SBI will be opened in November – after (some of) his staff is successfully selected.  That anticipated staffing number is approximately 1500, of which 320 have been appointed, 674 are almost at the end of the selection process, and the remainder are far from reaching the finishing line.

Nevertheless November appears to be the date set for the first investigations being opened – and as the SBI is still without premises, an incomplete recruitment by default means fewer people to find office space for when there are no premises to put them in.

As stated by Director Trub, “I understand that not all matters will be dealt with in the near future.  We cannot wait – we will start working with the resources that are available.  Without appropriate premises, operational units and management.”

Well why not?

What could possibly go wrong when the only issues are a lack of appropriate premises for personnel and evidence storage, a lack of operational personnel and management?

Only the most cynical and skeptical would predict a litany of preventable issues occurring by pressing onward regardless.

Only the cynical and skeptical would anticipate evidence chains getting compromised, lost, stolen, destroyed or misfiled.

Only they would foresee defence lawyers and judges not only questioning evidence chain integrity, but also operatives overstepping their remits without management supervision, or indeed operational performance being stifled due to a lack of management and easily accessible management authority level for operational purposes.

There are then matters of institutional “canteen culture” (without a canteen) and esprit de corps to consider among an institutionally homeless SBI.

Therefore, having set low expectations regarding timeliness above, it is perhaps wise to set even lower expectations of the embryonic “achievements” of the SBI when they begin to occur.

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The next big scandal of Odessa City Hall waiting to happen?

September 19, 2018

Such is the scale and breadth of corruption within Odessa City Hall under Mayor Gennady Trukhanov, it takes circumstances quite special for the next major scam and criminal activity to stand out as either brazen or of significance by way of future implications.

When such particular circumstances form, the blog usually tries to identify them before (or at the very least as) they happen so a reader can watch events unfold.  Unfortunately there are simply too many such incidents commented upon by the blog to link to them all.  A reader is therefore left to employ the search engine within the blog.

The planets are currently aligning for the next big criminal scandal to occur within Mayor Turkhanov’s Odessa City Hall – and despite 4 or 5 large NABU investigations into City Hall, a reader will be all too aware that this is unlikely to be a deterrent to those involved.

At the centre of the events currently unfolding is the Odessa CHP, responsible for providing the city heating.

It has long been an asset subject to criminal intention and activity.  An asset of attraction to the most serious of criminal and political players (when such individuals can be separated).

“Don” Angel Angert long targeted the CHP plant, drowning it in manipulated debt to his heating and power providers with a view to taking control of the asset via the courts and seizing it as payment for those outstanding debts.  Close friend of President Poroshenko and parliamentary leg-breaker Ihor Kononenko also had an interest in the plant and via two proxies (the Surkov borthers) prevented this “Angert seizure” happening by taking control of the debts.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Kononenko swiftly suffered mercury poisoning and “Don Angel” is also rumoured to have now left this mortal world via natural causes.

Nevertheless, the business partners of “Angel” remain – including long-time associates Mayor Gennady Trukhanov, Alexander Zhukov, Vladimir (Lampochka) Galanternik and in particular with regard to gas (and now banking) Igor Uchitel.

During the winter of 2017/18, Odessa City Hall was forced/stepped in to insure the continued functioning of Odessa CHP as Naftogaz Ukraine and other creditors sought to recover their debts.  It was critical that the plant continued to operate throughout the winter in Odessa.  Such a preventable societal disaster as scandals continued to seep out from City Hall was simply not an attractive prospect for Mayor Trukhanov’s City Hall.

Wednesday 19th September 2018 is likely to witness the adoption of Odessa CHP into the city’s communal property – albeit City Hall will not want to keep the CHP given the massive debts of the CHP to the likes of Naftogaz and others.  (The debts far exceed UAH 0.5 billion plus almost the same in late payment charges – approximately UAH 1 billion or more in total).

Thus taking the CHP plant into communal property under City Hall when City Hall has no desire to keep the asset, a reader can therefore interpret it as the first move toward the privatisation of the asset.

That being so, the question will be how transparent and/or legitimate the disposal of this asset will be when it occurs.  Is there a plan of how to dispose of the CHP once it becomes part of communal property?

Will the entire plant be privatised or part of it?

Will any partial or full privatisation come with the contract to supply (the monopolised) heating for the city?

Will Odessa City Hall “insure” that the debts of the CHP are written off by the Odessa courts prior to assuming the plant as communal property?  If so that would certainly make its subsequent privatisation (and monopoly) very attractive – despite the need for significant investment in the exiting plant and city infrastructure.

However, this is a Trukhanov City Hall.  Who would be interested and who will be entrusted to deal with the disposal of the asset into private hands (perhaps insuring the correct private hands) considering on-going NABU and SBU interest in Odessa City Hall?

The most obvious candidate with regard purchase has issues.  VS Group, controlled by Russian Alexander Babakov, sits behind Odessaoblenergo.  Odessaoblenergo is the most obvious (domestic) candidate to purchase the CHP.  However, Mr Babakov is on the current sanctions lists due to activities in Crimea (not that it seems to have affected his activities in Odessa).

Thus there is a need for a pair of deft and experienced hands to navigate the murky waters surrounding these circumstances and eventual sale.

Who then has Mayor Trukhanov nominated to deal with this asset?

Ivan Donchenko, by coincidence (cynicism) was appointed in late August 2018 as the new municipal head for heating supply of Odessa by Mayor Trukhanov.  The previous incumbent unexpectedly resigned.

Again by coincidence (cynicism), Mr Donchenko owns shares not only in the current CHP company, but also he owns shares in Odessaoblenergo.

Coincidence continues, as Mr Donchenko’s wife, Ekaterina Kovalchuk works in Odessa City Hall within the Department for Economic Development.

Of course there may well be other interested parties in the Odessa CHP (monopoly) if and when the debts are written off by the courts.  Odessaoblenergo may yet meet with some competition (or “competition”) in anything vaguely appearing to be a transparent privatisation (an event that Odessa City Hall continually goes to great lengths to avoid).

However, if there is a plan then at the time of writing, very few politicians within Odessa City Hall seem to know of one for there has been no leaks thus far – and there is no such thing as a secret within Odessa City Hall.

In short, all the ingredients for the next criminal scandal for Odessa City Hall are present – let’s see what it manages to cook up.

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The faithful voter – Ukraine

September 18, 2018

Back in April 2018 an entry appeared relating to the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Kyiv Patriarchy.

That entry concluded “That said, it is not often a president puts aside 7 hours for a meeting, the political rhetoric and momentum prima facie appears to be slightly different to the norm associated with presidential rhetoric, so perhaps, just perhaps, a positive decision has been signaled to President Poroshenko by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (and the Synod).

This appeal is something to watch that will have repercussions across the Ukrainian constituency should it come to pass.  It will also be interesting, should it come to pass prior to Verkhovna Rada elections in October 2019, as to which clergyman a politician will seek to recruit for their reelection campaign (and their Facebook and Instagram accounts will be replete with photographs of politicians with their “chosen” clergy as those elections draw near).”

To be blunt it was clear then that this was not the usual rhetoric from either side – and thus the entry was written.

Matters have progressed.

The Russian Orthodox Church has threatened to spit its dummy far from the orthodox manger should the Ukrainian church be removed from its administrative and social influence.  The usual threats of not recognising the decision of Constantinople, or leaving, suspending, and generally ignoring the Holy See of Constantinople have been made – no surprise when looking at Russian reactions in PACE, the G8 (no G7) and so on.  Entities wherein Russia expects to get its way or for matters to be understood through the Russian interpretation or it will leave/suspend its participation have witnessed Russia act as a petulant child when its desires have been rejected.

As it appears very probable that autocephaly for Ukraine will occur before the year end, and almost certainly well before the presidential elections of March 2019, it is perhaps worth pondering the impact of such an event.

Just how much of an effect will such a genuinely historic and fundamental nation building event actually influence the Ukrainian voter?

There is no doubt the current president would benefit from any electoral bounce relating to autocephaly – but will there be a bounce, and if so how big and for how long?

There is an obvious “other side to the coin” relating to potential voters of a significant leaning toward the Moscow Patriarch who may be swayed against President Poroshenko for delivering such nation building and yet perceived schism creating historic event.

There will also be those of the Kyiv Patriarch that have long been committed to it and for whom this event is simply political and bureaucratic machinations that otherwise do not influence their long-since committed leanings.

Many of the remainder are those that attend church for hatch, match and dispatch (christenings, marriages and funerals) and the occasional “special day” but otherwise are fairly indifferent to the church and its influences.

As such it is somewhat difficult to see any election changing outcomes for the current president as a result of this event in and of itself (despite it cementing his place in Ukrainian history when people look back decades from now).

Perhaps for maximum effect the presidential election team will have to incorporate this event into the other successes during his tenure as some form of multiplier in any claim of nation building.  It is otherwise difficult to see President Poroshenko gathering much electoral momentum from such a genuinely historic event.

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Gritsenko

September 13, 2018

Anatoli Gritsenko is a perennial presidential candidate and leader of the Civil Position party.

He is a man trading on a political past of long ago in relation to his last holding office – far enough back in history for his face to remain familiar but his acts and deeds (be they good, bad, or indifferent) somewhat dulled with the passage of time.

He often polls well – right up until polling day when the survey forecasts have consistently abandoned him leaving him un-elected and his party outside the walls of the Verkhovna Rada.

He is currently polling at about 12-13% of the vote – at least among the voters who claim to have already decided who they will vote for, which is therefore nothing like being the same thing as 12-13% of the national vote.

Since the beginning of 2018 Mr Gritsenko has made public overtures toward Misha Saakashvili’s Rukh New Forces, as well as political parties The DemAliance, The People’s Control, the Libertarians, European Party of Ukraine, and has made several flirtations toward Samopomich.

Naturally Samopomich is the biggest fish among minnows – it already has MPs in the Verkhovna Rada and a fairly well run party machinery – and it’s leader is also polling with 3-4% of decided voters for the presidential campaign.  Clearly Mr Gritsenko would like that 3% of the vote being bequeathed to him by the Mayor of Lviv Andrei Sadovy, as well as then borrowing the Samopomich party machinery to enhance presidential and then Verkhovna Rada ambitions.

In short Mr Gritsenko has spent all year trying to attract the minnows to him and sought their support for his presidential candidacy.  He has had varying success thus far, and the larger Samopomich fish has yet to be caught from among the minnows.

Further while it appears that the somewhat infamous Viktor Bolha will (eventually formally) act as campaign manager, a message of “fighting corruption” may be a difficult sell when your campaign manager has long been associated with industrial scale smuggling.  There are also one or two questionable old school names such as Nikolai Katerinchuk currently in close orbit, notwithstanding political technologists who once worked with Sergei Liovochkin in what some will perhaps consider “questionable ways”.

That said the team coalescing around him does include younger faces external of politics too.

12th September witnessed another public appeal from Mr Gritsenko to Samopomich to join his coalition of minnows – maybe they will (after extracting concessions and Verkhovna Rada guarantees), but the odds are probably against it, for there appears little to gain for Samopomich in doing so.

The problem for Mr Gritsenko is that of perception – it all appears a little too desperate (and it will only look worse as the electoral horizon gets ever closer).  Will we witness yet another polling day collapse during his presidential campaign – or if he succeeds, how quickly can he for a parliamentary force that will allow him to control/significantly influence the parliament?

It all still appears that success remains rather unlikely regardless of any opinion surveys.

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Constitutional Change (EU and NATO)

September 8, 2018

After travelling for a few days, perhaps a few lines are due relating to President Poroshenko’s proposals delivered to the Verkhovna Rada relating to constitutional change to enshrine NATO and EU membership within the Constitution of Ukraine.

There are of course many ways to perceive this decision domestically – considering the transparently expedient timing as presidential elections appear upon the immediate political horizon.  It is perhaps the last opportunity for the current president to display the ability to raise a constitution changing 300 (or more) votes from within the Verkhovna Rada during his current (and perhaps only) term.  A display (of sorts) of presidential political force.

Longer term however, there is also little chance over the following few decades that 300 votes would be gathered to overturn any changes that make the EU and NATO membership a constitutional obligation.

Blood has been spilled.  Rubicon crossed and all that.  Any amendments to remove such goals may well be seen as a course reversal at best, a turn toward Kremlin appeasement at worst.  Politically prickly for at least a generation.

In short, it would be a fairly robust constitutional insurance policy against a return to the past influences of the “northern neighbour”.  300 (plus) votes is far more difficult to gather than 226 for standard legislation when all is said and done.

Nevertheless, there is perhaps some debate to be had over whether the Constitution of Ukraine is the appropriate document for such political declarations.  Generally, a reader would probably associate a nation’s constitution as the basic principles and laws of a nation state that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people within it.

That said, a constitution is perhaps best being living document to maintain a contemporary social contract between a State and its citizens.  However the direction of NATO and the EU for a democratic nation’s society can also be, and is perhaps far better settled at the ballot box by voting for political parties that declare that their goal.

So is embedding such goals within the constitution either necessary or desirable?

There is also the rule of unintended consequences.  Any statutory law that may be interpreted as not progressing Ukraine toward EU and NATO membership, perhaps simply by not meeting “the European normative” could well be interpreted as unconstitutional, ergo perhaps unintentionally limiting the concept of national sovereignty even over the most banal and prima facie entirely Ukrainian of affairs.

It doesn’t take many contrarian or mischievous parliamentarians to overwhelm the Constitutional Court with requests to review a never-ending flow of domestic legislation through the lens of progressing toward NATO and EU membership – or not.

If not, and by failing to meet such norms, would any and all such statutory laws and institutional regulations therefore be deemed unconstitutional?

Could this perhaps get messy?

From the European and Trans-Atlantic perspective, making EU and NATO membership a Ukrainian constitutional goal is fairly irrelevant.

What is relevant first and foremost in that EU and NATO standards are met.

With regard to the EU, that firstly relates to meeting the ratified obligations of Ukraine with respect to the Association Agreement (and DCFTA).  Thereafter it would also be required to meet the higher and wider bar of the Aquis Communitaire.

With regard to NATO it requires not only meeting military interoperability and organisation structures, but also meeting the economic, political and social demands made clear within Article 3 of the Washington Treaty too.  Meeting those requirements is not only subjective but also must be recognised and accepted by every NATO member.

In short, even after meeting both EU and NATO requirements, membership is still entirely dependent upon the political will of the existing members.

All of this raises the question as to whether the constitution/basic and fundamental law of Ukraine is the best place to legislatively set the political course of Ukraine – if it needs to be set in law at all.

Maybe it is.  Maybe not.

The consequences (if any) of these amendments if passed by the Verkhovna Rada remain to be seen.

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