Posts Tagged ‘Crimea’

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Pinchuk & the WSJ

January 1, 2017

It has to be said that Viktor Pinchuk of all the Ukrainian oligarchy has always been the most intriguing for this blog.

Firstly, compared to the others, Mr Pinchuk is actually a clever guy.  He had managed to become a multi-millionaire through his engineering creativity before marrying the daughter of former President Kuchma – and thereafter leveraging that marriage during the Kuchma epoch to move from being a multi-millionaire to a billionaire.

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His time directly (rather than indirectly) in Ukrainian political life as a parliamentarian was really rather brief and began in the same year as his marriage to former President Kuchma’s daughter in 2002 and ended with the “Orange Revolution” of 2004/5 with Mr Pinchuk having backed Viktor Yanukovych.  Despite easily being able to buy his way into any parliament, he chose not to do so.

Since then his political influence has been indirect insofar as manifesting via parliamentarians both national and local that are loyal to him.  It should also be noted that “his people” are generally far more subtle than the drones of Kolomoisky, Firtash or Akhmetov.

He also has a penchant for collecting famous friends – The Clintons, Damien Hirst, Elton John etc.

In fact, aside from feeding from the State subsidy trough and self-interest indirect political machinations, Mr Pinchuk set about rehabilitating his image through philanthropy and his own foundation from 2006 onward with very little domestic public oratory or prose.

The annual YES conference is a Pinchuk brainchild that he funds – which in 2016 notably saw Mr Pinchuk pay Donald Trump to speak at (albeit a speech lacking in clarity and not without technical problems) via a video link despite his association with (and donations to) the Clintons for many years.

Perhaps a lesser known fact was that during the “Revolution of Dignity”, Mr Pinchuk funded the provision of medical supplies to treat the injured.

Aside from a few historical legal battles, most notably with Ihor Kolomoisky over assets, Mr Pinchuk rarely features in the news – unlike many of his peer oligarchs.  There is in fact very little that can be attributed to him personally by way of public statements or on the record oratory.  Clearly a deliberate policy on his part.

It was something of a surprise therefore when an article appeared in the WSJ, authored by, or ghost written and then attributed to, Viktor Pinchuk.  The article has ruffled many Ukrainian feathers, both political and societal, being prima facie interpreted as a plan for capitulation to The Kremlin.

In a nutshell he spoke (wrote) out in favour of elections in the “DNR” and “LNR” by politely forgetting about Crimea if it meant an end to the deaths in the occupied Donbas, the abandoning of any thoughts of joining NATO and the creation of a formal understanding that Ukraine would not be joining the EU any time soon.

Now to be fair, there are those on the Crimea Committee of the Verkhovna Rada, even of patriotic leaning, that have privately told the blog that they foresee Crimea returning to Ukraine only if the Russian Federation implodes in similar fashion to that of the USSR – and if that be so then the returning of Crimea will be an issue dwarfed by the ramifications of such an implosion for Ukraine more generally.

That said, there is none on the said committee that would advocate anything other than “Crimea is Ukraine” as a domestic and international policy – quite rightly.

With regard to the EU, as previously written the Association Agreement (and DCFTA) is not an instrument that takes Ukraine into the EU.  Only the completion of the Aquis Communautaire can do that – and that is a process Ukraine has not even asked to commence.  The simplest way to view the Association Agreement is as a document that brings “European norms” to Ukraine at a speed at which Ukraine can achieve them – ie it brings “Europe” to Ukraine at a speed and in chunks that Ukraine can handle/digest.  For Ukraine to go to the EU, an entirely different thing, then it is the Aquis that is the only route – a route more demanding than anything within the Association Agreement.

Likewise, whatever Ukraine may or may not do with NATO, it is currently a long way from being at a civilian and military standard by which it could join.

In short, Ukraine is decades away from meeting the requirements of the Aquis for EU accession – if it ever applies.  It is probably about a decade away from fully meeting the civilian and military standards required for NATO entry – should it ever ask to join.

Those are the bureaucratic realities and limitations of Ukrainian reformation and their speed – notwithstanding political limitations of those that would have to agree to any Ukrainian accession.  None of this is a secret.  The respective institutions know it.  The Kremlin knows it.  Ukraine knows it.  And Mr Pinchuk knows it.

The domestic angst naturally, insofar as NATO and the EU is concerned, comes from his call for codification of such matters and the legislative boundaries they would place upon Ukraine for at best, uncertain and ill-defined “gains”.  Peace at any cost does not bring peace – it brings an armistice fated to fail at some undetermined point in the future.

Why then, has Mr Pinchuk who rarely makes public statements, decided now is the time to make such a statement and one that is guaranteed to irk the public, the political class, and paint him as a Kremlin stooge domestically and among many of Ukraine’s “friends” abroad?

Is it a reaction to witnessing fellow oligarch Dmitry Firtash exiled to Vienna, or Ihor Kolomoisky lose PrivatBank to nationalisation, or seeing all oligarchs with fingers in high energy usage industries (including Mr Pinchuk) now subject to energy pricing that sees an end to subsidies/most favoured user status?  It seems somewhat unlikely.

Will the oligarchy now find common ground for a robust fightback against the government in 2017, and this is somehow Mr Pinchuk declaring unity?  Also somewhat unlikely.

Has Mr Pinchuk simply decided that giving in to The Kremlin is the only way to undo the current deadlock?  Maybe, maybe not.

Has he been bought off or manipulated by Moscow somehow?

As the chances of any of his WSJ points being implemented are currently very slim at best, and will make him extremely unpopular at home, how does Mr Pinchuk benefit from his unusual public intervention?

All questions to be asked.

Also to be asked are why make such statements now, and why chose the WSJ to do it in?

The answer may be that the article was written and published in the WSJ specifically for one reader.  That reader being Donald Trump.

It may well be that Mr Pinchuk has little belief that what he has written will become policy and be implemented.

He may well not believe that this is the right policy either.

However, just as with voting at the UN, it is not that uncommon to see some nations prima facie voting against their own interests in order to curry favour with others – in the full knowledge that the vote will be vetoed by yet another.

Maybe it was written to defend the business interests of Mr Pinchuk in the USA?

Perhaps the end result here, considering Mr Pinchuk’s penchant for collecting “friends” like the Clintons, Damien Hirst and Elton John etc, is that Mr Pinchuk may be seeking to become the Ukrainian “name” most liked and granted most access by Donald Trump – no differently than Nigel Farage is angling to get (and may succeed) more personal interaction with Donald Trump than UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

 

If Mr Pinchuk can achieve a personal status that grants him more access to Donald Trump (and a kinder ear) than President Porosehnko simply by writing something he believes Mr Trump would read agreeably within the WSJ, then he may feel it a gamble worth taking with the repercussions among Ukrainian domestic politics a prize worth chasing.

Perhaps a lens through which to view Mr Pinchuk’s rare public prose?  Perhaps all it takes is being a billionaire, a few well chosen (if never implemented) words in the WSJ agreeable to a personality like Mr Trump and suddenly Mr Pinchuk becomes “Don’s man in Ukraine”.

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Setting the pace? PACE sets a (Crimean) precedent?

October 13, 2016

Much has been written in cyberspace with regard to how the international community should react to the recent Duma elections which included the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula (and its assimilation into the Southern District administrative and military machinery).

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13th October witnessed the adoption of a robust text by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in which this issue is officially raised.

Among the prose, of particular note is the following paragraph:

“4.1. condemns the illegal Duma elections held on 18 September in occupied Crimea and considers their results null and void. The incorporation of Ukrainian sovereign territory into Russian federal constituencies and the creation of four single-member constituencies are blunt violations of international law and effectively compromise the legitimacy of the Russian Parliament;”

It appears to be the first official document from an internationally recognised body that bluntly questions the legitimacy of the current Duma as it now contains illegitimate parliamentarians from an illegally annexed part of Ukraine.

As such, PACE Resolution 2132 (2016) appears to set a precedent officially questioning the legitimacy of the newly installed Russian Duma.

It therefore has ramifications.

There are now questions for each State and every international institution as to whether they will unquestionably recognise the legitimacy of the current Russian Duma – or not?  Now that PACE has officially questioned the legitimacy of the Russian Duma, should they too formally do so?

Are PACE Member  States and international institutions to continue to entertain interaction with the Russian Duma if its legitimacy is questionable?  There are other Russian channels if disqualifying the Duma after all.

Should they end any or all inter-parliamentary cooperation with a questionably legitimate Duma?

How to wiggle?  Does their entry into the Duma not simply de-legitimise that entire rubber-stamping circus – and if not why not?  If not, is cooperation be withdrawn only from committees and delegations that contain those Duma MPs who entered the legislature from Crimea to otherwise justify interaction without having to address a broader issue of Duma legitimacy?

What of the expansion of sanctions upon those now representing Crimea in the Duma?  Should any individual sanctions also include those that organised the elections too?  It seems unlikely that this can be avoided.

Regularly this blog raises policy questions regarding Ukraine.  For the past 2 years the absence of an overt Crimea policy had been duly noted – it is only fairly recently that something approaching policy has become clear.

Clearly PACE Resolution 2132 is something of a diplomatic win for Ukraine and the Ukrainian delegation to PACE.  It has not occurred without their significant effort to include such text, and hard lobbying to get it passed by PACE parliamentary vote.

The blog is aware of the energy spent by those (such as Alexie Goncharenko, a Ukrainian PACE delegation representative and head of the Verkhovna Rada cross party committee on Crimea), to accomplish such a result.   Thus although recognition of a good job well done are something of a rarity, the Ukrainian delegation to PACE have achieved all that could be expected of them on this occasion and their efforts deserve recognition.

It now remains to be seen whether the precedent now set in this PACE Resolution will further resonate within PACE Member States and other international institutions – or not.

(Full disclosure, the blog is well acquainted with Alexie Goncharenko – albeit there are healthy areas of (friendly) disagreement on occasion.)

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Recent Crimean events – What’s going on?

August 10, 2016

Crimea has become a headline issue once again both within and without Ukraine over the past week – beyond the ringing of hands over the increased militarisation of the peninsula by The Kremlin and the peninsula’s absorption into the Southern District of the Russian federation (as far as The Kremlin is concerned anyway).

(Note to Romania/NATO – Black Sea A2AD capability would seen to be a preparatory priority.)

The past week has seen photographs of military equipment being moved by train around Kersh flood social media, leading to speculation regarding an imminent push into Ukraine, or alternatively equipment being prepared for shipping to Syria.

Few have mentioned the planned rotation of Russian troops within the illegally annexed peninsula due to occur now.  This rotation apparently being the 247th Landing Assault Regiment and 7th Assault Division arriving to replace the 11th Brigade.  Such a rotation naturally requires equipment rotation too.  The troop rotation was and is not a secret – indeed there are few secrets from anybody when it comes to events within Crimea.  Ukraine no more lost its intelligence ability in Crimea following the peninsula’s absorption into the Southern District than this blog lost its ability to Skype people who live within the peninsula.

Information flows – as does intelligence.  Blind to what goes on Ukraine and others are not.

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There was also the unexpected closing, reopening, closing and reopening of crossing points by the Russian Federation at the “administrative border” between Crimea and mainland Ukraine over a period of days beginning 7th August.

During the following days there were reports of hearing gun fire and explosions within the peninsula both on social media and heard by those at the “administrative border”.

After several days, on 9th August Defense Ministry spokesman Vadim Skibitsky eventually made a statement that the FSB were conducting anti-terrorism training within the annexed peninsula.  Well perhaps, but Mr Skibitsky has made numerous statements not all of which have been accurate in the past.  Quite why it would take several days to establish this and make a public statement is unclear.

Prior to this official statement social media was claiming that there had been a number of desertions from within the RF military ranks and that the FSB were engaged in a capture mission before these individuals could cross over into Ukraine and provide Ukraine with sensitive information.

On 10th August the Russian FSB claimed to have foiled an attempt to disable critical infrastructure within the peninsula by Ukrainian trained sabotage unit and had also eliminated a Ukrainian intelligence network.  The unit allegedly comprised of a mixture of Ukrainian and Russian citizens.  The FSB claiming that the foiled sabotage attempts were an attempt at “destabilization of the socio-political situation in the region during the preparation and conduct of elections of federal and regional authorities.”

As a result “additional security measures were taken in public places, as well as protection of critical infrastructure.   A reinforced border regime on the border with Ukraine has been introduced.“.

Perhaps the deserters went renegade instead – if they exist at all.  If they do exist were they acting independently or under instruction?  If under instruction, whose instruction, and officially or unofficially?

Ukraine, whether there be any truth in the FSB tale or not, naturally denied it was responsible or behind any such attempts at sabotage or destabilisation.  There is no doubt that a military or guerrilla action to retake Crimea is not the method Ukraine sees as realistic in the return of the peninsula – both officially and privately.  Ukraine claimed the FSB statements to be a provocation – although clearly the events (real, fabricated or half true) are not (yet) going to be twisted into a faux casus belli by The Kremlin.

What the FSB statements do pave a pathway for is an internal crackdown upon troublesome/irksome individuals and groups prior to the mid-September State Duma and local “elections”.

Whilst Russian election outcomes are unlikely to bring any real surprises by way of declared results, the choreography preceding those results would seek to avoid any public and unnecessary missteps or trips – albeit should there be missteps and trips, ultimately it would not matter or change preordained results.

The question therefore presents itself as to whether recent events are simply a (deliberate or opportunistic) precursor to a useful purge before the Duma and local elections – or whether the Duma and local elections are in  fact a useful excuse for a purge within Crimea.

Perhaps the issues are yet wider than Crimea, and events in Crimea are a faux trigger on a different political/economic/social front?  August is historically a month that is predictable insofar that it is unpredictable as far as The Kremlin is concerned.

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The Kremlin merges Crimea with its Southern Federal District

July 28, 2016

August is a month that in recent years brings with it increased difficulties born of The Kremlin for Ukraine.  This combined with a major sporting event, which has also coincided with Kremlin shenanigans fairly frequently over the years would perhaps prompt a reader to expect a difficult few weeks ahead for Ukraine.  The entrails of the Rio Olympics in August perhaps do not read particularly well for Ukraine.

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The 28th July witnessed its first “August surprise” a few days early – albeit perhaps not the surprise it should/could have been.  President Putin signed a decree ending the Federal District of Crimea and merging it into the Southern Federal District.

Southern District in Blue (less Crimea)

Southern District in Blue (less Crimea)

The more astute observers may have predicted such a move based upon a previous decree placing the Southern Military District and Crimea under the command of Colonel General Alexander Dvornikov following his recall from leading the Kremlin’s Syrian campaign.

A matter of consolidating military command and control, and also public administration, by moving it away from the peninsula itself and placing its power centers within internationally recognised Russian territory.  The result being occupied Crimea now squarely falls within both military and administrative control of the respective civil and military Southern Districts of the Russian Federation based in Rostov-on-Don.

The reasoning behind the move has been cited as being necessary to “improve governance” – which is entirely plausible (although perhaps not the real reason for canceling the separate Crimean status when assimilating Crimea into the Southern District control apparatus) considering the exceptionally poor governance and administrative abilities displayed by the current “authorities” since 2014.

As yet the repercussions of the Crimean assimilation into the command structures of the Southern District, both military and civilian remain to be seen – perhaps the forthcoming Duma elections will provide some indication.

For sure whatever grubby political deals had been previously arranged within the peninsula may have to be renegotiated with those now in control from Rostov-On-Don.  Alternatively, perhaps those in Rostov-On-Don have an entirely different plan for the elites within its newly acquired administrative territory.

Either which way, and at the very least, there will now have to be accommodation for the “rent seeking” expected by those within the Rostov-On-Don machinery.  Money flows from “rent seeking” will have to be, at least in part, redirected.  Organised crime structures too may need to seek new accommodations within the power centers of the Southern District.

For Ukraine and the West, the question is now what to do about Crimean sanctions – a far simpler matter when it remained a distinct stand-alone administrative centre post the illegal annexation.  There are now questions to be asked  and answered as to whether they will extend to those within the Southern District’s that will undoubtedly violate the sanctions imposed regarding Crimea specifically.

For those “western” capitols already wavering regarding sanctions, this additional complication may prove to be too much – albeit it already seems unlikely 2017 will conclude witnessing a continued unity within the EU Member States.  That said, the issue of sanctions specifically applied to Crimea have never been subject to wobbles – the issue of wobbles has always related to the sanctions that were imposed that are not Crimea specific but caused by the on-going Kremlin actions within the occupied Donbas.

This change of Crimean circumstance will perhaps muddy the waters somewhat.

A reader may ponder what August will yet further bring – for the month of August rarely heralds anything good, but rather a deliberate concentration of ill-deeds from The Kremlin in recent years.

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Russia sanctions – VR sets a poor example

July 12, 2016

With western sanctions on both sides of the Atlantic regarding Russia set to continue into early 2017, where after a reader may rightly ponder the ability of the EU Member States to maintain solidarity (discounting specifically Crimean sanctions) in what will be a far more difficult political climate, Ukraine will be forced to try and up its diplomatic game among the EU nations in an effort to keep them in place.

It will be a tremendously difficult task in the absence of Minsk being fully implemented, or an exceptionally serious uptick in death, destruction and violence in the war involving ordnance and equipment subject to the Minsk agreements – or mass civilian casualties.

This will require some guile, deft diplomacy, and perhaps some pleading in certain capitols once 2017 arrives.

Ukraine therefore must lead by example and remain steadfast in its own relations with the Kremlin.  Ukrainian sanctions therefore cannot be seen to wobble, become an issue of unnecessary uncertainty, or be allowed to be seen to fall to a place far from the top of the domestic political agenda.   Ukrainian sanctions, no differently to western sanctions, once they were imposed are problematic in their removal unless achieving and/or having successfully protected the interests over which they were initiated in the first place.

Everybody understands the reciprocity issues, and everybody understands the difficulties of sanction removal once initiated.

It is therefore incumbent upon Ukraine to be seen to lead the way on sanctions towards Russia.  It cannot expect others to sanction, and continue those sanctions, if Ukraine becomes indecisive, actually wobbles, or is perceived to demote their value in any matters “political”.

The almost certain continuous Crimean sanctions aside, those sanctions instigated with regard to the occupied Donbas will be the first (albeit the only for the foreseeable future) to be removed – or collapse – within the circle of western powers.

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12th July saw sanctions proposals toward Russia submitted by President Poroshenko, backed National Security and Defence Council, and after due consideration by the appropriate Verkhovna Rada committee recommending the proposals be supported head to the parliamentary legislative floor – and fail to make the parliamentary agenda – twice.

The first Verkhovna Rada vote managed to attract 209 votes in favour.  The second, 215.  Neither vote coming anywhere near close to the 226 minimum requirement to put the matter upon the Verkhovna Rada agenda – let alone actually vote upon the substance of the Bill.

If the national politicians expect the Foreign Ministry and its civil servants within embassies and consuls located in currently sanctioning nations to have any hope of playing their part most effectively in international sanctions continence, then it is surely incumbent upon domestic parliamentarians to at the very least put this Bill on sanctions upon the debating and voting agenda of the Verkhovna Rada when it was submitted – whether they subsequently adopt it, amend it, or ultimately reject it in any vote to adopt it as legislation.

Perceptions and framing matter, thus it is a policy area that Ukraine simply has to be seen to lead and remain steadfast over to remain credible within other capitols.  To simply fail to put this Bill upon the national legislative agenda when at war with Russia, and simultaneously lobbying western capitols to maintain sanctions, is a matter that will have to be corrected – swiftly.

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Council of Europe (PACE) issues – Ukraine

June 20, 2016

There seems to be a tempest brewing between PACE and the Ukrainian delegation therein.

Thus far, since the annexation of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine, PACE has taken a (perhaps surprisingly) fairly robust line against Russia – the Russian delegation being stripped of its voting rights.

As a result the Russian delegation therefore sees no reason to attend PACE sessions until their voting rights are restored (not that The Kremlin thinks particularly highly of PACE anyway), and their current voting rights ban is set to continue until the year end.

Theoretically the voting rights ban is up for renewal once again in the later part of the year and albeit despite no change in the situation that brought about the current ban in the first place, there is a perceived weakening of resolve.

Further the very recently released annual 104 page report upon Ukraine seems to have absolutely no mention of human rights abuses within either the occupied territories under Kremlin control in the Donbas, nor any mention regarding human rights abuses within the illegally annexed Crimea.

How so when such human rights abuses feature in so many reports by other entities?

If the Ukrainians are to be believed when confronting this omission, the reasons for the absence of any mention is due to the PACE leadership stating that because they were denied entry to the occupied Donbas and illegally annexed Crimea during the reporting period PACE could not and/or would not make any official comment due to lack of official access and monitoring.

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“In our opinion, (Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn) Jagland made a terrible and cynical response, he said that the alleged information on the state of human rights in the occupied Crimea and Donbas is not included in the annual report on human rights because no mission was allowed to enter Crimea and Donbas last year, so no information is entered in the report ” – I.Geraschenko (Permanent Member of PACE Delegation Ukraine)

Ho humm!

Should there be any mention in an official report upon human rights if such abuses have not been witnessed and/or monitored by the reporting entity’s observers?

What of witnesses and witness statements?  Could they not be included even if access is denied?  Are there no witnesses during the past year/reporting period?  If there are, is such testimony excluded due to lack of corroboration and thus no official mention made?

There is a distinction between monitoring and witnessing – monitoring does not necessarily require being a witness, but methodological collection, collation and analysis.

If making no mention of human rights abuses whatsoever in the occupied Donbas and Crimea during the last reporting period as the Ukrainians claim, does that also imply that any territory that is subjected to human rights abuses by State or non-State actors that simply refuses to allow access to PACE (or any other institutional monitors reporting to their associated entities) will also garner no human rights abuse ,mention within the text of official reports because observers have not witnessed and assessed the situation on the ground for themselves?

Should there be citation of official reports by other recognised international institutions in the absence of PACE monitoring to at least make mention of the issues – or not?  How easy now for PACE members to condemn human rights abuses within the occupied Donbas or illegally annexed Crimea with no mention of such in the institution’s latest official report?

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101.4 FM – Radio Ukraine (UR-1) for Crimea

May 27, 2016

Some 27 months after the illegal occupation and subsequent annexation of Crimea by The Kremlin, it appears Ukraine has finally got around to creating UR-1, a radio station broadcasting from Kherson Oblast into Crimea on 101.4 FM.

Apparently the signal is strong in Krasnoperekopsk and Dzhankoy, but to carry this and TV signals across the entire peninsula a new mast and transmitter will be erected – somewhere in the Genichesk rayon of Kherson – at some point.

Several basic questions are therefore raised.

Why has it taken 2 years to bring into being a Ukrainian radio station intended to broadcast specifically into Crimea – and even today, the day after its launch, a radio station that does not have the transmission ability to cover the entire peninsula?

When will the new transmission tower and equipment be erected to cover the entirety of the peninsula?

How long before 101.4 FM is blocked or the signal significantly disrupted by the Russians?

How long will it take for the Ukrainian authorities to then licence another frequency for the Russians to then have to block or significantly disrupt that frequency too (ad infinitum)?  And so it (theoretically) goes on – and on.

There will be those asking whether Ukraine should have been blocking (or attempting to block) the previously licenced frequencies of now “occupation radio stations” in Crimea currently de facto operating outside of its broadcasting legislation, yet within its internationally recognised borders.  What gains, if any, would there be in doing so?

on air

Would it have been better – even if meaning further delays – in erecting the broadcasting infrastructure capable of covering the entire peninsula prior to going “on air”?

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