Posts Tagged ‘culture’


Odessa Black Sea Music Fest 2016

June 16, 2016

For those that find themselves in Odessa over the next week and find themselves at a loose end, do consider this event.

Black Sea Music Fest 2016

For any UK concert goers, one of the finest cellists on the planet (according to other cellists) will be playing – Steven Isserlis.  Interestingly, albeit Mr Isserlis is a Brit, his family has ties to Odessa – not that this matters to an audience when one of the world’s greatest living cellists is playing.

As an aside, any “would-be” sponsors of this event for 2017,  do get in touch!


The road to Romania (The Odessa Oblast presentation)

April 25, 2016

Having mentioned recently (again) the necessity of maximising the relationship between Romania and Ukraine, the 25th April saw the Oblast Administration release estimates for a new 4 lane road from Odessa to Reni – and beyond into Romania, entering at the Orlovka-Isakchea border point.

There are 3 phases to the construction of this road.

Phase 1 is the Odessa to Shabo road, approximately 81 kilometers in length, including a bridge of almost 6 kilometers over the Dniester.  This cost has been estimated at $700,000 for the road – $400,000 for the bridge.

The second phase is a stretch of road to Orlovka of approximately 180 kilometers at an estimated cost of $2.5 billion.

The final stage, which seems likely to be part funded by Romania (and/or perhaps the EU via one of its many regional development budgets) is a 10 kilometer stretch of road, including a bridge over the Danube of approximately 4.5 kilometers in length.  The total cost $1.7 billion.

A grand total of approximately $4.6 billion for approximately 260 kilometers of 2 dual carriageways with a combined road width of approximately 29 meters, two substantial bridging projects, about 22 minor structures and an approximated usage of between 16,000 – 22,000 vehicles per day.

Aside from some Romanian (and/or EU funding) at the Isakchea end, the funding appears to be currently sourced from central government and customs duties payments allocated from those collected at Odessa Port (presuming the current transparent workings of Odessa Part are not toppled by the usual suspects/vested interests in the immediate future and the “old nefarious ways” return with a vengeance.)

Odessa Reni

$4.5 – $5 billion does seem a lot of money.  Questions will undoubtedly be asked about such a sum – and quite rightly.  Every single possible US$ return, both tangible and intangible, will have to be squeezed out of such a project.

To be blunt the existing road has long exceeded its lifespan, and to continue to employ “bodge it and scarper” patching contractors employing inferior materials and accompanying poor tradesmanship is financially self-defeating too.

That said, the new road, as Rome, is not going to be built in a day, ergo the budgetary costs will not have to be met in one budgetary period, but planned across several.  Construction is supposed to begin at the end of May 2016.

The new road is also about more than infrastructure and facilitating 22,000(ish) vehicles with a swift and quality trade/transport route.

The road is also clearly a political project too.  It ties Odessa as a city to the southwest of Odessa Oblast, and then onward to Romania and thus the EU not only physically, but also psychologically.  It is thus important to make the most of the proposed new infrastructure not only economically and politically, but also socially within and without the Oblast and national borders.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of

Briefly considering the above factual information, a reader may ponder whether there has been, is, or will be any thought toward a cycle lane.  In dropping this anchor into the Romanian and European infrastructure, then surely it should accommodate all the existing Romanian and European infrastructure that already exists at the other end.

There are numerous official Eurovelo routes across the EU.  One of those routes is Eurovelo 6.  This particular cycle route runs from France to Romania and could easily be afforded an official spur along the new road into Odessa city.

Indeed this blog was approached about just that, and whether there would be the interest and political support by the political class of Odessa.   If not could such interest and political support be generated?

Such things are not a problem.  A few words with a longtime good friend Petr Obyhov then of the Odessa Oblast Rada, and Odessa MP Alexie Goncharenko, et voilà –


The only prerequisite required in getting such documentation swiftly is knowing which of the local political class are keen cyclists and which are not.  Knowing both Messrs Goncharenko and Obyhov are extremely keen cyclists guarantees the support.  Official political support as requested for the Eurovelo planning people in Brussels duly delivered (and “brownie points awarded to the blog for accomplishing such a simple task).

From a local societal perspective, as this blog occasionally glances at unpublished yet official opinion polls, there is a demand from the local constituency for an expansion of city-wide dedicated cycle lanes.  A most recent (official but unpublished) opinion poll had 5% of the city population “very keen” for the expansion of dedicated cycle lanes in the city.  (A percentage that can influence election results for any would-be Mayoral candidates in a city of 1 million plus.)

Ergo, cycling to and from Odessa – Romania (and vice versa) is likely to become quite popular, and also benefit the local economies of the towns and villages along the route in south-west of the Oblast.   Indeed when the Eurovelo people approached the blog, they had already completed the ride despite an existing road surface as cratered as the lunar surface.


EV6 (Pink)




In summary, a reader may wonder how thorough the thinking by the Odessa Oblast Administration as to how to maximise the cultural and societal ties the proposed $4.6 billion Odessa-Reni road can bring.  What else lurks the other side of the Romanian border that can spur toward Odessa?  To squeeze every last intangible societal and cultural US$ from this political and economic investment, in pursuing the official EV6 spur to its bureaucratic conclusion, perhaps a marked cycle lane on the new road, and a few “EV6” signposts will go a little way in doing so.

When many within the Odessa community engage in 100 kilometer fun rides, cycling 260 kilometers on a quality surface into Romania will probably seem like a fun weekend for quite a few (perish the thought)!


A NOTE – Public broadcasting in Ukraine

April 16, 2016

The point of public broadcasting, and a national public broadcaster, is one of a public service – communicating with and engaging the citizen first and foremost.

To do so there are obviously several prerequisites, such as being broadcast nationally and having universal appeal across the national constituency.  Ergo a public broadcaster strives to be inclusive and reach majority and minorities alike, assisting in the creation of a national identity and sense of common purpose/community.  Thus the guidelines for a national public broadcaster are therefore liberating rather than restricting.

It is an entity either directly funded by the State, and/or universal payment, (a Licence Fee), in order to to be free of vested interests with regard to private funding.

As such its programming would seek to be qualitative and unbiased and measured that way, rather than by viewer numbers or advertising revenue – should there be any advertising at all.

So much so obvious.

no signal

One year ago, in April 2015, President Poroshenko signed into law the creation of Ukrainian public broadcaster and its remit.  It is a broadcaster that still does not exist as a legal entity, let along broadcast anything.

It is currently known as A NOTE, though it may well be given a different name (officially or otherwise) in due course.

The reason it doesn’t exist is that the State entities that were to shelter and assimilate as the new public broadcaster under a statutory umbrella as designated by the April 2015 law, are being “difficult”.  More precisely one of those entities is being “difficult”.  Ukrtelefilm apparently is somewhat confused over what is public and private property, namely themselves, and refuses to submit its documents to The National Television Company of Ukraine as required.

Having been identified in the statue as being an entity that will form part of this television/radio/Internet State broadcaster, the belligerence of the management of this entity therefore make it impossible for any State public broadcaster to actually broadcast anything, for technically it is still not compliant with the legislation per statutory composition.

What to do when a State entity refuses to obey the State and the statute book?

Rather than enforce the statute it seems there will be an amendment made, via Draft Bill 4232, to remove Ukrtelefilm from the statute that creates the State public broadcaster.  The tail wags the dog once more in yet another display of exceptionally weak governance in the face of the slightest resistance.

Nevertheless, by the Autumn, the tail will have wagged itself free of the State/public broadcaster by way of statutory amendment.

Thereafter, it will be a matter of deciding whether the State public broadcaster actually meets the a-political and inclusive model a public broadcaster is meant to be.  Regardless of neutrally presented factual content, will there be Ukrainian, Russian and Tatar language broadcasting (or any of the other officially recognised minority languages) for example?

All will undoubtedly be watching for the current political leadership (or any subsequent government of the day) “meddling” with the content, but it will be equally as interesting to see whether the national and/or regional media outlets owned by every self-respecting (if not publicly respected) old guard elites decide to collectively attack the new public broadcaster when the owners interests are challenged on or by the State public broadcaster.

Time will tell whether the Ukrainian public broadcaster will be all quality signal as expected from such an entity, or if it will also contain a lot of unacceptable noise through “meddling”.  As of today however, there is no public broadcasting at all – a full 12 months after a public broadcaster was created by statute.

Thus far, not a note from A NOTE – not even the annoying noise from having no signal whatsoever.


Hiding your philharmonic under a bushel – Ukrainian Culture Policy

April 13, 2016

In the next 24 hours or so, the never-ending shuffling behind the Ukrainian political curtain will announce a new Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers and (wafer thin) majority coalition.

Following the unveiling, it will not come as any surprise, should Vyacheslav Kyrylenko be removed from his office as Minsiter of Culture, being replaced by somebody like Evgene Nyschuk.


Indeed those within the Ukrainian cultural sphere subjected to the whims of Mr Kyrylenko will undoubtedly raise a glass (or two) at his departure – particularly those State financed entities that saw budgets cut by 10% for reasons unknown and unexplained.  There is surely no public record of such cuts being a Cabinet of Ministers decision, nor subject to Verkhovna Rada debate.  The cuts therefore, prima facie, the arbitrary decision of the Ministry of Culture for reasons undisclosed.

A reader may therefore ponder, as no doubt many State financed cultural entities do, what happened to that 10% of their budget?

Not even so much as “there’s a war on” was offered as a reason, despite many an inquiry.  There was simply no response, not to those within the world of Ukrainian culture, nor to parliamentarians such as Alexie Goncharenko that wrote officially asking on behalf of the Ukrainian cultural world.  The State budget for  culture is not enormous, but it is not so small that the apparent disappearance of 10% of funding to State financed cultural entities is an insignificant sum either.

It is actually quite difficult to find a State policy for culture.

One exists on paper undoubtedly, but where it manifests elsewhere is actually very difficult to define.  Quite what the policy is actually meant to achieve, how those achievements are measured, and over what time frame, is something of an enigma.

Indeed over the past 25 years, the only real noticeable change in cultural policy came under former President Yushenko, when culture became “folksy”.  There is nothing wrong with that, for it was at least a policy, but as much as the vyshyvanka is a beautiful garment, and valenki keep your feet warm, there is much more to culture and cultural reach than that – particularly if culture is to be used to both inwardly promote nationhood, and simultaneously externally to promote the nation.

In short, it is a cultural policy mistake to hide something like a world class philharmonic orchestra under a bushel (to tease the English idiom), or under-promote artists of truly world class acclaim.

Morris dancing is very quaint, of particular cultural heritage, seen as a little eccentric perhaps, and certainly reaches those that pass by, but does little to promote the national culture outside the local village green, summer fete (or Supermarket car park).  Other cultural events however have a far greater promotional impact both domestically and internationally – so much so fields fill with people to participate in all weathers.

And when it is done well, audience participation and fun with culture occurs – and more to the point it is forever remembered!

How many cellos does it take to sell out a stadium?  2 (if they are performing AC/DC it seems).

Now there is nothing wrong with the Morris dancers above, a part of cultural heritage undoubtedly, but a world class cultural entity (indeed institution) attracts not only world class performers, but a worldwide participation in a nation’s culture.  There is both domestic pride and international PR.

Indeed the little event above in Odessa has not been forgotten, and is actually to be shown at a cultural festival in France this summer as part of a large cultural event – not that the Ukrainian political class will know, nor that the Ukrainian Ambassador to France will attend (without prompting) and not that the Odessa Philharmonic that created this little gem will be attending to play it “live”.

More of live performance issues a few paragraphs from now, suffice to say the Odessa Philharmonic has played the USA, UK, Israel, Hungary, Australia, Spain, Austria and many more.  It would still be doing so now if there were the funds to actually send it and allow it to promote Odessa and Ukraine.

Before leaving the classical music giddy heights of the UK Proms, the Odessa Philharmonic has twice been encouraged to play at The Proms and has not done so because the airfare for 100 people (it is a full philharmonic) and the shipping of 30 cubic meters of instruments could not – or more precisely would not – be funded by Ukraine, or any exceptionally wealthy Ukrainians wishing to try and cleanse their otherwise grubby public personas.

(A reader may find it somewhat unbelievable that Ukraine cannot find $100,000(ish) to project itself at a global cultural pinnacle through what the UK Proms people clearly believe to be a philharmonic orchestra worthy of gracing its stage – especially so when that amount of money is stolen from the budget every other day.  No doubt such invitations will continue – as will the budgetary theft preventing the national promotion at the highest levels.)

Whatever the case, a reader might reasonably expect the promotion of an internationally acknowledged (if entirely domestically dismissed) cultural gem, especially when fighting a war on many fronts with The Kremlin – a war that includes culture.

Instead, in the case of the Odessa Philharmonic, aside from slashed State funding,  it relies on donations and the occasional philanthropic donation (which unsurprisingly is not tax deductible in Ukraine) to put on an annual “Black Sea Music Fest” for the local constituency and tourists present at the time.

A reader may ponder rightly, if such philanthropy is not tax deductible for the Ukrainian oligarchy and odiously/stupidly wealthy, what the motivation for any support actually is.

Kyiv, Lviv, Dnepropetrovsk have similar issues, but Odessa takes centre stage in this entry because it is the home of this blog and thus it knows the “what”, “why” and “wherefores” more intimately.

Perhaps what also makes the Odessa Philharmonic unique is that for as long as this blog has been running (and prior) it shares the Odessa Philharmonic Hall with an entirely illegal casino, remains partially refurbished (having had $50 million stolen from the refurbishment budget some years ago), and was given a gratis refurbishment programme by Russell Johnson, a world famous acoustics expert that described the Odessa Philharmonic Hall as a top class performing venue – notwithstanding it is is conducted by Hobart Earle, a People’s Artist of Ukraine, who as the name suggests is not a Ukrainian.

(There have naturally been numerous promises to complete the refurbishment, the last made by Igor Palitsa when he was Governor, but when a politician’s lips are moving, more often than not the truth is not forthcoming.)

In summer a reader may per chance be walking past the Philharmonic Hall when windows are open (as this blog does), and overhear the Hall Director complain that the Odessa Philharmonic rehearsing from 1000 – 1300 daily means it cannot be hired out to others for money during that time.  It must be quite a bore to run a State funded philharmonic hall, and have a State funded philharmonic orchestra want to rehearse there daily preventing external monetary flows for 3 hours a day.

Needless to say, with such a large amount of refurbishment funds stolen, the refurbishment is half completed – and has remained that way for years, to the point where the refurbishment now requires refurbishment..

Yet it is not only Ukraine that fails to promote its living and breathing international class cultural entities – neither Odessa Oblast nor Odessa City do so either.  It is an issue not unique to Odessa, an example from Dnepropetrovsk a little later.

Indeed, so shocking is the failure to promote the cultural gems within Odessa, it took this blog to get two old friends to do the simplest of things – because the idea had never occurred to them before.

A simple case of asking a regular dining chum Konstantin Rzhepishevsky, Head of the Odessa Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide as gifts a DVD of the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra to the regular visiting dignitaries, and almost 30 resident consulates on the one hand, and asking a far more irregular dining chum, Hobart Earle, the Conductor of the Odessa Philharmonic to give this blog a few dozen copies of the DVD to MFA Odessa to hand out.

These gifts after all, fall far below the financial threshold of refusing or handing over to others per diplomatic guidelines, yet promote the city and the Philharmonic.  Such gifts are very likely to stay with those that received them for many years.


Before readers email asking to be sent copies of the DVDs, cheap as they are to produce, the shipping cost anywhere outside of Ukraine is entirely prohibitive – although for those in Odessa, for a donation to the Odessa Philharmonic NFP fund, undoubtedly copies can reach you.

For any of those external of Ukraine seeking to support the Odessa Philharmonic, undoubtedly they would receive any and all donations humbly and with sincere gratitude.  The NFP charitable account details as follows:

Beneficiary: Charitable Fund “Muzikant”
Account: 260073221236
Bank: Bank Pivdenny 
Odessa, Ukraine

Correspondent Bank: The Bank of New York
New York, NY
Correspondent account: 890-0319-313

Thus, the MFA Odessa now does its bit to promote Odessa and the cultural icon that is the Philharmonic.  There are naturally other local cultural gems that should also be promoted that won’t be – albeit they are perhaps not as easy to hire, or sell out a concert hall, perform an entirely Polish repertoire in Poland or entirely Jewish repertoire in Israel.

Nothing however comes from the Odessa Oblast Administration, nor from Odessa City Hall when it comes to promoting a cultural asset that can hold its own across Europe and beyond – and a reader has to ask why that is?  They too can have a bag full of DVDs to hand out to visiting dignitaries.  They can have a list of hiring rates too, lest a nation wants to employ the philharmonic when holding the “Day’s off…….” cultural promotions in Odessa.

Just because Ukraine seems to have no identifiable cultural policy or national projection goals through the use of its quality cultural assets, that does not mean Odessa Oblast nor the City is excused from using its finest cultural assets from promoting itself.  It is something that is surely not dependent upon “decentralisation” legislation, but is entirely dependent upon realising the quality PR that is available from the assets held – even if the decision makers are little more than philistines and cultural Luddites.

In sum, there is an internationally recognised, domestically ignored, poorly accommodated, underfunded cultural gem that is not being used to promote the nation or the city to its full ability – which raises questions over cultural policy – local, regional, national and international.

Having previously mentioned Dnepropetrovsk, and for the sake of “theme” sticking to music rather than the other cultural arts, it too suffers from a Philharmonic Hall that requires refurbishment and would otherwise be a very good concert hall.  Despite having more than a few oligarchs hailing from the city, no refurbishment is on the horizon.

Yet Dnepropetrovsk, with a refurbished hall, would draw international artists and international attention if it were to rename it after what is surely its most famous classical music son.  Famous that is worldwide – but not in Dnepropetrovsk.

One of the greatest cellists ever to draw a bow, an internationally renowned son of Dnepropetrovsk, is (or rather was)  Gregor Piatigorsky.  Simply by refurbishing the hall and renaming it after Piatigorsky would bring it to global cultural attention and have a queue of acclaimed cellists wanting to play there by way of intellectual/musical homage.  International PR for Dnepropetrovsk awaits – and will probably continue to wait in the absence of meaningful cultural policy when it comes to international projection.

In the meantime, without an external cultural projection policy that maximises what the nation has that can stand shoulder to shoulder on a global stage, presumably Ukraine will be left to hoping that derivatives of the vyshyvanka remain fashionable in the shops of Europe, that Borscht recipe variations dominate in a niche market in cyberspace, and Ukrainian sportsmen and women continue to do well and Eurovision retains its excruciating but addictive nature.

Such hope is neither policy nor strategy.

(For those seeking a far more cultured peak behind the curtain at the Odessa Philharmonic, there is a piece in the Odessa Review – this blog doesn’t “do” culture as must be obvious! )


“Tyranny of taste” – The Babel Award, Odessa

January 26, 2016

It is with no small amount of personal pleasure that this entry is written, for the favourite Russian language author of this blog is without doubt Issac Babel.

“There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered; he may be considered a as storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter.  A major writer combines these three – storyteller, teacher, enchanter – but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer” – Vladimir Nabokov.

Babel is nothing short of enchanting – albeit somewhat brutally honest in his observations.

Babel monument

It therefore goes without saying that when among the many monuments of Odessa, 4th September 2011 saw a larger than life Issac Babel appear in the heart of the city on the corner of Rishelyevskaya and Zhukovskogo, there were no complaints from this quarter.

A grateful thanks to the World Club of Odessa for making it happen and giving Babel his rightful place in Odessa.  Would it not be a cultural sin for the author of such literary classics as the Odessa Tales not to have a monument in the city?

The 25th of January saw an announcement by Governor Saakashvili of a newly created annual Babel Award for Russian language literature – “The award aims to identify and support the best examples of modern art in the genre of narrative literature (novels), written in Russian, in Ukraine and Russia and in other countries. The main criterion for selection of entries for the award, in the words of Isaac Babel, should be a “tyranny of taste.”

This annual award is sponsored by the Odessa Regional Authority, The World Club of Odessa, the literary journal “Rainbow” produced in Kyiv, the Odessa Literary Museum, the Odessa National Academic Library and the daughter of Issac Babel, Lydia.

Issac Babel

Issac Babel

The first award ceremony will occur on 13th July – Babel’s birthday.

Bravo to all those sponsoring the annual award and continuing to push Babel to the fore.

Purely by coincidence, March 2016 will see the launch of a new printed, and on-line, heavily culture orientated (though not exclusively so) monthly journal called “The Odessa Review” – the first issue featuring English translations of some of Babel’s work.  For those that struggle with Russian, be sure to either get a copy or find “The Odessa Review” on-line (once it goes live) and give the Babel translation a read – it will be worth it.

(Full disclosure, this blog will be contributing to the contents of “The Odessa Review” too – as culturally retarded and prose challenged as this blog undoubtedly is.)

Before closing, a note to those within the Oblast Administration that read the blog – Whilst it cannot always accept the invitations to local events or the “no notice one to one chats” it receives, be certain that any received invitation for the 13th July inaugural Babel “Tyranny of Taste” Prize will be both graciously and keenly accepted.

(As an aside, if the Oblast Administration can find any way, by fair means or foul, to tie Gustav Klimt to Odessa even fleetingly, be sure the blog would attend any exhibition too.  Would-be donors to the blog, send not your money, though Benjamin Franklin has his charm – a simple Klimt sketch or small work similar to that below will find a suitable and respectable space on the wall and be gratefully received!)



Surveying the “Russian World” – FSB Style

February 27, 2015

It’s not often entries appear here regarding the murky world of intelligence and counter-intelligence – and deliberately so.  One reason (amongst several) is that there are some very good blogs dealing with the art of spookery – In Moscow’s Shadows and XX Committee being but two of several.

Sometimes however, things happen that catch the eye and seem worthy of a few, less than detailed or particularly erudite lines.  After all, do any readers need to know the difference between FSB Unit 68240 and 68245?  They may have entirely different roles within the FSB, but they are FSB nonetheless – and unless you are an FSB employee – or somebody tasked with countering the FSB – why would you care?

FSB, SVR, GRU and the rest of the alphabet soup are all Russian secret services tasked with various nefarious tasks – some predominantly domestic, and others almost extensively abroad.  That is about as much as most people know (and want to know).  Who really cares about the unit numbers within the FSB – a spook is a spook to most people, at best they divide these entities into “home” and “away” spookery.

FSB unit 68240, back in August 2010, announced a Ruble 24,000,000 tender to gather an automated mapping of national languages within Russia – Avar, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Cherkessia, Karachay, Balkar and Dargin, from men aged 20 – 60.

The reason – a quick computer generated ability to immediately recognise these languages may well be of benefit to the FSB.  Fair enough.  There may even be some benefits to assessing the emotional state of those speaking too – without readily understanding what is being said immediately.  For any who have undergone training relating to the understanding of NVCs, and then undergone training to mislead through NVCs, regardless of how much credence such things may be given – or not, a good deal of money has been, and is, spent upon it.  Why not a database of little known northern Caucus languages (outside of the Caucasus) within the FSB machinery?

However, there is only limited interest in this linguistic Caucus adventure for those outside Russia – or for most within.  It may still be of limited interest even if you know that FSB Unit 68240 is the “operational and technical management” unit – a unit not unknown for its participation in “interrogations” – and enjoying a budget for “R&D”.  The survey then to identify accents and regional differences in the speaking of Russian, plus regional languages, leading to a more easy identification of those from the northern Caucuses in a rush?  Or perhaps a little FSB domestic exercise hidden behind some opinion poll/survey company to gather intelligence or counter-intelligence information from the region too?  A cover through which to make certain “approaches”?

Perhaps – but there is also the issue of creating methods to help yourself to the Russian State budget to consider.

As a random sprinkling, in 2012 Unit 68420 also announced tenders for creating a photographic databases of all Russian produced vehicles from 2000 – 2012, from every possible angle, at a cost of Ruble 10,000,000 – Project “Code Nine”.  Historically is has also announced tenders for the collection of alloys based on precious metals – Project “Duma 2” at Ruble 1,500,000, as well as Project “Dolomite 2”, valued at Ruble 7,500,000 the purpose of which was to study microbial communities living in soil and dust from different regions.  There was also Project “Audacity”, Ruble 2,885,000, for a psycholinguistic study of extremist texts.  A Ruble 1,200,000 tender for traumatic ammunition supply, a tender for “exploring DNA analysis of micro-biological nature and development of methodological approaches to conducting relevant research in the interests of criminology” at Ruble 5,000,000.  Also a Ruble 6,000,000 tender for the collation and cataloging of 200 species of plants containing psychotropic, toxic and biologically active substances – Project “Dagga-Orbikula”.

No need to go on and on.

The validity of some projects would seem questionable – indeed they would seem designed for little more than rent-seeking/graft.  At best, they are, prima facie, half-hearted attempts at the generation of databases that could be collated at far less cost.

Perhaps “expected tenders” are to be driven by the bored and otherwise redundant FSB officers sat in dull, dank offices in Russian universities scheming over corrupt businesses enterprises with little else to do during their posting, for a small fee – if any.  One has to suspect that certain tenders have many bidders, whilst others only one – and the winners hardly chosen in a transparent manner, regardless.  Nevertheless, motions must sometimes been seen to be gone through.

(At least being FSB within the Russian Orthodox Church almost guarantees a Rolex watch of increasing value as you work your way up the patriarchal tree, or into particularly sensitive positions – perhaps better than the university gig.)

But enough history.

Progressing from the August 2010 project relating to linguistics in the northern Caucasus, it appears that as part of mapping the “Russian World”, FSB Unit 68240 has not restricted itself to domestic territory.  It has now announced a tender for a similar survey of Russian speaking men in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.  The tender value Euro 200,000, with a project completion date of 2017.

Why survey only men between 20 – 60?  Women and how they speak Russian are for some reason not required/irrelevant?  A “male only” FSB database?  There would seem to be an obvious gender driven intelligence gap in that database for some reason.

Maybe this is just another effort to digitally record, store, and identify (male) accents and regional differences in the speaking of Russian for “intelligence/counter-intelligence purposes” within the “Russian World” – or perhaps it is a public, plausibly deniable and entirely legal method of engaging any “persons of interest”, or reaching out to “interesting persons” who can become something “more”within nations The Kremlin seeks to influence by fair means and foul.

Is, what amounts to Euro 50,000 per nation, money well spent listening to Russian speaking men from the relevant nations recite (presumably the same) text, money well spent?  If it is not the same text, why not simply record illicitly intercepted telephone calls for free?  Perhaps only the linguists within the FSB can answer that.

Whatever the case it is somewhat problematic to try and prevent a thoroughly lawful survey into “Russian-speaking/linguistics” within Russian minorities via whatever tender winning FSB front gets the gig in the Baltics and Ukraine – even when you know it is a FSB sponsored project.

Who would be of a mind to try and prevent it at all anyway.  Some things, once known, are far better left to run and see what becomes of them, prior to any “rolling up” if and when deemed necessary.

Perhaps, given the size of the FSB budget, Euro 200,000 really doesn’t matter – particularly if this is simply a method of budgetary theft.  Allocate and steal – nobody will notice such a small sum.

Nevertheless, an interesting little development – particularly if asked to read a Russian text aloud for a survey over the next 2 years.


Leaving the club – or several actually (Odessa)

October 30, 2014

As regular readers will have noted, the blog has recently become rather “Odessa-centric” – for good reason.  There are those that read this blog in Kyiv, Brussels and several capitals specifically to get a “feel” for what is going on in Odessa at certain times – particularly at times of unexpected incident, elections or “interesting developments” upon which it is felt necessary comment is made.

This, once again, is one such entry – prior to returning to matters more national tomorrow – now that (with a few exceptions) the results from the elections in Odessa have been announced and accepted.

Of note today, Odessa City Council has several decisions to leave international associations it considers ineffective and unable to justify regarding cost.  Membership fees, administration costs etc.

With effect from today, decisions were made to leave the International Assembly of Capitals and Major Cities of the CIS (Confederation of Independent States), the European Coalition of Cities Against Racism, The International Black Sea Club, the International Coalition for Environmental Initiatives and the European Federation of Local Solidarity Association.

These decisions made in response to the Cabinet of Ministers Decree “On saving public money and avoiding loses to the budget” according to the City Council session today, after consultation with, and the deliberation of, the Department of International Relations of City Hall.

It appears, for the time being at least, all remaining official associations will be spared the administrative and budgetary axe.

What savings this will actually produce, who knows?  Perhaps a move to e-government rather than remaining on paper would save just as much if not more?

As to the historical benefits of any of these organisations and how the have manifested themselves in Odessa, that is perhaps subjective, although without doubt none have ever had much of a public profile.

Also of note is the apparent arrival of lustration in Odessa within both the prosecutors and tax administration departments first to be targeted – though clearly it currently seems to be superficial rather than confronting the deep and ingrained corrupt culture that runs within these institutions.

Whether serious inroads will be made remains to be seen.


A charm offensive in the offing?

April 29, 2014

Whilst The Kremlin is engaged in rewriting European geography through force in total disregard to international and regional legal instruments – and in doing so subjecting itself to some serious image damaging fallout – it seems that perhaps some attempt at mitigation may well be in the offing.

2014, the year of Russian culture – So what?  Russian culture cannot repair the damage caused by such irresponsible and reckless acts towards Ukraine today – and by extension the European and international order.

Quite so, it can’t – or at least it shouldn’t – but all things are connected even when they appear not to be in Russian diplomacy.

Currently the world is being reminded of the part Russian culture that creates dissidents, exiles, reactionaries and revolutionaries and a very wary neighbourhood – distinctly negative portraits.  A particularly prickly image and one not welcome on the world stage.

So how best to sooth or remove those barbs?

A partial tactical pivot in soft power employing the use of a very rich and globally renowned culture.

Time to roll out those historical greats across literature, philosophy, music and art – and combine them with the best Russian performers of the present day – projected at extravagant events and well choreographed celebration via the huge network of embassies and consulates across the globe.

Particular attention paid to influential nations naturally, ( but also a time to remind the domestic audience just how great a nation Russia is as the hardships mount up at home).

The international target audience – those who frame national argument.  Those politicians, diplomats, business leaders and media networks that attend such functions and will then leave with a far higher regard – and perhaps understanding – of Russia.

The message being that current Kremlin shenanigans should not colour the empirical view too greatly.

Pure nonsense of course – No matter how great a culture a nation may have, the deliberate and prolonged aggression and destabilisation of a neighbouring State because it has a different vision of its future than the one you would prefer, cannot be removed from the sharp focus the issue currently has on the international and regional stage by a little Tchaikovsky.

Or can it?  Poking around the Internet, there are no end of “useful idiots” great and small it seems.


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