Posts Tagged ‘customs and borders’

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Sending the right message the wrong way? – Groisman

May 7, 2016

Since the beginning of the year, intermittently entries have appeared regarding the valiant battle being fought at Odessa Customs by Yulia Marushevska (and the team behind her), against vested interests.

Those ad hoc entries consistently containing prose along the lines of – “Ms Marushevska is already clearly being pressured by the old entrenched personalities, as well as the nefarious among the SBU and SFS that have always benefited from the very lucrative and nefarious scams that historically defined the Odessa ports – and thus looks favourite.”

Indeed, for those interested, the Facebook page of Yulia Marushevska describes a daily battle – particularly of late with the State Fiscal Service and Roman Nasirov, an individual seemingly determined to frustrate and obstruct reform at every opportunity.  She has managed to gather 3 official reprimands from Mr Nasirov, and should she survive long enough, there will probably be more.

If a reader ponder why Mr Nasirov remains in control of the State Fiscal Service whilst seemingly actively seeking to keep enormous illicit financial flows alive from which some in Kyiv, the SFS, the SBU, together with local vested interests have historically profited, as stated in a very recent post related to the apparent inability to sack senior officials – “Indeed, how people such as Roman Nasirov remain head of the State Fiscal Service may also perplex a reader (though a cynical reader may believe that he remains in place as part of a grubby political deal to insure sufficient votes for the new Cabinet from otherwise hostile political positions).”

Indeed both President Poroshenko, and Prime Minister Groisman immediately upon his appointment, received an open letter from Yulia Marushevska to support Odessa Customs (notwithstanding persistent lobbying to do so from Governor Saakashvili) – and also a request to remove Mr Nasirov.  Whether or not Mr Nasirov will be removed, considering the quote immediately above, remains to be seen.

If so, would he go out in similar fashion to Viktor Shokin when he sacked Davit Sakvarelidze in his few final hours in post, by attempting to fire Yulia Marushevska as his swan song.  Honours even (or equal losses) between functionaries/beneficiaries of the Old Guard vis a vis the reformers?

Clearly the removal of Mr Nasirov would not be immediate if, as insinuated above, his retaining that position was a requirement for political support (votes) in appointing the new Cabinet.  Further those votes may yet be required to see the necessary constitutional changes regarding the judiciary over the 300 (+) voting line – A vote due in the Verkhovna Rada by mid-July.

However, Mr Groisman, if he wishes to be perceived as a successful Prime Minister cannot ignore the rampant corruption within the SFS and Customs Service.  Internal regional governance and external supporters will not allow the issue to be ignored.

Whatever a reader may think of Mr Groisman, to be perceived a failure will not be upon his agenda.

Lo, the Prime Minister has fired a public shot across the bow of the Customs Service and the State Fiscal Service – “You have three months to restore order within Ukrainian Customs.  If you have a political will, I support you – if not, write the statement of resignation today or otherwise be swept away.”

Two clear goals were set – to increase the State revenues and work honestly.  (In other words significantly reduce the rampant levels of corruption in which you are engaged and allow more to reach the State coffers.).

Thus far there is little wrong with the message.

A reader my ponder whether a 3 month period to regain control of two State institutions is both necessary and/or possible whilst simultaneously leaving in senior posts those who have (often deliberately) failed to reduce the rampant levels of corruption within the institutions that they lead – but again that period is perhaps politically sufficient to then be able to justify the less than timely removal of personnel left in post previously required to garner political support from otherwise hostile quarters when the new Cabinet was elected, and also see constitution changing votes gather enough support in the meantime.

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Unfortunately the Prime Minister then made a statement that may be perceived by his critics as something approaching poor judgement.  He went on to state that the SFS and Customs creating and participating in grey or black schemes at a time when there is a war in the east and people have no money to buy medicine is “looting and a crime“.

He is of course right, it is “looting” (to use his term) and a crime” – but it is looting and a crime whether there is a war in the east, and whether the population can afford medicine, or not.  If Ukraine were a prosperous nation and peace was ever-present in the neighbourhood, in no way would that make the rampant corruption within the SFS and Customs any less “looting and a crime“.

Thus his critics may perceive this as being somewhat less than robust regarding corruption and something similar to an inferred temporary moratorium and/or request for little more than reasonable parameters upon nefariousness.

Whatever perception a reader may have, it is perhaps too soon to act as judge, jury and executioner on a Groisman premiership.

Indeed, the pressure to deal with Customs and the SFS internally of the governing class is not limited to pleas from Yulia Marushevska or rants from Governor Saakashvili.  Transcarpathian Governor Gennady Moskal has now threatened to resign due to senior appointments within his region’s Customs Service that in his view does little but enhance the interests of the cigarette smuggling mafia.  No doubt neighbouring supportive States also deliver such a message when deprived of domestic VAT due to huge quantities of smuggled Ukrainian cigarettes.

Naturally any response to Governor Moskal’s concerns (to avoid his resignation) will be led by Roman Nasirov of the SFS, the subject of complaints from both Odessa Customs and Governor, and an individual who clearly already suffers from a lack of confidence from the Transcarpathian Governor too.  Mr Nasirov by inference is also the man that the Prime Minister has given 3 months to sort his institutional act out, whilst undoubtedly Prime Minister Groisman has also been provided with weighty tomes regarding issues and evidence against Mr Nasirov .

Few will thus have much faith in Mr Nasirov ever sorting out the SFS or Customs – but just how difficult will he prove to be to remove – and perhaps as importantly, when is it most timely to do so from a PM Groisman viewpoint?

Is Prime Minister Groisman sending the right message the wrong way – or is he sending the right message in the only way possible – for now?

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The Odessa Old Guard manipulates the OSCE

April 25, 2016

Since mid-2014 the infamous Sergei Kivalov MP, funder, founder and “ideologue” behind the local Ukrainian Marine Party in Odessa – which exists purely to put his people within City Hall and push and/or defend his interests – has been lobbying to turn Odessa into a Porto Franco, (or free port if you prefer).

Indeed, the Porto Franco concept for Odessa has been mentioned by this blog numerous times since the ex-Regionaires of Kivalov and Co arrived at the concept only when ousted from power – if indeed it was their concept back in 2014 – “…in Odessa, there are indeed seeds being sown over the past few weeks for a project amongst the conspirators, called “Porto Franco”.  In the past 3 weeks, a good deal of money has arrived in Odessa for the promotion of this project when the time to activate it arrives.

Those behind it are the usual political suspects – Messrs Markov (from afar), Pressman, Skoryk, Kivalov and Rabinovich.  Their aim is to give Odessa a special status in Ukraine as a free port – as the name “porto franco” infers.  The remnants of Party Rodina are preparing to be activated (now the money is here).  Trolls for the “Odessa Forum” and on-line media are being recruited.  The local media owned by these men is prepping to make the “porto franco” argument   A Bill to be submitted to the RADA seeking a special free port status for Odessa is being drafted in dark conspiratorial corners.

The motivations of these conspirators is naturally not the benefit of Odessa.  The special status has far more to do with yet more nefarious enrichment and far less accountability to Kyiv.  Defrauding and shameless theft of the decentralised Odessa budget sits atop the agenda.  Some of these men are also close to the Kremlin, and thus would have little compunction if the porto franco project was (mysteriously) co-opted by the SVR and GRU along the way.  The money that has arrived in Odessa over the past 3 weeks to finance this project is not theirs – despite them all being obscenely wealthy and capable of financing such an effort.” – 12th February 2015.

On 21st June 2015 – “Purely using a stick to try and beat the corruption out of the ports stands as much chance of beating it further inward, than it does of driving it out.

As for the ports, it may be possible to get vested interests both local and international “on-side” and reduce smuggling by turning them into free ports/porto franco where customs are much more “relaxed”, customs duties are wavered etc.

Unfortunately for the “separatist minded” forget the idea of political autonomy akin Hong Kong – think more of Copenhagen, Bordeaux or Bremerhaven.  With the DCFTA with the EU starting with effect of 1st January, turning the Odessa ports into international free ports/porto franco would seem entirely sensible from a national, regional and vested interests perspective.  It would sit nicely within any additional decentralised/devolved powers to be given to all regions, particularly so as the destiny of Odessa is set to remain in Ukraine by overwhelming constituency will.

That said, there have been numerous attempts and numerous discussions about this within the corridors of power under almost every president and parliament since independence – all have which have thus far decided against.

So, to rule in, or rule out, Odessa (and several other of its ports) as a free port/porto franco?”

There are other blog entries, however, as the two quoted above adequately imply, there is both something of a dilemma and also a requirement for clarity regarding any porto fanco/free port status that may or may not come the way of Odessa.

The first is to make clear to all – particularly those behind the pushing of the concept (Messrs Kivalov, Skoryk in particular, and to a lesser degree Messrs Pressman, Kisse and Rabinovichthat should it come, then it functions as porto fanco/free ports function in Copenhagen, Bordeaux or Bremerhaven – with absolutely no political autonomy by way of locally created foreign or trade policy.  It will not operate as Hong Kong did/does.

Stating clearly, robustly and repeatedly, until it is fully understood by those that fear “separatism” if a degree of foreign or trade policy is surrendered to Odessa by the centre, that such policy ground is not and will not be surrendered in granting any such status is necessary.  Foreign and trade policy will remain a national policy.

Likewise, the same has to be made entirely and unambiguously clear to the ideologues such as Sergie Kivalov who is the driving force behind the concept – or at least prima facie the driving force behind the concept.

Indeed, it is perhaps simply because Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk in particular are associated with the porto franco/free port concept that it brings with it fears of “separatism” for some.  Neither have a history of being particularly patriotic – at least toward Ukraine.  Thus the shadow of Moscow will continue to be cast upon this project in the minds of a great many within the local constituency.

That said, the genuine 2014 threat of separatism in Odessa was swiftly ended the moment Crimea was sanctioned.  Odessa is a mercantile city and sanctions would mean its economic death as all residents know – regardless of their Kyiv or Moscow leaning.  Ergo if separatism equalled sanctions in 2014, there ended any groundswell for separatism.

What is and was left were Potemkin facades such as the “Bessarabia operation,  which soon faded when the Russian Consular General Valeriy Shibeko  was made persona non grata and the logistics behind such facades seemingly left with him.  Indeed after his departure there was only one bomb explosion that readily comes to mind – that at the SBU building.  All others by recollection occurred prior to his departure.  A coincidence of course.

Over the past few weeks the Porto Franco concept has once again been reenergised.

Odessa MPs Kivalov, Skoryk, Pressman and Kisse have submitted a draft law to the Verkhovna Rada, imaginatively entitled “On the free (special) economic zone – Free port”.  (A reader should not hold their breath for it to see the Verkhovna Rada voting chamber any time soon however.)

Sergei Kivalov’s Marine Party and the Opposition Block have formed a local “For Free port” political group within City Hall – albeit meetings regarding the project have been held outside City Hall and thus subject to activist protests, as well as facilitating OSCE attendance.

It is from that YouTube above, Sergei Kivalov and Mykola Skoryk, have seemingly engaged themselves in fabricating the OSCE stance toward the porto franco issue, and in particular the criticising the dissent and disagreement by those against the concept.

kivalov

In true Homo Sovieticus manipulation of the media, an entirely fake OSCE statement mysteriously appeared, promulgated by Sergei Kivalov on his website.  Indeed, whilst the OSCE statement doesn’t even look particularly authentic in appearance, it is certainly not written in standard OSCE prose.

OSCE

The entirely fake OSCE statement reads “13.04.2016  Representatives of the OSCE recorded the failure of the joint meeting of the parliamentary group and scientists. The event took place at the following address: Odessa, Str. Sabaneev Bridge 4. The unknown persons who ruined a joint session of deputies of Odessa City, Regional Council, as well as scientists, have positioned themselves as “activists of pro-Ukrainian forces.”
Indicating a violation of international humanitarian law. This is due to the lack of evidence of effective and impartial investigation of the Ukrainian authorities, the crimes committed by the so-called “activists of pro-Ukrainian forces.”
This case adds to a huge number of examples of gross violations of human rights, the rule of law and international humanitarian law by the authorities of Ukraine, which led to the preservation, according to international organizations, the disastrous humanitarian and human rights situation in Odessa, in particular, and Ukraine as a whole.”

Clearly not the OSCE lexicon or turn of phrase ever likely to become public through official or unofficial channels.

Indeed the OSCE has categorically denied making any such statement regarding the incident, or giving any official view regarding the concept on its Facebook page.   There is nothing on the official OSCE website either.

Following the false statement’s promulgation, the OSCE asked the media that prior to publishing such statements, the media should verify them with the OSCE as genuine and accurate.  Well quite right – but not all the media of Odessa carried the fake OSCE report story.

Thus, it is perhaps necessary to take a closer look at those media outlets that did publish.

Putting to one side Sergei Kivalov’s own website, both  Slovo and Reporter that carried the fake story are owned by Sergei Kivalov.  Odesskiye Vedomosti and Odessa 1 which also carried it are owned by Mykola Skoryk – ideologue and deputy ideologue behind the porto franco/free port concept, as well as being politically odious old guard politicians, and forever defenders of the “old ways” of doing things.  The only other site to carry the story that day appears to have been Informacionnyi Centr, another site with a blatant bias.

That these local media outlets carried the fake OSCE statement and that others did not is hardly surprising.  The ownership behind the local media dictates what stories are likely to gain predominance – and/or retractions (of which there have thus far been none regarding the fake OSCE statement).

Therefore, a reader may perhaps conclude that the creation of the clearly fake OSCE statement promulgated predominantly by Mr Kivalov’s website and the local media outlets owned by Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk, has something to do with them.  That links still remain live to such officially refuted falsehoods within their respectively owned media outlets will perhaps also allow readers to draw inference.

Neither man would have been fooled by such a clear OSCE fake when deliberately circulating it.  Even a cursory glance at the political histories of both men would display far more than a passing knowledge of OSCE wordsmithery and diplospeak to the point where neither naivety nor ignorance can pass as an excuse for failing to recognise a fake when it is put before them.  Thus their actions were deliberate – and perhaps premeditated.

Why then, would they pursue such a brazen and clearly refutable media tactic – one likely to be frowned upon by the OSCE and its members, and thus by extension Kyiv?

Firstly, their gullible readership will have already accepted the misinformation, and who now believe that the OSCE are tacitly in favour of the porto franco/free port project and simultaneously very tired of “activists” who breach “international law” per the false statement.  It thus becomes part of a PR project to raise the profile of Operation Porto Franco, and by extension in part attempt to cleanse the very sullied reputations of the MPs involved.  That it is unlikely to become a reality anytime soon means any populist economic nonsense stated in connection with the project will not be tested.

Secondly, they see weakness in Kyiv and the opportunity to undermine the Governor’s “Customs Project” at Odessa Port which is clearly interfering in their vested interests there – notwithstanding the vested interests of those around them too.  Indeed the toppling of Yulia Marushevska and her team is a priority having managed to remove Davit Sakvarelidze as Odessa Prosecutor and install Nikolay Stoyanov just long enough to close all the cases Mr Salvarelidze opened.

Thirdly, they will be aware that the new Cabinet of Ministers is likely to arrive at a customs reformation programme within the next few months (3 months at most) that may well kill off any chance of a porto franco/free port for Odessa – and perhaps make all ports run in a a similar way to that of the Governor’s project.

More broadly, such brazen acts become part of the resurgence of the “Old Guard” and a return to “the old ways” – albeit those days as they knew them are gone, and the “old guard” is starting to look less like the traditional oligarch system and far more like a wider, more inclusive, set of financial-political groupings of smaller beings intent upon State capture.

As Mr Kivalov is unlikely to be included in such a financial-political group, and Mykola Skoryk is exiled Dmitry Firtash’s man in Odessa, both may find themselves outside (or peripheral at best) of the new coalescing structures. To take ownership of porto franco/free port concept and the nefarious opportunities it could (and would without customs reform) bring, its creation would have to happen in the immediate future whilst they still retain some, albeit fading, power.  It would also facilitate their greater relevance for the new coalescing structures.

Dune on power corrupts

Nevertheless, a rather brazen act that has the potential to bring about far more trouble than it was probably worth – desperate times requiring desperate measures perhaps?

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Reforming the national customs service – by bypassing the Cabinet of Ministers

January 6, 2016

When the Verkhovna Rada meets once more following the festive holidays, high upon the agenda is a draft Bill submission that seeks to insulate the National Customs Service from interference within the structure of the Ministry of Finance whose structure it sits within.

Naturally one of the first questions to ask is why the National Customs Service is within the Ministry of Finance in the first place.

The answer is quite simple.  The National Customs Service is viewed by the Ukrainian political establishment not as a facilitator of seamless trade/import and export, nor is it viewed as a first line of defence against smuggling, or an essential part of the State security apparatus.  It is viewed as an entity that is primarily tasked with filling the Ukrainian national budget with revenue..  Hence the National Customs Service is part of the Ministry of Finance.

Fair enough, there is nothing wrong with the National Customs Service being part of the Ministry of Finance.  HM Customs is part of HM Revenue & Customs in the UK – in short it is located with the tax institutions, delivering customs and excise duties as part of its role.

However prioritising its tax collection and national kitty filling abilities is also perhaps a slightly wrongheaded way of looking at the role of the Ukrainian National Customs Service considering the ill-winds Ukraine currently faces and the free trade agreements currently and soon to come into force.

customs

If asked to write a mission statement for the Ukrainian Customs Service, it would read something like “to facilitate legitimate international trade, to protect Ukrainian physical, social, fiscal, and economic security before and at the border, and to collect Ukrainian trade statistics” – specifically written in that order of priority.

The draft Bill attempts to prioritise the National Customs Service duties in a similar way, proclaiming that in doing so it will develop the economy of Ukraine and insure Ukrainian integration into the global economy.  Maybe it will.

Further it identifies clear department structures within the National Customs Service – from customs and excise, a financial investigation department, an intelligence department, and all the clearly delineated structures expected to be found within a European customs service.

The draft Bill also proposes some extremely robust and automatic penalties for customs officials caught in nefarious deeds – perhaps even disproportionate if truly automatic and arbitrary.

The issue at hand however, is that it is not the Ministry of Finance, nor the Cabinet of Ministers, that seeks to insulate and “Europeanise” the National Customs Service – and neither it seems, are the Ministry of Finance or the Prime Minister particularly supportive of the draft Bill that seeks to achieve this insulation and “Eurpeanisation” for the National Customs Service.

The draft Bill is the creation of Andrei Antonyschak and about a dozen colleagues within the Solidarity Party.  It has been created with the assistance of  numerous European customs experts – and will therefore put trade facilitation and security as the lead roles of the National Customs Service rather than remaining an institution primarily charged with filling the State coffers (by hook or by crook).

Indeed, rumour has it that both Prime Minister and the Ministry of Finance have let these MPs know that their draft Bill runs contrary to the IMF agreement – which having read the IMF agreement seems to be complete nonsense.  The IMF agreement clearly states combating corruption is a priority, therefore any customs reform along European standards will certainly assist in combating corruption compared to what currently exists often working to the whim of vested interests.

So far, so usual for the domestic dysfunctional political discourse between coalition parliamentarians, and parliamentarians and the Cabinet of Ministers.

What is particularly interesting however, is that this group of MPs has decided to cut out any and all Cabinet of Ministers involvement in further discussions and negotiations with the EU and the IMF regarding the draft Bill.

They intend to carry out direct discussions and negotiations with the EU and IMF themselves, proclaiming it impossible to do so through the Government of Ukraine without deliberate distortions and grotesquely warped feedback.  In short, they do not trust the Government of Ukraine as an intermediary for their (European expert assisted) draft Bill when it comes to EU and IMF discussion.

Working visits to Strasbourg and Brussels have been organised to enable direct discussions – without Government Ukraine input or facilitation.  No doubt the relevant egos and micro-managers within the Cabinet of Ministers will be seething.

Thus it remains to be seen whether the draft Bill will ever see Verkhovna Rada committee or voting chamber time – let alone whether an irked and vengeful Government of Ukraine will insure it is voted down because it did not get the chance to manipulate the draft Bill content, or the feedback from the EU and IMF, or whether it will begrudgingly see the statute book if there is EU and IMF backing for it .

Nevertheless, to view the National Customs Service as a revenue generator first and foremost, as Ukraine always has and clearly still does, is looking at the institution with anything but a “European lens” – despite the Presidential “Ukraine 2020” plan that states the “European normative” is the goal for Ukraine and all its institutions.

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A return to Odessa Port

December 20, 2015

It has been a while since anything appeared here regarding Odessa Port and the Governor’s attempts to curtail the rampant corruption there (as well as Yushni and Illichevsk).

Indeed the last dedicated entry related to the appointment of Yulia Marushevska as Customs Chief in mid-October.

Unsurprisingly, Ms Marushevska is doing quiet well considering the entrenched corrupt system she is going up against.  Unnecessary customs checks have been slashed in number, clearance times have decreased dramatically, and the plan to increase quality customers through savings in time and the removal of solicited bribes seems to be working – and needless to say is popular with the legitimate importers of legal produce.

The expensive x-ray equipment paid for by the USA many years ago now longer sits in the packaging it came in but is actually used on targeted checks.

Naturally Ms Marushevska deserves credit for the changes.  Though she is a particularly organised woman, there needs to be credit also ascribed to the team behind her – the Ukrainian customs management under her control, the US Embassy Kyiv that is taking keen interest, and also the Georgian customs advisors that have been and done this before.

What is yet to occur is the Governor’s demand for e-clearance which was due to commence on 1st November.  As this blog stated when he announced it – and entirely unrealistic timetable simply from a technical and skilled operator perspective.

Nevertheless, Odessa Port has obtained the free ASYCUDA software – a customs software used by about 80 nations globally that automates customs clearance and was developed by the UNCTAD and WTO.

asylogo

Thus the technical part of the demand for e-clearance is now belatedly met if using his fanciful time line as a benchmark.  What remains is the training to make the operators competent.

Seemingly, this training is not cheap – an issue long since recognised.  UAH 17 million is the price tag rumoured, ($700,000 approximately), to train the Odessa Port staff.  It sounds a lot, until compared to the estimated $1 billion in nefarious deeds lost to the Odessa region customs revenue that should otherwise be raised and entered into the State system – but isn’t.

Nevertheless, how many are to be trained, and how long the training lasts is not entirely clear, making it difficult to put a price on training per head.

Whatever the case, it seems highly likely that by summer 2016, which is a far more realistic date than that which has already passed first offered by the Governor, Odessa Port (if not the entirety of the Ukrainian customs institution) will finally manage to join the e-clearance system operated by 80 nations.

Some might call that progress – others however will call it a threat to their vested nefarious interests.

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Saakashvili on Odessa Customs & Clearance

November 25, 2015

In his usual and characteristic way of stating the issues in a somewhat unpolished manner, Governor Saakashvili gave an interview to “The Day” (День) media outlet regarding the new Odessa Customs set up, e-clearance going on-line with effect from 1st March 2016, and who is and is not seemingly welcome to use Odessa as a customs clearance hub.

He noted, probably rightly, a significant decrease in corruption within customs in Odessa – whilst simultaneously acknowledging that smuggling continues.

He stated clearly that the majority of corruption schemes now operate from Kyiv customs and no longer from Odessa.   “Currently, these flows have switched to other customs, mainly in Kyiv, where the custom clearing goods occur at lower prices.  We want to customs clearance only the loads from the EU, US, Japan, Canada and Australia, because of their origin and the price specified in the declaration of the goods are confirmed at 100%.  But the Chinese and Turkish goods clearance we will refuse because it is impossible to find a real return for them. Let them visit other customs, because it is a potential source of corruption.  When from March 1st, 2016 electronic customs begins, then all will use the cargo customs clearance.”

Now there is little to argue about in what is said factually regarding the transfer of customs clearance flows to a more “understanding” Kyiv customs clearance regime.

To have an e-clearance system in place by 1st March 2016 may be a little ambitious, but it is at least a recognition that his May 2015 statements of e-clearance by 1st November were a technological fantasy as the blog pointed out at the time.  A 9 month install and testing is more realistic from the date he announced e-clearance for Odessa, and it will certainly make Odessa far more attractive to those that regularly use e-clearance globally.

However, with regard to Chinese and Turkish goods, it is surely not “impossible” to find origin and pricing that can be 100% confirmed for a reasonable percentage of what comes through Odessa normally.  Even if only 5% – 10% can only be 100% verified then it would seem perhaps a somewhat undiplomatic choice of words to utter “impossible” – and that percentage of 100% verifiable goods from China and Turkey is probably higher.

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Indeed, with all EU, US, Australian, Canadian and Japanese good entering getting an almost immediate pass and almost no inspections, does that not allow more time to inspect Chinese and Turkish goods and test the apparent newly acquired moral fortitude and group ethic of the customs officials in Odessa Port – or is that confidence somewhat limited and therefore politically problematic?

Instead of pushing the corruption from Odessa customs clearance to Kyiv customs clearance, could the corruption not have actually been tackled, rather than simply redirected?  Is it not a somewhat flawed policy to simply move the problem?

If Odessa customs has seen a rapid reduction in corruption, which is probably has, then is it a genuine policy win if Kyiv customs has seen a rapid increase in corruption as a result?  Admittedly Governor Saakashvili is the governor of Odessa, and therefore results in Odessa have primacy amongst the constituents he is responsible for and to – indeed such local results may well be fawned over by many of the Ukrainian constituency seeking a genuine battle with corruption – but in taking Ukrainian citizenship and as a national public political figure (with future national ambitions no doubt), is a shifting of the problem perhaps not the answer they would expect?

That said, is it perhaps easier to deal with such issues in an oblast by oblast manner – for each oblast has its own peculiarities and prominent corruption practices.  A piecemeal approach to those peculiarities may be easier to effectively implement under a broad national umbrella that is otherwise less than effective – particularly when the centre is clearly unwilling to deal with its own corruption.

Governor Saakashvili also has limitations upon the power he wields both within and without the Odessa Oblast.

The question then is perhaps not whether shifting the corruption from Odessa customs clearance to Kyiv customs clearance is a good policy (or not) when it comes to tackling corruption – but whether it was the only strategy available to the authorities of Odessa?

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One and the same? Syria related terrorist arrest(s) Ukraine

November 14, 2015

Whilst all the big issues relating to adopting much needed legislation in Ukraine, legislation also required to enable Visa-free with the Schengen nations of the EU at some point in the future, (whenever that may be) have been grabbing the headlines, the Ukrainian State Border Service and SBU have been arresting Islamic terrorist(s).

On 11th November, the Border Service of Ukraine announced it had arrested a Russian citizen “who was possibly a member of the Islamic State terrorist group” during the check-in at Boryspil airport, booked on a flight to Istanbul.  The Ukrainian State Border Service press release stating “the Ukrainian State Border Service detained a citizen of the Russian Federation who is on the international wanted list and suspected of participation in the terrorist group ‘Islamic State’. The Interpol National Bureau for Ukraine was informed about the detention of the Russian citizen.”

On 13th November the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) also released a statement, “The citizen of one of the former USSR republics took part in the Syrian armed conflict in 2013 – 2014. The combatant became head of a separate Jamaat of the international terrorist organization ‘Al-Nusra Front’ in 2015.”

AlN

It seems highly unlikely that these two statements would relate to two separate arrests only 48 hours apart for wanted Islamic terrorists.  It is to be expected that the SBU press statement would be far more accurate in identifying the terrorist organisation involved, and less specific regarding the nationality of the wanted terrorist, than the Ukrainian Border Service which was more specific about the nationality of the wanted terrorist and less specific about the Islamic terrorist organisation.

If these statements relate to the same arrest, the it would appear that a Russian national circulated as wanted by Interpol, and who took part in the Syrian armed conflict during 2013-14, becoming head of a separate Jamaat of the Al Nusra Front in 2015, was arrested at Boryspil airport attempting to board a flight from Kyiv to Istanbul.

Since that arrest, Kyiv’s Shevchenko District Court has remanded in custody this individual pending extradition to whichever nation circulated this Russian citizen as wanted – and which nation that is, at the time of writing, is not public knowledge.

Clearly there are questions to be asked as to how this Russian citizen  arrived in Ukraine having not only fought, but headed a Jamaat of the Al Nursa Front?  How long has this individual been in Ukraine?  How did they enter?  Were they wanted when they entered, or circulated as wanted after they entered therefore legitimately?  Is Ukraine simply an entry and egress point, and if so where else did this individual go?  Why did this individual leave Syria?  Who did they meet either in Ukraine, or elsewhere?  For what purpose?  Was Istanbul a safer point of entry than elsewhere in MENA?  The most convenient route, or route with planned safe-passage back to Syria?  Was a return to Syria the purpose of the trip to Istanbul?  Was this individual traveling on legitimate or false documents?  Mobile phone?  Computer?  What bank cards/details in their possession?  Where and when used?  How much of a picture can be gleaned of time spent in Ukraine – and with whom if there is CCTV in locations where any bank card use occurred?

One must expect that the SBU has asked all these questions (and many more) of this individual during the period between the first mention of an arrest on 11th November, and the remanding in custody of this individual, pending extradition, on 13th November.  Between now and any extradition, no doubt more questions will want to be put to this individual – and not only by the Ukrainians – prior to delivery of the wanted to the country requesting extradition.

Are all the answers to the questions above (and many more) already known?  Was the arrest at  Boryspil airport by the Ukrainian State Border Services the conclusion, rather than beginning, of SBU engagement with this individual?

Perhaps rightly, not a headlining incident in light of recent events within the legislative world of the Verkovna Rada, and also the notable up-tick in the continuing war (no fig-leaf “shaky ceasefire rhetoric) in eastern Ukraine – but nevertheless it is an incident that will catch the eye of some readers of this blog.

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EASO cites Ukrainian “Asylum spike”……such as it is.

October 21, 2015

In an article published by EurActiv, the EASO (European Asylum Support Office) cites a spike in asylum applications by Ukrainians.

“”Last year, the total number of asylum applicants to the EU plus Switzerland and Norway, (called the EU+) was 660,000.  Of them 220,000 came from the Mediterranean, so 440,000 must have entered via different places.  This is important to realise.” – Robert K. Visser.

What is specific to Ukraine, Visser explained, is that it was not an “asylum country” before the start of the hybrid war.

What makes Ukraine completely different from the other countries cited is that all Ukrainians arrive in the EU legally, having obtained a visa, or file their asylum application having already resided legally in the EU, often with a work permit. Visser recognized that EASO had no information, and that there was no way to measure immigration via legal entry.

Unlike any other nationality, Ukrainians who file an asylum application do it all across the EU, and not in one or two specific countries of destination.

“The Ukrainian community is the most diversified community that we know.  There are Ukrainians in all parts of Europe,” Visser said.  He added that most of them were working people with permits, residing in a legal way, some of which at some point, “seeing what happened back home” decide that they don’t want to return.”

Something of a novelty then – Ukrainian asylum seekers within the EU+ reporting nations were there legally to begin with, having been granted visas, or having existing and lawfully acquired residency.

Hordes of Ukrainians without Visas therefore did not sneak across the borders even during the worst of the fighting, significant military mobilisation, and large scale internal displacement to then claim asylum?  Seemingly not.

If what is said is accurate, then Ukrainian asylum seekers for the most part do it all legally and politely from within the EU+ nations they were already lawfully within.  (How that conjures an image of decorum amongst asylum seekers.)

“If Ukrainians represent next to 3% of the total number of asylum applicants to the EU, Russia is following closely, being the next in line with 2% of the total. 

The recognition rate of asylum application from Ukraine nationals in EU countries, which was of 21% in 2014, may appear low compared to Syrians’, which is 95%. But charts suggest that the rate of approval is growing as the conflict persists.”

So what do those percentages mean?

Not much due to a lack of statistical depth – but prima facie, based upon the figures cited by the Eurocrats within the article, if Ukrainians account for almost 3% of EU+ asylum applications then 660,000 x 3% = 19800 Ukrainians applying for asylum (with the majority already lawfully working or having residency within the EU+ nations, the Eurocrats state).

If the recognition rate of these applications is 21% as cited, then 19800 x 21% = 4158 Ukrainians that successfully were granted asylum in 2014.

4158 Ukrainians being granted asylum clearly raises no eyebrows amongst the EU+ nations – for they all continue to issue visas to Ukrainians.

Indeed, presumably most of the others that applied and were refused asylum probably still remain within the EU+ nations when considering the Eurocrats statements that the majority that applied were lawfully there anyway.

business man shrug

Perhaps the number of applications, successful or otherwise, is the wrong way to look at things?

Perhaps there are questions to be asked about why the number of applications is so low considering the circumstances Ukraine and its population find themselves in during the reporting period of 2014, despite all manner of visas continuing to be issued by every European nation?

Is it a reflection of the appeal of Europe as a permanent destination?

Is it a reflection upon how well the international agencies and Ukraine are managing to cope with the massive internal displacement within its borders?

Is it a reflection of how well events in The Donbas have been contained?

Is it a reflection upon how effective the Ukrainian (and EU) borders personnel have been?  (Only a few days ago Ukraine detained 9 Afghans attempting to enter the EU via Ukraine.)

Is it a reflection of the determination and willingness of Ukrainians to take the pain domestically, despite Kremlin efforts and an often feckless domestic political class?

Is it all of the above – and more?

Has “peak application” passed for the majority of applicants that were lawfully within the EU+ nations anyway?  If so will the 2015 figures released next year prove to have more applications than those of 2014 – or not?  Will the number of successful applications go up, regardless of whether the number of applications goes up or down?

Given all that Ukraine and its constituency went through in 2014 (and 2015), are the Ukrainian asylum figures with the EU+ nations more, or indeed less, than could have been expected?

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