Posts Tagged ‘education’

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Odessa – Write your own headline (It would be funny if it weren’t so sad)

December 28, 2016

In local news a headline appeared that simply demanded further reading.  It read “In Odessa region a school toilet was inaugurated:  A ribbon cutting and dancing”.

It has to be said that your author’s parents always took a very dim view of what they termed “toilet humour”, which in their definition had little to do with funny toilets or anecdotes about ablutions and the physical activities that occur within, but rather humour that was more than a little “off colour” or “beyond the pale”.

However, erudite as the readership of this blog is, there will be those that will create their own headlines for this event, and others that will find the entire event “off colour”.

One of the rural schools in Rozdilna Rayon (Odessa Oblast) quite literally had a ribbon cutting event to open a toilet at the school!

The grand toilet opening (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

The grand toilet opening (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

Perhaps it is right that toilets in a school are a reason to be celebrated – particularly if there have been none prior.  A reader may ponder just how many student hours have been saved in the absence of “Please Miss, can I go to the toilet?” if there is no toilet to go to.

Nevertheless, most readers would expect that a nation that can provide electricity, heating, teachers and an education at a school in rural Ukraine, to also be able to provide ablutions.  Surely toilets in a school are more of an expectation than something to celebrate?

It has to be said that the blog gets invitations to various events, many of which are nothing more than the official opening of an official envelope, an hour or so of polite chit-chat and perhaps a few nibbles and away.

Not once has an invitation arrived to attend the opening of a school toilet.  Clearly the blog sits upon the wrong distribution/invitation lists for such events.  However, over the past decade or more in Odessa, there is no recollection of a ribbon cutting ceremony for a school toilet.

New school toilets (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

New school toilets (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

Readers, ask ye not where are the doors, for no answer can be given.  Perhaps the juvenile sensitivities of rural Ukrainian pupils are far less than those of the juvenile sensitivities of its urban school children.  All things considered, perhaps this is a such a step to modernity (and sanitation) compared to what existed before.  A reader may well ask what existed before.  Perhaps the children were simply defecating in the school playground for the amusement of lost tourists passing by?

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

How many local politicians and dignitaries actually get invited, and turn up, and take part in ribbon cutting ceremonies for school toilets?  Obviously Felix Segal the current Chairman of the District Council decided it was a worthy photo op – as did several other officials.

With such a major blessing being bestowed upon the school, a reader is now wondering where the dancing girls are.  Fear not, some female students indeed put on a dance to celebrate they can now, albeit unladylike owing to the toilet design being little more than a wipe clean hole in the floor, go to the toilet.

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

What school principle has their teenage females dancing for officials to celebrate the opening of a school toilet – something which the school should have.

How to interpret this entire event?

To be angry and dismayed that school toilets are now ribbon cutting PR events for local politicians?  Undoubtedly.  That school principles have their girls dance in gratitude for such retro-Soviet privacy-less ablutions?  Certainly.

Yet mindful of a father that forever proclaimed “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit” it is still rather difficult not to arrive at numerous sarcastic headlines.

“Pupils who couldn’t give a sh*t before, now do!”

“Ukraine takes another step toward Europe – toilets opened in schools with due pomp and ceremony!”

“Ukraine leaps ahead of Europe with the ultimate socially  liberal “no privacy” toilets for school kids!”

“Environmentally friendly Ukraine bans natural and man-made doors on school toilets”

“Scandal at Ukrainian rural school – pupils resort to wiping their arse with ribbon due to toilet paper shortage” (there’s none in the photos).

Naturally when the costs of the toilets becomes known and the inevitable budget plundering scandal rears its inevitable head, the toilet humour headlines will not end there.

In the meantime, a reader is left to make their choice of dismay that school toilets have become ribbon cutting events with dancing girls (pupils), or whether in the festive period to engage in their own headline writing for this incredibly bizarre PR event.

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Tymoshenko and the IMF – or is it really about the IMF?

September 21, 2016

Yulia Tymoshenko knows a thing or two about dealing with the IMF.  She has said so herself on several occasions when recently cricitising first former Prime Minister Yatseniuk, and latterly the current Prime Minister, Volodymr Groisman.

Indeed when Prime Minister she negotiated a deal with the IMF, the conditions to which she agreed she then reneged upon when required to implement them – which may make a reader wonder just how skilled at negotiation with the IMF she really is.  (If one instance of poor negotiation is not enough, then a reader may reference the gas deal she struck with The Kremlin resulting in the worst gas deal with Russia in Ukrainian history, (despite the welcome removal (visible) of intermediaries), is also worth pondering.)

tymo

Ms Tymoshenko apparently knows what the current IMF conditions are according to a report by Interfax – “Among Ukraine’s obligations are the cancellation of the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land.  If the moratorium is not prolonged, Ukraine will lose its main resource.

She claimed that the IMF also planned to “virtually introduce external control over national, state Ukrainian banks.”  as well as seeking commitments to reduce the network of Ukrainian educational institutions.

So far, so standard regarding IMF conditionality just as the hiking of utility prices has long been a standard IMF demand – and the demand that she balked at when it was her turn to implement the IMF agreement she agreed that also included utility hikes.

The IMF has been fairly consistent with its requirements with every Ukrainian government that has negotiated with it – from gas pricing, to the funding of vast number of universities within the nation, to lifting the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land, there is really nothing new in her “revelations”.

Indeed the only thing new about the IMF demands this time is that both Prime Minister’s Yatseniuk and Groisman have more or less honoured the obligations they have entered into – unlike Ms Tymoshenko when it was her time to do so.

What catches the eye is this statement – “The nationalization of large Ukrainian private banks is foreseen. We want to know what the bank is, what the date of nationalization is and who will be responsible for the obligations the banks have to Ukrainians”.

Clearly she is referring to Ihor Kolomoisky’s Privat Bank.  A bank which is structurally critical to the current operation of the Ukrainian banking system, but that is otherwise bankrupt and has been for years.  This situation too, is no secret to anybody.

Indeed the nationalisation of Privat is unlikely to create too many issues for Ihor Kolomoisky given its otherwise bankrupt status.  He may well realise that if he can get rid of it now, it will save some severe and problematic issues in the not too distant future.  (The health of Ukrainian Airways (MAU) another Kolomoisky company is worthy of a look too for those interested in the Kolomoisky empire.)

Privat Bank, its condition and structural importance would of course raise flags for the IMF when considering the robustness of the Ukrainian banking system.

The question Ms Tymoshenko is really asking is what, if anything, Ihor Kolomoiskhy gets out of the deal on his side, and what the current leadership get (themselves) if the State nationalises Privat Bank removing this impending problem for Ihor Kolomoisky and also easing concerns within the IMF?

Do Mr Kolomoisky (and partners) retain any minority shares?  What about the high value loans heavily biased to other Kolomoisky companies and their ability to repay them – or not?  Are profitable bits of Privat (card payment infrastructure etc) to be split off, and if so who will own them and reap the rewards?  Who would be the negotiator with Ihor Kolomoisky if not President Poroshenko, the only person Mr Kolomoisky would negotiate with?

What reward does President Poroshenko personally desire from any such negotiations that ultimately remove a problem for Mr Kolomoisky?

The answer to that, if strong and repeated rumour be true, is a majority share in Mr Kolomoisky’s top rated TV station 1+1.

The President has one eye on his woeful popularity figures, and another eye on Presidential elections in just over 2 years time.  A 1+1 favourable editorial line toward President Poroshenko would be gratefully received and the only way to insure it with a sly character like Mr Kolomoisky is to own the majority share of 1+1.

1+1 together with the President’s Channel 5, and perhaps the fairly amenable (read rentable/for hire) Vadim Rabinovich and Evgen Muraev with NewsOne, will form a fairly solid national TV media platform from which to launch a presidential campaign for a second term – notwithstanding the administrative ability to throw a few policy sweeteners to the constituency and a few fairly big fish into the judicial frying pan if and when necessary – all with the timeliness associated to pre-election electioneering rather than official electioneering.

If this be the case, how does President Poroshenko buy a majority share in 1+1 when his business activities are now supposed to be run through a blind trust?  Is the trust blind in only one eye?  Will a trusted third party do the 1+1 (plausibly deniable) honours on behalf of President Poroshenko?

Will Mr Kolomoisky accept President Poroshenko saving him from serious banking problems/liabilities at the expense of control over the influential 1+1?  It is a question, according to rumour, that is still being pondered.

With Inter (if it is still operating and belonging to Dmitry Firtash) being an Opposition Block TV platform, the question in Ms Tymoshenko’s head perhaps is not what happens to Privat, but undoubtedly being aware of the persistent rumours surrounding the deals around what happens to Privat, is where she will find a national media platform that could compete.

Unless Ms Tymoshenko is entirely deaf to rumours circulating within her workplace, she already has a good idea of the answers to all the other questions – as do a lot of other people.

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So begins the SBU class of 2016 – Ukraine

September 4, 2016

3rd September witnessed the current head of the Security Services of Ukraine (SBU), Vasyl Hrycak, attend the oath swearing ceremony at the National Academy of the SBU.  165 would-be counterintelligence officers, interpreters, analysts et al begin a journey that not all will finish – or want to finish.

SBU

CI it has to be said is very difficult to do well.

It is far easier to engage in espionage, subversion etc., than it is to defend against it – especially in Ukraine where infiltration by those hostile to the State interests within its institutions remain – and will remain – despite several reported sweeps through the ranks, and yet more sweeps that will inevitably come.

It is important to recognise the probability that those who survive numerous sweeps for infiltrators are normally the ones that matter – not those easily/relatively easily identified.  Indeed if necessary why not theatrically sacrifice a few lesser spooks to divert attention from those that really matter?

That said, despite the reactive perception the CI label projects, not all CI work is reactive or defensive.

The point of the entry however is not to dwell upon counterintelligence and the underestimated difficulties thereof, but to consider the SBU and its personnel limitations compared to the task with which it is faced.

Starting from the premise that historically any “known” Ukrainian secret services personnel numbers were inaccurate – there being those on the payroll that didn’t exist but whose wages were pocketed, plus the long-term sick, lame and lazy and the unfilled vacancies where the “paper strength” failed to match the real numbers.  Then there are the administrative and logistical staff that were/are otherwise not operational, and sadly it is required to minus those souls KIA and WIA since the events of 2014 to the present day.

Then it is necessary to take into account those that betrayed their oath and are now overtly on the other side.

The class of 2016, all 165 of them (and not all will come out the other end) may still be filling paper gaps rather than actually increasing the number of counterintelligence personnel.  This despite the formidable efforts of The Kremlin that would stretch even the most expansive counterintelligence agencies on the planet – and those considerable Kremlin efforts are not going to end in the next decade or two.

The question therefore is whether there should be more intakes per year at the SBU Academy, obviously producing more trained (if inexperienced) officers – and a continuance of such a policy until the SBU is in a far better position to do what it is currently asked, and perhaps unreasonably expected of it when considering its personnel limitations.

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Verkhovna Rada voting system integrity

January 11, 2016

The 11th January sees the return of the Ukrainian parliamentarians to the Verkhovna Rada following their festive jollies.

Groisman

The 10th January saw the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, Volodymyr Groisman, entertaining several hundred school children at the parliament building – an experience that included the chance to take a vote in the chamber.

Indeed 250 votes were indeed cast by the future generation of Ukraine, duly registered upon the Verkhovna Rada system.

All very good fun and interesting for the children – and also somewhat interesting for cynical observers too.

vote

It is interesting because the voting system technically is supposed to be unable to work without the MPs voting card being inserted into the control panel – hence the historical outcry every time when an MPs voting card is used but the MP is not actually present during a vote.

As intelligent and generally decent as Mr Groisman is, he does not seem the type to know how to play about with the technical workings of the voting system.  How then were 250 votes cast and registered upon the Verkhovna Rada system, when the only voting card in the voting chamber at the time would have been that of Mr Groisman – if he had it in his possession?

Perhaps a technical test to insure the electronic voting system is working correctly before any other legislative voting occurs would be in order?  After all, one way or another 250 votes have managed to be cast and registered on the system without a single e-voting card being used – somehow.

Some technical prudence to insure system integrity would seem in order – given the otherwise almost complete absence of any other type of integrity within the Verkhovna Rada building.

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Odessa courts – Is justice blind only in one eye? It takes two to tango

October 19, 2015

Somewhat unusually, the courts in Odessa seem to have found in favour of the taxpayers of Odessa.

It is the usual nefarious tale of opaque tenders, corrupted procurement, and more than dubious decisions from the Committee of Competitive Bidding whereby the taxpayers of Odessa lose, local communities lose, and corrupt and grubby deals hope, and usually do, go without notice.

The Odessa Regional Prosecutor’s Office, on behalf of the Odessa Regional State Administration, applied to the Economic Court of Odessa to quash the decision of the Committee of Competitive Bidding and Procurement relating to the award of a UAH 42 million contract to build a new school to accommodate 300 pupils in Rozdilna.

At issue, both the time of bidding and also at the time of contract award, was the fact that the Oblast budget had not the UAH 42 million for the contract, the contract winner to build the school had no equipment, no qualified building staff, and in no way met the qualification parameters for those entities that tendered for the contract.

In short, other than the company existing on (legal) paper, and thus having directors, it otherwise simply did not exist in any tangible sense – and certainly had no experience, nor way, to actually build the school had budgetary funds (eventually) reached it.

blind-justice

Readers may ponder whether the contract winning company would then hurriedly try to find a sub-contractor to actually do the work (skimming a healthy profit), or simply disappear once the funds were awarded and nefariously split said funds between all those involved in grotesquely perverting the procurement system.

As the decision of the Odessa Economic Court follows a sentencing by the (notoriously corrupt) Primorsky District Court of one of the company directors under Article 1 – 336 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine -Forgery – readers may perhaps lean toward the latter of these options.

So all’s well that ends well for a change in the courts of Odessa?  The Odessa taxpayer has not been ripped off for (another) UAH 42 million, a villain has been found guilty of forgery, and justice has been done?

Clearly not.

What has happened to those within the  Committee of Competitive Bidding and Procurement that made this clearly dubious (to be charitable) contract award?

Were they merely grossly negligent in their assessments prior to contract award?  A simple sacking for such gross negligence due?

Were they complicit in this attempted defrauding of the taxpayers of Odessa?  Was it a conspiracy to defraud involving some or all the committee members and the directors of the contract winning company?  If so why were they not in the dock at the Primorsky District Court with a now convicted director of the contract winning company?  Was justice deliberately blind only in one eye?

If the evidence suggests gross negligence but no criminal intent by those within the Committee of Competitive Bidding and Procurement, then were they rightly sacked?  If the evidence is insufficient to prove, despite pointing toward, criminal conspiracy by those within the Committee of Competitive Bidding and Procurement, then were they rightly sacked?

Would anybody be surprised if those responsible for this tender award remain within the Committee of Competitive Bidding and Procurement?

Will there be a public inquiry into this by the Odessa Regional State Administration?  It would present an opportunity to project transparent local governance.

In every contract, legitimate or nefarious, written or orally agreed, it takes two (or more) to tango.

Is this a case of half-justice (albeit better than the usual absence of justice) for the taxpayer of Odessa?

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Move to transparent public procurement should be about more than avoiding corruption – Ukraine

October 10, 2015

The academic semester has once again begun after a summer of little more than “conferences” and “forums” in Odessa with titles that tended to mask nothing more than glorified trade and/or investment expo’s.

As such your author is once again “round tabling” on a fairly consistent basis both within Ukraine and occasionally abroad, sometimes as a panelist and other times lurking in dimly lit corners scribbling notes but saying little – or nothing.

A fairly recent local round table related to the issue of public procurement – an area that would have seemingly (despite having a very long way to go) improved since the on-line public procurement systems were introduced by the current government – albeit more transparent than ever before, it of course goes nowhere near to removing corruption from the procurement chain.

For example, the issue of sealed envelope bid  can be a single or double envelope bid.  The premise of a double envelope bid is that technical and financial issues are submitted separately and the tender assessed primarily on the technical merits (or lack of) without the influence of costings – for tender pricing is not necessarily the only or best way to select tender winners.  The quickest and the cheapest is not necessarily the best value for public money – there are many other considerations.

Sealed bids, of course, mean nothing depending upon the morality of those receiving them. If the committee is corrupt and/or self-serving, then there is always room for nefarious acts.

Nevertheless a little more light shining upon what has traditionally been a very dark and murky part of government mechanics has to be welcomed – and is – despite any reservations over the corrupt nature of those that remain involved in the process.

Having listened to the round table rightly deliberating issues of transparency, accountability and all such very necessary and relevant issues – there are public procurement issues that were not touched upon whatsoever.

In almost every nation “government” is one of the (if not the) biggest purchaser within internal economics – which is why corruption within the procurement system of the Ukrainian government is such a major issue.  Indeed in several market sectors, government purchases are a significant percentage of that market.  Whichever way you shake it, the Ukrainian government is a major player within the Ukrainian market as a buyer and will always remain so.

Government expenditure on “whatever project” is not a small driver within the domestic economy either.  That such projects always seem to be unfinished long after expected completion dates and at costs far greater than anticipated/expected maybe down to endemic corruption as claimed at the round table mentioned above – but it may also be down (at least in part) to extremely poor management both within the relevant government department and the contract winner.

It is without doubt that Ukraine is not the only nation where government projects fail to be delivered on time and on budget – far from it.  The civil service in many countries are replete with competent policy thinkers, but severely lacking in competent project managers.  Ukraine is not alone in the lack of competent project managers within government – something that will become far more acute when genuine “decentralisation” of budgets, responsibility, accountability and decision making occurs.  (Undoubtedly the lack of competent civil service policy thinkers will also become apparent at a local level rather quickly too.)

An exasperation of inefficiency and ineffectiveness of project management within the Ukrainian civil service seems all-but guaranteed.

A short term fix is obviously to bring in (expensive vis a vis a civil servant wage) private sector project management to work along side the local civil servants on major local budget projects – but it will certainly prove to be cost effective when viewed against losses from ineffective and inefficient project management – as well as making corruption a little more difficult.  It is not, however, the answer to the problem in the long term.

If the current government policy is to bring the Ukrainian economy from the Soviet epoch, leap frog the “acceptable”, and move to a cutting edge and dynamic economy whilst the opportunity exists, it would do very well to consider encouraging degree courses at universities in all Ukrainian regions in Public Administration – with part of the curriculum concentrating upon project management.  At worst such universities will become “feeder” universities to the civil service with employee that have studied public administration – at best it may produce capable civil servants that are policy thinkers yet also able to manage projects.

Unfortunately, at least within Ukraine, the idea of sabbaticals for existing civil servants within large corporations to witness quality project management or large and/or complex projects in action is a non-starter – for the large corporations in Ukraine are almost all State owned loss making, subsidy munching, inefficient and corrupt behemoths with horrendous management.  There are no BPs, Haliburtons, BAE Systems, DuPonts etc to send civil servants on a sabbatical.

There also seems to be a lack of clear-eyed use of procurement to develop the domestic economy over the long term.

Procurement

There are of course immediate issues that require immediate solutions.  Short term and low cost procurement may appear to save money, but it entirely ignores development of the national and local industrial development.  It is all very well buying existing “off the shelf” products (ultimately researched and developed by taxpayers in other nations) but that does nothing for domestic R&D or the existing domestic industrial base that needs to be weened from subsidies, transformed, updated and made competitive whilst delivery quality products – or otherwise simply closed.

As and when the sickly Ukrainian budget is freed from subsidising hundreds of soon to be privatised (or closed) State owned enterprises, presumably more efficient, better managed, streamlined entities will take their place – both nature and the free market abhor a void after all, and especially so when opportunities to tender for State procurement present themselves as a result.

Clearly directing government expenditure in some areas, such as IT, defence, education, space exploration, agriculture etc could and should be directed at home – and future needs directed at domestic R&D entities.  Indeed domestic R&D may well serve to more swiftly retool domestic industry to become competitive regionally.

It is not enough for Ukraine to simply look at the (gargantuan) tasks facing it today.  Clever procurement today will help in addressing some of the issues it faces tomorrow.  A solid commitment to science, technology and R&D by way of GDP % investment may seem luxurious today in such dire circumstances – but it will make tomorrow, when it arrives, much easier and far more dynamic.

Sadly one doubts the level of interaction and vision of the relevant ministries and Cabinet of Ministers over this issue when as an entity that would be the lead customer for many, it could be driving this issue when seeking efficient and effective solutions to its innumerable issues that require solving today and tomorrow.

Clever use of procurement, together with planning, will not only lead to growth, it will lead to effective and efficient growth.  Growth that is perhaps slow, but growth that is solid and reliable across all sectors of the economy where the government is a significant buyer.

Thus when faced with building a new nation, one has to hope that round tables of assorted boffins and activists, politicians and civil society that talking about procurement across Ukraine, are doing so without looking only at the issue as one of corruption and transparency, but also about how best to insure government procurement is effectively and deliberately used to build an entirely new economic  free market commensurate with the national challenges of tomorrow – rather than procurement that will only meet the fire-fighting needs of today.

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Promoting the UK in Odessa

September 4, 2015

This afternoon some time was spent with the new Political Attaché to UK Embassy Kyiv.  If there is ever an interesting time to be given such an appointment, and a need to climb a very steep learning curve very quickly in an ever changing environment, being dropped into Ukraine now is probably one of the most challenging – certainly within the European continent.

Indeed, the UK Embassy Kyiv has increased its modest staffing – modestly.  No longer in London is there a single person charged with looking at matters Ukrainian – there is now a team.

Whilst Ukraine is certainly not the atop of the UK foreign policy agenda – until “EU renegotiations” and the “in/out” referendum of the EU has passed and been taken off the table, that will clearly dominate UK foreign policy.  There is also ISIS and the refugee issues to consider.  Thus Ukraine probably sits third or perhaps fourth on the UK foreign policy agenda.

Of all the issues discussed, past, present and future with regard to the politics of Odessa (and to a lesser degree Ukraine) – a very good question was asked.

If there was a message to Whitehall about how better to project the UK and its influence in Odessa, what would it be?

Uk-Ukraine-flags

To answer that question, it is first necessary to recognise what Odessa is.

First and foremost it is a cosmopolitan and mercantile city.

That is the foundation for understanding the city.  Without first recognising the fact that it is a cosmopolitan and mercantile city above all other factors, is to fail to understand Odessa.  Race, religion, politics et al are secondary.

Indeed there are perhaps two truisms often heard in Odessa to seriously consider.

The first is that “Ukraine is Ukraine, but Odessa is Odessa.”

The second is that “I can show you where all my money came from – just don’t ask about the first million.”

Odessa is often described as politically apathetic – by those who do not sit around the kitchen tables of Odessa.  Yet it is true that politics is certainly secondary to what drives and sits highest within the psyche of Odessa.  Its cosmopolitan merchantability.

Odessa is a rich city with a large, stable and established middle class.  It is possible to count more new BMWs, Mercedes, Porsche, Lexus, Bentley’s, etc in 30 minutes in Odessa, than you can count in the vast majority of British cities in a week.

If there was ever a way to insure Odessa remained (at least conditionally) loyal to Kyiv, sanctions upon Crimea and the Crimean ports insured that conditionality, or at least went a long way in doing so.   That, and to be blunt, the fact that Odessa has always enjoyed giving “the finger to the man” and giving “the finger” to Kyiv prima facie seemed far easier (having done it for the past two decades) than to The Kremlin which may be perceived to have a far more robust grip on its provinces than Kyiv.

In short the loyalty of Odessa to Kyiv is conditional upon whoever is in charge in Kyiv not interfering too greatly in the cosmopolitan mercantile beat of the city – unless that interference improves the opportunities for those two core and interwoven themes.  This has been, and will remain the case, regardless of who is in power.

There are of course many other factors as to why Kyiv was chosen over the Kremlin, but be in no doubt that the perceived fumbling hand of Kyiv was preferred over the perceived iron hand of The Kremlin when it came to preserving the cosmopolitan mercantile Odessa so dear to all in Odessa regardless of political preferences.  The thought of sanctions as Crimea was subjected to would be unthinkable.

The two main “takeaways” from all the words above for Whitehall are therefore trade and culture.

(Likewise for Kyiv to retain and improve upon the conditional support of Odessa politically, these two issue should be core to any plan it may have toward the Oblast and the city.)

The UK, aside from a very meek and quiet British Council at Bolshoi Fantan 5, has absolutely no official representation in Odessa – despite almost 30 (some Honorary) consuls being in the city.

However, there is not the UK presence in Odessa to warrant an official/diplomatic presence.  There are about 85 permanently resident British citizens, and less than £1 billion in UK interests (and a lot of that is UK registered companies owned by Ukrainian citizens).  Honorary Consuls are either in or out of fashion with the UK.  They are currently out of fashion – thus when the local diplomatic community gather and chit-chat, the UK misses out upon who has heard what about whom etc.  This in part leads to a lack of understanding of Odessa and what goes on behind the curtain.

To be entirely blunt, the reason why this blog has certain IPs reading it daily, and why so many diplomats make time for face to face conversations (not withstanding emails) is that it acts as an English language source of information.  Their time is not given due to your author’s good looks, wit, charm and personality – it is given for what your author knows, who your author knows and what can be discovered if necessary.  The blog and its author form part of the diplomatic network of  sources in the city for numerous nations and entities.

So, in light of the fact that there is no, and will be no official UK presence in Odessa, how to project the UK’s influence?

Despite the modest increase in UK Embassy staff, there are not the staff numbers to assign a UK diplomat to Odessa Oblast in order to attend the “official opening of an official envelope” every time an “official envelope” is opened and the diplomatic community are invited to attend.

Even then, being seen by a close circle of people, often behind the curtain, does not necessarily equate to being seen to be seen and projecting influence within the local constituency.

There is of course “e-diplomacy” and a good concept it is – but it is important to recognise the limits of e-diplomacy and social media in general.  (Recent and on-going academic research into the role of social media and EuroMaidan suggests a far more limited mobilisation role than many many think.)

Thus, however and whatever those in Whitehall consider the best possible way to project UK influence into Odessa, it should seriously consider the limitations of e-diplomacy and social media.  The answer lies withing understanding the cultural cosmopolitan mercantile nature of the city and manipulating/leveraging/employing those core themes.

The UK therefore, being if nothing else a mercantile nation with a culture and institutions held in high esteem (wrongly perceived or otherwise) by many in Odessa, has a solid shared platform from which it can project.

Therefore it is perhaps time to toss some less than erudite, low budget thoughts out there that can be particular to the UK, rather than EU labeled.

There are plenty of affluent middle class parents in Odessa that would happily pay to send their children to UK universities.  Specifically Russell Group universities (of which your author went to one).  Unfortunately if the Russell Group look at official economic statistics, rather than at the real wealth on display every minute of every day in Odessa, targeting Ukraine (and by extension Odessa) will not be high upon their agenda.

This, it has to be said is a perception that Whitehall can do something to change – for Whitehall is very well aware of the affluence upon display in the major cities of Ukraine.  UK diplomats in Ukraine are not blind, and hopefully their messaging back to Whitehall underlines the difference between official “wealth” statistics and what is visible every day.

It should be noted that Poland is significantly increasing its scholarships with Ukraine and Odessa – the reason being Poland is worried about the continued “Soviet style” of education and the effect on Ukrainian youth.

Further Whitehall can get behind, and perhaps assist, the fledgling romances amongst academia between the UK and Ukraine, both complimentary to existing UK and EU programmes, but also the bespoke, such as that beginning to evlove between Kings College London, Kyiv National Economics University and Odessa Mechnikov University (a relationship that remains grant-less/fundingless).

Not only do such things increase revenues for the UK education system in the immediate term, but it creates an alumni legacy that will eventually climb the corporate and governmental ladders in Ukraine – and that can only assist the UK in the future.

There is then the mercantile nature of Odessa and the UK.

There is a good deal of trade in Odessa that contractually nominates the courts of Stockholm or London as courts of arbitration.  Thus despite the perception of lawlessness and corporate risk, the bigger deals and dealers in Odessa already contractually nominate the London courts as the place of arbitration.  That is not likely to change, for the London (and Stockholm) courts are deemed to be free of bias and/or influence.  Contractually stipulating London as the court of arbitration will not phase the merchants/business people of Odessa.  Many would prefer to avoid the Ukrainian courts wherever possible.

The UK Bribery Act is also a useful tool if dropped into negotiation conversation to keep matters on the straight and narrow when the full extent of its reach explained and possible Visa complications it may create for any applicant (even if the UK is perhaps not as diligent as it could be when enforcing the Act).

Trade perhaps should be left to another entry in and of itself when 1st January gets closer and the EU-Ukraine DCFTA enters into force.

Odessa is also a very humorous city, it has a vibrant creative class and has had successive local administrations that have understood the need to put on events to satisfy those societal needs.

One thing that Odessa often does is “Day’s of (insert nation)” where the nation in question is promoted.  (A recent “hit” with the local population was the “Day of Vietnam”).  Vietnam did its best to sell itself by way of trade, tourism and culture to the local constituency, and the local constituency obliged.

Poland and Greece seem to have them quite frequently – certainly annually.

There has never been a “Day of the UK” in Odessa.

With some thought and planning, preferably in the warmer months, it would perhaps be possible to combine a Russell Group, UKTI, British Council, Ukraine-British Chamber of Commerce, “Day of the UK” in Odessa.

If there was a way to entice a free performance similar to the “Last Night” – which is by its nature “interactive” and would appeal due to that peculiarity, for an audience sat upon the Potemkin Stairs – the construction of which was supervised by a British engineer called Upton whilst on the run from the UK wanted on forgery charges – it would be a “Day of” that would remain firmly in the minds of the local constituency far longer than most others – and that is in some way UK projection into Odessa that may lead to traction where there is currently almost none.

Indeed, as “The Proms” was meant to bring classical music to the masses in the UK (and swiftly became a popular institution), perhaps some clever thinking along such lines in bringing the UK to the masses in Odessa would be worth the time.  Especially if it is “interactive” in style like the “Last Night”.

Whatever the case, however the answer to the question manifests itself within Whitehall, to effectively project the UK specifically within Odessa, the answer can only be based upon, or perhaps around, a cultural, cosmopolitan, mercantile foundation – for that is what makes the Odessa heart beat.

Whitehall would be wise to forget any other platforms based upon its limited budgets, modest diplomatic staffing in Kyiv, and in the absence of a permanent official presence in Odessa.

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