Posts Tagged ‘OSCE’


The Kremlin merges Crimea with its Southern Federal District

July 28, 2016

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


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

Southern District in Blue (less Crimea)

Southern District in Blue (less Crimea)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nadiya Savchenko and Minsk

March 30, 2016

In recent days the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova commented upon demands for the prompt release of Nadiya Savchenko following the end of her show trial, under the provisions of Minsk (I and II).

She stated thus “Russia is not a party to the Minsk Agreements. These agreements only concern two sides that are part of the conflict.

We have the responsibility to influence the parties of the conflict exactly the same way as France or Germany should influence Kiev. That’s all, we owe nothing more.”

For the sake of clarity, the tripartite liaison group charged with resolving technicalities, on 12th February 2015 negotiated the following – “Provide release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons, based on the principle of “all for all”. This process has to end – at the latest – on the fifth day after the pullout of weapons.”

More than a year later whilst there have been occasional prisoner swaps, the pullout of weapons is yet to occur, so whether or not Nadiya Savchenko would have been included in the Minsk process, the basic conditions for an “all for all” swap are still far from being realised.  That notwithstanding any swap involving Ms Savchenko will probably be for high profile prisoners in exchange, not necessarily from within Ukraine.  Moscow still prides itself on getting its most (in)famous prisoners home after all – wherever they may be incarcerated.

Ever since the Minsk text was formulated, this blog has frequently lamented the fact it is was fatally flawed from the very outset by allowing Russia to sit at the table with the same standing as France and Germany – as negotiator and/or mediator – but unrecognised as a party to the conflict that it undoubtedly is.

A reader perhaps would question why such a negotiator and/or mediator would be subject to international sanctions for its part in the Donbas war, but apparently such considerations have no impact upon the status given The Kremlin in the Minsk document or negotiation formats.

Thus, it is simply policy necrophilia to continue try and force Ukraine to follow the Minsk text in the unlikely event of it managing to fully implement its part, to then be left with the hope that The Kremlin will then do the same.  Whatever political embellishments President Poroshenko may be telling his western peers, the fact is that he is a long way short of the 300 parliamentary votes required within the Verkhovna Rada to change the constitution allowing Ukraine to fully meet its obligations outlined in the Minsk document.  Indeed his political party currently does not even manage to lead a coalition that can gather the 226 votes necessary to pass basic statute.

This clearly being the case, this blog has stated that the focus of “The West” should be on pressuring Ukraine to reform and not pressuring Ukraine to adhere to the text of Minsk.

“Indeed only the foolish (or perhaps The Kremlin) would expect Ukraine to fully implement its Minsk obligations in the current circumstances within the occupied Donbas.  “The West” would be far better off publicly stating that it understands that is the situation and thus publicly lean less on Ukraine to fulfill such obligations while the circumstances remain significantly unchanged, and lean far harder on Ukraine to reform instead.

Perhaps such a shift in “Western” messaging would change the Kremlin calculus somewhat.  The entirety of “western” political and diplomatic energy pushing a reformed Ukraine, with less pressure regarding Minsk would at the very least raise eyebrows in Moscow.  Unless the situation changes dramatically regarding ceasefires and the ability to hold elections that in current circumstances would forever sully the reputation of the OSCE, it is policy folly.  Such a messaging shift would inevitably mean Kyiv actually moving “westward” slightly faster than it is doing.  As The Kremlin cares far more about the Ukrainian shift “westward”, and cares nothing about the occupied Donbas should it fail be to an effective lever over Kyiv, it is possible such a change in messaging could have an effect – or not.”

The above quote most recent example of many written here urging the need for western refocus in an attempt to force recalculation elsewhere.

However, Ukraine, like Russia and the “Republics”, have no legal obligation to adhere to the Minsk Agreement (I or II) – which is something that probably requires highlighting once more, lest we forget.

Far too often the Minsk Agreement is touted with the inference that it is somehow a binding legal document that cannot be broken.  It is not.  There are numerous legal international instruments, treaties and laws that have been broken in respect of Ukraine, all by Russia, but Minsk is not one of them – even if Russia were a fully recognised party to the conflict within the document.

Disregarding the Minsk document may be morally wrong (or not), but it is not unlawful to do so.

Neither Minsk I or II have any legal standing whatsoever.  It legally binds nobody to anything.  It is not even a signed and certified document enforceable by law comparable to the most basic of legal contracts.  It carries no signatures of the conflicting parties (recognised or unrecognised).  It has been ratified by no parliament.  It is therefore not a document that has been deposited with any international body or has any domestic power.  It is text.  It is a document listing bullet points along a possible path to the return (prima facie) to international laws and treaties – despite the perilous repercussions that its implementation would have internally for Ukrainian sovereignty as the text stands, if and when territorial integrity is returned.  It is a framework document, not a legal framework.


The word “Agreement” is something of a misnomer to begin with.  It would be better identified as the Minsk Document or the Minsk Text.  “Agreement” masks the fact that Ukraine was coerced through both hard and soft Kremlin power, to concede its legitimate and lawful sovereign rights.  “Agreement” tends to soften the perceptions through the passage of time of what was, and remains, a serious violation Ukraine.  Minsk is a text forced upon Ukraine under duress.

In two years the Minsk document/text has not managed to secure even a ceasefire.  The closest it came to doing so was when Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande made it clear following a meeting in Paris that they were prepared to declare Minsk dead, prompting The Kremlin to turn down the heat for a while at the time when it had few other avenues to sit at the international table.  It’s actions in Syria have now changed that somewhat, thus allowing for Kremlin disregard of the Minsk text once again.

Further underscoring the absence of any binding legality of the Minsk text was The Kremlin’s clear desire to disregard and circumvent the Normandy Four (and lesser negotiation committees) and seek parlance directly with the USA via the ill-fated Nuland-Surkov channel initiated at the Kaliningrad meeting of January 2016..  No sooner was that channel opened than it was closed, with Berlin making robust representations to Washington and President Obama pulling that plug (no doubt to the ire of Ms Nuland).

A reader may ponder whether in pulling that plug the White House had already decided that no solution would be reached during the final months of an Obama presidency (ergo 2016) and therefore it saw no reason to become directly involved when reality suggests it would probably become an unfinished foreign policy legacy for any new president, or whether it was done to save face for Frank-Walter Steinmeier whose fumbling of the issues has thus far led the western response.  Any Nuland-Surlov solution would hardly be a fitting final chapter for his memoirs as he nears the end of his career.

All of the above said, and in full recognition that the Minsk document has no legal standing, and was necessarily born of entirely illegal Kremlin actions within Ukraine, a reader may now ponder that in the absence of binding legalities upon any parties within or without the Minsk text, how best western diplomacy be employed.

Is “western diplomacy” best employed in keeping Ukraine adhering to entirely arbitrary Minsk timelines during 2016 (and beyond), or it is better employed in finding reasons why Ukraine should not be held to such arbitrary timelines, unilaterally expected to fulfill the text of such an onerous document?

Should western diplomacy pursue the first option then the European neighbourhood is likely to become more rather than less stable.

If it be the latter, which would be the widely perceived path of integrity, then there is a need for either a Plan B to resolve the matter (which seems unlikely – and in fact given the outcomes thus far possibly yet more unhelpful for Ukraine in the long run), or a recognition that a war of exhaustion that will last many years, perhaps decades, presents itself for which it will have to be prepared to fully engage in – purely transactional necessities aside.

Whatever the case, every now and again it will serve us well to remember that the Minsk text in and of itself places no lawful obligations on anybody whatsoever, and is indeed not even a document of any legal standing.  Expectations of it relating to the release of Nadiya Savchenko necessarily have to be tempered accordingly – similarly to those long since discarded (and always misplaced) expectations of a ceasefire or weapons withdrawal.

That Ms Savchenko will not serve the 22 years passed down at the conclusion of her show trial there is little doubt.  Sooner or later she will become a bargaining chip and released long before.  When that occurs however, it will have little to do with the Minsk document.


A subtle shift (or drift) in the OSCE position ahead?

January 13, 2016

January 2016 saw Germany assume the Chair of the OSCE – meaning German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has become Chairman of the organisation.

How well that bodes for Ukraine – or not – remains to be seen.  Mr Steinmeier has hardly been perceived as robust in his conversations with The Kremlin by many – although to be fair he is negotiating from a position of weakness when representing a less than harmonious “Europe”, against a truculent Kremlin.

Whatever the case, on 14th January Mr Steinmeier will outline the German priorities for the organisation for 2016, and the occupied Donbas is guaranteed to feature prominently.

It is fair to say that the OSCE has had “issues” during its years in Ukraine whilst monitoring the war in the east of the nation – particularly so in the first 12 months or so.  That said, after a few dubious personnel choices, some seemingly deliberate “blind eyes”, and other “incidents”, it finally got its monitoring and reporting act together despite a petulant occupying force within the “People’s Republics” that as yet are still to allow the OSCE unfettered monitoring access in any shape, form, or manner.


Undoubtedly, for the OSCE sat attempting to mediate the Contact Group negotiations, there is a great deal of frustration.   Indeed Heidi Tagiavani, an experienced negotiator and mediator resigned and had to be replaced.  That said Ms Tagiavani clearly knows a dead horse that cannot be flogged into a successful outcome.  The most fundamental issues have seen little progress.  There is still no genuine ceasefire, and there remains prisoners that have not been swapped.  The most basic of Contact Group tasks have yet to be fully fulfilled, let alone the slightly more complex tasks progressed in any meaningful way.

To be fair to Ms Tagiavani, there was never anything but bad faith negotiations from the Kremlin and its proxies during her tenure.  The minimum occurred as and when necessary to be seen to achieve something and keep people sat around the table, thus avoiding any thoughts of major uplifts in sanctions.  Finding solutions, however, was not on the agenda for certain parties.

All public signalling from The Kremlin for 2016 suggests more of the same.  From the Russian 2016 budget, to President Putin’s interview with Bild a few days ago, and almost everything in between signals a continence of truculent, belligerent action.  The Bild interview simply continued to state it is all the fault of the West – whilst between the lines making an appeal to the weakest links within Germany as perceived by The Kremlin – The German SDP party and certain elements within German business.  In short, nothing new whatsoever.

The possible exception to that public Kremlin signalling was the surprise appointment of Boris Gryzlov as the new “point man” for The Kremlin in the Contact Group format.  Mr Gryzlov is far too big a fish to be appointed to simply produce “more of the same”.  Quite what his appointment signifies however, is currently unclear.  Perhaps the Contact Group meeting of 13th January may make matters a little clearer.  Perhaps the Kremlin conversations in private are far less steadfast than the public rhetoric?  (Doubtful, but maybe.)

Was the appointment of Mr Gryzlov move deliberately timed to meet the German rotation to the OSCE Chair?

Mrs Merkel has been making positive statements about her expectations regarding the issues in eastern Ukraine since the New Year began.

For Ukraine of course, the temptation for the negotiators will be to pressure Ukraine to continue to unilaterally meet the Minsk II agreement despite no movement to do so by The Kremlin and its proxies – simply to display some progress.  That, however, may prove much harder than it appears with an ever more dysfunctional Verkhovna Rada.

For those that read the “news” (some of which is news, some of which is disinformation and propaganda, and some of which is paranoid tin foil hat conspiracy) from within the occupied Donbas, it appears that December 2015 and continuing into the New Year, brought with it an FSB organised “taming” (and assassinations) of certain militants The Kremlin clearly feels are a liability/uncontrollable – Bednov, Ishchenko, Mozgovoy and most recently, Dremov, all assassinated.

An even sharper eye will note political deaths too – Sergei Burbelo, ex-Party of Regions, then “Luhansk People’s Republic” functionary has now mysteriously died – and a political rival in any “election” he would have been to the Igor Plotnitsky team.

It is widely rumoured among the “enlightened” within the “Luhansk Republic” that there is a list of 32 names to be taken care of as “preventative measures” – that list contains the names not only of militants, but also politicians.  Both Dremov and Burbelo were claimed to be upon that list – and both have died within recent weeks.

The question is whether the “preventative measures” are to allow far greater control and discipline of the militants/proxies, or to clear the field of political nuisance before any “election”, or indeed Ukrainian sanctioned election – or in all probability, both.

Further, there is similar rumour from within the “Luhansk Republic” of the OSCE soon being able to erect webcams in certain areas as part of their monitoring mission.  A sign perhaps that Mr Polnitsky believes he will soon have control of the “republic” as far as internal threats are concerned.

Perhaps yet more interesting is a rumour circulating within those same circles that Alexander Hugg of the OSCE is expected to visit the occupied Donbas in the immediate future.

Time will soon tell if the rumours relating to the OSCE in two paragraphs immediately above prove to have any merit, but together with an optimistic Chancellor Merkel, and (an admittedly uninspiring) Mr Steinmeier acting not only as German Foreign Minister, but now also as OSCE Chairman, some readers may begin to wonder whether there is to be a shift (or drift) in the OSCE position from monitor and Contact Group mediator, to that of monitor, mediator and negotiator now Germany sits not only within the Normandy Four, but also as Chair of the OSCE, all of which will heavily feature Mr Steinmeier (a man whom many Ukrainians consider weak before a belligerent The Kremlin).

It is something that may (as perceived or actually) smudge the lines of the OSCE mandate in Ukraine – if due care is not taken.  It will also, should that occur, undo the mini-revival of the OSCE observer mission image that has happened over the past months, following its a fairly poor beginning.

Perhaps Ms Merkel and Mr Steinmeier are under some misguided/overly hopeful idea that genuine democratic, free and fair elections can take place in the occupied Donbas during the German tenure as OSCE Chair?  Lest we forget, on 4th December, Mr Steinmeier tabled a proposal to progress a settlement in the occupied Donbas – one which ab initio fails any democracy test under the current circumstances within occupied territories – notwithstanding putting the OSCE in a position of institutional credibility suicide if forced along that path under German leadership in unchanged circumstance.

Anyway, for now, a subtle shifting (or drifting) in OSCE role is something to keep an observing eye upon over the next few months.

For those that “cross off names” as they “fall” to the internal cleansing of the “republics” – then perhaps now is the time to also take note of the health not only of some problematic militant leaders and criminal group bosses, but also of a few (mostly ex-Regionaire) old school politicos that moved into the “system” of the “Republics”.

Both The Kremlin and their “anointed high chancellors” will be sure to insure the appropriate “election” results for the correct (vetted) candidates – one way or another.


All the President’s Men? – Kinda, sorta?

October 28, 2015

As is always the case with Ukraine, Ukrainian politics and Ukrainian institutions of State, there is a need to make distinctions, clearly labeling those that are political appointments from those that aren’t.

Constitutionally and broadly speaking, President Poroshenko is responsible for protecting and upholding the constitution, defence/security of the nation, and foreign policy – that, and for directly appointing institutional heads to several institutional bodies.  Almost all other issues are the domain of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada.

Amongst those institutional and constitution appointments that fall within the remit of the President are the regional governors and the Prosecutor General.

To be extremely pointed – thus far all Prosecutor General appointees have been abject failures as far as their roles within the rule of law are concerned.

As the documents below state, the current Prosecutor General, Mr Shokin, will in no small part be responsible for any failure to the national citizenry if Ukraine fails in its attempts to gain Visa-free status with the European Union.

Shokin 1Shokin 2

The obstructionism and deliberate refusal to reform and deal with the internal (and considerable) issues relating to the Prosecutor General’s Office are so blatant that they cannot be understood as being anything other on the part of Mr Shokin.

It is no secret that the EU, several EU capitals, and the US have repeatedly raised this obstructionism directly with President Poroshenko – yet Prosecutor General Shokin remains in office with dire consequences for the nation.

Should Ukraine enter the New Year with Mr Shokin still in office, then President Poroshenko had better be prepared for a serious and noticeable cooling of political, diplomatic and economic assistance for Ukraine other than that necessary to keep The Kremlin in check territorially.  If the President is banking upon “The West” continuing to support him as President, then Mr Shokin has to go.  If President Poroshenko is insistent upon keeping Mr Shokin, despite some very clear and blunt language from those external supporters of Ukraine, then that “Western” support will undoubtedly ebb (and quite quickly).  The President will be a complete fool if he thinks otherwise.

Another high profile perceived “President’s man” is Odessa Governor Mikhail Saakashvili.  Undoubtedly he was sent to Odessa in May 2015 when it became clear just how badly the President’s party, Solidarity, was doing in the local opinion polls – and it was doing (very) badly.  Something had to be done prior to the local elections (held two days ago).  It can be expected that Governor Saakashvili has done what he was sent to do with regard to the local polling/opinion – He stopped the ever-increasing loss of support for Solidarity.  He may even have given it a slight boost.  Final results for City and Oblast will be forthcoming over the next few days.

But, Governor Saakashvili, no differently to Mr Shokin, is not necessarily as compliant to the presidential will as some may expect from a presidential appointee (whose future is dictated by presidential whim by virtue of direct appointment – or sacking).

As written here some months ago, it became apparent that Sasha Borovik, Governor Saakashvili’s advisor and Mayoral candidate for Odessa, was not getting much, if any, support for the Solidarity Party for his campaigning – short of being able to use the “brand” name.  So clearly lacking was that support to those that can step behind the curtain and listen to whispers in the corridors of Oblast power now and again, it could only be inferred that a deal had been struck in Kyiv for Mayor Trukhanov to win another term.  If so, the Messrs Lozhkin and Kolomoisky will have been the two to strike such a deal.

Why would Kyiv strike such a deal?

For those that surround the President, Governor Saakashvili could become rather problematic in the future as far as their influence goes – ergo limited success is the safer option.  Within the space of 5 months, the Governor has inserted within Odessa Oblast his Prosecutor, his Police Chief, his Customs Chief, and Maria Gaidar will likely become the next Oblast Rada  – so getting the Mayor too would leave only the courts – and Sergei Kivalov and his control over the courts are clearly in Governor Saakashvili’s sights.  Taking on Mr Kivalov now the political local political landscape is almost set seems assured – whether Mr Borovik becomes Mayor or not.

A complete Saakashvili power vertical in Odessa serves few (if any) interests in Kyiv, neither politically for those with an eye on the future, nor for those that have simply taken over as chief beneficiaries of the established corruption lines between Odessa and Kyiv.

(The lack of central Solidarity Party support issue at a local level was not helped by Governor Saakashvili’s telegraphed intent to dismantle the Goncharenko Solidarity Party infrastructure within the Oblast Rada and replace it with his own – despite all being “Solidarity”.  Goncharenko is the President’s chosen regional party leader and previously a fairly recent Oblast Rada Chair.)


Thus in the absence of any tangible support from “Solidarity Central” (and he may have acted anyway) Governor Saakashvili became involved in promoting Sasha Borovik for Mayor – despite President Poroshenko making it clear he did not want Governors getting involved in the local elections.  They were to remain aloof and avoid any inference of employing undue influence.

So why did nothing happen to Governor Saakashvili when clearly so openly defying the President?

The answer comes via a technical argument made by Governor Saakashvili – In short he told the President that any appearances with Sasha Borovik were done in his own time and not on the official clock.  Appearances with Sasha Borovik therefore, occurred during “lunch breaks”, or if they occurred for several hours during the day or evening, Governor Saakashvili booked a “half-day holiday”.  His appearances alongside Sasha Borovik therefore were (technically) as a private citizen.  Other “supportive” instances occurred with the Governor acting in his official capacity, but with Sasha Borovik acting in his recognised role as official advisor to the Governor – at least technically.

One wonders if, in light of the elections for Mayor seemingly ruling out a second round (in line with any previously struck deals in Kyiv), whether the Borovik turn to the Regional Prosecutor proclaiming (and apparently providing evidence of) electoral fraud this morning, together with a bellicose Governor Saakashvili also proclaiming fraud by Mayor Trukhanov, have the tacit approval of President Porosehnko – or once again defy the Presidential line.

For those who would suggest the obvious, a recount under the strict and exceptionally close observation of the international observers that are still in Odessa – fair point – except who knows what has been done to the ballots since they have now left the polling/counting stations, and how many containers with now stored votes will mysteriously go missing or be accidentally destroyed by water or fire etc prior to any recount?  The entirety of the electoral campaigning has been a very grubby and all to often often illicit affair in Odessa, thus there is no reason to believe that would not continue if a recount was to be requested, or indeed occurred.

To return to the point of this entry however, some may ponder, following recent events in Kyiv and Odessa, whether all the President’s men are indeed all the President’s men – or simply kinda, sorta – even though he appointed them.

Will they prove to be the kind of appointments that were brave to make, and for one reason or another, almost politically or personally, dangerous to break?


OSCE holds its nose and says it all went OK – Ukraine

October 27, 2015

Yesterday’s entry relating to the local elections in Ukraine stated:

“One wonders just what is going to appear in the official reports of the official observers – for this election has been nowhere near the standards of the presidential, nor Verkhovna Rada elections of 2014.

Indeed it has been so consistently illicit in its nature that it belongs with elections from a decade past.

Of course the content of the official reports very much depend upon who actually writes the reports – and equally upon who decides who writes the reports. So openly dirty, illicit and unambiguously grubby has this election and the associated campaigning been in comparison to those elections held last year, there is going to be more than a little room for doubting any official report that states anything to the contrary. The entire election campaign in Odessa (and clearly in other regions too) has been an affront to the rule of law from start – and it seems, to finish.

Yet, somehow, it will be seen to pass the international “official sniff test” despite the rank odour the campaigning has given off from the very start.

Admittedly, and it is right to note, not all of the recorded irregularities over the preceding months and today/tomorrow, are irregularities that would or could change the voting behaviour of the constituency. Nor effect the ballot counting. Minor irregularities clearly will not sway a voter or an electoral count, but they are nonetheless irregularities. Some irregularities certainly will be of that very serious category however.

Whatever the case, it seems likely that the elections will pass the “official sniff test” so as not to put (another) hurdle in the way of decentralisation.”

Unsurprisingly today the OSCE has held its organsiational nose to avoid the noxious odour when applying the “sniff test” of electoral international/Council of Europe standards.


The OSCE (via ODIHR mission Tana de Zulueta) opined that “the elections held in Ukraine conform to international standards in spite of pressure from big business and mass purchase of election advertising space in printed media and air time on TV and radio.”  It was further stated that in general the elections were well organised and competitive.

This despite no polling stations opening in either Mariupol nor Krasnoarmeysk, and the elections in Svatovo being declared invalid.

In fact the primliminary OSCE report has almost nothing positive to say about the elections whatsoever.

OPORA, a prominent and reliable NGO, as of the time of publishing, had recorded 1,128 violations of electoral law during the entire period of the election campaign.  In order of commonality rather than seriousness, in 1st place – 557 illegal campaign financing violations.  In 2nd place – 290 instances of voter bribery (some of which have been transfered to the police, some of which haven’t).  In 3rd place – 136 violations of election procedures, election commissions, (including those that influenced the election results.)

They recorded 46 recorded violent confrontations, 35 cases of misuse of administrative resources, 33 occasions where the work of observers was obstructed, and 30 cases of falsification of election results.

This before the results of their parallel vote counts can be compared to reported vote counts – which will lead to court appeals undoubtedly where discrepancies present themselves.

Further, the OSCE’s Tana de Zulueta added that the complexity of the legal framework, the dominance of powerful economic groups, and the fact that practically all media campaigns to cover the elections had been well paid for, pointed to the need to push ahead with reforms in the country.

So everything passes the OSCE/international “sniff test” – despite official concerns that the electoral law is an ass and urgently needs changing, the campaigning was hardly fair unless candidates/parties were sponsored by big business/oligarchy as media coverage was simply monopolised, and that there were several canceled or invalidated elections.  This notwithstanding the litany of recorded electoral violations, some clearly serious, recorded by the OPORA NGO.

There may yet be further issues of course.  Parallel vote counts may raise significant anomalies.  There will be court challenges.  There are numerous second rounds of voting for mayors on 15th November that have to be policed/monitored strictly, and also new elections to organise for Mariupol, Krasnoarmeysk, and Svatovo due to failures in those regions.

Thus we are left to ask what next not only for democracy, but the rule of law that underpins it?

1,126 recorded violations, means there is documented evidence of 1,126 violators.  What will happen to them?  As the entire election campaign and voting day has been an affront to the rule of law, will the rule of law be allowed to recover and actually deal with these violations and the associated offenders in order to send a message for future elections, or will it all be simply forgotten?

Will any official cautions, fines small or large, or imprisonment, be forthcoming from the 1,126 documented irregularities?  If so, how many?  1?  10?  100?  500?

With the OSCE holding its institutional nose and moving swiftly on, will the rule of law (or lack of it) do the same in Ukraine?


The OSCE dilemma

March 13, 2015

There has been much criticism made of the OSCE monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine – some of which has been justified, some of it unfounded.

Indeed some OSCE monitors have been replaced after social media has unveiled certain biases, and although those personal biases may or may not have influenced any official reporting, perception counts when a mission is purported to be neutral – a problem that will not disappear if the OSCE monitor presence in Ukraine is to double in number.

Undoubtedly the criticism the OSCE receives for being either “soft”, or being somewhat indifferent to the biases of certain appointed monitors, or ineffectual, will continue.  Neutrality, however, does not necessarily equate to accuracy – and accuracy is paramount in any official reporting (OSCE or otherwise).

That a ceasefire has yet to materialise, or that the OSCE continues to be denied unfettered access in order to carry out its mandated role is not the fault of the OSCE monitoring missions.  It is the fault of those that would prevent it from doing so within eastern Ukraine, and those without that should be far more robust in seeking to insure its mandate can be fulfilled – the OSCE ratified nations.

Thus the criticisms will continue, and with a storm clearly visible upon the horizon that will further undermine its perceived flaccid, inaccurate, and indifferent image held by many.  That storm being the local elections in Ukraine scheduled for October 2015.  Elections the OSCE will undoubtedly be asked to monitor.

However and whomever controls whatever geographical area in eastern Ukraine by that time, it is clear that at the very least, the agreed Minsk 19th September 2014 demarcation line will be adhered to by the Ukraine with regard to some form of “specialised local government” procedures and protocols.

If the Minsk Agreement is to be adhered to by Ukraine, then within those legally recognised “specialised areas”, de facto falling outside the direct control of Ukraine (regardless of the de jure), local elections will occur too, in line with Ukrainian electoral legislation – except of course it won’t.

The Kremlin, the swivel-eyed, the criminal gangs, the warlords and those locals genuinely separatist in ideology have not come this far to allow a free and fair election involving unfettered campaigning by mainstream Ukrainian political parties/candidates – electoral outcomes will need to be 100% assured in their anti-Kyiv result.  Thus free and fair elections in these areas there will not be.

Meanwhile, hopefully more or less free and fair local elections will occur across the rest of the nation – and will be deemed to be free and fair by the OSCE (and other monitors).

Thus, despite what will be undoubtedly unfair conditions in a few localities in eastern Ukraine, the vast majority of the nation will have held elections that meet internationally accepted democratic standards – and the OSCE report will state the Ukrainian elections were free and fair – because the vast majority were (despite a paragraph noting deficiencies in certain parts of eastern Ukraine).

Ergo, the OSCE dilemma is the lack of wiggle room in avoiding legitimising the outcomes in the “specialised local government” regions in the east, regardless of how unfair they are, when the election report they produce relates to the nation as a whole, and either recognises the nationally held elections as legitimate – or not – upon the international stage.

Thus yet more criticism awaits for the OSCE in Ukraine come the autumn when it is forced to legitimise the illegitimate.


Acceptable (proxy) interlocutors

February 1, 2015

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, saw a meeting of the “Contact Group” in Minsk.

The “Contact Group” comprises of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the current Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, OSCE General Secretary, Heidi Tagliavini, and representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” respectively.

Also present was Viktor Medvedchuk, though he is not a member of the trilateral “Contact Group”.

Questions, some of them displaying no shortage of ignorance, have been asked as to why those such as Messrs Kuchma and Medvedchuk are acting in these roles when neither historically, and perhaps currently, have displayed what can be called an overtly and uncompromisingly pro-Ukrainian position.

Mr Medvedchuk, for example, is the chairman of the pro-Russian “Ukrainian Choice” movement, is currently on EU and US sanctions lists, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is the godfather to Mr. Medvechuk’s daughter, Darina.  Yet Mr Medvedchuk attends the tripartite “Contact Group” meetings on behalf of Ukraine, nominated by the SBU, to negotiate prisoner exchanges.  Why him?

Former President Kuchma, for many, is a dubious – perhaps even loathsome – character.  His term in office was marked by scandal after scandal, including the infamous Gongadze murder, he appointed Ukraine’s most (in)famous convicted corrupt politician, Pavlo Lazerenko to office, Viktor Yanukovych was President Kuchma’s “chosen one” for the 2004 elections that ultimately led to the “Orange” protests, and it was indeed Mr Kuchma that signed the Budapest Memorandum removing Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal.  He also stoically stayed a path of a “multi-vectored” foreign policy, balancing EU and Russia alike, without committing to either – something during his term, society was happy to accept.

In hindsight, prima facie, numerous and questionable decisions by Mr Kuchma – when taken out of the context of the historical moment in which such decisions were made.  So why him?

Such people hardly provide a perception of unreservedly representing Ukrainian interests.

The answer is historical.  Mr Kuchma, Mr Medvedchuk and President Poroshenko (as were Yulia Tymoshenko, Viktor Yanukovych and Pavlo Lazerenko etc) were all on the same Kuchma team when he was President at one time or another.  There is an “understanding” between them all – and no doubt no shortage of mutual “kompromat” – thus there is a foundation for trust, even if based upon distrust.  No matter how twisted it may seem, they are “trusted interlocutors” to the degree necessary, by the Ukrainian President.

From the Kremlin perspective, Mr Medvedchuk is clearly no problem being so close to the Russian President, and Mr Kuchma has always (publicly) tried to maintain a balanced approach toward Russia.  Indeed for all sides, Mr Kuchma as a recognised retired elder Statesman, gives the “Contact Group” a veneer of importance and gravity far beyond what can actually be expected when it comes to lasting solutions.

They are, therefore, acceptable interlocutors for all sides at negotiations.

It is perhaps necessary to recognise what the “Contact Group” actually is, and the results that can therefore be expected from it – if any.

Removing the OSCE General Secretary from the picture momentarily, and perhaps the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine to a degree, the contact group is nothing more than a gathering of proxies – each with very limited parameters of negotiating room and decision making – for those parameters, no different from the agendas of these proxies, are set by other far more powerful beings.

It is a conclave of officially, unofficial officialdom, thus providing the room to state remits were over-stepped if necessary, and is yet both necessary whilst very limited in its scope.  That is not to say the “Contact Group” has no importance.  It is here that ceasefires (should they be implemented) will be initially thrashed out.  It is here that “demarcation lines” will be potentially agreed (if they are ever adhered to).  It is here that Mr Medvedchuk, in his very limited role, will facilitate prisoner swap agreements.  Thus it is the “Contact Group” that may save some lives and homes, even if temporarily.

But it is not the “Contact Group” where final decisions will be made regarding ultimate outcomes (and/or understandings).  They will come from the Chancellor in Berlin, and the Presidents of Washington, The Kremlin, and Kyiv – and it is here, within these capitals, that the fundamental differences in world view are at an impasse and with no end in sight.  The resolution of this impasse will have profound implications for the planet – even if a ceasefire is agreed and holds, or demarcation lines agreed and adhered to due to “Contact Group” negotiations.

Thus the histories of the personalities that make up the “Contact Group” (or proxy negotiation group) so bemoaned and questioned within social media are somewhat irrelevant, beyond being acceptable interlocutors to all parties present in Minsk or where ever  at any negotiation – for their remits and boundaries are necessarily set by others.  Social media would be far wiser to look far less at the nominated personalities, and far more at the process – with its successes and failures – and the patterns that have emerged prior to, and subsequent of, any such meetings.


A fundamental question – Where is democracy’s eastern border to be?

January 28, 2015

With the war in eastern Ukraine continuing with no end in sight – as expected by anybody with a reasonable understanding of The Kremlin, its motivation and desired outcomes – with yet more Ukrainian territory being lost almost by the day over recent weeks, a fundamental question, based upon facts on the ground, has to be asked.

The question is where, hopefully collectively with Ukraine, has “the west” decided that the eastern-most border of its shared political, economic, social, ethical and moral values will be.

The official line has to be that the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine must be respected in line with international rule of law, and thus Ukraine’s official eastern-most border would be that line, in recognition that The Kremlin has not the slightest interest in being like – or wanting to be like, the west. But that is not the current situation on the ground.

Indeed the clocks running concurrently for Ukraine and the Kremlin are not synchronised when it comes to critical time lines.  Sanctions, oil prices etc., alone may eventually beat the Kremlin given enough time – but Ukraine does not necessarily have that amount time.  Simply throwing just enough money at Ukraine to keep it afloat in the hope of synchronising those clocks will do little to prevent further loss of Ukrainian territory in the meantime.

That Ukraine has under-mobilized, chosen some dubious military defensive lines, and is suffering from questionably poor military and political leadership regarding this war simply makes matters worse.

Yet The Kremlin is not only at war with Ukraine for wanting to head west, but it is at war with the post WWII architecture – political, legal, economic, ethical, social and moral as well as being at war over the post Cold War territorial outcomes – overtly and covertly.

There are fundamental differences held by Ukraine and the west vis a vis The Kremlin at the root of this war that are simply not going to be negotiated or appeased away – particularly so as the Kremlin has now managed to get itself stuck in an aggressive posture in Ukraine, with no new ideas.  Hence it will keep doing what it is doing until eventually stopped, or it forces a bad peace on Ukraine and the Kremlin wins.

If the Kremlin feels it needs another Oblast to be certain of controlling Kyiv politics, it will take one unless stopped.  It is not about how much Ukrainian territory it holds – it is only about holding enough to insure the desired result – political control. +/- Mariupol, +/- Kharkiv or Kherson in the grand scheme of things are an irrelevance to the Kremlin.  It is about control of the destination of Ukraine by doing enough to accomplish that – No more and no less.

If it is necessary to portray Ukrainian troops as a NATO legion and have an entirely overt Russian military adventure into another Oblast, the Kremlin will do so.  If it is not necessary, it won’t.

Momentum and initiative remains with a Kremlin that has absolutely no intention of returning Ukraine’s border control to Ukraine, thus surrounding its “proxies” and severing supply.  To think otherwise is entirely delusional.  It also has no intention of annexation or overly financing these invaded regions. Though the “terrorists/rebels/separatists/criminals/warlords/Orthodox jihadists” may have slightly different territorial aims to the Russian troops, ultimately these territories have no future without being client mini-states of the Kremlin either way – or they face a return to Ukraine should the west and Ukraine roll back the Kremlin gains.  A return to Ukraine is not coming any time soon.

Thus continuing to message a strategy of doing just enough, is not enough – because it hasn’t been enough.  Neither has any response been timely enough.  The initiative has to be taken from The Kremlin, because the Kremlin has simply run out of ideas and thus is stuck on its current course of a zero sum, win at (almost) all costs on the Ukrainian front.

Half-hearted half-measures leave Ukraine in the worst of possible places – but if Ukraine wants more robust western assistance, it has to be more robust itself, meaning leading the international political initiatives against the Kremlin instead of waiting for others to do so.  Man up/mobilise over and above what so far is equivalent to a small football stadium of men.  Stoically reform, even if with baby steps, despite incredibly difficult circumstances.  Write budgets that are genuinely politically brave, rather than those submitted knowing the IMF will change them, but then having the option to blame the IMF rather than take responsibility for unpopular choices itself.  Explain the options and choices it faces transparently with its constituents – and why which route is to be taken.

For Ukraine, this is a war.  It should not try and pretend otherwise, regardless of what official title it may want or need to give it, for whatever legal or politically expedient reasons.

For the west, this is a crisis, if we accept that a crisis is protecting core values and interests without engaging in conventional warfare.

For the Kremlin it is a multifaceted war far exceeding the geographical limitations of Ukraine, but one with the very foundations of western democratic architecture – albeit a war it will ultimately lose.

Ukraine and the west have to present the Kremlin with a significant challenge across all the fronts upon which it is waging war – both within and without of Ukraine.  The initiative has to be seized from the Kremlin.

In order to do so, it would perhaps be beneficial to identify, even if privately behind the curtain, just where the eastern borders of western democracy and shared values – if only temporarily in the distant hope of rolling back the Kremlin held ground in Ukraine – is going to physically be.

Will it include Ukraine at all – if so, what’s in and what’s out?

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