Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

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Moldavian meetings

January 5, 2017

For the first time since 2008, a President of Moldova, Igor Dodon met with a “President of Transnistria” Vadim Krasnoselsky.

Whether it proves to be anything more than a symbolic gesture by pro-Kremlin Moldavian President Dodon remains to be seen, for his powers as president are extremely limited (which is perhaps a good thing being a robust supporter of federalising Moldova).

Moldova is a parliamentary democracy with the President having very little sway over policy or legislation.  (As such the Moldavian parliamentary elections of 2018 matter far more than the recent election of Mr Dodon as President of Moldova.)

What was known to be discussed appears to have been all rather sensible – and occurred outside of the longstanding 5+2 format which may or may not further frustrate an already frustrated process.  Nevertheless issues such as agriculture in the Dubasari district, education and diplomas, and the movement of citizens across the Dniester river were discussed.

It is said they will meet again soon with proposal to solving the issues discussed and to set timelines to implement agreed solutions.

Time, as it always does, will tell when it comes to results, particularly as President Dodon would have to have the Moldavian parliament “on side” to actually deliver much (if anything).

With regards to meetings, and perhaps worthy of note for those in Kyiv, on 26th December, 3 days after Mr Dodon’s election as president, the odious and criminal Mykola Skoryk MP (Oppo Block) quietly visited Moldova attending a Party of Socialists event to celebrate Mr Dodon’s success.

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President Dodon had been a long serving Chairman of the Party of Socialists after leaving the Communist Party.  Needless to say the Party of Socialists is a robustly Russophile political entity.

That the obnoxious Mykola Skoryk would surround himself with russophiles is in keeping with his personal views (as inferred in the above link).  As regular readers will note however, it is not his russophile views that make Mykola Skoryk obnoxious.  Quite simply there is nothing about his political history, business activities, or egocentric personality that make him likable – russophile or not.

Time will tell whether Prosecutor General Lutsenko will actually get around to trying to strip Mykola Skoryk of his parliamentary immunity and prosecute him as he stated he would in September – but as yet hasn’t.  Perhaps he has forgotten, perhaps he opened his mouth before gathering sufficient evidence, or perhaps a grubby deal has been struck that he won’t now go after Mr Skoryk.  Neither Messrs Lutsenko or Skoryk have been adverse to grubby (and criminal) little deals throughout their political careers.

The question however is what was Mykola Skoryk doing at a Party of Socialists gathering for, and with, the newly invested President Dodon?  A shared russophilia is unlikely to be the answer in and of itself.  There will be more to it.

Perhaps it is a matter of insuring any cross-border “business” is not interrupted under a new presidency.  Perhaps there are now opportunities to expand “business”.  Maybe an arrangement made for an immediate “bolt hole” from Odessa should Prosecutor General Lutsenko actually put action where his rhetoric already exists.  Per chance some plotting and scheming regarding stirring up matters in “Bessarabia” occurred – as one domestic result of a Trump victory in the USA will probably be an emboldened pro-Russian political voice within Ukraine from those that have generally kept a low profile over the past 2 years – those like Mykola Skoryk.

Whatever the case, Mykola Skoryk did not become the first Ukrainian MP to personally congratulate Mr Dodon on his election simply because of a shared russophilia and as Odessa shares a border with Moldova he thought he’d “drop by”.  He is hardly otherwise a regular face at the Party of Socialists gatherings.

That Mr Skoryk has said very little about his trip probably means that more questions should be asked.

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Pinchuk & the WSJ

January 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Has he been bought off or manipulated by Moscow somehow?

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

All questions to be asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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New Media Rules – ATO (Donbas) wef 01/01/17

December 29, 2016

For those few journalists that still attempt to cover the war in eastern Ukraine and the continuing almost daily death toll, be advised that with effect from 1st January 2017, new rules apply:

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“Since January 1, 2017, a new procedure of work for media representatives covering the ATO in the east of Ukraine will be implemented.

According to this procedure, media accredited to the Security Service of Ukraine will receive two types of press cards such as first and second level accreditation.

Second level accreditation press card (blue) allows working within the ATO area, except for forward positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The procedure of reception of this press card is the same.

Meanwhile, the first level accreditation press card (pink, with number 1) allows working within the ATO area and allows working directly at the conflict line (at forward platoon strongpoints, company defence positions).

Media must undergo three day training at the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine (National Defence Ivan Chernyakhovskyi University — two days of theory, as well as at the 169th Training Centre of Land Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Desna, Chernihiv oblast (one-day practical training) to receive the press card of first level accreditation.

Foreign media accredited to the Security Service of Ukraine will receive first level accreditation press card only after obligatory one-day briefing!

More than 250 persons are undergoing training and will receive first level accreditation press cards this December. Considering the popularity of the training, three-day training will be conducted in January 2017, please, follow our updates.

Please note, a new procedure of visiting the ATO area is implemented as required by the Order of the First Deputy Director of the Anti-Terrorism Centre at the Security Service of Ukraine (Director of the Anti-Terrorism Operation in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) of 19.01.2016 No. 45 ‘On procedure of media admission to military facilities in the Anti-Terrorism Operation area in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts’ (Annex 4, Order of First Deputy Director of the Anti-Terrorism Centre at the Security Service of Ukraine (Director of the Anti-Terrorism Operation) of 27.10.2016 No. 555).

If you have questions don’t hesitate to contact us +38 (067) 223 16 43; (044) 245 44 01″

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SBU claims Ukrainian State IT systems received 247 cyber attacks in 2016

December 23, 2016

According to the SBU, Ukrainian State information systems were subjected to 247 cyber attacks during 2016 (which is 2 weeks from ending at the time of writing – so there will be more before the year is through).  As a result 64 criminal proceedings are apparently under way – “proceedings” however is not defined as being arrests, or charged, or convicted.

As it appears only 64 instances have resulted in criminal proceedings with 5 convictions and 4 “wanted” circulations, it may be “proceedings” amounts to little more than “under investigation”.

Thus according to the SBU, if allocating 1 attack per day, 2 of every 3 days witnessed Ukrainian State IT systems under cyber attack throughout the entirety of 2016.  Naturally that is not how matters occurred on such an evenly spaced timeline – neither does it account for the cyber ops that are and have been on-going undetected daily for months, or perhaps years, against the Ukrainian State.

Were there peaks and troughs in cyber attacks?  Did those peaks and troughs align to peaks and troughs of Ukrainian allies?  If there is any correlation does that provide some form of guide to the capabilities of hostile cyber foes?

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Nevertheless 247 is the number of cyber attacks the SBU states the Ukraine State IT system has been subjected to.

It is however unclear what classification of cyber attacks have occurred and in what number under any sub-classifications of cyber attack.  Such attacks may vary from DDoS, to data hacks, to actually taking control of the systems themselves.

Further the SBU is not the only Ukrainian institution charged with looking after and monitoring cyber naughtiness to which Ukraine is subjected.   The Ministry of Interior also has a very similar statutory  obligation.  There is then the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, notwithstanding the Ukrainian Computer Emergency Response Team.

Quite whether each would measure and/or count the cyber attacks to which the Ukrainian State IT systems have been subjected to in the same way as the SBU is unknown.  Are the definitions the same?  Is the ability to monitor (and prevent/mitigate) such attacks the same?  Which is the lead agency?  Is there a lead agency?

Of the 247 attacks, which have been attributed and to whom?  Specifically what was the attack?  State (and/or State infrastructure)?  Business (State Owned Enterprises)?  Banking (State owned banks and/or the NBU)?  Others?

What damage was done?  What losses were incurred?  What was stolen?  Has the “how” been shared with allies and/or applicable regional/international treaty bound institutions?

How many can be publicly attributed to Russia and/or the known Russian proxies?  If they could be attributed, were they?  (Just because they can be, for either political and/or operational reasons they may not be.)

How many can be publicly attributed to organised crime – both that interconnected with Russia, that of domestic origin, and also others?

How many can be publicly attributed to those that are neither State actors (or known State associated actors), or organised (criminal) groups, but that are simply lone actors with either criminal intent or a curiosity that defies legal boundaries?

What is behind the SBU numbers?  Are the numbers of the other statutory monitoring agencies similar to those of the SBU?  If not, what are the discrepancies and where and why do they exist?

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Savchenko in Minsk

December 12, 2016

As much as this blog was going to avoid comment upon Nadya Savhcenko’s meeting in Minsk with the leaders of the “DNR” Alexandr Zaharchenko, “LNR” Igor Plotnitsky, and Russian interlocutors on 7th December, too many emails, private messages and direct messages have arrived asking for comment that careful and limited comment there will be.

Firstly it has to be recognised that daily Ukrainian soldiers still die on the front lines in eastern Ukraine.  It may well be the case that those on the opposite side also suffer daily fatalities, though no figures are announced daily like those of the Ukrainian military.  Also Minsk, a framework document that has failed to deliver anything approaching a ceasefire (where the fire actually ceases) since its agreement more than 2 years ago and thus remains diplomatically alive only in the absence of any alternative – and indeed that alternative may actually be worse than continuing with the sham of Minsk.

However, at the very least, those freed following negotiations under Minsk will not consider the process a complete failure when their very freedom comes as a result.

Nevertheless it cannot be claimed that the process has been anything other than a failure in the eyes of many.

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Having met Nadya Savchenko a few times (the last time in June), with regard to her character of the many insights gleaned, and for the purposes of this entry, it is sufficient to note her strong willed personality – so strong that being an “institutional and/or team player” would clearly be secondary.  These character traits alone, as an entry from May made very clear, are not those particularly welcome within the Batkivshchyna Party.

Those personality traits and the fact that as a parliamentarian she has absolute immunity (and impunity) with regard the law, has the potential for some to be somewhat wary of unpredictable and or predictable but unstoppable acts.  (She can, as all other parliamentarians, do what she likes, when she likes, and without (immediate) legal repercussions until such time as parliamentary immunity is lifted by the Verkhovna Rada or her mandate expires.)

Ergo how and who could stop Nadya Savchenko from going to Minsk (other than Belarus)?

Nevertheless, there is such a thing as party discipline and Yulia Tymoshenko cannot afford to be seen as a weak leader of what is in effect nothing more than a Batkivshchyna Party that is political vehicle solely for promoting Yulia Tymoshenko.

Indeed, of Nadya Savchenko’s Minsk adventure, Batkivshchyna have stated they “consider unacceptable any negotiations with the leaders of “DNR” and “LC” and MP N.Savchenko did not coordinate her actions with the factions and parties, and has recently announced her participation in the new political project.”

That said, she is a member of Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party, and has unquestionably gone against the party line that is repeatedly and unambiguously on record.  The “distancing” in the above Batkivshchyna statement is not the same thing as party discipline, nor instigating disciplinary measures within the party for such a blatant departure from the party line.

However, to remove her from the party having been elected upon the party list (as No1 before Yulia Tymoshenko due to populist electioneering when Ms Savchenko was still incarcerated in Russia) opens the way for Ms Savchenko to lose her parliamentary status (as happened to former parliamentarians Mykola Tomenko and Igor Firsov per Article 81 of the Constitution).

The expected and inevitable dilemma for Ms Tymoshenko (foreseen in the May entry linked above) as to just how much she will allow herself (and Batkivshchyna) to be tarred with the undisciplined Ms Savchenko brush once again presents itself.

Dilemma!  What political cost to dealing with Ms Savchenko’s disregard for the party line by disciplinary measures, vis a vis looking weak for not doing so?

Further the SBU is now playing catch up – Yuri Tandit of the SBU making clear that they are now collecting and collating information regarding the Minsk meetings of Nadya Savchenko after the fact.

Nevertheless what’s done is done – and may well happen again (and again).

Ms Savchenko justifies her trip by stating “We must do our best, each of us, to take our heroes home even if we will have to pay those who shoot at us”, saying of President Poroshenko “He, like all of us, wants to pick up our children from captivity and the political prisoners from of Russia.  I am confident that the president on his level of doing everything possible to make this happen as quickly as possible.”

Well fair enough – or is it?

Why shouldn’t she do what she thinks she can?

Putting aside the issue of ugly optics and being seen to be negotiating with the public faces and “leaders” of the “Republics” directly (rather than indirectly and through “channels” as is standard fare, and for good reason of “legitimising” the other parties) there are issues of both her legitimacy and also wider coordination.  (That she has done this at the very least may now make her a “useful idiot” in a wider Kremlin secret service operation.)

And it is perhaps coordination that matters the most.

Ms Savchenko states that she traveled to Minsk on her personal Ukrainian passport and not her diplomatic passport.  Whether or not this is meant to infer a personal and not “official Nadya Savchenko MP” dialogue with the “leaders” of the “Republics” is a matter of perception.  As such, when it comes to framing, were any “negotiations” unofficially official (though they appear unsanctioned officially or tacitly), or were they officially unofficial to which any “negotiation” (whether it may or may not reap results) raises the question of what was “given” and “taken” in that negotiation and the ability, particularly by Ms Savchenko, to deliver thereafter.

Perhaps yet more problematic is that it may well be that this becomes a channel or negotiating format of choice for one side but not the other – thus undermining the negotiating formats that are already accepted and working.  Differences between official and unofficial channels may very well complicate matters further and also be deliberately used to frustrate progress by any party concerned in negotiations when those differences are exploited.  The potential nightmare scenario may arise where with insufficient care and coordination there is a real possibility that due to deliberate, or unintentional, mishandling of negotiations, those detained could be held for far longer than would otherwise have been the case.

If this was indeed a personal pilgrimage (well meaning as it may have been) there are real risks as well as potential rewards as a result.

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Whatever was negotiated and/or agreed may actually be counterproductive to any (or all recent progress) by the officially nominated trilateral groups.  Indeed it may be that an individual uncoordinated effort with such a focus on a specific issue distorts or blinds to the wider negotiating policy repercussions both in the immediate and longer term.

Further, even if Ms Savchenko’s personal and seemingly unofficial interjection delivers any much welcomed prisoner releases, that does not necessarily mean political gains for Ms Savchenko in the long term.  Many of her actions and statements have already raised red flags in some quarters in Ukraine – for her to succeed swiftly where 2 years of negotiations where heavyweights the like the OSCE, Messrs Kuchma and Gryzlov et al have delivered little, may raise as many (if not more) red flags as it would potential voters.

Time will tell how this plays out for Ms Savchenko, how Batkicshchyna (Ms Tymoshenko) deal with this, how much the SBU and the official negotiators will learn of the “negotiations” (and as importantly the resulting interpretations of all those present), and perhaps most critically for those already working so hard to release, whether there will be results within the parameters they have been asked to remain within.

Perhaps, considering the high profile Ms Savchenko has, what a reader may ponder most is that if Ukraine felt she was the most suitable of people to be directly involved in such negotiations then she most certainly would be – and that she isn’t may well say all that needs to be said.

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The Firtash star falls yet further – Ukraine

November 27, 2016

Whilst all eyes will be upon Mikhail Saakashvili and the inaugural gathering of his newly minted “Rukh New Forces” in Kyiv on 27th November, and its possible political rise – not to be confused with the old “Rukh” political party which may well see a revival simply and deliberately to insure confusion on any ballot paper – the political/influential decline of Dmitry Firtash continues apace.

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As previously mentioned in historical entries, Mr Firtash once powerful within the Party of Regions machinery has seen his influence significantly reduced since its collapse.  More so than any of the other oligarchs associated with PoR, such as Rinat Akhmetov or Sergei Liovochkin etc.

He finds himself marooned in Austria following a thus far unsuccessful US attempt to extradite him over corruption accusations.

Though extradition from Austria may have failed, he remains wanted by the US.  Indeed in June, inquiries were made following a request by one close to him, via back channels, regarding any possibility of a change of US policy toward him.  The answer a definitive – No.  Those close to him again last week requested that inquiries be made via the same back channels regarding the possibility of an out-going Obama Presidential Pardon, resulting in another definitive – No.  (A reader would infer that any “pardon” must also relate to an admission of guilt – for how otherwise to pardon somebody who claims to have done no wrong?)

Matters will not improve for Mr Firtash – they will actually deteriorate further.

Mr Firtash has come to light in a German bribery case.

There is a matter of €500,000 cash being provided to ex-Stasi officer Nina Vilkening to facilitate desired outcomes via the Chief Commissioner of the Criminal Police Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, who received €300,000.

No doubt inquiries will continue and as none of the defendants are particularly youthful, it is not beyond the realms of probability that a deal can and/or will be cut with defendants in order to bring to light the full extent of Mr Firtash’s active involvement in bribery among the German institutions.

Thus it may yet prove only to be a matter of time before Mr Firtash is wanted by Germany – an extradition request that will not be denied by Austria.

Whilst this may now be appearing upon the horizon, the Spanish are far ahead of the Germans.

Spain has admirably been pursuing “Slavic” organsied crime for several years.  Russia has publicly decried Spanish investigations, reports and arrest requests for several years.  Ukraine is not exempt.  Only recently a number of Ukrainians, including the son (Stepan Chernovetsky), of the former Mayor of Kyiv, have been arrested for organised criminality and money laundering in Spain.

Bravo Spain – an example for Austrian and UK (in particular) banking and organsied crime investigative bodies to follow.

Mr Firtash, and two other as yet unidentified Ukrainian businessmen, have now fallen foul of Spanish investigations.  Judge Ignacio Sánchez García-Porrero leading the Spanish inquiry seeks Mr Firtash and the two as yet unidentified Ukrainian businessmen’s delivery to a courtroom in Spain.  The are suspected of leading a major money laundering racket in and via Spain (centered in Barcelona and Marbella).

(With the allegations specifically relating to money laundering presumably it is either the UCO within the Guard Civil and/or the UDEF doing investigative the leg-work rather than the broader Spanish organised crime institutions.)

Whether all the dirty money belongs to Mr Firtash, or whether some is from associates will perhaps become apparent as and when he is brought before a Spanish court.

With known associates ranging from Semyon Mogilevych the Russian “Don of Dons”, through the entire former Cabinet of Viktor Yanukovych’s ousted government, a debt and thus beholding to Russia’s Gazprombank of between $4 and $5 billion, and by extension a beholding to Yuri Kovalchuk (who is very close to President Putin) who personally arranged such loans, just whose dirty money Mr Firtash is suspected of laundering is unclear at this stage.

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There will be layer upon layer of shell companies, nominal directors, fictitious entities and front men to wade through to find and identify the eventual beneficiaries (ultimately based in the usual offshore havens undoubtedly).

Nevertheless, the Spanish have been diligently working upon the misuse of their territory and legislation for several years when it comes to Slavic organised naughtiness.  Clearly Judge Ignacio Sánchez García-Porrero believes all is now sufficiently clear to officially go after Dmitry Firtash (and the two other as yet unidentified Ukrainian businessmen).

Extradition to Spain, no differently than the possibly forthcoming extradition request to Germany, when received by Austria will be a far smoother, almost seamlessly slick affair compared to the request from the US – as all such matters within the EU Member States are.  That is the entire point of the EU Arrest Warrant and the EU Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters.

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Therefore, whilst a reader may be caught up with the hype surrounding a possibly rising political party headed by Mikhail Saakashvili, the continued fall of the Firtash star may well become a very messy, public and revealing fall indeed.

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Once within Spanish jurisdiction, even if the Spanish case ultimately fails, by that time there will be the existing US request and a probable German case that the Spanish can extradite him to.

The outlook for Mr Firtash currently looks rather bleak – a lesson for Ukrainian kings and pawns alike.

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The EU Parliament sounds the alarm on propaganda……and?

November 23, 2016

There is far too much commentary, too many resolutions, and too statements that contain the word “must”.

This blog deliberately gives the word “must” a very wide berth, employing its use more than frugally.

The problem with “must” is that it infers consequences if whatever “must” be done, isn’t.

“Russia must…..”

“The democratic world must…..”

“We must stop……..”

“The EU must…….”

In short, a “must” has to be accompanied with an “or else”.

There is the “must” when talking to the collective “us” and/or “self” that highlights the folly of not carrying out the “must” with an “or else” that is advisory in pleasant terms, informing “us” that we have to adapt our position to avoid self-inflicted and counterproductive outcomes.

There is then the “must” that is imposing on the “other” with a necessary and proportionately punitive “or else” to avoid being impotent – and ultimately humiliating when it is otherwise ignored through lack of an “or else” that would cause a change of position.

Far too many “must”‘s in the poker game have been called by antagonists and when the “or else” has been played it has been dis-proportionally meek, has done little to change behaviour, and has not seen the “or else” raised to the point of punitive proportionality to reverse it.

Far too many internal “must”‘s have seen no shift in the “us” and/or “self” position either.

Lo, it is time to employ the word “must” much more prudently if the “or else”, whilst perhaps all that is politically possible, simply isn’t up to it.

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It is therefore something of a relief to find an EU parliamentary press release relating to Russian (and Daesh) propaganda that does not use the word “must” (although the actual Resolution may, unseen at the time of writing) – as many Resolutions historically do freely use “must” relating to these two purveyors of international criminality, spurious nonsense, perverted narratives, and incoherent and disingenuous flapdoodle.

As this blog centres upon Ukraine, a target of enormous amounts of Kremlin propaganda codswallop (hidden among which are some clearly identifiable reflexive control operations), the text relating to Russia is the more poignant:

“Russia seeks to divide MEPs warn that the Kremlin has stepped up its propaganda against EU since annexing Crimea and waging hybrid war in the Donbass. They note that ”the Russian government is employing a wide range of tools and instruments, such as think tanks […], multilingual TV stations (e.g. Russia Today), pseudo-news agencies and multimedia services (e.g. Sputnik) […], social media and internet trolls, to challenge democratic values, divide Europe, gather domestic support and create the perception of failed states in the EU’s eastern neighbourhood”. The resolution stresses that the “Kremlin is funding political parties and other organisations within the EU” and deplores “Russian backing of anti-EU forces” such as extreme-right parties and populist forces.

To counteract anti-EU campaigns, MEPs suggest investing in awareness raising, education, online and local media, investigative journalism and information literacy, which would empower citizens to analyse media content critically. It is equally important to adapt communication to specific regions, including access to information in local languages, says the text. The resolution also suggests deepening EU and NATO cooperation on strategic communication, reinforcing the EU’s 9-strong strategic communication task force and providing more support to boost media resilience in EU neighbourhood countries.”

The Resolution was passed by 304 votes “for”, some 179 votes “against” and 208 abstentions.

“Must” has been replaced with “suggest” for ease of “us” to internally digest, for it is an inward looking Resolution.

(Unfortunately the term “hybrid war” remains – another term disliked by the blog.  No doubt the term “Alt Right” will soon be used instead of unambiguous words such as “Nationalist” or “Fascist” too, in order to make something prickly and uncomfortable appear somehow less barbed and normalising.  To be clear, objectivity is giving all a fair hearing, but it does not equate to creating some form of media driven false moral equivalence or normalising of uncivil and/or illegal behaviour. Things that are prickly and uncomfortable are by their nature prickly and uncomfortable and should be plainly identified as such.  There is no requirement for new and more “comfy” labels.)

So now what?

There is far too much Kremlin generated “propaganda noise” to mute or rebuff it all, regardless of well meaning MEP suggestions.

Perhaps some nations may decide to improve or simply apply their broadcasting standards to remove the drivel Russia Today pumps out from their licensed providers.  Others may not.  (Some of what Russia Today pumps out is actually quite funny – whether intended or otherwise).  Perhaps the argument against is that it is also on line anyway – so what is to be gained by removing it from the airwaves?  Theoretically it is possible to accidentally flick through your TV channels and find Russia Today and mistake its content for “news” – if the viewer has the IQ of a plant pot.  On line you have to go look for it deliberately, no different from porn, or puppy weaning tips, or Ed Balls’ “Strictly Come Dancing” highlights (or perhaps low-lights).

Perhaps consistent and large fines for breaching broadcasting standards are a way forward.  Maybe if Russia Today consistently fails to meet the broadcasting standards set by domestic governments who are too feeble to enforce their own broadcasting laws to the fullest extent for want of the widest possible tolerance for “free speech” then, as with twitter, Russian Today can be required to clearly label itself a parody news source as parody accounts on twitter must clearly state that they are such – or be removed.

More seriously however, the suggestions of MEPs have merit, but they are not going to see swift implementation even if the suggestions are taken on board by national governments.  The suggestions are probably very similar to those that national governments have already reached themselves, or have had identified for them from other domestic sources.  They are also, rightly, designed for the long haul but few, if any suggestions will have an immediate impact.

For some governments the priority will be the reflexive control signals within the general propaganda noise that clearly targets them.  Therefore focused, timely, objective and controlled countermeasures will take priority over more integrated broader responses.

Investigative journalism is a fine tool – but it is an expensive tool for a media owner, and there is no guarantee that investigative journalism will “naturally stumble upon” an investigation that would further the cause of pushing back the Kremlin narrative and/or machinery when it comes to nefarious activities within their own nation – or get the attention of the population.  Will 3 (or in some cases 4) letter agencies have to “whisper in journalistic ears” to assist in “direction”?

Is that necessary when targeting existing national laws regarding money laundering and/or organised crime would garner immediate media interest when numerous arrests are made and/or assets seized in a home nation?

What sort of media impact would there be if each and every European nation coordinated a round-up of 3 Kremlin spies at the same time on the same day?  Reciprocity would follow within Russia, so is that worthwhile?

What is the necessary “immediate impact” verses “long term education” ratio required to focus public opinion?

If the EU is perceived as weak (by those within or without) and thus Kremlin propaganda is a real threat, then what assessments have been made on those weaknesses and what can be done to strengthen them – if anything?  When the Cold War raged, both sides were very aware of their own, and the others, structural and ideological weaknesses.  That is surely true of today – for the strengths and weaknesses of both are no less apparent.

If this is the start of a European parliamentary review of what thus far has been a principled refusal to learn from experience when it comes to The Kremlin then bravo – yet it will not be in any way effective unless the sovereign parts within the European whole are convinced that the political energy required to actually do something is political energy well spent.

Nevertheless – no “must” seemingly acknowledges the anticipated limitations within the “us”/”self” when it comes to any actual implementation.

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