Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

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The question of agency – and whodunit? Plotnitskyi

August 6, 2016

The 6th August brought with it an assassination attempt (perhaps it will prove to be successful yet) upon the life of “Lunhansk People’s Republic leader” Igor Plotnitskyi.

Igor Plotnitskyi

Igor Plotnitskyi

The car in which Mr Plotnitskyi was being driven/was driving was apparently hit by an explosion, it is claimed seriously injuring Mr Plotnitskyi and his driver (or no driver depending upon sources).

Albeit there is currently (perhaps surprisingly – or not) little noise regarding the incident within the social and “main stream” media of the occupied territories, it is suggested that the explosive device was attached to a post passed which Mr Plotnitskyi’s car was driven.

Plotnitskyi car

Perhaps true with the vast majority of damage being to one side of the vehicle.  It would also suggest detonation occurred via “line of sight” to insure the car was adjacent to the explosive device when it was triggered.  Indeed there appears to be a felled pole next to the damaged car in the photograph below

pole

An unexpected bonus for Ukraine?  Hardly.

Whether Mr Plotnitskyi lives or dies makes little difference to Ukraine with regard to the war or the occurrences within the occupied territory of Luhansk beyond its control.  Mr Plotnitskyi is not a man with agency when it comes to dictating any interaction with Ukraine (and neither is Mr Zakharchenko, his equivalent in the occupied Donetsk), nor major “domestic” policy within the “LNR” either.

Mr Plotnitskyi’s death would mean that The Kremlin would have to replace him with another local with loyalties to Moscow – and someone who could insure the continuance of cash flows from illicit money relating to racketeering still finding its way to Moscow at the agreed percentages.  Other than that, whether he lives or dies is also rather irrelevant to The Kremlin too.

In short, Mr Plotnitskyi is entirely without agency, and is long since recognised as being so by both The Kremlin and Kyiv.

Ergo, unless The Kremlin wanted to replace Mr Plotnitskyi in a very public way and simultaneously insure any possible Plotnitskyi related “issues” were permanently dealt with, it has no reason to be involved – unless it be a planned precursor for something larger (a faux casus belli?).  Ukraine has no real interest, and little to gain, from his assassination either.

Thus having discounted the probability of State actors being involved, the question is “whodunit”?

During 2015 and 2016 Mr Plotnitskyi has overseen the assassination of numerous warlords/crime bosses within the “LNR” occupied territories which he nominally controls as “leader”.  Half a dozen or so have met untimely and violent ends internally of the “LNR”.  It is questionable however, as to how well this has brought these unpredictable groups to Mr Plotnitskyi’s heel.  Well enough to dissuade the warlords/crime bosses to forego assassination attempts?

There are yet further considerations, such as the on-going power struggle between Mr Plotnitskyi and Leonid Pasichnyk, a man that continues to survive and flourish within the “LNR” senior echelons despite several “management purges” undertaken by the “leader of the LNR”.  Mr Pasichnyk clearly has friends in The Kremlin of equal weight to those behind Mr Plotnitskyi.

It has been claimed for some time that the two are at loggerheads over many issues, including the (lucrative) control of the fuel arriving from Russia.  (Indeed this may account for Russian fuel supplies mysteriously catching fire in Alchevsk with no attempt to blame Ukraine.)

Is Mr Pasichnyk therefore behind this attempted (thus far) assassination?  Would he act in such a blunt manner?  If so, why now and not previously if he wanted to assume the “leadership of the LNR”?

Should Mr Plotnitskyi survive (and he may not) and (rightly or wrongly) point the finger at Mr Pasichnyk, would he survive another Plotnitskyi purge – or worse, Plotnitskyi retribution via a reciprocal act with a similarly explosive modus operandi in the future?

On the subject of modus operandi, why an explosive device affixed a pole by the roadside – which is not the most successful assassination method employed within the “LNR” over the past few years.

Whatever the case, whether Mr Plotnitskyi lives or dies nothing changes for The Kremlin or Kyiv – but the “whodunit” and why now are interesting questions nevertheless – for internal strife within the occupied territories clearly continues.

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Ukraine launches CORD (Jolly Good!)

May 6, 2016

Friday 6th May saw the completion and certification of a special purpose unit within the National Police called CORD.  Its role, specifically is to tackle organised crime.

It should be noted that organised crime has a definition that is far from uniform across nations.  Ergo any broad definition does not necessarily fit snugly with some national nuances.  Thus in the broadest possible terms, organised crime might be described as planned, coordinated and conducted by people working together on a continuing basis. Motivation is often, but not always, financial gain. Organised criminals working together for a particular criminal activity, or activities, are called an organised crime group.

Organised crime group structures vary. Successful organised crime groups often consist of a durable core of key individuals. Around them is a cluster of subordinates, specialists, and other more transient members, plus an extended network of associates.  In short a fairly consistent and perhaps rigid core, surrounded by a more fluid and occasional/temporary periphery.

Ergo, many groups can often be loose networks of criminals that come together for a specific criminal activity, acting in different roles depending on their skills and expertise. Collaboration is reinforced by shared experiences (such as prison), or recommendation from trusted individuals.

Yet others are bonded by family or ethnic ties, thus some ‘crime families’ are precisely that.

Much organised criminality crosses borders and therefore jurisdictions.  Some within nations ne’er to leave it, but across county/oblast lines, and some across national borders.  Coordination and intelligence sharing issues naturally arise.

Nevertheless, so far, so relatively simple to describe in broad terms.

However, as in life, there are 50 shades of grey across the organised crime spectrum – particularly in the former Soviet nations.  As outlined in an entry from November 2015, it can be difficult to place some participants into definitive categories, for some have “moved on”, some have clearly legitimate business activities as well as illegitimate activities that are distinctly separate, some are and have remained entirely organised criminals, and yet others are linked not via direct organised criminality, but by the issuance of grace and favour – and thereby association – to those that are.  Guilt by association may, or may not, necessarily apply.

Therefore the former Soviet-space and what happened in, during and thus came of those that survived the 1990’s and flourished atop the remnants of crumbled State institutions and politics can become difficult to separate into black and white categories when many came from or required the help of organised criminality to get there.  Indeed, the FSU is subject to its own Interpol project – Project Millennium (or TEOC).

By way of example, the aforementioned link concludes appropriately with the bold text below  – “In 1995 Leonid Lebedev (associated with Russian organised crime as well as being a Russian politician) became the chairman of Sintez Group – a small Russian commodities concern that had a grubby and somewhat opaque little deal with various majors through the years – Rosneft, Luk Oil etc.  In 1995 the company was  turning over about 15 million tonnes of heating, diesel oil and gasoline.  His business partners were/are Mark Garber and Alexander Zhukov.  (Mr Zhukov is the father of Daria Zhukova – who is now the wife of Roman Abramovich).

Mr Zhukov was/is in charge of Sintez production, pipeline transport, and export through Odessa Port (having 7 berths at terminal 10).

(As is oft the case with organised crime there are hiccups along the way.  In one such hiccup, Messrs Lebedev, Garber and Zhukov, together with Kuzma Medanich, Andrey Vazhnik, and Anatoliy Fedorenko had a bit of a run-in with Italian law enforcement in 2002/03 over gun trafficking.  A small matter of Kalashnikov’s, guided missiles, anti-tank missiles and ammunition headed for the Balkans.  Eventually the case collapsed due to lack of evidence with only Dmitry Streshinsky getting convicted and receiving a 23 month suspended prison sentence and a fine.)

However, amongst many subsidiaries of Sintez Group was/is Sintez Oil Ltd run by Mr Zhukov (naturally being a partner in Sintez Group) and which has a large and allegedly controlling nefarious footprint in the Odessa ports.  The long-reigning Odessa mafia Don, Alexander Angert is also associated with Sintez Oil via a subsidiary called Transcargo.  Unsurprisingly Mayor Trukhanov also worked for Sintez Oil for some time – not withstanding his association with Mr Angert during the crazy days of the 1990s when working together in “Captain Security”.

Also associated with Captain Security, and Messrs Angert and Trukhanov back in the day was Ruslan Bodelan, a long time Chair of the Odessa City Council whom it is claimed, transfered the City accounts to the Sea Commercial Bank of Odessa – coincidentally owned by the same Mr Zhurkov of Sintez Oil.  There is then Mr Angert’s ROST Group of companies, well known to Mayor Trukhanov by his own admission, and a company extremely successful in winning City contracts.  

There is no need to go on and on, describing yet more and more connections between these people – and there are many – after all, why wouldn’t friends and trusted associates do business together (through a lot of different companies)?”  – At some point truly nefarious activities give way to incredibly weak linkage – if any linkage whatsoever between associations and involvement in criminality is present beyond inference/perception.

What is “known” and what can be proven in a court of law are entirely different things.  The activities of ROST mentioned in the quote may have few if any criminal overtones – despite its ownership and despite any criminality of other entities owned by, or individual actions of, the same leadership.

However, it appears that CORD will not be looking at this type of organsied crime – at least as an immediate priority.

Upon completion of a two month specialisation course, Secretary of National Security and Defense of Ukraine, Oleksandr Turchynov, stated “We have to honestly say, in terms of socio-economic crisis, which is in Ukraine, organized crime, especially armed, now raises his head.  The fight against armed crime – your main task.”

It seems clear therefore that CORD will concentrate upon armed organised crime within the borders of Ukraine.

handcuffs

In some cases that may appear to be clear cut organised criminality, with newly armed cigarette smugglers in Transcarpathia for example (and numerous regional variations on a theme), and yet in others it may well meet a very smudged line between armed organised criminality and terrorism regarding monetary and goods flows within the ATO area of eastern Ukraine.

This therefore raises the question where exactly CORD fits within the institutional structures, its roles and responsibilities, its command and control, mission creep and collaborative work with other (sometimes interchangeable) entities.

There are issues of overlap and the duplicity of scarce resources expended vis a vis gaps in the pavement where there be no ownership and nefarious interests will flourish.

Structures change of course.  In the days of this blog such policing was more or less the purview of Regional Crime Squads, replaced by a National Crime Squad.  There was NCIS.  Now NCIS and the NCS merged to create the SOCA (Serious & Organised Crime Agency), notwithstanding some overlap with Special Branch (SO12) and SO13 (Counter-terrorism) then separate entities – now they collectively form SO15 (CT Command)..  These structural changes designed (and hopefully achieved) fewer gaps in the pavement, far less duplicity of resource expenditure and easier liaison with external interested parties.

With the line between terrorism and organised crime converging in methods of raising finance and its movement, not to mention increasingly similar sophisticated counter law enforcement measures, institutional terms of reference and responsibility to avoid duplicity of resources or gaps in the pavement are of great importance.

As such, a reader may ponder why it is the Secretary of National Security and Defense and neither Minister of Interior nor National Police Chief that is tasking (at least publicly) an entity drawn from within the National Police with tackling armed organised criminality.

Perhaps organised armed criminality has been identified as a national security and defence priority.  If so, then rightly – for organised crime whether armed or unarmed is perceived as a serious national security issue by this blog – and not simply with regard to Ukraine, but it applies to all States.

Whatever the case, it is a year since this blog suggested actively addressing the issue of weaponry seeping across the nation via 3 distinct, but not necessarily exclusive methods.

That organised criminality would become better armed organised criminality was long predicted – as was some armed (para)military personnel forming organised criminal groups.

Naturally one of those 3 suggested methods was robustly enforcing the rule of law (per whatever statue currently be law) – so CORD is sincerely wished success indeed.  May their future successes (which there will be) become a platform and inspiration for those charged with taking on the unarmed organised criminality that has retarded Ukrainian development for decades past – the latter being perhaps a task less physically dangerous but more difficult to achieve.

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When is cyberwar an act of war? Is NATO getting close to answers?

May 3, 2016

Just over a month ago, an entry appeared raising some issues that to be quite blunt, remain somewhat perplexing.  The entry was inspired by a chat with an Oxford University boffin at the Odessa Security Forum.  Answers, it has to be said despite over a month of pondering, are still difficult to reach.

“Whether it be something approaching a temporary national convulsion as experienced by Estonia in 2007, with banks, the parliament, and broadcasters being downed, or the disruption of technical operations in conventional warfare experienced by Georgia in 2008, or the physical infrastructure damage such as that caused by the Stuxnet worm in 2011, or system wide computer malfunctions experienced by Sony in 2014, or the 2016 hack of the Ukrainian power grid, there would appear to be an empirical trend of escalation – or “pushing the envelope” to use the Tom Wolfe idiom.  (It is perhaps a blessing that so old and ignored is Ukrainian infrastructure since independence that manual systems still exist to rectify matters swiftly.)

Directly or indirectly lives may have been lost through such acts, perhaps deliberately so on the battlefield, and perhaps as a consequence of downing power grid (or other) infrastructure.

The above incidents are employed to simply display a perception of escalation – there are numerous public domain incidents that could have been cited, and undoubtedly even more incidents remaining without the public domain that could have been used that may have already led to the loss of life.

All of which leads to the especially difficult question regarding what, exactly, will be the threshold for a cyber act that is deemed an act of war?  Particularly so when such acts can be far more easily and deniably outsourced to non-State entities by the State?

Clearly those attacking any system have the advantage over those trying to defend it.  There is no such thing as 100% security – on line or off line.  Where there is a will there is a way with sufficient skill, determination, time, or money – or a combination thereof.

How do those on the receiving end recognise the difference between espionage (which all States engage in) and what is an attack (which perhaps not all States currently have the capability for) that will leave behind something nasty and that in the months ahead bring down critical defences and/or infrastructure?

Yet further, how easy would it be to misinterpret intent or miscalculate effects?  How to judge the proportionate response – at least in a timely manner?

……..there is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and terrorism.  There is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and organised crime – indeed with some States it is not always easy (if at all possible) to separate the State from organised crime, or organsised crime from the State.  There is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and geopolitics.  All of which leads to the empirical convergence of the space between war and peace – and ultimately what will be deemed and act of war – or not?

There will never be an international law that bans espionage – because every State engages in it.  Domestic statute will predominantly deal with those caught engaging in espionage against the domestic interest, but will not ban the practice against others.”

cyber

These are all particularly difficult and thorny issues.

When does cyberwar become an act of war?

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg recently told a key alliance planning summit that “cyber is now a central part of virtually all crisis and conflicts, NATO has made clear that cyber attacks can potentially trigger an Article 5 response.”  Quite rightly too.

When sparing with Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev over whether NATO would bomb a nation suspected of cyber attacks, the NATO Secretary General stated “We will do what’s necessary to do to protect all allies, but I’m not going to tell you exactly how I’m going to do that … that’s the main message.”  The return of ambiguity in an very ambiguous theatre perhaps – or perhaps such a strategy and protocols remain work in progress, thus ambiguity masks developing strategy.  Perhaps a little of both.

Having previously stated – “How do those on the receiving end recognise the difference between espionage (which all States engage in) and what is an attack (which perhaps not all States currently have the capability for) that will leave behind something nasty and that in the months ahead bring down critical defences and/or infrastructure?

Yet further, how easy would it be to misinterpret intent or miscalculate effects?  How to judge the proportionate response – at least in a timely manner?”, the NATO Secretary General half-answered this issue raised with a statement that would infer, perhaps deliberately misleadingly (perhaps not) that policy is seemingly still under development when he said NATO should “sharpen our early warning and situational awareness … so we know when an attack is an attack.

That statement does perhaps also infer that what constitutes an attack (that crosses certain thresholds) has at least been defined – as has what doesn’t constitute an attack (which doesn’t meet the parameters, whatever they are defined as).

Perhaps NATO is getting closer, or has indeed answered for itself, the issues raised by the blog last month.  If so, bravo, for certainly the convergences mentioned above continue placing time constraints upon clever thinking.

Perhaps it will only be when policy triggers are pulled when as yet unknown red lines are crossed – and those red lines may not all be particularly obvious to those “pushing the envelope”.  What then to do if those lines are crossed by deniable outsourced entities with no clear links to a State?

It’s a policy realm that’s enough to make your head hurt – but it is one faced by all the protagonists (for better or for worse)!  It is also a theatre of war in which Ukraine can theoretically hold its own.

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Why Azov? Odessa

April 29, 2016

Having outlined over the course of several entries the escalatory and reckless politics of the local political class as the calendar moves ever-onward toward the second anniversary of the 2nd May tragedy in Odessa – entries that by no means mention every incident that has occurred – it appears Kyiv has finally stopped navel gazing and decided that assistance may be indeed wise, and has now offered such preparatory assistance.

“That said, 2015 did not see the local political class so openly manipulating events and forcefully pushing their own personal agendas in such a reckless manner – the tragic events of 2014 however, did.”

Indeed, the National Guard which sits within the Ministry of Interior structure, having first pooh-poohed the Governor’s call for assistance stating it did not get involved in such clearly reckless politically motivated and instigated nonsense, has now decided – or perhaps has been instructed – to send assistance.

As it would be a political disaster for President Poroshenko to watch any events in Odessa spiral out of control having ignored his own appointed Governor’s very public request, what choice did he have?

To be blunt neither the National Guard nor the police should get involved in reckless and politically instigated nonsense – unless the rule of law cannot be upheld in the resulting aftermath, at which point both, depending upon the perceived gravity of disorder have a duty to the State and society (and not necessarily the vested interests of the political class) to keep order within the parameters of the rule of law.

In an attempt to keep track of the law enforcement bodies that will be actively working in Odessa from 30th April, there seems to be approximately 1300 local police officers, 500 National Guard (most of which come from the Azov Regiment) and 1000 drafted in police officers from outside the region.

Azov_symbol

Naturally there is no such thing as 100% security, be it  3,000 or 30,000 charged with preventing an incident occurring in the city, they cannot be everywhere all the time.  The point is to prevent the most grievous of incidents if possible, and contain the most disorderly if they manifest.

It is to be expected that there will be a zero tolerance approach taken by the authorities deployed to any stupidity – or worse – that occurs.

A reader may rightly ponder whether such attention will be solely focused on the city of Odessa – for there are politicians in the south-west of the oblast recklessly, yet deliberately, stoking the fires of ethnicity for political blackmail purposes to advance their own personal ends (and hoping to be able to keep the genie in the bottle if they get what they want having rubbed it profusely).  That said, those manifestations appear to be manipulated more toward Victory Day on the 9th May.

Such obvious and reckless political stupidity aimed toward 9th May is perhaps a secondary consideration for those looking to prevent lawlessness (or worse) on 2nd May in the city.  A matter of focusing upon one deliberately and recklessly politically induced incendiary date at a time perhaps.  9th May however, is also a date that will have to be well policed in the city too.

The decision to send the Azov Regiment (or several hundred of them) to Odessa is interesting – so much so that having dealt with numerous telephone calls and emails from various embassies in Kyiv regarding the general situation in Odessa over the past week – and notwithstanding a light grilling face to face with Nordic Ambassadors last week too – there have now been specific questions seeking speculative answers as to why Azov.  Why not a different National Guard unit?

Indeed only speculative answers can be offered, for only those that make the decisions can answer what considerations were involved in any final decision.

That it would be Azov was forewarned before any official announcement of any National Guard deployment, or indeed the troops of Azov arriving in Odessa.

So why Azov?

Starting with the obvious, officially, Azov is now called the Special Operations Regiment.  Perhaps it is therefore simply fulfilling the role its name suggests.  Perhaps there are some unstated doubts about the abilities and/or will of the local police to cope – be such doubts misplaced or not.

Perhaps it is the easiest unit to deploy to Odessa?  Mariupol is not that far away, but far enough for a reader to ponder whether there were not closer National Guard units available.

It may be that as Azov being the only unit within the National Guard to have combat experience (not to mention being one of the first units to have key personnel (if not the unit en masse) receive US training (Op Fearless Guardian) when assimilating into the National Guard, having its own tanks and APCs, and being trained as light infantry specialising in tactical interdiction and reconnaissance).   Perhaps the extreme political recklessness of the Odessa political class prompted Kyiv to decide only a National Guard unit with experience of war would suffice.

Indeed it maybe that it was thought that the reputation of Azov would be an additional consideration for any of those tasked with creating disorder – or worse.

It may also be that Azov and its command are seen as the least likely to pay any attention to the whims and laments of the local political class that are responsible for the current situation.  Indeed the perceived ideology that enveloped a percentage of those within Azov when created is hardly attune to that of many of the local political class that have deliberately manipulated and escalated the current situation.

Perhaps the association with Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch with some reach into Odessa, was deemed appropriate.

It may also be, as the public tiff involving name calling and flying glasses of water between Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Governor Saakashvili still remains in the memory, that Mr Avakov in sending Azov to the aid of Governor Saakashvili is to be seen as something akin to offering the proverbial olive branch.

Perhaps it sends an appropriate message to those with provocative self-serving political agendas that despite a clear unwillingness to support Governor Saakashvili is taking on the local vested interests (many of which see some of the cash flows head toward Kyiv), when push comes to shove Kyiv will back him – or perhaps not.

Whatever the case, the Governor has hardly been sent Dad’s Army.

There may be other reasons, or any or all of the above, or any combination thereof, that led to the decision to send Azov.

It rarely pays to speculate (publicly) but having been privately asked to speculate, why not share (some of) those speculations?

Would anybody care to speculate whether Azov will remain until after the 9th May Victory Day events, or whether they will disappear immediately after 2nd May has passed?  As already stated, 9th May may prove to be just as potentially problematic – particularly in the south-west of the oblast.

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A tense fortnight ahead in Odessa? Yes if the politicians have anything to do with it

April 27, 2016

Ten days ago an entry appeared regarding the gaze of the reform orientated activists moving from the Odessa Prosecutor’s Office, having successfully ejected Nikolay Stoyanov from the role (albeit after he had closed a lot of cases into local vested interests and nefariousness), to that of City Hall and Mayor Trukhanov.

In short, the entry stated that flush with success at the Prosecutor’s Office in Odessa, the social activists would simulate their 24/7 protests outside City Hall.

Mayor Trukhanov (and City Hall) have aroused their ire after entirely inappropriate construction schemes on the historic Fransuski Boulevard, numerous secretive departmental meetings with no public input into decision making, abhorrent, (and in defiance of local ordnance), inconsiderate construction in the historic city centre,  the usual graft and inept use of the city budget, and notwithstanding the 20 (or more) offshore companies the Panama Papers linked to the Trukhanov name, together with his (alleged) holding a Russian passport.

As stated in that entry, the weather gets warmer and the 24/7 protests far easier to endure than was the case for the far cooler and wetter weather during the prosecutor protests.

The problem for Mayor Trukhanov therefore is that the protests are not about to disappear quickly.

Having already employed the Homo Sovieticus modus operandi of ignore, deny, deflect/distract to no avail, the entry stated – “The Homo Sovieticus doctrine regarding steps for further escalation are likely to make matters worse rather than better….”

With the second anniversary of the 2nd May tragedy, 9th May Victory Day, and Governor Saakashvili’s first anniversary on 15th May, the coming fortnight may well become quite tense. It may even boil over occasionally.  Thus escalation outside City Hall, as stated, would make matters worse rather than better in the lead up to so many difficult anniversary dates.

Having a 24/7 protest outside City Hall is clearly annoying for some within – particularly when visiting dignitaries are visibly reminded of the Mayor’s close association with organised criminality, and of the City Hall reputation for generally ignoring the rule of law and its own protocols and ordnance, notwithstanding graft and thievery.

It was with more than a little suspicion that greeted the announcement of City Hall’s politically controlled Praetorian Guard under the banner of “City Watch” which would help the police to police – despite having no legitimate powers to do so outside those granted to any and every citizen of Ukraine during the commission of crimes against a person or property.

Those protesting outside City Hall immediately perceived the “City Watch” entity as little more than a rent-a-mob/titushek/illegitimate paramilitary controlled by City Hall that would inevitably come into conflict with themselves when commanded by the politicians to do so.  The timing of the announcement therefore perceived as a shot across the protester bow then comfortably encamped outside City Hall.

However, the inevitable violence came during the night of 25/26th April.  Having gone without any incident outside the Prosecutors Office in Odessa for 17 days, in far shorter time period outside City Hall the titushek/rent-a-mob struck.

The tents were destroyed, protesters belongings were thrown into the back of a Kamaz truck, the protesters were beaten – some quite badly.

In short, the predicted escalation surrounding the events outside City Hall materialised – and will make matters worse and not better.in all probability.  There is now a further societal complaint – and one which is likely to swell rather than reduce protester numbers – that complaint being the absence of the rule of law even outside the Mayor’s office front door (which “mysteriously” are not caught on CCTV).

A reader may ponder that surely Mayor Trukhanov, albeit Homo Sovieticus to the core, would have realised that such an escalation would have significant risks – particularly as it was the beating of protesters that was the escalation that doomed former President Yanukovych and cemented the resolve of EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity.  Even Mayor Trukhanov is not that politically retarded to have failed to have learned that lesson – and even if he is, the wily, politically lithe, poisonous chamberlains that surround Mayor Trukhanov, such as Oleg Bryndak, certainly will not have forgotten.

Then again, maybe it is a double bluff in order to come out looking like the victim when indeed being the instigator.

Nevertheless, if to accept Mayor Trukhanov has successfully suppressed his Homo Sovieticus and organised crime instincts to crack the skulls of those that protest outside his place of work, then who managed to gather together approximately 40 titushek/rent-a-mob to attack the protesters and destroy their belongings in the middle of the night?

Who else gains from this escalation – and how?

The ever-slippery Oleg Bryndak was quick to publicly point the finger at Governor Saakashvili and his team.  His claim being that they need results and to force their agenda before the Governor’s anniversary this attack somehow significantly advances their cause.

Not only that, Mr Bryndak claimed that Governor Saakashvili’s people were behind an RPG-18 attack upon a Pivdennyi Bank headquarters the previous night.

Pivdennyi

Naturally a reader now asks why Pivdennyi Bank?

The blog will state only two things.  Firstly there is now a very close association between somebody in the City Hall treasury and the board of Pivdenniya Bank that appears to be questionable in its nature.  Secondly the OCCRP are looking at Pivvdenyi Bank too, although as yet they have published nothing.  The bank is very well run – but neither the OCCRP nor the interest of the Governor’s team is peaked by its daily operations.  There are other reasons.  For now, that is all that will be written regarding Pivdennyi Bank.

Whatever – when throwing accusations around, “in for a penny, in for a pound” it appears.  In short Mr Bryndak claims this is all a continuing provocation aimed at Mayor Trukhanov and City Hall by the Oblast Administration.

Also, the list of those happy to blame the Governor from the Odessa political class is also probably more notable for the few not on it, rather than the majority that are, for example the schism that exists between the reformers that identify with the Governor and the reformers that identify with Alexie Goncharenko, and those reformers that identify with yet others..  A united “reformer” front there is not.

Well perhaps, but Governor Saakashvili has just announced a major political win with President Poroshenko publicly “on board” with the Governor’s road to Romania project.  Prime Minister Groisman has announced a national customs reform programme will be unveiled within two months which seems likely to closely resemble the Governor’s project at Odessa Port.  The Odessa Port project therefore cannot be allowed to collapse under the enormous pressure of vested interests.  Even with a half-competent and reasonably honest appointment to Odessa Regional Prosecutor, and the wind would appear to be blowing (even if only slightly and temporarily) the Governor’s way.

Whether that proves to be enough for the Governor to stay, and whether his anticipated leaving be his decision or the President’s over the coming fortnight remains to be seen.  Perhaps he will stay for a while longer, for there is at least 6 months before any early Verkhovna Rada elections can be seriously contemplated.  How much does it matter?

The battlefield for Misha Saakashvili is far bigger than Odessa, and the “pocket Generals” of Odessa are unlikely to match him in a far bigger war theatre.  Both reformers and vested interests have won and lost battles in Odessa, but it is winning the war that will ultimately decide the fate of those fighting the Odessa battles.

Indeed, it will be a long war with many more battles along the way.  It appears that only the jailing of the Field Marshals of the Vested Interests will in any way change the context in which their regional “pocket Generals” fight.

So if not the Governor or his team, then who?

There are of course the vested interests and “pocket Generals”, some of whom have little liking for either Mayor Trukhanov or Governor Saakashvili – Messrs Kivalov and Skoryk, the protagonists/ideologues behind the political push for an Odessa porto franco being certainly among them, and both having a history employing titushek/rent-a-mob to further their causes.

The list does not necessarily end their either.

This is clearly a politically manipulated titushek-fronted incident.

There are others that would take no small degree of glee from putting Mayor Trukhanov under pressure.  For example former Mayor Eduard Gurvitz, friend of Sergei Kivalov, and not unknown to the Governor Saakshvili camp, has a particular and personal dislike for the man who currently runs City Hall.

There are yet others too but there is no need to go on, suffice to say that there are numerous political interests, some obvious and some less so, that could benefit from the titushek attack on the protesters.

The question therefore is discovering which one is behind this particular incident, and will it ever become known?

It seems that of the 40 people involved in the assaults on the protesters, and damage to their property, 5 were arrested by the police and criminal proceedings against them under Part 4 Article 296 of the Criminal code of Ukraine have begun.

Whether those that hired them will be identified remains to be seen.  Such people can be “professional Russians” one day, “professional animal rights” another, and “professional tree huggers” on yet another – depending upon who is paying for their muscle/actions.

It may very well be that they have no idea who ultimately sponsored/paid for their group, simply turning up, taking the money and doing their deeds.  Alternatively once their faces/names become known, it may well be that they are regularly seen in the company of certain aforementioned personalities.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, looking forward toward the Easter holiday, 2nd May anniversary, 9th May Victory Day and 15th May anniversary of Governor Saakashvili’s arrival, it may well prove to be a very testy time in Odessa – particularly so when there seems to be a good deal of deliberate political agitation currently coming from well known and old school odious personalities.

Governor Saakashvili has asked the President for the National Guard to be deployed – the National Guard has refused stating that the police should be able to cope and that the National Guard does not get involved with politically engineered shenanigans.  (A note to the National Guard, neither should the police, but rule of law must be upheld (as best they can)).

Let us hope that the National Guard is right and that the Governor’s call to the President is something of an overreaction.  Perhaps it is.  Giorgi Lortkipanidze appears a very reasonable police commander.  Neither President nor National Guard/Ministry of Internal Affairs will look particularly clever if despite the best efforts of the police matters spiral out of control, or spread over a wide geographical area however.

Whatever the case, the next week will be well spent politically attempting to defuse what has been artificially and purposely politically created after this recent and violent escalation.  It would be perhaps wise for those behind this political pantomime to remember that among any casualties that may result from their nonsense, they may ultimately be included in that number.

corrupt politician funny

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A cyber conundrum for Ukraine (and beyond)

April 3, 2016

Knowing so little about the workings of the cyber world, during a discussion initiated by a boffin from Oxford University at the recent Odessa Security Forum gathering this blog was taken into a world it hardly comprehends – at least on a technical level.

The cyber threats however are not beyond recognition even for those without any particular technical knowledge of how things are actually achieved.  Thus policy and strategy, despite no technical knowledge or ability, are not beyond the realms of pondering (even for the most technologically ignorant such as this blog).

Whether it be something approaching a temporary national convulsion as experienced by Estonia in 2007, with banks, the parliament, and broadcasters being downed, or the disruption of technical operations in conventional warfare experienced by Georgia in 2008, or the physical infrastructure damage such as that caused by the Stuxnet worm in 2011, or system wide computer malfunctions experienced by Sony in 2014, or the 2016 hack of the Ukrainian power grid, there would appear to be an empirical trend of escalation – or “pushing the envelope” to use the Tom Wolfe idiom.  (It is perhaps a blessing that so old and ignored is Ukrainian infrastructure since independence that manual systems still exist to rectify matters swiftly.)

Directly or indirectly lives may have been lost through such acts, perhaps deliberately so on the battlefield, and perhaps as a consequence of downing power grid (or other) infrastructure.

The above incidents are employed to simply display a perception of escalation – there are numerous public domain incidents that could have been cited, and undoubtedly even more incidents remaining without the public domain that could have been used that may have already led to the loss of life.

All of which leads to the especially difficult question regarding what, exactly, will be the threshold for a cyber act that is deemed an act of war?  Particularly so when such acts can be far more easily and deniably outsourced to non-State entities by the State?

Clearly those attacking any system have the advantage over those trying to defend it.  There is no such thing as 100% security – on line or off line.  Where there is a will there is a way with sufficient skill, determination, time, or money – or a combination thereof.

How do those on the receiving end recognise the difference between espionage (which all States engage in) and what is an attack (which perhaps not all States currently have the capability for) that will leave behind something nasty and that in the months ahead bring down critical defences and/or infrastructure?

Yet further, how easy would it be to misinterpret intent or miscalculate effects?  How to judge the proportionate response – at least in a timely manner?

cyber

Despite the media and some officials (who should perhaps know better) having irrevocably dubbed The Kremlin war upon Ukraine a “hybrid war”, it is not a label this blog has, does, or will employ willingly or comfortably.  It is a war on many fronts, hard and soft, diplomatic and military, economic and social etc – but none of that is new, nor historically are their simultaneous use.

That said, there is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and terrorism.  There is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and organised crime – indeed with some States it is not always easy (if at all possible) to separate the State from organised crime, or organsised crime from the State.  There is an empirical convergence of cyberspace and geopolitics.  All of which leads to the empirical convergence of the space between war and peace – and ultimately what will be deemed and act of war – or not?

There will never be an international law that bans espionage – because every State engages in it.  Domestic statute will predominantly deal with those caught engaging in espionage against the domestic interest, but will not ban the practice against others.  Espionage, war and prostitution are probably the oldest recorded professions of the human race.  All will continue to be engaged in.

Ukraine has no shortage of highly skilled IT professionals.  It is the number one IT outsourcing nation for companies within the European continent.  It has an incredibly high number of Microsoft and Apple certified programmers as well as programmers fluent in all those languages this blog simply does not care to understand (C++, Java and a dozen others no doubt).  Ergo on the other side of that IT coin, there are hundreds of thousands of hacker, black net, black hat, malware, and adware capable individuals.  If they are capable of that, they are capable of more strategic efforts too – either in the more difficult realm of defence, or in the easier realm offensive.

It is perhaps one of the few spheres where Ukraine can mitigate the Kremlin escalation dominance with equal potency.

Undoubtedly Ukraine has a policy for cyber issues.  It will thus have a strategy (although implementation will probably be problematic as Ukraine seems unable to implement most of its policies effectively).  Quite what the national definition of a cyber incident is that classifies a cyber act as an act of war, who knows – and perhaps ambiguity in the public realm is the best option anyway, for is it even possible to make strict definitions in a cyber environment where technology and complexity changes so swiftly?

With regards to Russia it perhaps matters not, for The Kremlin is already engaged in a war against Ukraine across all of the more traditional fronts.  As the war The Kremlin is waging upon Ukraine, it is clearly a war of exhaustion.  Thus as all fronts will therefore remain open for many years to come, cyber attacks will be a reoccurring theatre – yet it is a theatre that Ukraine has the ability to engage in with equal measure – putting to one side the issue of espionage.  (On the subject of espionage, Ukraine would perhaps be better working on the basis that is has no secrets such is the level of infiltration.)

One may wonder therefore whether Ukraine is proactively recruiting (either overtly or covertly) its best and brightest IT techies, and if so whether that is enough to keep Kremlin cyber attacks to a minimum in the knowledge that it is perhaps one of the few areas that it would not hold clear dominance?

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Revoking citizenship for terrorism – Ukraine

March 16, 2016

In the aftermath of the latest terrorist outrage in Paris, the French politicians decided that the removal of citizenship for those involved in and convicted of terrorist offences should be a legal option.

The UK too has raised this issue several times in the House of Commons historically.

Some time ago in Ukraine, a petition to deprive citizenship for terrorism gathered the necessary 25,000 (and more) signatures to warrant consideration by the President.

(Yes 25,000 signatures within a country of 45 million is a low bar on a national scale, however it is also quite a high bar if the issue is peculiarly local and sees no remedy from the local and/or regional government.)

For the French such a measure would require amendments to their constitution.  A quick glance at the Constitution of Ukraine would suggest the same requirement to make amendments.  Less of a problem for the UK that has no written constitution to amend.

VC

Wisely, the French sent their proposed constitutional amendments to the Venice Commission for their considered and official “opinion”.  That official “opinion” has now been published.

Within that “Opinion” particular emphasis is placed upon any such removal/revoking/stripping of citizenship being subject to both due process and proportionality – quite rightly.

“In the opinion of the Commission, the introduction of a citizenship revocation scheme and the rights attached thereto, common to all the French, origin or naturalized mononational or bi- or multinational n ‘ is not in itself contrary to international standards. It nevertheless recommends clarifying in the Constitution that the forfeiture is an “additional punishment”, applying therefore a criminal judge individualized and proportionate manner, after a fair trial.”

This naturally has ramifications for any Ukrainian decision to deprive/revoke/remove citizenship for terrorism too – particularly when considering it is an “Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO)” that legally defines the war in the occupied Donbas.

Reading between the lines, President Poroshenko clearly has no desire to provide for such a legal option and therefore the presidential response to the Ukrainian petition was to encourage the government to study international experience upon such issues.  Such advice however, may be little more than kicking the can down the road if traction is found among 300 or more MPs – for Ukraine is a parliamentary/presidential democracy and not the other way around (despite appearances).

Just how far the presidential boot has kicked the citizenship removing/revoking terrorist can down the road may very well depend upon the speed of actions and their outcomes within the French parliament following this Venice Commission “Opinion”.

It is an issue to keep an eye on from a Ukrainian perspective – as well as from the perspective of international law, regional treaties, and human rights instruments.

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