Posts Tagged ‘Turkey’

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Chernobyl reactor entombed at last

November 29, 2016

A very short entry to firstly acknowledge a major piece of engineering, and secondly the symbolic entombment of a toxic Soviet legacy within a western funded and built sarcophagus – (Sarcastic readers are now pondering whether the Verkhovna Rada should be next perhaps?)

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The full facts and figures can be found at the EBRD website, together with a video showing the final settling of the sarcophagus in place, outlining what a major feat of engineering the project has been.

Bravo to all concerned.  A truly significant achievement.

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Floating a new flotilla – The Ukrainian Navy

June 3, 2016

The internal collapse of the USSR by 1991 led to the division of the Crimean based Soviet Black Sea Fleet into The Ukrainian and Russian Federation (Black Sea) Fleets – both remaining based in Crimea.  The 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and its subsequent looting of the Ukrainian Navy ships and related equipment further reduced in size the naval units and their projection capabilities for Ukraine – notwithstanding some losses of personnel of varying experience.

The past 2 years of Russian occupation following the illegal annexation of Crimea has seen the Kremlin increase the military presence on the peninsula changing the defence and security environment for Ukraine – and some NATO members a little further afield.

Indeed nations such as Romania who are directly effected by the increasing militarisation of Crimea by The Kremlin have sought to assemble a permanent NATO naval force in the area, despite NATO ally Turkey remaining by far the largest naval presence in the region.

(A reader should note that much of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet inherited and divided between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, and the subsequent “maintenance” of these fleets by both nations over the decades that followed, left tourists in Crimea surveying a number of rusting hulks amongst the warships and auxiliary vessels year on year.)

The Ukrainian Navy (or what is left of it after looting and/or rusting away) has moved to Odessa.

The increased and energetic cooperation between Ukraine and NATO since the Crimean annexation and war in the nation’s east has more dimensions than to simply see Ukraine holding the line in The Donbas.  There appears to be a qualitative effort at pursuing NATO standards and interoperability – which is no bad thing whether Ukraine ever joins NATO or not when considering any regional “coalitions of the willing” that appear will certainly involve some NATO members.

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Last week Ukraine announced that its navy will receive/acquire 30 new vessels by 2020.

This announcement raises many questions – not only that of whether 30 vessels can actually be built/bought and equipped by 2020.

The 30 new vessels, whatever their type, class and operational remits/expectations, will have a predicted working/seafaring life measured in decades.  Therefore it is necessary to question the strategic thinking behind what will be in effect, a new navy.

The threats to Ukraine are abundantly clear at the time of the announcement last week.

Those threats will remain for at least as long as the current Kremlin occupants remain – probably for decades beyond that.  Ukraine (and the West) are engaged in a war of exhaustion with The Kremlin (on many fronts, not just militarily).  The Kremlin is betting it will not  be the first to be politically or militarily exhausted over Ukraine and its future, even if confrontation (in whichever theatre(s) – political, diplomatic, economic, military, espionage, media etc.) has to continue for decades.

It can be reasonably expected that the majority, if not all, of the 30 vessels Ukraine intends to bring into the service of its navy by 2020 (as fanciful as that number may appear on the presumption these vessels are more than canoes) have the sole purpose of countering Kremlin military projection from a reinforced and increasingly offensive (rather than purely defensive) occupied Crimean peninsula.

Ergo it is hoped that not only do these 30 vessels seek to leverage whatever advantages they may be perceived to have over what The Kremlin currently has in occupied Crimea (and the possibilities those assets now provide The Kremlin), but also that those ordering these vessels have one eye upon what The Kremlin could place on the peninsula in the years (indeed decades) ahead.  In short, what capabilities and remit will these vessels have, not only for 2020, but for 2030 and 2040 in order to remain strategically relevant?

What are the relevant weaknesses any Kremlin naval presence has in Crimea?  Do the newly announced vessels adequately exploit those weaknesses now – and will they do so in the future?  If so, for how long into the future?

What role will they effectively play in any Ukrainian military doctrine now – and in the future?

How are they to be used?  Is speed and punch-power far more important than armour and self-defence capability?  Are they primarily to defend Odessa and other Ukrainian ports, or more generally to retain control of Ukrainian waters, or have expeditionary projection ability – such as a number of landing craft, 2 of which have recently been ordered from domestic shipyards?  Are they to be able to do all or any combination thereof?

What of suitability for secondary roles – immigrants, piracy, smuggling patrols, or participation in humanitarian missions during their decades of projected seafaring?

What of technology?  How extensive will technology transfer be between Ukraine and NATO when equipping these vessels?  Compatible communication systems?  Weapons, guidance systems, defensive capabilities?  How seamless the interoperability with NATO members?

What role can these vessels play in any “coalition of the willing” upon the Black Sea (and beyond)?  How well would what will (hopefully) be delivered to the Ukrainian Navy in 2020 fit into any larger international naval force – tactically specific, or strategically?

How do the current Ukrainian civilian and military leadership see Ukraine’s role without (rather than within) the Black Sea regionally?  Is there a projection capability with the new vessels that matches any aspirations  for operations in other waters?

Within the EU Association Agreement, Ukraine has certain ratified obligations regarding the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (should the Europeans ever arrive at a common security and defence policy).  If Ukraine were to offer naval hardware and personnel to the EU (as Ukraine does to the UN with MiG helicopters and pilots) would what is offered be of any use whatsoever?

In short,  on the presumption that the new vessels will meet NATO standards when considering their projected decades of operational sea life, together with robust Ukrainian efforts to move toward NATO standards, it would be extremely foolish to bring into service 30 new vessels that don’t make the grade.

Are these new vessels ordered with tactical shortsightedness, or longsighted strategic vision – or a bit of both?

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The Trans-Caspian Corridor – Next stop Ukraine?

December 5, 2015

There is an inherent problem with taking actions that frame a nation as truculent, belligerent, unpredictable and by extension untrustworthy – that problem being that any relationship that is necessary with such a nation is purely transactional in nature, and conducted with the minimum amount of goodwill due to a strong undercurrent of competitor/adversarial discord.

“If needs must”, or “only if it can’t be avoided” policy decisions are made – and policy decisions are usually fairly long term in their nature – unless they quickly prove to be poor and counterproductive decisions.

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Trust and predictability take a long time to build with others – but only moments to break when all is said and done.  This is indeed true of the current Kremlin occupants, the “collective Putin” and the regime change that has seen Russia witness a move from “managed democracy” to authoritarianism – a clear regime change has taken place, despite the people involved remaining (more or less) the same.

Indeed as the “collective Putin” has shrunk in number, whilst institutional cronyism has insured the best and brightest get nowhere near the top, increasingly occurring and prickly domestic issues are receiving poor and untimely decisions that further compound problems.  Both blame and diversionary adventures are required, and this is clearly apparent in Kremlin domestic and foreign policy with the associated fairytale propaganda.  Everybody is to blame except those that are to blame and make the decisions.

For those that are able, avoiding as much unnecessary contact as possible is wise – certainly for the moment as evermore retarded decisions are made.  For those that saw it coming, avoidance options were set in motion prior to the current events.

Having blogged on 3rd October 2013, “I suppose we should now look toward socially engineered discontent in Crimea and other pro/ethnic Russian regions, via agent provocateur or subterfuge, during any time period of signing and ratification as a real policy option for the Kremlin.  A few years of uncharted water lays ahead – agreements signed or not.” – thus pre EuroMaidan, that the Kremlin would start societal mischief in Crimea (albeit in no way foreseeing it going as far as illegal annexation), it will have been crystal clear to those people with far better minds and much greater intellect than the author of this blog, who saw similar writing upon The Kremlin walls too.  Indeed that writing was starting to appear upon The Kremlin walls with the “Russia without Putin” protests of 2012 – perhaps before that for those with a trained eye.

As such, with the writing daubed upon the wall being read by some very clever Chinese and Central Asian people (and the Central Asians have long petitioned for logistics routes avoiding Russia since the collapse of the USSR), the Trans-Caspian route avoiding Russian territory when transporting Chinese goods to Europe that was set in motion some years back will indeed prove to be prudent.  This is not to ignore a similar route avoiding Russian territory from Baku, Tibilisi and Kars to Europe (called the TRACECA) which  is due for commissioning in 2016 when the final stretch of railway line is completed.

Whilst all international headlines were on Turkey’s downing of the Russian bomber, a logistics and transportation consortium quietly signed an agreement.  The project founders are China’s Minsheng Logistics, Georgia’s Trans Caucasus Terminals (TCT), Kazakhstan’s KTZ Express (part of the Kazakhstan Railways), Azerbaijan’s Karvan Logistics and Caspian Shipping Company with Turkey the destination – and an apparent option for Ukraine to join then serving as a transportation link to central and northern Europe.   China did make a formal invitation to Ukraine to do so in April 2015 – and Ukraine would be foolish not to take the opportunity after all.

All in all, none of this appears to be particularly good news for the Trans-Siberian railway – albeit welcome news to almost all Russian neighbours – particularly with it being a Chinese project that The Kremlin will therefore leave well alone.

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Klimkin to attend DCFTA trilateral talks 1 December

November 30, 2015

It’s been a month since the last entry was made regarding the trilateral talks between Ukraine, the EU and Russia surrounding the bilateral Association Agreement and DCFTA between Ukraine and the EU.

On 1st December another round of talks occurs some 30 days prior to the full implementation of the agreement between the EU and Ukraine – this time Ukrainian Foreign Minister Klimkin will be attending – for reasons as yet unknown (as the lest few rounds of talks have been at “expert/technical level).

Klimkin

Perhaps he is expecting one last Kremlin onslaught, one last high-stakes attempt at blackmail (of either bilateral party), or maybe some details of where The Kremlin sanctions against Ukraine will manifest – or it is probably better stated, what will actually be exempted The Kremlin sanctions so Ukraine can prepare the reciprocal actions.  Ukraine is after all, far beyond caring about the sensitivities of the Kremlin.

(It should be anticipated that if and when Ukraine gets Visa-Free short term visitor status for its citizenry, The Kremlin will cancel that status for Ukrainians in the “spirit” of reciprocity.)

As the above linked entry stated – “A large scale trade embargo toward Ukraine is all but assured by a Kremlin that perhaps still believes it can beat, threaten and coerce the current Ukrainian direction out of it – when instead with every such act, it simply beats that choice further in.

The question therefore, is how long will any such Kremlin instigated embargo upon Ukrainian goods last? The answer will be in years – but how many?

A glance at the 1990’s would suggest that as a petulant and truculent Kremlin embargoed almost all trade with the eastern European and Baltic States as they swiftly stepped out from under The Kremlin shadow, they rapidly redirected their trade flows. Naturally a free trade agreement with the EU, let alone the deep and comprehensive one that comes into force, means that Ukraine will have little option but to make the most of that opportunity (and other opportunities outside of Europe). Those certain Ukrainian businessmen that pre-war in The Donbas who would have tried to slow such a process due to their trade interests with Russia, having seen them dramatically effected by Kremlin sponsored events in the east, will also be forced to look to other markets during the (likely) forthcoming embargo years.

During the early 2000’s, similar Kremlin embargoes on Moldova and Georgia forced trade reorientation with Europe (and others) too.

The end result being that when The Kremlin relaxed and/or removed its imposed embargoes, pre-embargo trade levels never returned – with any of the nations involved.”

Is Mr Klimkin attending just in case Foreign Minister Lavrov turns up?  Thus far there is nothing in the Russian public realm that states he is attending – he probably has his hands full dealing with the latest self-inflicted Kremlin trade wounds with Turkey.  (To be sure Ukraine (and no doubt others) will do its very best to step into the Turkish trade vacuum the Kremlin sanctions and/or embargo opportunities present.)

Is Mr Klimkin’s attendance simply a symbolic statement to how seriously Ukraine takes the DCFTA issue, and with a mere 30 days prior to full implementation the Foreign Minister will attend the talks – despite there being no possible changes to the fully ratified agreements between Ukraine, the EU, and all governments of the Member States?

He is hardly attending because he happened to be in the neighbourhood (even if he did happen to be in the neighbourhood, for that’s not how these things work).

Thus it is a rather interesting announcement.

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Ukraine-Turkey FTA

March 22, 2015

Friday saw Turkish President Erdogan in Kyiv.

The usual and expected reassuring words from Ukraine’s (and Odessa’s) Black Sea neighbour were uttered:

“We support territorial and political integrity and independence of Ukraine, including Crimea. We recognize the legitimate aspirations of Ukraine to be united with Europe and support them.  

We are directly observing the situation of the Crimean Tatars who have been under constant pressure for a year.”

No unexpected deviations from the consistent diplomatic and political line Turkey has taken since Russia illegally annexed Crimea and began its war in eastern Ukraine.

Whilst in Kyiv, President Erdogan also announced $10 million in humanitarian aid, and a further $50 million to be used to reduce the Ukrainian budget deficit.  To be blunt, every little counts – for all such donations add up.

However, the most interesting comments related to the long on-going, and glacial, negotiations of a Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and Turkey.

Turkey is the second largest trade partner of Ukraine by way of individual nation (rather than collective entity like the EU).   There are at least 600 Turkish companies operating in Ukraine – with Turkcell, the Turkish telecoms operator, having just paid UAH 3 billion for 3G licenses in Ukraine.

Odessa is certainly home to quite a few of the Turkish companies, as well as a vibrant Turkish community – which is unsurprising when Istanbul is but a 70 minute flight away, the (in)famous 7KM market is a Ukrainian open air Grand Bazaar and the Turkish Onur Airline is one of the few “cheap flights” operators currently flying from Odessa year-round.

According the the Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey, “as of 1st July 2014, direct Turkish investment was $ 202.9 million in Ukraine.  Post-Maidan – (March to December 2014) – trade turnover amounted to $ 3.992 billion (- 12.3% compared with 2013).  The positive balance for Ukraine was $ 1.986.6 billion.

Ukrainian export to Turkey amounted to $ 2.989.4 billion in January-October 2014 (- 4%).  Turkish import to Ukraine amounted to $ 1.2 billion (-31.3%).

For the last three quarters of 2014, the trade volume between Ukraine and Turkey was $ 204.8 billion. (- 36.9%).  Export amounted to $ 104.6 million. (- 29.6%), import – $ 100.2 million. (- 43.1%). The positive balance – $ 4.3 million.”

According to President Erdogan “At the end of 2014, the volume of bilateral trade increased to USD 6 billion.

Whatever the correct official trade figure is, (and discounting the rampant smuggling and trading of counterfeit/fake goods in the black economies etc,) it could and should be a lot higher, considering the geographical entry points to different markets both nations present for each other on opposite sides of the Black Sea.

Thus the completion of a FTA between Turkey and Ukraine would make sense – and encourage greater (legitimate) trade.

President Erdogan went on to state “We agreed that in 2017 the figure would be 10 billion dollars, and in 2023 – 20 billion dollars.”

An enormous bilateral trade increase that is very unlikely to occur without the conclusion of a bilateral FTA in the nearest future.  Even then, to almost double bilateral trade in 2 years, and to more than treble bilateral trade in a period of 8 years, would require some serious effort, and/or cooperation in some currently sensitive regional spheres of activity – for that’s where big money bilateral deals can accommodate such major trade expectations by way of US$ value.

Thus notable civilian, military and energy cooperation projects would seem to be the most likely avenues to achieve those aspirational bilateral trade figures in the timescale cited.  The most obvious of these avenues being gas supply via Turkey from the Caspian Sea and/or Central Asia, possible participation in the TANAP pipeline, that has eventually started as of last Tuesday, the turning of existing Turkish interest in the Antonov and Motor Sich aviation abilities into tangible contracts, and utilising Ukrainian understanding of underground gas storage to benefit Turkey – to name but a few of the most obvious opportunities that present themselves.

Eventually, there is also the chance for Turkish companies to join the international throng of companies that hope to be a part of rebuilding The Donbas – when it’s safe to do so.  Few things ever pay as well as government contracts after all.

Thus, having considered all the above, if political will and political energy remains consistent, perhaps the figures quoted are not quite as fanciful as they first appear.

The first marker to look out for is clearly the swift finalising of the Turkey-Ukraine bilateral Free Trade Agreement – which is likely to cause further ire within The Kremlin, with President Putin having made clear his dislike for a Turkey-Ukraine FTA back in October 2013 – “We hope that our Ukrainian colleagues make an agreement with Russia before taking a serious decision.  In the case of an increase in volume between the EU and Ukraine, goods from Turkey and Europe will be re-exported to Russia. Then we will have to take strict measures on customs controls.

Rightly, it appears Ukraine, having ratified the DCFTA with the EU, is no longer going to allow Kremlin sensibilities to prevent the conclusion of the Turkey-Ukraine bilateral FTA any longer.  The whole FTA negotiation business between Ukraine and Turkey having dragged on since 24th January 2011, it’s time to finish it.

(A FTA with Israel that was also put on hold a few years ago, must surely now be rising up the Ukrainian trade “To do” list as well – together with several FTAs currently at various stages of negotiation.)

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A 3G update – Ukraine

January 17, 2015

Following on somewhat nicely from yesterday’s Turkey-orientated entry, a return to a mid-November 2014 entry that was published relating to the anticipated 3G tender and licensing.  An entry that attempted to highlight just how critical to Ukraine a transparent tender and subsequent licensing will be, considering the number of large foreign international corporations looking closely at the processes and outcomes – regardless of having no interest in this particular tender.

Yesterday saw the passing of tender deadlines, with 4 tenders submitted.

According to the National Commission for the State Regulation of Communications, it has received tenders from the 3 best known mobile telephone operators in Ukraine; Kyivstar, MTS Ukraine and Life (owned by Astelit), as well as UkrTower, a wholly owned subsidiary of Turkish provider Turkcell.  Turkcell is also a major shareholder in Life/Astelit, together with Rinat Akhmetov’s SCM.

Fair enough.

What does stand out is the Turkcell/UkrTower bid, not only because it is a wholly owned Turkish operator, but because Turkcell/UkrTower is predominantly an infrastructure builder/operator.  The UkrTower/Turkcell bid making clear it would create an infrastructure that could be shared by all licensed Ukrainian operators – presumably at a cost.

Thus, tenders are closed with entirely, and partly owned foreign interest, together with that of domestic interest.  As stated in the entry published in November 2014:

“As such, one of the very first public and international tests Ukraine will face will be the national G3 tender and licensing, due to take place in January 2015.

Quite simply – Ukraine has to get it right!”

We will soon see if the entire process will go through transparently and without even a whiff of nefariousness.  The signals it will send are important.

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Talking Turkey

January 16, 2015

There has been remarkably little said in the public realm by Turkey regarding the on-going events in Ukraine, or over the fate of the Crimean Tatar and the Crimean peninsula, a peninsula over which Turkey has far greater historical and long-lasting ties than Russia, it has to be said.

That is not to say there has not been direct and pointed diplomacy behind the curtain – but the public realm is where most people dwell and ingest their information.

However, yesterday, both Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had public things to say about Ukraine and Russia – two nations with which Turkey has good relations at every level.

First and foremost, both Turkish leaders reaffirmed the Turkish position regarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine.  The illegal annexation of Crimea will not be recognised and a blind eye to Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine will not be turned – quite rightly.

Further, Turkey clearly raised its displeasure at the current Crimean authorities actions toward the Tatar.

“We even presented two lists. One of them had the names of about 100 people who were punished for meeting with Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev. The other had the names of those who have gone missing, who have been murdered, and those who have been assaulted or threatened.

We regret to observe that up to date none of these promises have been fulfilled. Russia is our friend, but if it is making mistakes, we have point it out to them.

However, I would like to see it in deeds.”

Not something that it appears Turkey is likely to change it view over – new Russia/Turkey gas pipeline, or not.

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Indeed, with regard to the Gazprom proposed Russia/Turkey pipeline, the Turksih Prime Minister stated “We hope that Ukraine will continue to be a transit country“, whilst making clear the Turkish nation will continue to pursue its energy policy of diversification seeking supplies from Iran and Azerbaijan.  Understandable when almost 60% of Turkish gas imports are already coming from Russia – some via Ukraine.

With both the EU and Turkey looking toward Azerbaijan as one of a number of alternative suppliers to Russian energy – how long before Kremlin inspired destabilisation materialises in Azerbaijan to make it appear an unreliable supplier?

Who would be surprised if and when that manifests itself over the next few years?

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