Posts Tagged ‘US’

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Russia sanctions – VR sets a poor example

July 12, 2016

With western sanctions on both sides of the Atlantic regarding Russia set to continue into early 2017, where after a reader may rightly ponder the ability of the EU Member States to maintain solidarity (discounting specifically Crimean sanctions) in what will be a far more difficult political climate, Ukraine will be forced to try and up its diplomatic game among the EU nations in an effort to keep them in place.

It will be a tremendously difficult task in the absence of Minsk being fully implemented, or an exceptionally serious uptick in death, destruction and violence in the war involving ordnance and equipment subject to the Minsk agreements – or mass civilian casualties.

This will require some guile, deft diplomacy, and perhaps some pleading in certain capitols once 2017 arrives.

Ukraine therefore must lead by example and remain steadfast in its own relations with the Kremlin.  Ukrainian sanctions therefore cannot be seen to wobble, become an issue of unnecessary uncertainty, or be allowed to be seen to fall to a place far from the top of the domestic political agenda.   Ukrainian sanctions, no differently to western sanctions, once they were imposed are problematic in their removal unless achieving and/or having successfully protected the interests over which they were initiated in the first place.

Everybody understands the reciprocity issues, and everybody understands the difficulties of sanction removal once initiated.

It is therefore incumbent upon Ukraine to be seen to lead the way on sanctions towards Russia.  It cannot expect others to sanction, and continue those sanctions, if Ukraine becomes indecisive, actually wobbles, or is perceived to demote their value in any matters “political”.

The almost certain continuous Crimean sanctions aside, those sanctions instigated with regard to the occupied Donbas will be the first (albeit the only for the foreseeable future) to be removed – or collapse – within the circle of western powers.

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12th July saw sanctions proposals toward Russia submitted by President Poroshenko, backed National Security and Defence Council, and after due consideration by the appropriate Verkhovna Rada committee recommending the proposals be supported head to the parliamentary legislative floor – and fail to make the parliamentary agenda – twice.

The first Verkhovna Rada vote managed to attract 209 votes in favour.  The second, 215.  Neither vote coming anywhere near close to the 226 minimum requirement to put the matter upon the Verkhovna Rada agenda – let alone actually vote upon the substance of the Bill.

If the national politicians expect the Foreign Ministry and its civil servants within embassies and consuls located in currently sanctioning nations to have any hope of playing their part most effectively in international sanctions continence, then it is surely incumbent upon domestic parliamentarians to at the very least put this Bill on sanctions upon the debating and voting agenda of the Verkhovna Rada when it was submitted – whether they subsequently adopt it, amend it, or ultimately reject it in any vote to adopt it as legislation.

Perceptions and framing matter, thus it is a policy area that Ukraine simply has to be seen to lead and remain steadfast over to remain credible within other capitols.  To simply fail to put this Bill upon the national legislative agenda when at war with Russia, and simultaneously lobbying western capitols to maintain sanctions, is a matter that will have to be corrected – swiftly.

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Trends within the ministerial boiler rooms – Ukraine

January 21, 2016

One of the side effects relating to the aftermath of EuroMaidan/Revolution of Dignity (choose your own widely used label of the two) was the willingness, through want of fear for themselves, of the established political class to swiftly try and dilute their number sufficiently enough to give the perception of change by sucking into their respective party ranks civil society members, journalists, activists and the intelligentsia.

This was accompanied by foreign (now Ukrainian) citizens, and Ukrainian citizens living and/or working abroad too.

One strata of the political central governance structures to see a fairly significant infusion of foreign, (now Ukrainian) citizens and Ukrainian citizens with experience within and significant exposure to “western systems/methodology” was that of the “Deputy Minister” across the Ukrainian ministries.

It is a policy that rarely gets mentioned, though it is difficult to find a Ukrainian ministry that does not have a (fairly) young, driven, western experienced Deputy Minister – normally fluent in English and keen to bring the best of their acquired “western” experience to their respective ministry.

To be blunt, it was – and remains – a good policy to have such driven Deputy Ministers within all the ministries who at the very least prevent ministerial regression, if not always being able to force progress.

Problems with this policy however, relate to the longevity any such Deputy Minister will remain in post.

All patriotically answered the call of Ukraine.  All gave up, or at least took an extended sabbatical, from what were better paid careers in doing so.  There is little doubt that few – if any – answered the cries of their homeland with the intention of entering Ukrainian politics as a career change.  Undoubtedly most answered that national call to prevent State collapse and do their patriotic bit for State building in line with the western models they lived and/or worked within – and always intended to return to.

Depending upon which Deputy Minister one may speak to, some decided to take a year out and reassess the situation thereafter, others two years out.  Almost all express an intention return to their careers after answering the nation’s call.

It is now more than a year since many of these Deputy Ministers have been in post.  Many whilst rightly proud of preventing a failed State and forging “western ties” and sewing the seeds of institutional culture within their ministries, are also privately as frustrated with the pace of reform as any reform activist.  Thus when it comes to assessing what they have achieved, what is still to do and the likely speed at which it will actually be done, difficult and thorny personal decisions are now having to be addressed.   To stay a little longer – or to go as planned? After all, those colleagues they left behind in their previous (mostly western) careers are progressing up the corporate career ladder in their absence.

This not to mention the fact that the legitimate salary of a Ukrainian Deputy Minister is a substantial pay cut for most.

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With all eyes looking toward the reshuffle within the Cabinet of Ministers in the immediate future and the changes that will occur, it will be easy to miss the departure of the young, driven, western experienced and orientated Deputy Ministers, most of whom have and had little interest in a political career, but a desire to build the State from within the ministerial boiler rooms where creative thinking, planning, strategies and tactics are thrashed out.

With the President and Cabinet of Ministers having chosen the slow evolutionary reform path over the swift revolutionary reform path that would have fitted the “career breaks” of the youthful western orientated and experienced Deputy Ministers, the reversal of the “brain drain” witnessed during 2014/2015 will soon be again reversed as the resumption of suspended “western” careers occur.

Already the resignations are beginning.

Thus far First Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Vladimir Shulmeystera and First Deputy Head of the National Bank of Ukraine, Alexander Pisaruk, have now been joined by Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Ruslan Korzh, and Deputy Defense Minister, Yuri Husyev..

Mr Korzh summarised the position quite clearly in his resignation text – “Like most of my colleagues, I have come into the power from business, considering this step as voluntary aid to the country. Today, I am ready to go back to the real business.”

It is sadly, a trend that will probably continue – and one that will remove much of the energetic and western experienced talent that was domiciled within the “Deputy Minister” strata.

That they begin to leave their posts with Ukraine in a far better position than when they put their careers on hold is a credit to them – that Ukraine is nowhere near where it could be after their volunteerism says much more about the Ukrainian political colleagues they leave behind (and perhaps is part of the reason for their return to suspended “western” careers).

Nevertheless, when new Ministers are appointed in the Cabinet reshuffle, it would be wise to keep an eye on the calibre of replacements who sit behind them in the ministerial boiler room too – for they have in some cases of far higher quality than the Minister.

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Finding 300 votes before the month end – Decentralisation Ukraine

January 14, 2016

Noting the renewed momentum in Minsk II rhetoric, as the last entry highlighted, as well as some notable occurrences both within the Kremlin Contact Group line-up, and the rising death toll of “problematic prominent individuals” among the “People’s Republics”, it would seem both necessary and appropriate to dedicate a few lines to the unreliable Verkhovna Rada and its ability to garner 300 (or more) votes that will see through changes to the Constitution of Ukraine providing for decentralisation of power throughout the nation – and enable the “Special Law” for the currently occupied Donbas when it comes to governance therein.

As stated in a July 2015 entry, when the draft constitution amendments passed through the Verkhovna Rada initially garnering 288 votes, the question would be whether another 12 or more votes could be found to enable decentralisation – and the “Special Law” for the occupied Donbas.

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The next (and final if successful) vote for the decentralisation focused constitutional amendments is to occur sometime during 26th – 29th January.

A failure to see the constitutional amendments reach the required 300 (+) votes will have serious repercussions for a nation now conditioned to expect decentralistion of power to their local governance structures – as well as the responsibility and accountability that goes with it.  It will also have serious repercussions as far as Ukraine being seen to adhere to the Minsk II obligations it was forced to undertake.

Yet there are issues within the constitutional amendments that do not sit well with many parliamentarians – not simply the much cited occupied Donbas”Special Law” issue.

Further tinkering with the proposed constitutional amendments would be exceptionally difficult.  Having passed the initial Verkhovna Rada vote (without reaching a constitutional majority) the amendments then went to the Constitutional Court to insure they are constitutional – where they got “the nod”.  Thus any tinkering now would indicate further deliberation by the Constitutional Court to insure that “nod” still applies.

Having managed to garner only 288 votes at the last reading of the amendments, and with the Verkhovna Rada becoming much more dysfunctional and unpredictable since the July vote last year, what are the chances of securing a constitutional majority within the next fortnight before the vote occurs?

How does the Verkhovna Rada voting math stand up when no text can be easily changed in any proposed amendment to eek out another vote in favour?  Those who did not vote in favour last time, for whatever reason, are presented with nothing different.  How to persuade them to take a different view?

It is of course possible to simply buy, through illicit payment of one form or another, the vote of some Verkhovna Rada deputies.  It is also possible to coerce their vote too – far too many have something nefarious in their past that the new anti-corruption institutions could be directed toward.

There are then the “party whips” who will undoubtedly be required to “whip” furiously.  Indeed, President Poroshenko’s “enforcer” Ihor Kononenko is already very active among the “Solidarity/Block Poroshenko” ranks.

Nevertheless, bribery, coercion, effective legitimate party “whipping”/discipline across all (willing/supportive) political parties will not necessarily reach the required number of 300 (plus).  Even with such an enormous amount of political energy spent, and no doubt significant external diplomatic weight applied, the math would suggest it will be necessary to insure the maximum attendance of MPs – be they sick, lame, (or as too many parliamentarians appear to be part-time), lazy.   Only those recently deceased or currently in jail can be discounted (for obvious reasons) if the constitution majority is to be successfully assured – that or a major U turn by any previously unsupportive political party changing its view en masse.

Can the Verkhovna Rada gather 300 votes?  Yes.  Will it gather 300 votes?  Probably.  Is it a done deal?  Far, far from it at the time of writing.

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Defence Ministry “rightsizing” – Ukraine (And what comes next?)

August 10, 2015

Following (almost) seamlessly on from yesterday’s entry relating to the call from the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov to move the military to an entirely contract basis post haste – and perhaps reading between the lines his desire to shift the National Guard from within his ministry to that of the Ministry of Defence, (along with all associated headaches that come with a National Guard comprised of illegitimate militias and quasi-political movements that were thus rapidly legalised under the National Guard banner to install some form of chain of command) – Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak has announced the completion of “rightsizing” the Defence Ministry.

Defence Minister Poltorak

Defence Minister Poltorak

The Defence Ministry is about to cut 145 posts, and a further existing 140+ senior posts will be occupied by currently serving ATO personnel.

Further the Defence Minister intends to personally deal with a lot of slackers and incompetents amongst the Defence Ministry and the General Staff – “The issues of forecasting and long-term planning, implementing systemic changes in activities did not become the priorities for some senior officials, this hard work is being replaced by a permanent monitoring of the situation in a particular area of work. The Defense Ministry is aware of the risks associated with such a state of affairs. In every case of improper performance of duties, I will make the corresponding decisions, including those dealing with personnel.” 

Clearly it is thought that those who have served on the “eastern front” are far more focused and clear eyed about what is needed and how, what is effective and what is not, and how to overcome the hierarchical stupidity and implement changes in spite of entirely inappropriate and ineffective command.

So be it.

However, of those 140+ ATO personnel, undoubtedly some will be assimilated as a way of negating their otherwise difficult and prickly existence outside of any State command chain.  Not a policy, it has to be said, that is anything particularly unusual in periods of democratic transition and/or sovereign territorial threats.

This in turn raises the question of whether the military is and/or will remain a institution that will reinforce democracy or become an institution that overpowers/overly influences  a weak civilian leadership.  Transitions are by their nature of flux, somewhat unpredictable.

A watchful eye from the external institutions and nations attempting to assist in the reshaping of the Ukrainian military is required – NATO, the US, Canada, UK et al, – notwithstanding an equally watchful internal eye with regard to those recruited/transfered into an exclusively contract army by both the SBU and Defence Ministry.

Not only is there the pervasive (and continuing) infiltration of Kremlin agents into all Ukrainian institutions, the military being no exception, but there is also the cancerous and rebellious issue of the more swivel-eyed of nationalists with an agenda that does not match that of Kyiv – nor is it an agenda especially conducive to a robustly civilian controlled military any democracy demands.

Rightly – and even pre-Crimea – much external attention has and continues to be paid to the non commission ranks within the Ukrainian military.  Without effective, well trained and experienced NCOs, and the meritocracy career ladder that accompanies it, no military can function effectively or efficiently.

The question that then arises is whether an accompanying change in the perception and attitude of the Ukrainian officer corps (which historically is both by and large aloof and incompetent) toward the NCOs will accompany the NATO/western drive and targeted training to make the NCOs the rightful backbone of the Ukrainian military.

A long haul with regard to attitudes perhaps – or perhaps not if the 140+ ATO sourced senior ranks manage to manifestly change the historical culture of the Ukrainian military.

Nevertheless, with the Interior Minister calling for a fully contract military immediately, the Defence Minister announcing “resizing”, and a considerable amount of on-going input from NATO with regard to command and control, complementing simultaneous Ukrainian military training by the US, UK, Polish, and Canadian armed forces, some form of effective reform (rather than deform) seems likely should all parties concerned stay the progressive course and prevent any roll back.

Indeed, once Ukraine can irrefutably demonstrate it has consistent and robust civilian control over its military, and its military can prove beyond reasonable doubt that it has robust command and control, as well as swift and effective discipline within its ranks, we may perhaps then witness a non-embargoed Ukraine actually obtain “western weaponry” overtly sold/supplied to it – irrespective of any Kremlin grumbling that would undoubtedly follow when that (eventually) happens.

What would be interesting is the GAP analysis Ukraine has from where it is now, as to where it wants to/has to be militarily – particularly so compared to any GAP analysis of NATO or the individual nations supplying training.  After all the “Minsk” clock still ticks downward toward to end of year deadline for the agreement to be fully implemented – after which the agreement is effectively “off” per the expired document deadline.

Undoubtedly the Ukrainian leadership continues to make very unpopular decisions domestically in order to tick as many Minsk boxes as possible to facilitate the US, Germany and France firmly pointing the finger at the Kremlin when it comes to those responsible for the (long predicted) agreement failure – thus also providing solid ground to renew European sanctions at the end of January 2016 too.

Whatever the future holds however, once The Defence Minister finishes acting as an enema within the Defence Ministry and General Staff, he should perhaps continue to clean out the rest of the second-rate within officer corps too.

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