Thursday, January 27, 2005

Moving and all

We are moving right now to our apartment across the river from here. That means I will probably be non-existent here for the next few days.

There is a lot of interesting stuff going on right now both here and in Russia. Tymoshenko, the AARP age people in Russia protesting the loss of benefits, and others.

Some analysts, for example, are looking for conspiracies behind the protests in Russia right now. Shades of the Orange Revolution. I'm sure they will find them. Reminds me of this:

I saw last night upon the stair,
A little man who was not there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish that man would go away.

But they will have to wait until we get settled into the new digs.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Business fears in Russia

Here's more on the same subject, Chubais Blasts State for Climate of Fear: "Unified Energy Systems CEO. Chubais is credible on business issues though he may have been discredited in the minds of some for his economics.

Anatoly Chubais lashed out at Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's government last
week for not addressing what he called the worst crisis of confidence for businesses 'in 15 years.'

Aggressive tax probes and a lack of predictability by officials has created 'tensions' that must be alleviated for businesses to continue to develop, Interfax quoted Chubais as saying at the Council on Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship's first meeting of the year."

This will help business?

The tax authorities are at it again in Russia. Japan Tobacco Hit With $85M Back Tax Bill

Japan Tobacco International, one of the largest foreign investors in Russia, said Friday it had been served an $85 million bill for back taxes and fines, the latest in a string of similar claims against major companies.

The authorities say it is a routine audit but for the year 2000. Will there be more
routine audits for the later 3 years?

This seems to be happening with more frequency and can't help but hurt when companies start rethinking their investments in Russia or other companies pass on it.

More on Kremlin insularity

This article, Law 122 Is Kremlin's Catch-22, says quite a bit about a Kremlin and Duma out of touch. An excerpt:

The Kremlin is trapped in a Catch-22 of its own making. This became deadly evident last week with the nationwide wave of protests against the notorious Law 122, the law that strips millions of poor Russians of the little support they previously received from the state.

Yet the trap was imminent. It has been described on thousands of pages of textbooks that outline the pitfalls of nontransparent, corporate-type regimes with corrupt and closed bureaucracies.

The law was developed and written by bureaucrats barely familiar with everyday life in the nation they believe they govern.

They live in tightly guarded compounds on Rublyovskoye Shosse and in Arkhangelskoye, paid for by the property department of the presidential administration. They dash to their offices in state-provided foreign cars and have no knowledge of Moscow's traffic jams and skyrocketing gasoline prices, let alone the price for the Metro or the bus. They receive free medical care in special well- equipped, Kremlin-run clinics, and in case they get really sick, they are taken to Germany or Switzerland, for which they don't pay out of pocket, either. On top of that, in accordance with the new law on public administration, which was passed at
exactly the same time as Law 122, they enjoy salaries at least 20 times the national average. Translated into market prices, the compensation packages of high-ranking bureaucrats come to at least $130,000 and as much as half a million dollars a year, compared to an average income of $6,000 in the nation's most well-to-do city, Moscow.

Life intrudes again but the revolution goes on

It turned out that the inauguration was scheduled for the only time this weekend that my wife and I couldn't go. So we weren't there.

There is however a good posting on it at Les Sabote.

This inauguration may seem to put an end to the revolution and the tents will come down now and people will get back to their lives again, those who haven't already. But in a number of ways, the revolution is not over yet. There will still need to be made a great effort to root out what has caused the problems all these years--corruption. And it will need the efforts of everyone because the reality is that corruption is seen as a bad thing by people only if they do not benefit from it themselves. But corruption is a problem at all levels here, not just on the level of top government officials. The point is that Ukrainians are used to getting personal attention from government officials on their problems if, that is, they can pay the price for it. It will be a sobering day when they find out that the corruption finger also points back to themselves--if they see it. I hope they do. It will make things better for everyone.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

So it all was CIA and MI6

This is an interesting article, The man who survived Russia's poison chalice, that says the people were saved by the CIA and MI6. That is exactly what the Russians have been saying and so has Yanukovych. But it all sounds a little too convenient for me.

For one thing, the elections were important but not all that important for Washington and London to devote all that many intelligence assets here to deal with it. Were there people from the CIA here and other Western intelligence agencies? Absolutely. Were they here in force in a planned move to help the people overthrow their corrupt government? That is where it sounds too unreal for me.

No one thought this would happen, not even the most optimistic sounding of the analysts. That it did happen, that people took to the streets was a surprise to everybody who had studied the situation. To think that the CIA and MI6 would devote any significant people here other than their normal contingent is to have them devote those assets on the outside chance that something might happen that most people said wouldn't happen. The fact is that they have not had a good record predicting recently. And these guys don't have any closer inside track to the future by training or by anything else than a lot of other highly qualified people do. They are highly trained and highly competent but they are human beings after all. I think it is highly likely they were as surprised as everybody else.

When it happened, though, I have no doubt they got some satellite time and started to follow things a bit more closely than they had been. (Do you really think that satellite time was waiting for them to use if they needed it? That sort of thing is not unlimited and it is being used extensively in other areas of the world.) But I don't think they were in front of events at all. I think they were behind them like everyone else.

This one is interesting:

As support for Mr Yushchenko grew daily, the Yanukovich-Kuchma faction became more desperate. They decided to transport miners from Donetsk on the Russian border and diehard Yanukovich supporters to Kiev to counter-demonstrate the students. The intention was clear - they would spark a conflict and violence and crack down on the peaceful Orange Revolutionaries. The fighting would not just
crack skulls, it would lead to a suspension of Parliament, of the elections, a one-year state of emergency and the continued rule of President Kuchma.

Then a curious thing happened. As the miners gathered in Donetsk, free vodka was handed out. They got vodka on their coaches and trains, and they were met in Kiev by trucks loaded with crates of vodka. By the time they had been in Kiev for an hour or so, most were paralytically drunk.

"No, the vodka was not a coincidence," said Alex Kiselev, a close adviser to Yushchenko rival Yanukovich, glumly. "We realised what was going on too late. It wasn't illegal but it was damned clever. It was a trick and we were dumb enough to fall for it, we shot ourselves in the foot with that one. It was all very scripted. There
were hundreds of Western agents in Ukraine."

The last sentence makes a claim I don't believe at all. Resources are allocated based on likely outcomes not on speculative outcomes, weighing allocation against any potential benefit. The case would have to be made for those hundreds of agents to be sent to Ukraine in the face of all the effort internationally that is being put into finding and rooting out terrorists. For what benefit? Would Langley listen to an appeal even if that appeal were from a station chief, for lots of people and assets to be devoted to the Ukraine especially in the current climate? Let's face it, Ukraine is not and was not the number one item on the US's or anyone else's agenda, for that matter. It was on the list but other things were and still are more important, terrorism being the big one. (This is even important for European intelligence agencies notwithstanding what their governments might say.)

The insinuation in that quote is that it was Western intelligence agents that sent the truck of vodka. But this is looking at it from where we are now not from where things stood at that time. The argument is that Yanukovych's miners would make their way down to the square and start the fighting but that the vodka stopped them. Is it all that clear that vodka would stop such a thing? Might it not actually make things worse, raising the risk that there would be confrontation? It only looks like a stroke of genius perpetrated by some very clever operatives because nothing happened. There were no provocations.

I tell you my problem with the whole "the-CIA-did-it" belief and it has colored my point of view here. It is that it makes what are otherwise, fairly normal human beings into super clever, all-knowing creatures who go around from one success to another, always in the shadows, never detectable. That is not any kind of people I know.

It is a lot like the newspaper that my uncle used to read from a fairly right wing organization. One cover story when I was younger was on the assassination of J. Edgar Hoover. The whole gist of the article was that those clever Commies got J. Edgar with an undetectable poison. (See if you can spot the obvious problem.) But that group was always on the case of big communist conspiracies that were among us sapping our will or killing our people and being so clever about it to never be caught.

Human beings make mistakes and they are not all-knowing. And in government and even with the highly trained and competent people in these agencies, decisions are made and resources allocated on the basis of their best information. And that information can be and, more often than we like to think, is wrong. That means a lot of scrambling to catch up and a lot of doing things and making decisions on the fly.

We'll see how this all comes out later as the stories begin to come out more and more but, until we do, I would take this article with one very large grain of salt.

Friday, January 21, 2005

West or north?

There have been some reports that Yuschenko will make his first visit to Brussels to address the EU. This is reported as an intentional snub of Putin for his involvement with Yanukovych in the first elections.

And it has also been reported that Yuschenko will make his first visit to Moscow and then will fly from there to Brussels. This move would not be interpreted as a snub of Putin for his interference.

So which one will it be? West or north? (Moscow is north of here.)

I think it will be north. Yuschenko said it earlier and I think he meant it then and still means it. He has had a clear sense of what is at stake with relations between Russia and Ukraine throughout the elections; he is a realist in that. So I think he will go north first. There are very few reasons of any value to Ukraine not to.

Divided Europe

Here's an interesting article, MSNBC - A House Divided on a split between the new members of the EU, Poland and Lithuania being the most prominent.

I posted on this earlier, but some in the EU have told these two to stop shilling for the US in Ukraine. The article ends:

For New Europe, the experience has been unsettling. "It's difficult for Polish politicians to have to choose between loyalty to the United States and NATO and solidarity with the EU. They're only now realizing that the West doesn't always speak with one voice," says Zdzislaw Mach, director of the Center for European Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow. Which voice Europe will use when it finally speaks to Yushchenko is still unclear. Yet many EU countries understand only too well the struggle to emerge from a communist past. Whether old or new, it will be difficult for Europe to abandon a Ukraine so tantalizingly close to joining it on the other side of totalitarian rule. That fact alone may sooner or later force the two sides to bridge their differences.

The CIA thinks that the EU won't be around in the next few years. If they are right on this, and they haven't been right on a number of important things recently, this might be one reason, the split between Old Europe and New Europe. And interestingly enough, that split is really over America-- and it might affect Ukraine.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The ruling

The Supreme Court today rejected Yanukovych's final appeal after listening to arguments until 3 a.m. this morning. This was expected because of the Court's order to publish the results of the election a couple of days ago.

Members of the Supreme are purported to have been infuriated at the arguments made by Yanukovych's attorneys. Apparently, the arguments were more heat and heated than logical or legal. And it couldn't have helped that they brought in some Swiss attorneys to make a part of their case either. Because of the fact that they didn't speak Russian or Ukrainian, any argument from them couldn't have come over any better than a lecture.

At one point, one of Yanukovychs' lawyers called a court ruling stupid or something along those lines. When the Chief Justice told him he could not say that, the lawyer said that the court didn't understand him and that he didn't mean anything by it.

In court of course, it is not what you meant that is the issue, but what the judges understand. I can't beleive it to be helpful to your clients case to have a judge beleive that you called a ruling of his stupid or idiotic or something like that. They might have gotten away with that sort of thing when rulings could be bought or judges could be intimidated. But things have changed, at least for this court and for a lot of other things. The lawyers for Yanukovych haven't realized it yet or at least the extent of it. I guess having been able to exercise all that power for so long has made the world look different for them. But their little world has changed whether they see it or not.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Crimean Tatars

Here's an interstice article about some of the problems the Tatars face in the Crimea--RFE/RL: Three challenges for the Crimean Tatars.

I don't know much about them other than that they are descendents of the Golden Horde, the Mongols who ruled in that region for a period of time.

The Crimean peninsula has a certain amount of autonomy from Kiev. It was granted as a sort of compromise when Ukraine declared independence from Moscow. That was done to allay some of the ethnic problems that would have erupted had they not granted that autonomy.

Here's an excerpt:

The Crimean Tatars overwhelmingly backed the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, but in the wake of that victory, they face three challenges to their national aspirations: first, the probability of increased Russian meddling on the peninsula, second, the likelihood of growing Islamic fundamentalism there, and third, the possibility of declining support by Western governments that now have a government in Kyiv they like.

The Crimean Tatars face increased Russian meddling in Crimea, some of it by the local Russian community but much of it clearly orchestrated by Moscow. Ethnic Russians -- who constitute the majority of the peninsula's population -- voted overwhelmingly against Viktor Yushchenko.

Some of the more extreme ethnic Russian opponents of the Orange Revolution there organized themselves as Cossack detachments to defend against what they said were Crimean Tatar threats, according to, and others urged a vote to put Crimea under Russian control, reported.

Even though the Ukrainian presidential election is now over and tempers may have cooled somewhat, Moscow's interests in maintaining its naval base there and in continuing to use Crimea as a counterweight to Kyiv make it likely that Russia will attempt to exacerbate problems there, a development that is likely to hurt rather than help the Crimean Tatars.

The Russian base is in Sevastopol in the southeastern end of the peninsula. (Near the site of the famous charge of the Light Brigade, Balaclava.) It is the only warm water military port Russia has so it is a significant strategic asset. There is some talk about relocating it to Russian territory in the Azov Sea but they would have to build a base and harbor from scratch in that area. That is something that makes it unlikely.

Most of the Tatars were shipped off to Tajikistan by the Soviets. There is a movement afoot to come back. My wife and I visited the area and we met a man on a train who was from Tajikistan and a Tatar relocated to the Crimea. He was in charge of an office that worked with Tatars coming back to the Crimea.

It was interesting to talk to him. He was a Tatar and loyal to his group, but he still had a certain amount of loyalty to the Soviet Union. This was odd to me because of the forced move of the Tatars by the Soviet Union out of the Crimea. He was one that had come back from Tajikistan to his homeland in the Crimea. When we spoke to him, he kept making the point that all were equal in the Soviet system. That is one you hear from a lot of older people who lived during the Soviet period. All were equal no matter the nationality in the Soviet Union.

When I suggest to them that most of the party positions were held by ethnic Russians, they see the point but continue to make the same claim nonetheless. (And pointing to Stalin, a Georgian, and Kruschev, a Ukrainian, always serves to make teh counter case.) But my point is still true.

In any event, this article describes what might turn out to be a problem for Ukraine and Yuschenko.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Life and work go on

These days have been very busy for me trying to catch up with work and all. And life keeps going on regardless.

I have just been too busy to post anything for the past couple of days. It does look like the inauguration will take place this weekend. I will be going to it with my wife. We'll report on it when we get back.

More of the picture falls into place

This is an article, A Crackdown Averted: How Top Spies in Ukraine Changed the Nation's Path, about the security services role in the Orange Revolution. An excerpt:

As protests here against a rigged presidential election overwhelmed the capital
last fall, an alarm sounded at Interior Ministry bases outside the city. It was just after 10 p.m. on Nov. 28.

More than 10,000 troops scrambled toward trucks. Most had helmets, shields and clubs. Three thousand carried guns. Many wore black masks. Within 45 minutes, according to their commander, Lt. Gen. Sergei Popkov, they had distributed ammunition and tear gas and were rushing out the gates.

Kiev was tilting toward a terrible clash, a Soviet-style crackdown that could have brought civil war. And then, inside Ukraine's clandestine security apparatus, strange events began to unfold.

While wet snow fell on the rally in Independence Square, an undercover colonel from the Security Service of Ukraine, or S.B.U., moved among the protesters' tents. He represented the successor agency to the K.G.B., but his mission, he said, was not against the protesters. It was to thwart the mobilizing troops. He warned opposition leaders that a crackdown was afoot.

Simultaneously, senior intelligence officials were madly working their secure telephones, in one instance cooperating with an army general to persuade the Interior Ministry to turn back.

The officials issued warnings, saying that using force against peaceful rallies was illegal and could lead to prosecution and that if ministry troops came to Kiev, the army and security services would defend civilians, said an opposition leader who witnessed some of the exchanges and Oleksander Galaka, head of the military's intelligence service, the G.U.R., who made some of the calls.

Far behind the scenes, Col. Gen. Ihor P. Smeshko, the S.B.U. chief, was coordinating several of the contacts, according to Maj. Gen. Vitaly Romanchenko, leader of the military counterintelligence department, who said that on the spy chief's orders he warned General Popkov to stop. The Interior Ministry called off its alarm.

Some of the help we were aware of. The SBU had recorded the conversations of Yanukovych's lieutenants about fixing the elections and made those public. But the rest of this was not known.

This might go a long way to answering why the troops stood down when everyone knew that a strike was afoot. We all waited for it but it never happened.

UPDATE: I would never have thought I could say this about a successor agency to the KGB, but after reading this article more closely, I think it is clear that there were members of the SBU that were heroes and patriots. That would be heroes with a capital "h." They saved lives and probably the revolution.

This, I think confirms what I have been arguing all along, that the revolution depended on people to stand up in the right places when it counted. The very fortunate thing is that they did.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

An interesting analysis

In this article--Between Regimes: The Relationship Between Internal & External Factors. James SHERR. Zerkalo Nedeli On The WEB--the author discusses some of the problems that Yuschenko confronts.

There are some problems with it:

--He says Yuschenko may take office but that doesn't mean he has power. I think the revolution showed he has power. Maybe he means power over government but I think that is exaggerated. The scrambling going on by those who have been in power to position themselves better for a Yuschenko regime suggests differently. Even the oligarchs in the east are making positive statements which are not nothing.

If he means not in complete control of the government that is probably true. But I think that can be remedied fairly quickly with a series of appointments and Yuschenko's requirements that his potential appointees be disinterested is a good start.

I think he has power and that is being seen now and will be made plain very quickly.

--He makes the argument that corruption is mostly an economic problem. It isn't. It is a cultural problem. That makes it more of a difficulty than if it were purely economic. But even if it were economic it is hard for me to see that even paying a living wage would stop it. If a person is used to having a dacha out in the country or a Mercedes in his garage as a result of payola, why wouldn't his eyes get bigger if he had both a better wage and the possibility of more money through bribes? A bigger dacha and winter trips to Grenoble.

It is better to decrease the number of opportunities for bribes. Then work on a better ethic.

--The east/west problem. I think he overstates the problems there are between the east and the west. The east doesn't like Yuschenko it is true. But they have not shown themselves to dislike him so much as to make their way on their own to Kiev to shut down the government. If they have a job and the economy is fine, they will settle in like the rest of Ukraine. But that is the real problem for Yuschenko, making sure that they do have a job and that the economy doesn't turn sour. If there is major economic dislocation, that could spell trouble. And what was done in the Orange Revolution can be repeated, this time with out of work miners.

The rest of this is pretty good and it raises issues that will need to be addressed by Yuschenko, sooner rather than later.

Bad Russian demographic trends

In an article-- Russia the sick man of Europe--discussing the decline of birth dates and the rise of mortality rates in Russia, the authors conclude:

Russia's demographic trends have unambiguously negative implications for Russian development and security. The ramifications are manifold and far-reaching, some of them complex—but the basic outlines of the more important considerations can be briefly and simply adduced.

Russia's lingering health and mortality crisis promises to be a brake on rapid economic development. In the modern era, the wealth of nations is represented, increasingly, in human rather than natural resources—and the richer the country, the more pronounced the tendency for "human capital" to overshadow or replace physical capital in the production process. Human health figures importantly in the overall composition of human capital, and thus the correspondence between human health and economic productivity has been fairly robust. In recent years, to judge by U.N. and World Bank data, an additional year of male life expectancy at birth has been associated with an increment of GNP per capita of about 8 percent.

These same trends hold somewhat for the Ukraine although there seems to have been a mini-baby boom recently. We'll see if they hold.

(Via the Corner at NROnline)

Friday, January 14, 2005

Corruption firsthand

Here's a firsthand account of the corruption here from an article in the Berliner Zeitung (Action Ukraine Report #409, art. 16)

"Racketeers", Ivan answers my question, "have not been the major problem. Usually they observe 'poniatiya', a sort of the criminal 'etiquette'. They never cut your wool to the very skin. But the authorities have no limits, no brakes. There are up to 30 controlling bodies that may poison your life every day. You never know for how long they are satisfied with a bribe and whether another guy from the same body wouldn't come tomorrow for another tribute".

The bad things got worse in 2002, when the governor of the Donetsk oblast Viktor Yanukovych became the prime minister of Ukraine. Many people believe that Donbas is a mini-totalitarian state within Ukraine ruled by mafia that merged thoroughly with the local state apparatus. Whether exaggerated or not, the rumours became rather palpable when "donetskiye" ("Donetskites") massively flowed to Kyiv and elsewhere to take over numerous government positions, luxury apartments, and tasty businesses. In popular discourse,they effectively replaced the "new Russians" and "new Ukrainians", the ridiculous personages of post-Soviet jokes, infamous for their greed, stupidity, and boastfulness."

A car with a Donetsk plate", one of many jokes says, "collided with the monument to Bohdan Khmelnytsky [a 17th century national hero]. The police has [sic] established that the citizen Khmelnytsky was drunk and therefore will be prosecuted by court"."

In October, a few weeks before the elections", Ivan recollects, "two tough guys entered my tiny office at the back side of the cafeteria. They wanted to buy off my business - at approximately half a price. 'You'd rather accept it', they told. 'Cause after election you'd get nothing. We'll take your premises for free'."

"Maybe they bluffed", Ivan says. "But another threat on those days was absolutely real. I was summoned to the tax administration and forced to pay taxes for three months in advance. As I know, many businesses had to do the same. The government probably needed to finance campaign for the prime minister. And to raise pensions and salaries, at least temporarily, to fool the people".

Little surprise that Ivan and Zenia became "revolutionaries" as soon as the orange protests broke up in the Kyiv streets. No, they did not went to the tents but they established an everyday supply of hot food for the protesters. Free of charge, of course. And they were certainly not alone. Even the most luxurous restaurants made their kitchens to serve the folk. Apparently, they had not been happy with Ukrainian authorities either.

All of them would be greatly surprised to learn that their revolution is just a struggle between different oligarchic clans, between Russia and the US, or between different regions, or even between Russophones and Ukrainophones, as some pundits say. They know what they know - that there is an ugly, despised, corrupted government on the one side, and people who strive for a better life, on the other side. They are from different regions themselves, of different ethnicity and language, but they are unanimous in their will to have a government from the people and for the people.

And there are a many stories like this one. This isn't the only one. And it is not limited to just Yanukovych and crew.

Of course, some will say that this is all allegation. But these same sorts of allegations keep coming up all the time from all sorts of people. Must be some sort of effective, non-detectable conspiracy to spread such rumors.

This is the sort of thing that has to be stopped or at least significantly curbed. And it will be a very difficult thing to do.

Ivanov Denies Arms Talks With Syria

Ivanov Denies Arms Talks With Syria

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denied that Russia was in talks to sell missiles to Syria, but Israeli officials Thursday continued to press Moscow over the issue.

"We do not have any negotiations with Syria on the possible shipment of such missiles," Ivanov told reporters at the Russian Embassy in Washington on Wednesday.

We'll see what happens with this, if there turn out to be any "this" here.

A Russian Orange Revolution?

I updated this post and probably should have put it in a separate posting because it is so long. But I make an argument there about why a revolution like the Orange Revolution would be more unlikely in Russia, notwithstanding the problems that Putin has created.

Market status vote in the EU helps

Granting market economy status to Ukraine would be good news. / World / Europe - EU vote boosts Ukraine membership hopes

The revolution has put the EU in a kind of box. Further expansion was not on anyone's agenda as the EU looked to digest the eastern European countries admitted in the spring. And Turkey was the next country that was in the EU's sights. Ukraine was not on anybody's list and, as a matter of fact, some in the EU had made statements that much to the effect the response a friend of mine got when he once asked a girl out: "Not in this lifetime!"

The revolution has changed that. Yuschenko and the people, at least those who took to the streets, all committed themselves to the West and they all faced risks to do it. And the EU spoke up and sided with the opposition and the protestors so that when the dust had settled, which it now has, the EU has had to back up the rhetoric with something substantial to bolster Yuschenko and the west leaners. (The hypocrisy charge is one that the EU is sensitive about. That might be one aspect of liberalism, of the John Kerry type, that we might end up being grateful for.)

This move is that something substantial. It will help to shore up Yuschenko and his support.

One of the problems Yuschenko has, and there are a number of them, is that the people might be to optimistic about what he will be able to do and how fast he will be able to do it. And the dislocation that will come about because of reforms will be something that could create much worse problems for Yuschenko and the reformers than anything that could have happened in the revolution. I think that has more likelihood of bringing the miners from the east to Kiev than Yuschenko's victory had. And they would come en masse.

But this action means that Yuschenko has a little help, that he won't be bearing up things all by himself. The EU appears to be committed to helping him and that is a real good thing. The big problems for Yuschenko still remain though.

As a side note, this will make investment in the Ukraine much more enticing. Market economy status will make it easier to market to the EU and that will make businesses here more viable and more interesting as possible investments. Let's face it, regardless of the amount of corruption here, and it should be put into context--there is corruption in any number of other markets businesses are investing in--the growth rate here has been phenomenal over the past couple of years. Of course, from where the economy and production has been, there was only up as a direction to go in. But even so, 13% growth is a significant growth rate and rivals the economic tigers of the Far East.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Putin risks

Here's an interesting article-- Putin's risks--on some of the risks that Putin and Russia run with the moves to consolidate power at the top. It's from AEI.

But the Kremlin's authoritarian project--while deplorable in its own right--carries even greater risks than commonly appreciated. Although officially justified as necessary to "strengthen" state and society, these policies in fact are likely to do the very opposite, destabilizing Russia's politics, economy, and national security. In evaluating the current situation, some leading analysts in Moscow privately spoke last fall of a "GKchP-2 scenario," a reference to the unsuccessful August 1991 hardliner putsch, whose perpetrators sought to prevent the breakup of the Soviet Union but instead brought about its speedy collapse.

The cumulative effect of Putin's re-centralization has been to raise the center of political gravity to the very top at precisely the time when the Russian state will need every available ounce of stability and maneuverability to absorb severe shocks and navigate sharp turns. The regime's course is made even more perilous by its efforts to remove or obscure the road signs of societal feedback, which Russia's increasingly emaciated democratic politics and constrained media are less and less capable of providing.

There's more.

UPDATE: This article would seem to suggest that Russia is primed for the kind of revolution that Georgia and Ukraine have had. The real problem though is that there is no opposition in Russia that is organized and there is no opposition candidate like a Yuschenko to rally around. Putin has been effective in dealing with any opposition in Russia so that there is none really that could serve as the focus for any kind of revolution.

There is also a second problem. Democracy and its philosophical underpinning, liberalism, are bad words in Russia today. Democracy is what the Russians had when they were swindled by privatization and then, as if that weren't enough, effectively rolled again by the collapse of the ruble. After 1998, the year of that financial collapse, the people in Russia, many of them, found themselves worse off than they had been at the end of the Soviet period. (Many had savings in the bank at the time. Those savings were wiped out overnight by the collapse.) All of this happened on democraciy's watch. That fact has served to jade many people's opinion about the desirability of democracy to this day.

The interesting thing for the Ukrainians is that democracy has never really been in play here so it could not be blamed for the financial problems that have occurred in the Ukraine, the smae ones that affected Russia, by the way. So democracy hasn't been a bad word here, fortunately for the Ukrainians.

And there is a third problem. There is a real suspicion of the US most of all, but of the EU too, in Russia today. Many of the reforms that took place in Russia were pushed by advisors from the US, many of whom were linked to the government. And some of them made money on speculation at the same time they were giving their advice.

I wrote this to one of my classes the first summer I was here:

When communism fell, it was natural for the West to look to help to bring some relief to the people. They (we) did this by counseling a series of market reforms to stimulate economic activity which would raise all boats. There was even sincere human feeling in this. (We sent money but it inexplicably--at least from our point of view, but explicably for Soviet-wise observers on this end-- ended up in Swiss bank accounts.) The only way to help the people in the long run was to create economic activity which would create jobs and wealth for those people. So we counseled market reforms and urged the privatization of state assets.

The reasoning for doing this first was the argument of self-interest that is so crucial to all of our institutions in the west and most particularly the United States. The self-interest argument went this way: If you get assets into the hands of people even if those assets only end up in the hands of a few people, those people will take care of them and not do anything with them or with the system to jeopardize those assets. On the contrary, those same people will work to create transparent systems and enforceable laws so that their property will be protected. So get these assets into their hands and the whole system will improve and will even, as an added benefit, move these countries to democracy. (The desire for transparency will do this.) This
is textbook thinking and the answer would get these guys an A in any course at least in modern systems and economics. The problem is that we consider this to be based on universal principles. In fact, this point of view is culture-bound to the West. And Russia is not in the West.

What actually happened is that these oligarchs--the ones who ended up with the property-- as they came to be known, siphoned off the profits of these companies--drained them of value--converted that value to dollars by raiding government accounts of hard currency (a little bribe here and a little bribe there got them dollars in exchange for their rubles) if the company did not generate hard currency in the first place and socked those dollars away in accounts in Switzerland and the US. No movement toward better systems or any movement to better anything. And there was not much value left in these economies to create jobs and stimulate economic activity. (This is changing somewhat now but it is precarious at best.) So the people, who were first impoverished and abused by the party, in the end when the party lost power and the democrats took over, were abused and impoverished by the democrats. Except it turns out that the impoverishment was more thorough and complete under the democrats than had occurred under the communists. And we, in the West, especially the United States, held their coats and nodded our heads while they did it.

Add to this some remnant of the paranoia many Russians still have left from the Cold War and you have a real problem with any US involvement at all in Russia. The same is true to a lesser extent of the EU. But the upshot is that there would be no looking to the West for anything not even moral support if a revolution were in the offing.

So it looks like the grounds are not all there for a repeat of Georgia and Ukraine.

Poland and Lithuania doing Washington's bidding?

About reports that the President of the EU Parliament (he now says he was misunderstood) had made the claim that the Polish and Lithuanian presidents had intervened in Ukraine on behalf of the US, this article, The Baltic Times- NEWS FROM ESTONIA,LATVIA AND LITHUANIA, says

"Still, it is difficult to see how someone claiming that another country acted under U.S. influence could be misinterpreted. Borrell, a member of PM Jose Zapatero's Social Democratic Party, is likely to have deep reservations about the United States, particularly the current White House administration, and may resent the strong relations that East European countries maintain with it. Whatever the case, he and other Western European leaders need to grasp one irrefutable reality: the EU's new neighbors understand - and therefore trust - countries like Poland and Lithuania more than, say, Spain and Belgium. Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine share a common history, and the former two have helped the latter in its efforts to become integrated in European structures. Borrell's reported suggestion that Poland and Lithuania should not have been involved is utterly wrong. Their presence was far more pertinent than Solana's. "

I think this is right. The EU did nothing but look to force a compromise of some sort--an agreement, they would have called it. (I posted on this here.)

Looks like there is more potential for a division in the EU. All is not sweetness and light there and never has been.

Another demonstration

My wife just came in and told me that there was a pro-Yanukovych rally at the Arsenalna Metro station close to Marinsky Palace and the Verhkovna Rada. When she passed by the first time, there were about 50 people. Coming back, she noticed that the crowd was then about 100. She said someone had a megaphone and was yelling, "We need to come here and we need to show that we are real people who chose Yanukovych. We need to protect our choice." The people who were protesting there were carrying flags of Yanukovych and other flags that were red with the face of Jesus on them. She didn't know what that meant. Maybe they are making a point about their own suffering by analogy?

My wife said to me, "What it really looks like is the bouncing around of a chicken whose head has been cut off."

Maybe Yanukovych can take heart with such protests as these.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hollywood to save lives

Is it me or is there some arrogance in this--IOL: O'Reilly agrees to join arch-foe Clooney:

"And when O'Reilly poked fun at Clooney's letter on his O'Reilly Factor show on Monday, the Ocean's Twelve star fired back with an ultimatum. He wrote: 'Former Presidents Bush and Clinton believe this is an important enough event to participate in. We're not playing games here, we're trying to save lives.

'It's as simple as this; you're either with this joint effort or against it. We need an answer immediately.' (Emphasis mine.)

What lives will possibly be saved by presenting and performing here? Is that just too cynical of me? The US military and other militaries plus many relief organziations, government officials and local governments are saving lives right now on the ground and at some risk to themselves. They are doing all the heavy lifting. But Hollywood will save lives by having a performance?

They will provide money obviously and that money will be used to save lives, but would anybody else talk this way when giving money or putting together a charity event that will ?

(Via NROnline.)

Some racist comments

A student of mine in one of my cross-cultural relations classes from Spain lectured me once on how racist the US is compared to Europe. I knew something about this because I had lived there for a couple of years and had been following the riots in England of certain minority groups and the debates in Germany about removing benefits from immigrants. This article-- - Local/ Regional News: Metro execs' racist smears: Ugly secret behind Hub's free paper-- is some more evidence that she was, shall we say, too optimistic. (Via Instapundit.)

The two executives mentioned here are European. Some quotes:

Top Metro executives used vile racist language at company meetings of the freebie newspaper chain, horrifying some attendees while at the same time drawing hoots of laughter from other Metro bigshots....

At one Metro International newspaper dinner in Rome in April 2003, Steve Nylund, the head of Metro USA, told nearly two dozen attendees a joke about the genitalia of black men, whom he called ``niggers'' according to people who were there. The account was first reported by, a media watchdog site, and then corroborated by the Herald through multiple sources who were at the event.

Another anecdote involves former Metro director Hans-Holger Albrecht at a Stockholm event in August 2003.

Albrecht, according to Mediachannel, introduced the festivities by saying "Good evening, ladies, gentlemen and niggers.''

Two former insiders, including former Boston Metro editor John Wilpers, told the Herald they heard Nylund make the racist joke at the Rome event, and had heard of Albrecht's slur.

The shocking behavior "sets race relations back to the Stone Age,'' suggested Jeffrey Brown of the Ten Point Coalition, a group of ministers who came together in the 1990s to fight urban violence.

Former insiders describe an arrogance among the European executives running the Metro chain. Wilpers and others say that instances of crude racism were common.

The executives of course say that it was a problem with translation.

I was not convinced by her argument when she made it. I am less convinced by it today.

Israel did it!

Apparently it wasn't the US after all, it was the Israelis who provided the funding for Yuschenko. Yahoo! News - Crisis erupts between Israel and Russia over aid to Yushchenko: report.

This makes it sound like a political problem only. But it isn't. The real problem with this is that there has been a tendency in Russia to blame it on the Jews when things go wrong. Looks like the Putin government is doing it again. Point is that anti-Semitism is alive and well there, still.

Business is business?

Apparently, Russia is selling a missile system to Syria that is capable of targeting just about the whole of Israeli territory. Haaretz - Israel News - Syria missile deal said at heart of Israeli-Russia crisis. Of course, Syria, being Syria, will only use this for self defense. And first strike is the best kind of defense.

The Russians would say that this is not political, and maybe it isn't. Could be they would be selling to Israel if Israel were buying; at least that is what they would say. The fact is that Russia still has clients in the area for Russian built weapons systems. And Russia has made it a matter of trade policy to sell weapons systems. So this is just a matter of business to them. And business is business; no offense meant.

There is another argument, however. For Russia as it is for other countries, it is ostensibly about business but it may really be about geopolitics more than it is about money. For one things, it is hard to believe that they would get enough to really make a difference in their balance of payments on any of these systems. A much bigger payoff would come from focusing on oil production and distribution. And John Ralston Saul, in his book, Voltaire's Bastards, argues quite convincingly that countries end up subsidizing their weapons sales in the end anyway, so the people of a given country are always footing the bill in any of these transactions. Point is that there is no net economic gain from these sales.

The fact is that it is a matter of pride for nations to sell weapon's systems. But more to the point, it is a way for a country to project force and influence around the world, that is probably pushing it. For Russia not to sell to Syria would be for them to give up power they have in the region. That they do not want to do. So deep down it is really about politics, not business.

For Israel though it is one more threat to its survival.

No dissent in the Kremlin

Here's an editorial that talks more about Kremlin insularity. Silence Is Dangerous

Corruption reform

Here are some interesting comments about reform from the Financial / Home UK - Reform in Ukraine must be swift and sweeping:

The United Nations Development Programme last summer asked a commission to draft a reform programme for Ukraine's next president. We served as members, and are now presenting dozens of recommendations in Proposals to the President: A New Wave of Reform.

First, political reform must make democracy and freedom a reality. Second, judicial reform must provide a firm foundation for the rule of law. Third, the state must be deprived of arbitrary powers of ownership, taxation, regulation and inspection because these inhibit commerce and breed corruption. Fourth, the state must cater better to social needs. Finally, Ukraine must be allowed to transform its "European choice" from a political slogan into a geopolitical reality.

Reforming the state is at the heart of our policy recommendations. Rapid private sector growth is the engine behind Ukraine's recent successes, but the state remains a failure. Political reform is the remedy. A consensus calls for a transition from presidential power to parliamentary rule, but the current proposals leave too much power with the parliamentary speaker and the prosecutor-general. A clear division of powers is needed, and decision makers must be made accountable.

A public administration worthy of a democracy must be created, staffed by civil servants rather than cronies. They should receive decent salaries rather than living off bribes. The rights of ordinary citizens in their dealings with the state should be protected. This includes the right to information. The parliament should adopt quickly a public information act, opening all public documents to scrutiny, with exceptions only for national security and individual privacy.

Massive corruption is likely to persist until civil servants no longer have so much to sell. One solution is to complete privatisation processes that have stalled. Another is to eliminate the plethora of inspections and permits required to conduct business. A modern tax code should be adopted, reducing the number of taxes and their rates, while eliminating loopholes. Proper corporate and financial legislation should be enacted to counteract the excessive concentration of Ukrainian big business and ensure protection of minority shareholders. The dozens of financial acts that have been drafted should be promulgated.

These seem sensible of course. One of the problems with most corruption reform is that it is often centered on making sure that civil servants get paid enough. But this is typical Western thinking--they seek bribes because they have to scramble to eat. So increase their salaries and watch the corruption evaporate away.

The problem with this is that it is not economics that drives it, it is culture. I could go into a long explanation about it and maybe will eventually but this is all based on what is a reciprocal culture. It will take a real cultural change to get rid of it completely. I do think an example set at the top of scrupulous adherence to law and policy will go a long way toward helping to get rid of it.

But the idea of decreasing what the civil service has to sell is a very good start. There are inspections here no end and the tax police show up periodically to businesses claiming amounts owed that are set for no other reason than to shake the business down for bribes. And this is true in any agency up and down government.

In the next building from the one we live in, lives a member of the militsya. These are the local cops and they are beat cops and traffic cops. We happened to see this guy pull in one day. He was driving a late model Mercedes, a car that very few here can afford, very, very few. And he was able to buy this on a salary that could not be more than $200 a month. Not bloody likely.

Coming back from a trip to Germanya few months back, we had to take two taxis to get the whole family home from the station. My wife took the first and I was in the second. The guy I was with got started a little later and was speeding trying to catch up and he ran a red light at one point to do it. The militsya was right there and signaled him to pull over. When he stopped, the driver reached over, opened up his glove box and pulled out a fifty gryvna note--about $10. When the officer came to the window, the guy slipped the note to him along with his driver's license. I heard the officer say after examining the pertinent documents, "Mr. Such and Such, you have a good day."

And we have had to pay money to a government inspector to get his signature on a document we needed signed to sell an apartment we had. If we hadn't gotten it, we could not have sold it.

It is a big problem here. Yuschenko has said that it has eaten away at the moral fiber of the people. He is right about that.

Julia on Russia

This--Kremlin Bureaucrats Lost Ukraine, But Russia Won--is interesting coming from the hardliner of the revolution. It's an interesting way to attempt to mollify Russia, something that needs to be done of course. Use the person who spit fire to do it and blame it on the political technologists, eastern speak for "spin doctors."

A quote:

I hear constantly that Russia lost the presidential election in Ukraine.

I do not agree with this at all. If we are talking about political spin doctors who are Russian citizens, then yes, they did lose the election. They never quite figured out the nature of Ukrainian statehood or the mentality of various groups within the Ukrainian electorate. If we are talking about a couple of Russian businessmen who pinned their hopes of taking part in the basically criminal crony privatization of Ukrainian companies on Yanukovych and invested lots of money in him, yes, they indeed lost the election. But if Yanukovych's sponsors had done some serious analysis at the right time, they would have understood that there are several reasons why this sort of leader was not what Ukraine needed and thus would never become president.
There's more of course.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Warrant for Julia?

I just went back to the Interpol site to do a search for any warrants on Julia Tymoshenko. During the revolution, the Russian authorities were growling about how she was a criminal and that they were about to issue the warrant on her for the crimes she had committed. They kept talking about it and there were articles and letters to the editor about how she was a criminal and a scofflaw. (See here, for instance.)

Those defending her said that it was politically motivated. The response by the Russian authorities at the time? "The warrant is imminent."

Well, it must still be imminent because there is not hide nor hair of it on the Interpol site. I searched "Tymoshenko" and "Timoshenko" and then looked for any warrants issued by the Russian Federation. There were none.

I guess we'll have to wait some more and see, but the more time passes and no warrant is issued, the more it looks like it was politically motivated.

The weather

I know it is has been cold in the US and that the snow has been thick and heavy in a number of places. That would normally be the case here in the Ukraine this time of year. But this year is different.

It is like fall here right now. Outside today the sun was shining and it must have been close to the 50s. It is incredible weather. Who would have thought that to get away from the cold, people could come to the Ukraine. (I said that they could--hypothetically speaking-- not that they would.)

We read yesterday or the day before that flowers had started to bloom in some park in Hamburg. Must be warm in other parts of Europe.

I just hope the fruit trees don't begin to blossom and a cold snap comes to kill them off. Would play havoc with the crops this year.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Kuchma's legacy

The article, Breaking the mould, has some interesting things to say about why the Orange Revolution succeeded:

Why was the Kuchma regime, for all its crudity and casual ugliness, hollow? First, the Ukrainian authorities inherited only the branch plants of the repressive machinery of the USSR, not the headquarters that are making their fury at the collapse of Soviet communism so powerfully felt in Moscow today.

Second, for all its corruption, Ukraine’s privatisation process dispersed economic power much more broadly than Russia’s. The difference is summed up by a single economic indicator: over the past two years, the engineering sector in Ukraine has been growing by about 30 per cent a year. In Russia, the rate is about 12 per cent. As Anders Aslund, an economist who follows both Ukraine and Russia closely, explained to me over breakfast in Kiev: “In Ukraine, the engineering business is owned by independent people who develop those businesses. In Russia, it is owned by the oligarchs.”

Third, the Ukrainian political elite was privately lukewarm in its support for Yanukovich - its official candidate - and not particularly hostile to Yushchenko, a popular former prime minister and central bank chief. Indeed, at a personal level, much of Kiev officialdom felt more comfortable with the cultivated and technically
skilled opposition leader than with the rough, proletarian Yanukovich. This sympathy became apparent in the early days of the protests as swathes of the establishment, from the Kiev city government to the diplomatic service, defected
to the opposition.

Fourth, unlike Russia, Ukraine has no lost empire to mourn. In the end, despite the urgings of his prime minister, some of his security chiefs and some of his regional henchmen, Kuchma did not turn his tanks on his people. With no glorious imperial restoration to tempt him, he chose to go down in history as the midwife of Ukrainian democracy, however reluctant, rather than the butcher of Kiev’s Independence Square.

I would be inclined to agree with this except for the last. Until we know who ordered the movement of the military, it is a little early to credit Kuchma with being a statesman. (I posted on this here.)

More on the UN in the Congo

This article--Congo sex abuse claims upheld-- has more on the sex abuse by UN peacekeepers (and one worker) in the Congo. It's not good.

I am tempted to be glib about it because it shows the UN to be a farce in many ways when it comes to any moral authority, but we are talking about the lives of children that have been used up in some pretty thorough ways by these people.

It looks to me like a bit of colonial mindedness that seems to be prevalent with these people. The locals are there for us to use as we see fit for whatever we want to use them for. The UN doesn't encourage it obviously--even they could see the hypocrisy in that--but it seems to foster it some way because it has happened in other places too. (See my post here for instance.)

Religion and politics

In this article, Professor's book examines nation in the news

Dr. Alfred Mueller II says his book will explain that the political turmoil happening there has been going on for more than 1,000 years.

"The political scientist looks at who voted for who. They say religion is just a variable that determines how you vote.

"My argument is that if you don't see religion and politics as the same thing, you do not understand the country and its people."

The author maintains religion played a major role in the transition of the Ukraine from a member of the Soviet Republic to an independent state.

It's an interesting point. Culture is destiny in many ways and religion is a significant part of a culture, one most often overlooked by Westerners seeking to understand it.

The Ukrainians did it

From the "Ukrainians did it themselves" part of the universe, ZAMAN DAILY NEWSPAPER (2005010715410) says, among other things that

Pora was important for the success of the Orange Revolution protests but could not have been effective on its own. There were also other enterprises directing people to vote and then urging them to claim their votes. One of them is civilian enterprise Znayu which gave training to electors in all provinces and towns to vote, to be selective about candidates and to claim their votes. For this purpose Znayu prepared announcements entertaining and didactic radio and television programs.

Peter Koshukov, a founder and coordinator of Znayu said that they had distributed around 7 million leaflets and announcements and worked with thousands of volunteers for the eections. Znayu has the support of nearly 100 civilian organizations. Among these organizations there are also civilian foundations such as Open Community and branches of George Soros Foundation, Freedom House, the American Republican Party's IRI and Democrat Party affiliated NDI, and enterprises such as US-Ukraine Foundation. These foundations financed the projects developed by Znayu. Like Pora, organizations like Znayu have played their part in former civilian revolutions.

Of course the retort is that they are not going far enough back of all this. If they did, they would find American coordination, American organization and American money--along with a CIA case officer under every bed and behind every tree.

The Counterterrorism Blog

There is a new counterterrorism blog called, appropriately, The Counterterrorism Blog. It looks pretty interesting and boasts some experts in the field. I am going to add it to my blogroll.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


You know, I read an article like this--Outside View: America's Ukraine folly--and wonder in the end just what it is we are fighting for. If it is survival, a grim, dirty death struggle to be the last man standing, what will be left that will be worth having survived for? Though this may not be popular at all, there are things that used to be considered worse than death. To have purchased your survival at the cost of everything else or at the cost of principles was seen as worse by far. That is what made Thomas More a hero. Today he would be considered a fool?

Liberalization or retrenchment?

A Georgia Messenger article (no link yet) makes the following point:

The failure of the pro-Russian Ukrainian presidential candidate Yanukovich and his forces has dealt a serious blow to Russia and its position in post Soviet space. Several analysts now predict that the Ukrainian example could prove significant for neighboring Moldova and Belarus. The leaders of the Central Asian republics are also seriously concerned. The Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote that "the events in Georgia and especially Ukraine have caused the leadership of these countries to lose their fearful respect of Moscow. It makes no difference to these countries why Russia lost - due to a lack of wise strategy or to poor political

I had thought relations between Russia and these countries were based more on economic interests rather than on power politics. But if this is right and it has been based more on a fear of the Russian bear, the question then becomes what this means. If it has lost influence or even power over these regions, does it mean that there will be further retrenchment by the Kremlin because of their hysteria and paranoia?

I think that is what it means.

Some evolution refutation?

This article--Times Online - Britain--says that some researchers have refuted parts of Darwin's theory based on their researches into tits, a type of bird. I haven't gone through it carefully enough to talk about it intelligently, but I think, if you asked them, these researchers would still say that Darwin was right in the big picture. And a lot of Darwinism is taken up with refinements by the likes of the late Stephen J. Gould, anyway. So it is unlikely to affect evolutionary theory at all.

One of the problems with evolutionary theory whatever its merits for biology, and most scientists accept it as a given, a "fact," is that it is applied to everything else under the sun. Sociologists apply it to societies, political scientists apply it to governments and to the polity, for two cases. And that results in conclusions that certain societies are where they are inevitably based on the impersonal forces of nature or society. Individual action is devalued because it was the result of these forces and not because of initiative or thinking or any type of moral considerations. It is like the apple falling form the tree, they would say. It fell inevitably because of the nature of the apple and the nature of gravity. It had nothing to do with anything else.

That is what is going to happen, if it hasn't already, with analysis of the Ukraine revolution. I have said this before, maybe too often for some, but it will come to be seen as inevitable. An evolution of the society. It happened in Czechoslovakia; it happened in Poland; it happened in Georgia; and now it happened in Ukraine. That means it will eventually happen in Russia, Belarus, and the countries of Central Asia.

But these latter countries are problematic at best. It is not clear that Russia is moving in the direction of greater democracy. It may be moving toward more authoritarianism. And this downplays the fact that real people here took to the streets and risked real danger to do it. They did this because they had had enough and stood up like men, to put it in the old, un-PC way. That makes them heroes. This needs to be remembered when the histories are written.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Merry Christmas--again

Today is Christmas in the Ukraine. "But I thought you already wished us a Merry Christmas?" That's right, I did. But I wished you a Merry Christmas based on the date accepted by the West. Here the date is set by the Orthodox calendar and that is today. So Merry Christmas again.

This Christmas is a little easier to deal with though. Santa doesn't come and that makes today a bit cheaper for parents. Here Santa comes on New Years and that is when the bigger celebrations occur. The reason for this of course is that Christmas was not acceptable under the Bolsheviks, for obvious reasons, so all that celebration was transferred to a secular holiday--New Years.

By the way, Santa Claus here isn't Santa Claus. He is Det Moroz or Grandfather Frost and he usually dresses in blue. He has a sidekick that comes along with him and it's a she. Her name is Snegurochka, from the word "sneg" for snow. She is the granddaughter of Grandfather Frost and she is often seen with him. There is a certain logic to that.

So, break out the holly and the ivy again, don't dispose of that tree and see if you can't find another turkey for the feast. We are still in Christmas.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Where did they think the water had gone?

I wasn't going to post on the tsunami but this article-- MSNBC - Technology Alone Can't Save Us-- is a little much for me. It says that people rushed out onto exposed beach when the waters receded prior to the tsunami. I wonder where they thought the water had gone? There has been a lot of suffering and sympathy should be the rule, but it seems like some people have surrendered their common sense. Does it take education to think that maybe if the water went away, it might just come back? And if you are out where the water was and it does come back, that that might cause some problems for you?

The article says it was tourists and that could mean from any country including the countries that were hit. But some of them had to be from Western countries. Did they think it was some sort of theme park attraction technology set up to entertain the tourists? People have to have some common sense. It's a lot like the people who go to Yellowstone and try to get up close to moose and buffalo to get a picture. When they are attacked you wonder how they could have been so, to put it charitably, naive.

The economy and other things

Here's an interesting report reviewing what happened in December. On the economy it says

Meanwhile, Ukraine's real sector continued to demonstrate impressive performance in November despite the political uncertainties. Real GDP grew by 12.4% year-over-year (yoy). This is one of the best GDP growth rates among all transition economies. Broad-based economic growth was supported by impressive export performance (43.3% yoy growth in ten months) and booming domestic demand (income growth reached 24% yoy). Unexpectedly, industrial performance improved significantly during the politically turbulent November following a deceleration in pre-election months. Industrial production accelerated to 11.3% yoy growth in November from 6.4% yoy in October. The outlook for Ukraine's economic development remains positive in 2004, although fiscal performance and inflationary pressures raise

These are economic reasons why Ukraine is a good candidate for business and for investment. The problems of corruption and rule of law have been reasons to go slow. But those problems will be addressed by the new regime.

One quibble I have with the report is their view of the Supreme Court ruling. They say it didn't resolve the crisis. But I think it did resolve the crisis. It didn't resolve all the issues that caused people to take to the streets, but there was a crisis before they ruled because of so much uncertainty around. That was a crisis and probably the crisis of the revolution. If the court had not stepped in and imposed some certainty back onto the situation, there would have been confrontation. It created a basis for going forward where there hadn't been any before. Before that there had been "what do we do now" in the air. That was not a good thing.

But after the ruling, the CEC set the date for the election and seemed to have every intention of holding it. It was like a valve releasing the pressure and you could feel it. There were other things to do for sure and the fact that the Rada did not pass the revisions when first presented was a blow, but the election was still on. There was some certainty where there had been none before.

So the Supreme Court ruling didn't solve all the problems but it solved a major one and established an environment in which the other problems could be worked out. And it preserved stability.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Looting, Kirpa and fleeing rats from sinking ship

The Sunday Times has some interesting information in this article. (via Ukrainski Pravda.)

Opposition sympathisers within the government, police and intelligence services are said to be supplying Yushchenko with inside information about the government’s activities.

"In this current week, the head of the state property fund . . . has secretly been preparing documents which give permission to secure state corporate rights and property," Yushchenko said on Friday.

One official in the presidential administration said many prominent bureaucrats and politicians were scrambling to flee the country, worried that they will face prosecution.

"It's like the last days in Hitler's bunker," she said. "They just never expected the opposition and Yushchenko to win and they are in shock. Many documents are being destroyed."

The prosecutor-general has opened a criminal investigation after Heorhiy Kyrpa, the transport minister, was found shot dead with a pistol beside him.

Kyrpa, a close associate of Kuchma, was suspected of funnelling millions of dollars via the country's lucrative railway network to top government officials for use in
the attempt to manipulate the presidential election.

Those who knew Kyrpa said he had been in touch with the opposition, possibly to trade information about the government's criminal activities in return for immunity from prosecution.

Shortly before his death he was in a heated telephone conversation with someone described as an important administration official; he also received a visit from another top official.

Neither official has been named but the prosecutor- general has promised more information within days.

The whole article is interesting.

The elite here have reminded me of the kind of smugness the French aristocracy had prior to the French Revolution. That was the "let them eat cake" of Marie Antoinette that was really a reference to brioche, a light, refined bread the upper class ate. Her point was that if they were hungry then they should "try eating what we eat when we are hungry." But that smugness inevitably came up against the real world where revolution had been brewing in the streets for some time. The elite of that time were completely out of touch with what was really going on. Then their little brioche eating world changed and came butt up against the guillotine.

The elite here have been the same. They have had their way for a long time with impunity and have been able to construct a world they have come to believe is reality. And they have acted with the same callous disregard for the people and what they think that the French elite had.

About ten years ago, just a few years after independence, my wife went out for a walk on the street. She had taken here camera with her just in case she found something worth taking a picture of. At one point in her walk, a Mercedes happened to drive by. To see a Mercedes was a kind of a treat. There had not been all that many around before and none during the Soviet period. It was a rare thing. So she took a picture of it.

The driver of that rare, luxury car stopped it, got out of it , came over to my wife and took her camera away from her. Opening up the back he took out her film and threw it away. When she asked him why he had done that, he said, "It's my car and no one can take pictures of it but me!" (Notice how he regarded property rights as absolute. He was a good capitalist.)

To think he could do such a thing is arrogance. But he could. Though it would have been an assault in any country that has rule of law--and I think it probably is one here too, at least on the books--this guy would never have been prosecuted. He had to have been rich or at least very well-to-do and that meant he either had patrons in government or had a patron that was well connected in government. If my wife had taken down the license plate number of this guy and had gone to report it to the police, nothing more would have been done about it after they had found out who he was. (Or if they had felt they could threaten prosecution, he would have been able to bribe his way out of it.) And by doing this, she would have been courting all kinds of retaliation. She knew this just as any other Ukrainian knew this. Doing nothing was always the best course just as it had been under the Soviets.

And there have been worse things here, much worse. But the point is that the elite have had their world for a long time and they came to believe in the inevitable survival of that world. Who was there to challenge it? They had control of the government and the economy and there was no other rival. But that world has changed and now it looks like some might be fleeing for their lives-- a large part of their lives anyway. The people shook finally off the stupor that has kept them back for so long and took to the streets. Now some of the rats are scurrying away.

Interesting article from Russia

Izvestia (December 27, 2004, Commentary by Georgiy Ilyichev: "Moscow's Political Campaign Experts Agitated Only the Russians") has an interesting article on the Russian attempts to influence the Ukrainian election and the consequences:

The images of "our boy Yanukovych" and "American hireling and Russia's enemy Yushchenko," as well as the extremely contemptuous attitude toward the latter's "unscrupulous" and "brainless" supporters, are the main results of the massive invasion of the Ukrainian electoral process by Russian political campaign experts. Our domestic "masters of PR" won a victory--not in Ukraine, where their clients had believed so strongly in the absolute power of manipulative campaign strategies, but in the usual place, where they are so accustomed to winning victories--in the minds of our fellow citizens.

Today the majority of Russians (51 percent) believe that only the success of Viktor Yanukovych in yesterday's election would have served our country's interests (Levada Center data--see Diagram 1 (not reproduced here)). This is amazing in view of the fact that 73 percent of the respondents in a Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) poll did not know the name of the Ukrainian prime minister in August, and each of the two candidates earned a positive rating from only 6 percent of the respondents. We can only take our hats off to the PR experts: They certainly are skilled at what they do.

Back in August, Chairman Mark Urnov of the Ekspertiza Analytical Programs Foundation made a futile appeal to the common sense of his colleagues:

"The outcome of the presidential election in Ukraine is exceptionally important to us, but this gravity does not mean we should resort to biased PR or start concocting irrational theories, as some of my colleagues are prone to do. From the standpoint of Russia's foreign-policy strategy, it would be a huge mistake to put our money on just one of the candidates today, especially Yanukovych with his criminal past. If he should lose, we would be in an awkward position."

Urnov's prediction came true with deplorable accuracy. The "men responsible for Ukraine" in the corridors of power had no alternative but to blame their strategic failure on the campaign experts.

"Russia never officially endorsed anyone in the Ukrainian election, and the involvement of Russian political experts in that election was just an unfortunate commercial undertaking," State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, a participant in the international talks on the Ukrainian crisis, declared in Yerevan on 16 December.

It is too bad that the results of a poll conducted on 11-12 December by the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) had not been tallied and published by that time.

One out of every three Russians blamed his own government for this, saying that the "inconsistent and indecisive behavior of our country allowed other nations to seize the initiative in resolving the crisis in Ukraine" (see Diagram 2 (not reproduced here)). Another third of the respondents, on the other hand, appreciated Russia's "vigorous and appropriate" actions, the same actions our public officials are currently disavowing.

"Who organized the mass demonstrations by Yushchenko's supporters?" The most common answers to this question in the FOM survey were the United States (15 percent of the respondents)--"America paid the instigators more money, so they are doing their best to cause trouble in the country"--and the Western countries in general (7 percent). Consequently, respondents had no trouble coming up with the reason that so many people gathered in Independence Square: "All of them had been bought." "They were coming home with $1,000 a week.

"The main cause of the "orange revolution"--civil protest against the government's disdain for the opinions of much of the population--barely registered in the Russian mind. By shifting the blame to the "worldwide backstage manipulators," who supposedly manipulated the Ukrainians, the Russian PR experts could not fail to win a resounding victory in their own country. This is easy to do in a country where only 1 percent of the citizens regard "election fraud" and "civil rights violations" as good reasons for mass protest demonstrations.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Some real sense

The Washington Post says that Dick Morris was a campaign advisor for Yuschenko. It's Her Party and She'll Cry If She Wants To (

Morris's involvement in Yushchenko's campaign even bore several signatures of the tactics that he made famous when he was working by Clinton's side in the 1996 reelection campaign: clandestine meetings, an emphasis on polls and even an attempt at "triangulation," which is the consultant's fancy word for how politicians should capture the political center...

The consultant, who when working for Clinton was so poll-driven that he took surveys about where the president should vacation, said his main contribution to this campaign was to urge exit polling on election day. By immediately publicizing the results, Yushchenko's campaign would draw supporters into the streets to celebrate -- thus presenting Ukrainian authorities with an angry mob if they tried to tamper with the vote.

Yushchenko, he said, rejected his proposed triangulation, which was to try to unite Ukrainian nationalists and the country's Russian-speaking minority with a platform pledging bilingualism for official government documents and proceedings.

Two points. First of all, I wonder how much Morris got paid for that information and I wonder if Yuschenko's people feel they got their money's worth. Was it the exit polls that got people out? I have my doubts. It might have been a part of it but the Ukrainians know more than people think they do about how their government has worked. They are fairly cynical about it. I think they had a sense for what happened even without the exit polls.

The second point is that this shows clearly that Yuschenko has good judgment. To triangulate is to take no real position. It is to be morally adrift. And it sets a course of acting which becomes a real habit in the future. When in trouble, don't speak the truth or take a stance, triangulate, tap dance between the two camps making sure that you give each one something they can't refuse. Buy them off.

That is exactly what Kuchma spent most of his time doing. And it would have been disastrous with Yuschenko. It is his sincerity and his humanity that have captured his supporters. These are principled stances. To end up looking like a man with no core principles other than to get elected in the next cycle--remind you of anyone?--would have been the end of Yuschenko and would have put back reform here for years.

To his credit, Yuschenko rejected it. Principled people would have.

Monday, January 03, 2005

No shame

If this report is true from Maidan, these people have no shame.

Gangs of Donetsk "guests" are now massively traveling throughout Ukraine and demanding from representatives of the government in areas where Yanukovych lost
the election, to return the money which was given to them to organize the election campaign for Yanukovych.

These messages are coming in from Khmelnytsk, Zhytomyr, Kyiv Provinces. Representatives of the government are explaining that this money was spent long ago, and it is not their fault that "this is the way the people are."

It's hard to know why they call them "guests" from the information here, but the clear implication is they are Yanukovych supporters.

If true, it looks like this is further evidence that Yanukovych is out of money. But it is also an admission big time that money was paid by Yanukovych supporters to government officials to bring in the vote.

It will be interesting to see if more comes out on this.

On the radio

Today on radio ERA, they were interviewing a director of a play that will open on the 14th in one of the theatres here in Kiev. Unfortunately, we didn't catch his name or the name of his play.

They took callers on the show. The political situation in Kiev is what's on people's minds here so they got some callers who wanted to talk politics. One caller in particular asked how, being a part of the arts and cultural scene of Kiev and Ukraine, he thinks they can resolve the east/west problem in the country.

This director answered and said (paraphrasing), "We saw what the government did and the result of it. These people in the east are not bad. They weren't a part of it. They did nothing wrong. What we need to do is to not call them names, to say they are this or that. We just need to love these people. That is what really happened in Maidan.

"Why do you think Yanukovych sent his people away from Kiev and stopped sending more of them here in the end? He planned on sending more. Why did he stop and send the others back? I'll tell you why.

"I stayed in the tents down at tent city for a few days on guard duty. There were some men down there who were also on guard duty with me. They were from the Donetsk area and had come to Kiev on one of the trains bringing Yanukovych supporters.

"But they said they had been left to fend for themselves after a few days and the people on Maidan fed them, gave them clothes and made sure they were taken care of. So they got rid of their blue and joined us.

"That's why Yanukovych stopped sending them. And that is the way we need to deal with the people in the east."

No threat

OK, so I found a public appearance of Yanukovych where he didn't issue a threat. It was his farewell speech on New Year's Eve--Mr Yanukovych's address.

Of course there was no irony in this statement:

Outgoing 2004 year wasn't that bad from the point of view of economy. It wasn't, however, that good regarding politics. Thanks [sic] God, the most terrible thing --splitting of the country and society-- didn't happen.

They could, of course, have had a split screen of this portion of the speech juxtaposed with film of his scurrying off to Donetsk to have a conference on secession with his people there. When he went, it looked an awful lot like a bid to be president of the seceded regions.

Some might be lead by this to say that these positions are inconsistent, that one cannot be both for secession of a region of the country and against the country splitting up. They might say that this represents an unprincipled stance, at the very least, a stance that really shows him to be an opportunist. If he sees opportunity for him with secession, then he is for it. If he sees opportunity being against secession, then he is for that.

But for Yanukovych there is no inconsistency to it at all--his benefit is the thread that runs through both positions. It's him in the one case and him in the other. That's the principle, don't you see?

But maybe we are being less than generous with the man. He wished everyone well after all. So maybe we should wish him well too.

Then again, maybe not.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The resignation

It has been reported extensively that Yanukovych has resigned. I don't know what that does other than to make sure that he won't be back in his office on Monday. And he would have a lot of trouble with that even because of the blockade.

Apparently, he said this in his speech last night. That speech we passed by while flipping through the channels. I couldn't tolerate it much. It had the tendency to depress the spirit of the evening for me even in the seconds we were exposed to it. It affected everyone else here the same way, I might add. So we didn't watch it.

It wasn't all that significant anyway. Does anybody really think that people in the government or anywhere else for that matter are going to be dealing with Yanukovych any differently now than they did when he was Prime Minister this past week or in any number of the weeks before that? Put another way, does he have any less power now that he has resigned than he did as Prime Minister, at least ultimately? I don't think so. So to me the resignation had no real effect.

But it might get him off the TV which would be a good thing. I was trying to figure out last night whether I had ever heard Yanukovych speak without his uttering some sort of a threat. (It might have been a reason to listen last night to see if there was one there too.) But I can't remember one time when there wasn't one. It has all been threats. At least now we might not have to hear him--at least as much as we have. That would be an improvement.

New Years

Our family celebrated the coming in of the new year at home, which is the traditional way for Ukrainians to celebrate it. We did watch though the festivities gong on downtown on TV last night. If it weren't for a case of pneumonia that I happen to have right now keeping me home, my wife and I would probably have gone downtown to see what was going on in person. It was nice to see it on TV too and we probably got a better view than we would have gotten being there. But there is something to actually being there though.

We flipped through the channels last night bypassing Yanyukovych's speech a couple of times. (Our little girl who goes around everywhere chanting "YU-SCHEN-KO" and asking people how they voted, wouldn't stay in the room to listen to anything from Yanu. She's five.) It was interesting to see. The ERA channel coverage of the festivities on the square seemed to me to be about like you would get for the Macy's parade in New York City. (That is Thanksgiving Day but the coverage is of a type.) There was no parade, of course, just a couple of what we had thought were rather staid journalists trying to keep the beat to the music with some kind of movement very distantly related to a dance. The female reporter was much better at it as women tend to be. The guy though had the trouble. (My wife is an expert dancer and has to put up with those kinds of movements from an expert in them. She doesn't think of it though as putting up with it.)

But it was all content light, frivolous really, as that coverage tends to be.

I found it annoying. I guess it's part of the same annoyance I felt when I was down on the square during the revolution the times I went. The whole thing was unserious to me especially in light of what was risked by these people and the extent of that risk. I have posted on this numerous times but the threats were real and we don't really know why the trigger was not pulled except for some self serving statements by Kuchma people about a legacy. It will take more than just saying so to convince me.

And I'm not the only one who was bothered by a lack of seriousness. Some of the tent city people were also concerned about it. They thought that the people needed to be more organized and trained to face the potential danger. That they didn't need it in the end doesn't mean anything. The danger was real and it was immediate.

But those risks are no longer there and that is a very good thing.

Some of the coverage light might be the fact that the constraints have come off. These guys have had to toe the government line for a long time and now they no longer have to. That might be some real relief especially for people who knew better and these reporters and newspeople knew better.

Anyway, that there could be any frivolous coverage or any coverage at all on the square should be considered a very real success. So maybe I ought to get over my annoyance with it?

It was kind of interesting to see all the toasts on TV too. That is a nice, personal touch that you won't get in many media outlets in the US. And it was heartfelt like those things tend to be here.

Last year, my wife and I spent New Years at a sanatorium in the Crimea, one of those Soviet era marble resorts, a Stalin gothic style of structure like any number built during the Soviet era both here, in Russia and in other Soviet countries. This sanatorium was for mid-level party bosses. It had been luxury but not too much. (Was it Orwell who noted that equality was the basis of communism, it's just that some people were more equal than others?)

We had just come from Sevastopol where we stayed in a nice, reasonably priced room complete with kitchen. We actually lucked on getting a room at that place. It was filled with people wanting to celebrate the New Year. (Ukrainians have fond memories of vacation time spent in sanatoria. They seem to want to go back and experience it again when older.) All the other places around the area were filled up or closed for the season. (The season around there was the summer, for the most part.)

The room ended up being a dump. We had two beds in a cramped space that we moved more to the center of the room to keep from touching the walls even accidentally. Musty, moldy and simply dirty they were. And the bathroom facilities were down the hall--way down the hall. We did though have a sink in the room which obliged us with cold water only. Though there were glasses, we would never have thought to drink it.

But it did have a gorgeous view of the Black Sea. The sanatorium was situated on a cliff about a hundred feet above the sea. That allowed us to have that beautiful view and we could see all the way to Yalta about 10 miles in the distance. We moved some of the junk around that was being stored on the veranda and put a couple of the rickety chairs out there that the room came provided with. We spent some very nice time looking out at the sea watching the ships going to and from Yalta from that veranda.

It ended up being a nice spot even with the inconveniences. It was a nice New Years for us.

This year though it was family, dinner and TV.

There were fireworks downtown at the square last night. But there were also fireworks around our place too and lots of them. When we went to bed at about 2:30, people were still outside setting them off. And the sound boomed around these Soviet era concrete apartment blocks that are all over the place in this area and around Kiev. (They are the same in any ex-Soviet country for that matter.)

The explosions and staccato popping were incessant. It all ended up sounding outside like the civil war we might have had here but didn't. And the blasting lasted until just before dawn--I guess people have to sleep sometime.

Some kids just came to our door. Kids tend to go around knocking on doors here to collect treats at this time of year like we do on Halloween. But this is Christmas time and New Years of course and they ended up leaving a kind of blessing on our house. It was interesting. I saw them through the door of our room and they reached into their pockets and started casting grain of some sort on the hallway rug. My wife said it was wheat. While they did this they recited a poem the gist of which was that our home might have health and plenty. It was cute and quaint in a good way. A small young girl and her taller. older brother.

Of course we put something in their bag which was already quite full. That is what motivates these kids, a lot of them, to go do it. But they still are asking for something good to come to the person's home so they have to at least take the other's perspective somewhat. Not all of them leave that kind of a blessing on the home of course. Some of them kind of hold the doorway hostage while they ask for candy or money. And we have had some curses in the past when we didn't open up for them. If we get any of these kinds of visitors today, we might put them to work vacuuming up the wheat left by the others before they get something. Of course my wife wouldn't put up with that kind of idea but it seems like a good one to me. And she wouldn't wait for it even if she did agree with it. After the door shut on these two kids, I could hear the vacuum going in the hallway.

So much for what is going on here at the moment.

I hope that everyone has a happy New Year.