Saturday, August 30, 2008

PoR on Crimea

'Kommersant' carries this story:

Party of Regions leaves Crimea in peace

"Regionaly" assert that the experiences of South Ossetia and Abkhaziya will not repeated in the Autonomous Republic [of Crimea]

Yesterday the Crimean PoR organization supported the actions of the Russian Federation in the Caucasus in recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But PoR also emphasized that a similar scenario could not be repeated in the Crimea, because it is "an integral part of Ukraine". However, despite this clarification the medzhlis of the Crimean-Tatar nation, and the Crimean branch of Rukh both accused PoR of attempting to unite Crimea and Russia.

Representatives from PoR emphasized that the Autonomous Republic the Crimea must not become a region of instability and geopolitical rivalry. "Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine, in contrast to the republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose citizens were not the citizens of Georgia," stated the leader of the Crimean PoR Vasiliy Kiselev.

Yesterday Crimean Communists responded to PoR's statements thus: "It's a great pity, that they expressed support [for South Ossetia and Abkhaziya] so late, complained the first secretary of the Crimean Communist Party leader Leonid Grach. "As always they sat and swallowed their tongue until Viktor Fedorovich Yanukovich appeared from Altai [where he likes to go for a spot of R&R] and made some vague pronouncement," Grach added.

"This [acknowledgement of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhaiya] is hundred per-cent provocation and ignores fact that similar moves can end badly, said an indignant leader of Rukh in Crimea, Leonid Pilunskiy.

In the opinion the first deputy chairman of the medzhlis, Refat Chubarov, any revision of boundaries in the post-Soviet space is a sure path to the destabilization of relations between all of its states."

LEvko's view is that no-one really knows what the Kremlin's intentions are in Crimea, provoking much anxiety both in Ukraine and elsewhere. A brief statement of clarification on this matter from president Medvedev or PM Putin would greatly reduce tension, but it is unlikely any such statement will be forthcoming. This alone is a cause for concern.

ps. Did Ukraine ever officially recognize Kosovo's independence? I seem to recall consultations were to be held but didn't they just 'kick the ball into the long grass?'

Saturday a.m. Update:

Last night PM Putin, in a German TV interview, clarified the situation on Russia's attitude to Crimea.

"Crimea is no kind of disputable territory. There have been no ethnic conflicts there...inside Crimean society complex processes are taking place. There are problems of the Crimean Tartars, the Ukrainian population, the Russian population, the entire Slavic population. But this is an internal political problem for Ukraine itself," he said, adding, "We have an agreement with Ukraine about our fleet remaining there until 2017, and we will be governed by this agreement."

"Russia recognised the borders of Ukraine a long time ago. In essence we have concluded, in general and totally, our negotiations on borders. The talk [now] is about democracy, but these are technical matters," said Putin.

LEvko says, that's more like it. Maybe the bear's appetite has now been sated.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

'Segodnya' proposes neutral stance in Russian-Western crisis

There's a sobering article in the Akhmetov-owned 'Segodnya' today entitled: "Russia and the West: war at the threshold".

Here are some loosely translated portions:

"After the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, unavoidable conflict awaits the Russian Federation and the West..."

The article predicts two possible consequences:

"The first, a new full-scale confrontation of the West and Russia - indications of which will be Nato's MAP being offered to Georgia and Ukraine, and also exclusion, in one form or another, of Moscow from the G8.

The second could be that the West will swallow the bitter pill and accept that Russia has rights also. Russia may have calculated on the creation of new global security structures with leading roles for Russia, Germany, France and China, when it embarked on it's dangerous game.

"In the event of the final break-up of Russian-Western relations, they will lose everything", said Deputy of the RF Gosduma, Sergey Markov to 'Segodnya', "But the West will lose more because [Russia] will cease to support them on Iran, North Korea, and Afghanistan. Therefore I do not believe the West will decide on large scale confrontation," he added. It is not yet clear whether these calculations will be justified.

"As for Russia, Putin and Medvedev have nowhere to step back to - either they will make Russia a powerful and flourishing power, or they will go the way of Milosevic. The posing of this question has already brought down Russia's stock market; local oligarchs, who have placed a substantial part of their wealth in the West, fear they could become the first victims of the new Cold War; simultaneously western investors are withdrawing their assets, frightened by the Russian-Western stand-off. It is possible certainly, to rely on the nuclear shield and billions of petrodollars, but they will not save the situation if corruption, technological backwardness and poverty of [the Russian] population remain at the present level...

As far as the Ukraine is concerned, no matter how things pan out, we should remain on the sidelines during this struggle of titans. Moving closer to either of the sides of this conflict makes us, inevitably, the target for the first strike of the enemy. We risk becoming a "hot" battlefield in the new Cold War with a major threat of division of the country", says 'Segodnya'.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tymoshenko's Mediterranean junket?

There may be some substance to alleged events which led to accusations of 'national betrayal' levelled at PM Yulia Tymoshenko recently by President Yushchenko's Secretariat.

The normally relatively politically independent 'Obozrevatel' has run a couple of stories about what it calls PM Tymoshenko's 'Sardinian cruises'. These stories allege that Tymoshenko, while cruising between Mediterranean islands earlier this month, conducted a series of meetings and negotiations with influential politicians and businessmen - including Russians. The central theme, in all cases, the paper suggests, was her political future - in particular her presidential election campaign next year..

'Oboz' claims she met the infamous gas middleman Dmitro Firtash of RUE, and influential PoR deputy and one of the alleged principal 2004 Presidential election fraudsters Serhiy Lyovochkin, as well as representatives from Gazprom. She has also managed to gain the support of many of Ukraine's biggest mass media moguls for her Presidential campaign next year.

Apparently, her Mediterranean cruise started aboard a 30-meter yacht owned by the Party of Regions deputy, political rotweiller Nestor Shufrych. The boat had previously been owned by former President Kuchma's 'grey cardinal', Viktor Medvedchuk, hence the confusion. Incidentally, Medvedchuk now owns a 57 meter yacht, the 'Romance'.

Some of the meetings took place on what 'Oboz' claims could be Firtash's super-yacht, the 'Utopia' [70 metres long - a bauble that costs about 1/2 million Euro's a week to hire ]

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saakashvili - Sorcerer's Apprentice

I liked this piece on the Georgia crisis, by Sir Rodric Braithwaite, a former British ambassador to Moscow and former chairman of the British Joint Intelligence Committee :

Here is a portion:

"There is a long, tangled, and disputed back history to all this. Georgia, like the former Yugoslavia, is an ethnic patchwork. The native Abkhazians are largely Muslim. The South Ossetians want to unite with their ethnic relations over the Russian border in North Ossetia. Neither liked being in Georgia, and as the Soviet Union broke up, both made a bid for independence. In an ironic parallel, the Georgians closed down the local university in the Abkhazian capital of Sukhumi just as the Serbs were closing down the Albanian university in Kosovo, on the grounds, one very distinguished Georgian philosopher said, that the Abkhazians had no proper language, history or culture, and did not need a university anyway. [Sounds familiar?]

Georgia's first democratically elected president, the disastrous Zviad Gamsakhurdia, then launched a vicious little war against Abkhazia, smashing its capital Sukhumi. But the Georgians were defeated by a combination of Abkhazians and "volunteers" from Russia and Chechnya. Tens of thousands of Georgian refugees fled to Tblisi. Much the same, though on a smaller scale, was happening in South Ossetia.

Various ceasefires were brokered, with Russian "peacekeepers" acting as guarantors. The ceasefires regularly broke down, thanks to provocations and intrigues by all sides. They were as regularly patched up again.

With the arrival of Mikheil Saakashvili, another democratically elected president, things began to go downhill. The Americans gave him political and economic support and advice, and equipped and trained his army. He turned out to be the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and outran American control. He provoked the Russians and the South Ossetians by one pinprick after another, and, above all, by his application to join Nato.
The Russians regularly warned that there would be consequences. Egged on by the Russians, the South Ossetians increased their provocations. Perhaps it was a deliberate trap. If so, Saakashvili fell right into it. His soldiers had no hope of beating the Russians in a fight. Maybe he assumed that the West would bail him out: an epic miscalculation. Many Georgians now feel that the West betrayed them. In due course they will no doubt turn on Saakashvili himself.

Most Russians believe their government's action in Georgia was entirely justified. They are hugely satisfied that they are now dictating the rules of the game, after endless lectures about their human rights record by the people who brought the world Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, after years of having their interests systematically ignored by a triumphalist West. They are now back again, teaching an irritating neighbour a sharp lesson, dictating their will in the energy market, and cocking a snook at Nato and the European Union. It is not a pretty sight, but it is understandable.

The Americans and their allies have been made to look weak and foolish. They do not have the power to force South Ossetia and Abkhazia back into Georgia, any more than the Russians had the power to force Kosovo back into Serbia. Their offer of Nato membership to Ukraine and Georgia looks perilously like bluff.

Nato has the means to defend the Baltic States and Poland from Russian aggression. But Georgia? But Ukraine? Most Ukrainians would like to be linked with the West. But they want to remain on good terms with Russia: that is why, according to polls, a majority oppose Nato membership. Do we propose to force it on them? [LEvko's italics]

We have given small countries meaningless guarantees before. After their shameful betrayal of Czechoslovakia in 1938, Britain and France declared war on Hitler in September 1939 to honour their guarantee to Poland. Everyone else, including America, fought only after he had moved against them. But the guarantee did not save Poland, which ended the war under Soviet domination."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Russian-Georgian conflict - Conclusions for Ukraine

Rinat Akhmetov's big-selling 'Segodnya' daily carries the following interesting story entitled:

"Experts [from a Ukrainian think tank] say Russia could provoke Ukraine into employing SpetsNaz [Special Operations] Forces"

It is intriguing that a newspaper owned by PoR's biggest sponsor would run such a story which so openly discusses these matters.

I've loosely translated portions below:

"Experts do not exclude provocations from Russia aimed at goading Ukrainian authorities into decisions to utilize SpetsNaz units.

This is discussed in a study entitled "Russian-Georgian conflict - Conclusions for Ukraine", from the Centre for Army Conversion and Disarmament Studies. [Full document here ]

Future activity of the Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine will be in the format of concentrated actions by political and informational means, with continuous expansion of the RF's zone of influence inside and around Ukraine. The central objective of Russian side is to return Ukraine to the mainstream of Russian policy. Its current task is the destabilization of the situation in Ukraine, and over the long term - the creation of prerequisites for the division of Ukraine”, note experts of the centre.

In their opinion, "There are signs that the Russian side is finalizing scenarios envisaging application of armed forces, although the basic principles of action will remain political and economic pressure, [and] a policy of intimidation of the population".

The Ukrainian analysts explain: "The Russian Federation has too great an arsenal of non-military tools for them to yield to temptation and use armed forces. The latter is possible only as a "reaction" in response to military actions ordered by Ukrainian authorities.

In the opinion the experts of the Centre, at present the main thrust of Russian informational policy is directed toward formulating, in the eyes of the Russian citizens, an enemy in the form of the adjacent Ukraine, and in the eyes of Ukrainians, an enemy in the form of NATO.

"After the Russian-Georgian war the arsenal of activities of the Russian authorities, and the number of anti-Ukrainian measures on the territory of Ukraine will be noticeably extended. Provocations for the purpose of adoption by the Ukrainian authorities of solutions using SpetzNaz units are not excluded," note the analysts.

LEvko considers the above-mentioned level-headed study is well-worth reading. It concludes that the chances of Ukraine being offered MAP are almost zero, and that the Georgia/Russia conflict has terminated previously-made international agreements - the guarantees offered after Ukraine's nuclear disarmament in the early '90's are no longer valid. Ukraine has limited, and ever-decreasing defensive capabilities to ward off agression - it needs to spend much more to modernise its armed forces.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pres's secretariat accuses PM of treason

Deputy head of the Presidential Secretariat, Andriy Kyslynskyi, has posted a nasty little statement on the official secretariat site entitled: "There are indications of state treason and political corruption in the actions of the current prime minister, says Andriy Kyslynskyi"

He declares that according to available information, the political leadership of the Russian Federation is carefully considering a decision to support the candidature of PM Yulia Tymoshenko in the Ukrainian Presidential elections [late next year] after the fulfillment of the condition by the PM and her political force to adopt a passive position on the Georgian conflict."

According to the posting, "nearly one billion US dollars have been reserved for the project to support Yulia Tymoshenko." It alleges that while on holiday in Sardinia, she has been plotting with 'yesterday's politicians' including disgraced former President Kuchma and his eminence grise Viktor Medvedchuk.'

Where this leaves the current ruling parliamentary coalition heaven knows. Fancy Tymoshenko lying in the sun with the man she used to publicly call 'the red cockroach'.

Business daily 'Delo' today announces that Russia is starting a trade war against Ukraine. Heavy industry in the country's eastern oblasts, including Rinat Akhmetov's SCM could be hard hit by shortfalls in deliveries of Russian coking coal.

As these oblasts are most inclined to support closer co-operation with the Russian Federation, wouldn't such a trade war be counter-productive?

ps The Russian Black Sea Fleet is not rushing to return to its base in Crimea. [Maybe to avoid the sight of it's capital ship being limply towed into port?]

If the fleet did indeed suffer damage in the recent conflict with Georgia, then this enabled Yushchenko to score cost-free points by announcing he was restricting their return.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

How a flat tyre took the Caucasus to war

"A flat tyre on a Russian diplomatic car triggered the slide to war in Georgia after it forced the cancellation of key peace talks the day before fighting erupted, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

Trouble had been brewing in the disputed South Ossetian region for weeks as Moscow-backed militias skirmished with Georgian troops, yet Russian-brokered negotiations between the Georgian government and the separatists had continued.

But the first substantial face-to-face talks on August 7 fell through after a farcical chain of events in which the top Russian diplomat claimed he was unable to attend the meeting in South Ossetia because his car tyre had run flat.. "

Read on here

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Russian Black Sea Fleet hit?

Maybe I was a bit hard on the Georgian navy in a previous posting.

'Segodnya' reports that Russian ships are not returning to their base in Crimea right now because of damage suffered when engaging Georgian warships. In particular, the flagship missile cruiser 'Moskva', one of the RFBSF's capital ships, had been hit by Georgian shore artillery.

An internet poll on the widely read Russian language 'Segodnya' website asks readers what conclusions should Ukraine draw from the Ossetian-Georgian-Russian conflict.

So far the replies are as follows: Join NATO as quickly as possible - about 30%; secure friendship and integration with Russia - 55%; strengthen its neutrality and keep away from all military-political unions - 15%. LEvko thinks the second option was loaded. Interesting, nevertheless.

This prescient UK Defence Academy paper entitled 'Georgia and Russia - A Further Deterioration in Relations' published just a month ago and accessible here may be of interest:

A brief quote:

"Conjecture and Exploitation

In view of the uneasy, apprehensive and stressful relationship which the smaller state has with its much larger and more powerful neighbour to the north, it is not surprising that suspicion, speculation and conjecture remain high in Georgia aboutRussia’s future intentions with regard to the unrecognised Abkhaz republic and to Georgian aspirations to join NATO. There can be little doubt that the bullying of Georgia will continue. Harassment and manipulation with a view to provoking a hasty, hot-tempered overreaction would of course be a well-tried stratagem."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Gangster state

I particularly liked this commentary in today's London 'Times'

A portion here:

"One of the curious trends of recent years has been the Western business community’s enduring love affair with the unlovely Russia. With every passing week, it becomes clearer that this is a country run by and for people little different from gangsters. The tanks rolling into Georgia have reminded us that they are gangsters with keys to a big arsenal.

The largest Western companies, Shell and BP included, have been bullied, intimidated and forced into concessions by the Kremlin and its cronies. This week a Moscow court joined in the harassment, targeting the head of BP’s troubled joint venture in Russia.

This is a country that defaulted on its overseas debts less than ten years ago; a country that, after its journey from feudalism to kleptocracy via totalitarian communism, has little truck with Western-style capitalism; a country alive with corruption and not averse, it has been suggested, to the occasional state-sponsored murder. Hardly the ideal recipient of Western capital, you might think.

But Western companies have rushed to throw money at Russia, both in direct and indirect investment. The push by City bankers into Moscow and St Petersburg is matched only by the flood of billionaire oligarchs taking money out. There’s perhaps a lesson there. I’d back the oligarchs to make the shrewder investment call..."

Read the whole article here

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tymoshenko on Georgia

Today's 'Segodnya' again writes about PM Yulia Tymoshenko's most uncharacteristic current purdah.

LEvko can inform them that Ms Tymoshenko has been speaking to the "F.T." over a cup of tea. They will be running the interview in tomorrow's edition..

The question now is, have the events of the last few days in Georgia make it more likely, or less likely that Ukrainians would support membership into NATO in any referendum.
On March 11, 2008 I posted this:

"Couple of interesting O.P.'s from today's "Segodnya"

The majority of Ukrainians - 75,1%, approve of neutral status for Ukraine; 9,8% are against, 15,2% had difficulty answering.

62,3% of respondents are in favor of conducting a referendum on the entry of Ukraine into NATO, 24,9% against such a referendum, 12,8% had difficulty answering."

The O.P. indicated that overall, 56% of Ukraine's citizens would be against the entrance of Ukraine in NATO, 21,6% for the enty into the alliance, 8,3% would not participate in any referendum on this question."

Many Ukrainians think Georgians, Ossetians, and other Caucasian nations are, stereotypically, hot-headed cut-throats - I believe sympathy for any of them is limited. Stalin and Beria were Georgians. However, the Kremlin's heavy-handed behaviour in recent days will be a source of great anxiety..The majority may consider that the best guarantee of security for their country would be modern, well-equipped Ukrainian armed forces.

PS A few moments ago the 'Batkivshchyna' website have just posted an official statement from the BYuT VR fraction on the Georgia crisis. It is totally non judgemental - the only criticism is directed at the President's Secretariat.

E.g. "Ukraine's parliament should do everything possible to ensure that our country is not dragged into conflict on any of the sides. The effectiveness of the peacekeeping activities of Ukraine will depend on this.."

This statement is in clear contrast to those being made by the President and his Secretariat. Maybe more on this later.

PS In order to realize Ukraine's dilemma over its stance on NATO and the Georgia crisis, check out this video of BBC Newsnight discussion tonight, paying particular notice of the comments of Aleksander Nekrasov, a normally a level-headed Russian commentator. Take it from 24 minutes into the clip onward..The response from the lady leading the discussion is priceless..

Yulka hedging her bets

Deputy head of President Yushchenko's Secretariat Andriy Kyslynskyi, claims, that according to the Secretariat's investigations: "There are certain agreements between BYuT and Russia's leaders about their support in future elections."

Several NUNS deputies have already suggested the reason for the absence of any comments by PM Tymoshenko on the current S. Ossetian conflict is her wish to gain Russia's support in the 2010 Presidential elections. There are rumours that she is on holiday somewhere on a Mediterranean island.

Head of President Yushchenko's Secretariat Viktor Baloha is demanding Tymoshenko finally comes clean and say whether she is 'for Russia or for Georgia'.

BYuT VR deputy Serhiy Teryokin declared that the dearth of comments from representatives of his party about the events in Georgia is due to their desire "not to fall-out with the President."

Her signature, together with that of Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko is missing from the National Security and Defence Council's decision to limit the movement of Russia's Black sea fleet based in Sevastopol.

She and her ministers may be mindful that soon she will be engaging in tough haggling with Gazprom over fuel price and deliveries. Already some commentators in Moscow have praised her for keeping 'shtum', adding: "Naturally, any increase in tension between Ukraine and Russia would negatively influence all aspects of our co-operation, including gas negotiations."

'Segodnya' reports that President Saakashvili's Dutch wife Sandra is sheltering in a secure government lodge on the Crimean coast together with her children as a guest of President Yushchenko's wife Kateryna. Looks nice. So much better than a bunker in Tbilisi - and may even offer a good view of the war ships bobbing up and down the Black Sea.

Oh, and how come the Georgian navy was caught with its pants down in Poti, allowing their ships to be sunk at their moorings in port?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ukraine's attitude to the Georgian troubles

According to the Presidential website, Viktor Yushchenko, accompanied by the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, and the PM of Latvia, in a remarkable show of solidarity, is today visiting Tbilisi with the aim of "providing support for Georgia, and also assisting to achieve regulation of the current [Russian-Georgian] conflict..."

"The Ukrainian side considers this common mission of the heads of democratic European states an important part of the efforts of the international community to maintain and guarantee the territorial unity and sovereignty of independent Georgia," says the posting.

A quick look at the websites of other Ukrainian political parties is revealing:

The 'Batkivschyna' party site [whose largest constituent is BYuT] announces that the Ukrainian government, with Yulia Tymshenko at the helm, is to provide humanitarian help to the Georgian population, and that additional aircraft are being provided to assist in evacuation of Ukrainian citizens from that country.

Tymoshenko's own personal site has similar messages. But the latest posting on her site is one of congratulation to an Olympic sportsman for gaining a medal in Beijing in the Jujitsu discipline.

Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions' site announces they are sending humanitarian aid to Ossetians and Georgian families. They are also demanding an emabargo on the supply of weapons to Georgia, whilst PoR spokesperson Hanna Herman considers there is a need to look into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' competence in investigating the supply of weaponry to global "hot-spots". [Russia had alleged Ukraine had been supplying Georgia with weapons.]

There is also some criticism of the current authority: "The irresponsible confrontational actions of the current authorities are leading to Ukraine being dragged into the conflict between Georgia and Russia. We demand such practices be stopped....PoR condemns any agressive acts directed toward solving regional conflicts by means of force. We call for termination of military action and for the immediate return to peaceful negotiations...PoR appeals to western politicians not to employ dual standards both in the Georgian-South Ossetian-Russian conflict, and in their approach to all other regional problems as one-sided support of one or other side creates dangerous precedents....We appeal primarily to the Ukrainian leadership not to support just one side of the conflict, [but to] conduct a balanced and wise foreign policy in the conflict involving the three sides and to consider the national interests of Ukraine."

PoR and BYuT are by far the two largest political parties in Ukraine. They know which way the wind is now blowing..

p.s. - Something to think about from today's London 'Times' here

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Georgia crisis

Check out this interview with old warhorse Richard Holbrooke on the crisis in South Ossetia crisis.

On Thursday the 'Economist' predicted: "It is all too easy to imagine misjudgements on either side leading to a real war." How right they were.

The Russian Foreign Ministry is already trying to put some of the blame for the problems on Ukraine Also here

'Semi-official' Russian observers claim "Western countries and Ukraine have supplied Georgia with an arsenal of heavy weaponry.."

LEvko's view is that Russia doesn't give a fig about Ossetians.

S. Ossetia is all but cut of from N. Ossetia during the winter. What this is all about is about 'The Great Game' and the trashing of Georgia's desire to join NATO.

Nevertheless, the Ossetians [and Abkhazians] have national rights too..