Thursday, October 30, 2014

Must-see video on Russia's disinformation war

An absolutely must-see Legatum Institute presentation:

"The Menace of Unreality: Combating Russian Disinformation in the 21st Century "

Starts 29 minutes into this youtube video here.


  • Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, 
  • Oleksander Scherba, Ambassador at Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ukraine
  • Michael Weiss, Editor-in-Chief, The Interpreter
  • Peter Pomerantsev. Journalist and Documentary Producer
  • Anne Applebaum, Director of the Transitions Forum, Legatum Institute
p.s.Also well worth watching, this video of a discussion with journalist Oliver Bullough and Anthea Lawson of Global Witness entitled: 

"Looting Ukraine: The East, the West and the Corruption of a Country" 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Composition of the new Verkhovna Rada

This is an excellent diagram of the configuration of forces in the new parliament.

Most journalists axiomatically believe Opposition Bloc, will form a fraction of around 100+ deputies in the new parliament, and that it will be "pro-Russian".

But this may or may not be completely true. Opposition Bloc is not pro Donetsk People's Republic or Luhansk Peoples's Republic - they are  not separatists and have declared they will continue to work for an united Ukraine.

No major figure from former president Yanukovych's coterie or from Party of Regions, and no Ukrainian oligarch can be found in the upper eschelons of the DPR or LPR.

President Yanukovych refused to sign the Ukraine/EU Association Agreement because of tremendous pressure from Russia to boycott Ukrainian goods, including manufactured goods from eastern Ukraine, and to break the back of industries in that region. After invading Ukraine and trashing much infrastructure, such pressure can no longer be applied by Putin - the damage has been done.  Donbas oligarchs have nowhere else to turn but westward - their financial and industrial might, although much reduced after Russia's proxy-led invasion, is too great for them to remain in serious opposition for long. They know which direction the wind in now blowing and will be constantly attempting to cook deals with the new authorities for their own benefit.

There are reports that both of the two leading parties in the new parliament, People's Front and Poroshenko Bloc, are already working hard to recruit successful single-mandate deputies, [many of whom are outwardly independent but are from the PoR stable], into their own ranks in order to gain stronger hands in the formation of a new government. In total there is 94 such single-mandate deputies.

I suspect quite a few will be recruited.. for the sake of personal expediency, for guarantees of immunity, for money etc. etc.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Opposition Bloc will enter VR but be impotent? [Update]

So 'Opposition Bloc is expected to be the fourth largest party in the new Verkhovna Rada. They should gain a minimum of 30 seats - and probably more if some deputies in single mandate constituencies join them.

There are suspicions that President Poroshenko and his associates gave Opposition Block an 'easy run' in regained territories in Donbas  - possibly part of a under-the-table deal between Poroshenko and Putin. Pro-Russian elements in Ukraine will now have at least some representation in the VR and  may make Putin a little bit more amenable in any resolution of the current crisis. Some experts even hint this perhaps may be not a bad thing.

There could be substance to these suspicions.

There is lots of 'prima facie' evidence than many on Opposition Bloc's list have been involved in vast fraud and corruption schemes in the past and should be facing criminal charges. Everyone in Ukraine has heard about the Opposition Bloc leader Yuriy Boyko's involvement in the skimming of of hundreds of millions of dollars in the 'Vyshky Boyka' scandal. The fact that he is still 'in business' is a total disgrace.

Others in their ranks have inexplicably acquired great wealth also.  [See previous blog].

Serhiy Klyuyev, who will enter the new parliament has had his business assets seized abroad, and is probably under investigation.

But the Opposition Bloc will always be on tenterhooks, and will have to co-operate with the President - as they have already pledged to do.

The reason for this is the new VR could vote to remove their immunity from prosecution. Those who voted for scandalous laws on January 16 earlier this year, [which would have turned Ukraine into a Yanukovych-led dictatorship], and will now return to the new parliament, could face criminal charges.

Poroshenko will have plenty of kompromat on these guys to threaten them with if necessary.

Update: Ukrainska Pravda provide more information in an article "Elections in Donbas - betrayal of the authorities" about the corrupt manner in which discredited and corrupt Yanukovych 'old-guard' allies have again entered the new parliament...with the tacit approval of Poroshenko?

Poroshenko will be under pressure from Putin to ensure a Russia-friendly premier and cabinet is appointed...but the result was clear- Ukrainians absolutely do not want this.

p.s. FT Beyond Brics seem to agree, in parts, with your humble blogger in this article today.

Many of the Opposition Bloc 'big knobs' are not natural politicians at all, rather their main aim is survival and minimising the rapid diminution of their assets. They much prefer making back-room deals than standing on a box addressing a sceptical electorate...and they know that in the so-called Luhansk and in the Donetsk People's Republics they are finished..They have nowhere else to go.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ukrainian forces in good shape in Mariupol, says Shuster run an interview with one of Ukraine's most well known television journalists - political show host Savik Shuster.

Shuster, who has had a most interesting and colourful career in many countries, had spent a day in Mariupol.

Here is a portion of his observations from the piece which was entitled:

"Shuster: It will be a surprise for Putin that the 'Russian World' in south-eastern Ukraine is braced to fight against Russia"

- What are your impressions from your visit to the Anti Terrorist Operation area?

- I came back last night, and have not yet fully comprehended and thought over everything, but was absolutely impressed by three things.

Firstly, I saw the real Armed Forces of Ukraine - a powerful, organized and cohesive force. It is  constantly being alleged that the Ukrainian army is weak and demoralized. In Mariupol I did not experience this, rather I felt the opposite: Ukrainian forces are of an incomparably higher standar than those I have seen in other military conflicts in the former Soviet Union - and I was in Chechnya, Ossetia, Abkhazia and Karabakh. In Mariupol the armed powers of Ukraine are really organized. That's impressive.

- What else impressed you at the front line?

- Morale. The guys are driven by patriotism. In Kyiv they do not understand this and  they do not understand the circumstances in which Ukrainian ATO fighters now live and fight.

But most importantly, I felt Putin now has great problem. The Russian president does not understand that the "Russian World", which he expects to rise up in Mariupol, will fight against Putin. In the city most people speak in Russian, but they have a maximum pro-Ukrainian outlook. I think for Putin this will be a great surprise, because he is still convinced that the south-east of Ukraine is for Russia. Its nothing of the kind. The Ukrainian Russophone world is against Putin, against his fighters and against Russian aggression.

Although Shuster does not provide an answer how this war against Ukraine will end, he does conclude: "Intuition tells me Russia will never conquer Mariupol."

p.s . Check out this short RFE/RL video [in English] on the kitsch palaces of two Yanukovych-era 'Naftohaz Ukrainy' executives who cannot explain the origin of their families' spectacular wealth but are now running for parliament - and immunity from prosecution.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Colder weather adds to despair in Donbas

Citizens, e.g. in the village of Spartak, near Donetsk, are in despair, as can be seen in this sad video.  Out of 5000 residents, less than 400 remain. There has been no electricity, gas or running water for five months as shelling continues...

Until now the weather in Ukraine this autumn has been warm, but a check on the weather forecast shows that by the weekend daytime temperature in Donetsk will drop to low single digit figures centigrade, whilst -4 and -5 centigrade is expected at night.

The coming of frosts will probably attenuate the intensity of armed conflict as fighters expend more effort to survive the cold...a small blessing

Sunday, October 19, 2014

German Intelligence Claims Pro-Russian Separatists Downed MH17 [Updated]

Der Spiegel claims German Intelligence Claims Pro-Russian Separatists Downed MH17

This story will run and run...

p.s. Watched President Poroshenko's being interviewed last night by several Ukrainian journalists. Compared with the stilted, artificial and sycophantic televised press conferences held by Yushchenko and Yanukovych, this was  a proper question and answer session of the sort citizens of any normal western democracy would be familiar with. So, a step in the right direction.

Poroshenko explained one dilemma which was complicating agreement on gas deliveries from Russia. Consumers in the territories held by separatists/terrorists were consuming gas as normal, but Naftohaz Ukrainy [who are responsible for collection of revenue and liable for payment to Gazprom] was not receiving any payment for it, so this was an additional burden for Ukraine to bear. Poroshenko claimed industrial output in these occupied regions was down 70%, and their future as independent but unrecognised entities is not realistic or possible for economic reasons.

Interesting broadcast today on the new English language 'Hromadske International today'. Check it out on YouTube

Professor Timothy Snyder states an "impending, huge humanitarian disaster" [40 minutes into the video] is likely this winter in parts of Eastern Ukraine.

Top journalists Noah Sneider and Christopher Miller who both have spent many days in the region agree with this assessment and add that only brave and determined volunteers are working hard to try and prevent this happening. Should an international humanitarian effort not have been priority #1 in Milan?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Insightful analysis from inside 'Novorosisa'

Great analysis from Ollie Carroll, who has been in separatist-held territory for quite a few days now, posted on his facebook page

His conclusions?

"...if "Novorossia" [will] be unable to provide for its people [i.e. to get through the winter], opinion will move very radically against them."

"..the Russian strategy for me? Keep the DNR / LNR soup simmering, while you get back to the main deal: pressure-cooking Kyiv."
Kyiv has made it clear it will not provide serious funds to sustain and repair the separatist-held territory 'except where there is a Ukrainian flag flying'. The country is all but broke in any case so the possibility of Kyiv paying for any major welfare or regeneration programmes is remote.

And, as Vitaliy Portnikov says, if Putin wants to maintain its influence on this territory which is now being run by his loyalist thugs, or even if he replaces them with saner politicians picked from the local traitors, it will cost Russia a deal of money - we are talking about a war-ravaged infrastructure and millions of people.

But even if does Putin pump the money in, a big if, this being Russia, most of it will be misappropriated in any case.

As I mentioned in my previous blog...a serious humanitarian crisis in Donbas is likely. Those who will suffer most will be the elderly, the infirm, women with young children whose husbands/boy friends have dumped them.... i.e. those least able to fend for themselves.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A terrible warning for Donbas from 2006

This is from the current Wikipedia entry on Alchevsk, a heavily industrialised city in the Luhansk Oblast of eastern Ukraine which has been under the control of separatists since April.

"Winter disaster of 2006

On January 22, 2006, the district heating system of the city almost entirely collapsed after an underground heat pipe line cracked in unusually cold weather (nearly −30 °C). As a result, heating equipment in the majority of Alchevsk's buildings was frozen and ruptured, leaving about 60,000 residents with only the protection of individual electric heaters. A few days later the sewage system also froze due to a lack of warm tap water.
An investigation revealed the massive, long-time negligence of the city authorities. The whole heating system was designed in a hyper-centralized way, depending on only two boilers and few main pipelines. Moreover, the housing company failed to react to the pipe incident properly: the water from the system wasn't immediately dumped to prevent further freezing.
The Ukrainian government took massive emergency actions to protect Alchevsk residents from freezing. Engineering teams sent by cities and industrial companies from other regions of the country were gradually restoring heating appliances in every apartment affected. Hundreds of children together with their schoolteachers were evacuated to the resorts and hotels in the warmer regions of Ukraine. According to the governor of Luhansk Oblast G. Moskal, it has been the worst human-made disaster in the history of independent Ukraine."
The Ostrov website reports that Donetsk regional council deputy Vitaly Kropachev is now strongly advising those who remain on the territory controlled by terrorist/separatist organizations to urgently leave, otherwise they will die in winter from cold and hunger. 
He provides a detailed analysis of the dire situation that exists in the public services sector which he stressed has now reached the point of collapse. Kropachev believes when the cities of Donbas begin to freeze the leaders of the separatists will 'do a runner' and abandon the citizens of these cities to their fate. He says malnutrition amongst some residents is already a problem. 
Ostrov also mentions the 2006 disaster, but on that occasion the Ukrainian government saved the day. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ceasefire in Ukraine is a Mirage

Brilliant analysis from Chatham House:

"Ceasefire in Ukraine is a Mirage"

Putin imaged taking the Donbas would be a straight forward re-run of the taking of Crimea. Ukrainians, including, most importantly millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians, have fought back fiercely to defend their country. Ukrainians will continue to fight and defend their country - this is the biggest reason Putin has eased off his assault.

'Догнать и перегнать' - 'catch up and overtake', was the catch phrase sometimes used by Soviet Communists..If Russia is to succeed in this aim its economic growth must exceed that of neighbours in the years to come. Close co-operation with neighbours is vital because Russia on its own lacks expertise and resources in fields such as scientific and technological research and development, in marketing, banking etc. which have to be shared. Its economy in which extraction of hydrocarbons and minerals predominate is most unbalanced. Tackling rampant corruption is vital component if progress is to be made. Smart money essential for investment is already draining away at a precipitous rate.

Putin's adventure in Ukraine significantly adds to the country's problems and will turn out to be a disaster for its people, perhaps quicker than anyone imagines. And it must always be remembered the Ukrainians who have suffered the greatest hardship from this calamity are those from the Donbas region.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

"Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?"

Watch this riveting hour and one and one half video presentation by Karen Dawisha at the Wilson Center, Washington DC, in which she talks about her important new book:

 "Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?" 

She suggests near the end that one of the reasons for Russia's invasion of Ukraine was that with the flight of Yanukovych,  major assets in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea owned by Russian billionaires tied to Putin could no longer be considered safe.

p.s. The Donetsk site considers that continued fighting at the city's airport suits both sides of the conflict. While Kyiv forces engage and resist the separatists there, it relieves pressure elsewhere.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Why Donetsk airport is so important

BBC's Daniel Sandford posted this photo today of the now devastated Donetsk International Airport. It had been built from scratch just a few years ago.

Despite the ceasefire signed in Minsk fighting for the airport has been prolonged and fierce - the Kremlin-backed separatists have brazenly continually attacked it with ever more heavy weaponry, and it has now become an almost totemic target.

Threats of further EU sanctions against Russia if separatists were to gain the airport have not deterred the attackers.

Former head of Ukrainian Intelligence, Mykola Malomuzh explained on why the airport is so strategically important to the the Kremlin and the Donetsk People's Republic separatists.

He says the Russian military intend to use it as a major forward base in order to threaten Ukraine further. The build-up of Russian armed forces in Crimea and near Ukraine's easterly borders indicate such a possibility is still very much on the cards, despite the so-called ceasefire.

Ukraine's armed forces will soon have to decide soon whether to continue to defend the airport against ever increasing odds, or destroy as much of its infrastructure as possible before retreating.