President at the 11th annual CGI meeting: Global security depends on the success of Ukraine

The Ukrainian President delivered a speech at the opening of the plenary session “Future of Impact” in the course of the 11th annual CGI meeting in New York. The Head of State noted that global security depended on successful resolution of the situation in Ukraine.

“Of course, I cannot accept that, but if Ukraine theoretically loses this war, global security will be destroyed. For sure. Thus, it is our joint action for peace and security in the world,” the President emphasized.

“After the annexation of Crimea and aggression in the east of Ukraine, we are living in an absolutely different world. Global security system doesn’t work anymore. The UN Security Council doesn’t work the way it should,” the President said. According to him, Ukraine urgently needs Transatlantic unity and solidarity. The President emphasized that Ukrainians were fighting not only for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country. “We are fighting for freedom and democracy of the whole world,” he said.

The President noted that Ukraine needed assistance in the enhancement of its defense. According to him, Ukraine needs not lethal weapons, but means of electronic warfare. “Ukraine is an outpost of global security and freedom. And these additional investments are the investments in freedom and security of Europe and the entire world,” Petro Poroshenko stated.

The President underlined the importance for Ukraine to remain the top priority for global democracy.

“Issues of Syria, ISIS, North Korea and other problems shouldn’t overshadow the priority of the Ukrainian issue, because these 45 million people want to be and will be the European nation with the highest democracy and freedom standards,” Petro Poroshenko said.

“I have a very strong bias that a strong, independent, peaceful, secure Ukraine being a bridge between Russia and Europe,” the 42nd President of the United States said inviting the Ukrainian President to deliver a speech.

Petro Poroshenko thanked Bill Clinton for a “unique opportunity to deliver the information about the situation in Ukraine for the sake of global security and peace”.

The Head of State informed on the most important achievements that are currently taking place in Ukraine in the context of reforms. The President emphasized that the Ukrainian authorities had been significantly renewed at the cost of civil activists and foreign experts. Much is being done to create an atmosphere of investors’ trust in Ukraine. “Every dollar invested in the economy of Ukraine will be invested not only in the future profit, but also in peace, freedom and democracy. We are waiting for the investors,” the Head of State said.

In his turn, U.S. President Bill Clinton reminded that one of his goals during the presidency had been to get all the nuclear weapons out of all the new countries of the former Soviet Union. He reminded that Ukraine had owned the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world but had given it up and the memorandum had been signed in which “President of Russia Boris Yeltsin guaranteed that Ukraine’s territorial integrity would be honored”. “And when the crisis over Crimea developed, the Russian position was that President Yeltsin had never submitted that to the Duma, it was not ratified, therefore as a matter of law it was not a treaty, it was just an agreement and future Russian Presidents were not bound to honor it,” Bill Clinton noted.

From – http://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/vid-uspihu-ukrayini-zalezhit-svitova-bezpeka-prezident-ukray-36033

Russian delegates leave UN General Assembly hall amid Poroshenko’s speech

A Russian delegation left the UN General Assembly hall during the speech of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on Sunday, a high-ranking diplomat told Russian news agency TASS.

The Russian delegates labeled Poroshenko’s speech as “overtly politicized and aggressive,” the source said.

Only one Russian diplomat remained in the hall, he added.

Answering the question why there was the diplomat left instead of the delegates, the source said: “The Russian side is in the habit of hearing its opponents and not leaving their speeches without attention.”

From – http://www.unian.info/politics/1135633-russian-delegates-leave-un-general-assembly-hall-amid-poroshenkos-speech.html

Yatsenyuk and allies of Poroshenko, Avakov targeted by corruption investigations

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, President Petro Poroshenko’s chief of staff Borys Lozhkin and an ally of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov have been targeted by investigators and whistleblowers in Ukraine and abroad this week.

The reports come as Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin are accused of failing to investigate corruption among incumbent and former top officials and applying selective justice.

Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, went so far on Sept. 24 as to say that “corrupt actors within the Prosecutor General’s Office are making things worse by openly and aggressively undermining reform.”

Kyiv’s Pechersky District Court has ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to start an investigation against Yatsenyuk on suspicion of getting a $3 million bribe for appointing Volodymyr Ishchuk as chief executive of state-owned Radio Broadcasting, Radio Communications and Television Company, Serhiy Kaplin, a member of the Verkhovna Rada, wrote on Sept. 26. He posted a scanned copy of the court order.

The Pechersky District Court was not available for comment.

Olga Lappo, a spokeswoman for Yatsenyuk, said by phone she could not immediately comment on the issue.

Kaplin had earlier filed a complaint against the Prosecutor General’s Office for refusing to start the investigation.

Yatsenyuk’s allies have also come under fire.

Earlier this year Ihor Kotvytsky, a lawmaker from Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party, transferred $40 million to an offshore company based in Panama through Ukraine’s state-owned Oshchadbank, Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, wrote on his blog on Sept. 25.

Kotvytsky was not available by phone or e-mail, while the People’s Front’s press office could not be reached by phone.

Kotvytsky did not initially include this amount in his 2014 declaration but changed his mind and included it half a year after the deadline for declarations expired, Leshchenko said, posting scanned copies of what he said were the original and corrected declarations.

Leshchenko said, citing unnamed “high-ranking” sources, that the money could belong to Avakov. He claimed that Kotvytsky was Avakov’s “wallet” and business partner.

Avakov dismissed the accusations on Sept. 26.

“Leshchenko is a sophisticated manipulator who serves (Russian businessman Konstantin Grigorishin),” Avakov claimed.

This is not the first time Yatsenyuk and his associates are accused of graft.

In April Mykola Hordienko, head of the State Financial Inspection Service, was fired after accusing Yatsenyuk of corruption, while Ihor Shevchenko was dismissed as ecology and natural resources minister in July after claiming that the prime minister was derailing his anti-corruption efforts.

Yatsenyuk allies Mykola Martynenko, Serhiy Chebotar and Serhiy Pashynsky have also become targets of corruption accusations.

Another scandal has erupted over Lozhkin, Poroshenko’s chief of staff.

Austria’s anti-corruption prosecutors are investigating a suspected money laundering scheme linked to Lozhkin, the Austrian News Agency reported on Sept. 24, citing a spokesman for the country’s anti-corruption prosecution office.

“Neither Ukraine nor Austrian law enforcement agencies have asked me for information on investigations regarding myself,” Lozhkin told the news agency. He also told the Liga.net news site that he was prepared to testify in the case.

The Austrian investigation targets three Ukrainian nationals, the spokesman said without naming them.

The spokesman did not say whether Lozhkin would be called as a witness or a suspect and did not specify the period of suspected money laundering.

Serhiy Leshchenko wrote on his blog on Sept. 24, citing sources at the presidential administration, that the case was linked to Lozhkin’s sale of his UMH media group to Serhiy Kurchenko, an ally of disgraced former President Viktor Yanukovych, in 2013. Kurzhenko, a major suspect in corruption investigations, fled Ukraine after the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.

The sale was carried out using offshore firms and accounts at Austrian banks, the sources said.

Austrian prosecutors sent a request for assistance in the investigation to Ukraine Prosecutor General’s Office several weeks ago but Shokin “has kept it secret,” Leshchenko wrote.

Andriy Demartino, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office, was not available for comment.

Poroshenko’s allies have also been targeted by anti-corruption activists and investigative journalists before.

Grigorishin, a business partner of Poroshenko, has come under fire for allegedly winning a procurement tender in an allegedly illegal way and supplying transformers at below-market prices, according to a Radio Svoboda investigation.

In another case, Konstyantyn Likarchuk, deputy head of the State Fiscal Service, accused Roman Nasirov, who had been a lawmaker from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc before becoming head of the agency, of restoring Yanukovych-era corruption schemes. Likarchuk was fired earlier this month.

From – http://www.kyivpost.com/content/kyiv-post-plus/yatsenyuk-allies-of-poroshenko-avakov-targeted-by-corruption-investigations-398743.html

Kremlin-backed militants announce plans for ‘integration with Russia’

It remains unclear why the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [‘LNR’] have ordered all but one western aid organization to leave the Luhansk oblast, or why one of the militant leaders has yet again announced plans for “integration with Russia”. The militants’ current anti-Western line and their decision to drive international organizations out of militant-controlled areas will certainly reduce interference in the pseudo-elections that both so-called ‘people’s republics’ have announced. Such behaviour must, however, make it even less likely that western countries would accept ‘elections’ which are so flagrantly in breach of the Minsk Accord.

UN officials reported on Sept 24 that the LNR ‘de facto authorities’ had ordered all UN agencies in Luhansk to get out by the following day. This followed the rejection of applications from all UN agencies and international NGOs, except the Red Cross, to work in the area. The Red Cross was untouched by the bans, yet its humanitarian convoy was forced to return on Sept 25 without being allowed to enter militant-controlled areas.

Stephen O’Brien, the Under-Secretary-General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, called the failure to allow humanitarian access “a blatant violation of international humanitarian law”, which will have “a serious impact on some 3 million people as winter approaches”. People in the militant-controlled area will be deprived of food, shelter and non-food supplies, including vital medication.

O’Brien called on “everyone with influence over the de facto authorities” to ensure resumption of the aid. Moscow is widely understood to be where those “with influence” are to be found, but they have made no comment.

Ukrainian billionnaire Renat Akhmetov’s humanitarian aid is also not affected by the ban. Jock Mendoza-Wilson from Akhmetov’s Foundation is reported to have suggested that the militants are hoping to receive humanitarian aid from Western countries via Russia. His idea is that the aid would be presented as though from Russia. It seems difficult to believe that western agencies would agree to this, especially given that they would be in breach of Ukraine’s law on temporarily occupied territory if they entered such territory from Russia, without Ukraine’s permission.

Akhmetov is widely considered to be hedging his bets and has never come out as strongly as other oligarchs in opposition to the events in Donbas. His Foundation’s presence in militant-controlled areas has generally been non-problematical, unlike that of international bodies.

One of the NGOs banned is Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The organization stressed that they provide critical medical and humanitarian assistance in Luhansk and that the ban will deprive vulnerable people of essential healthcare and medicines. ‘LNR’ leaders have, however, targeted this renowned NGO for a particular smear campaign, claiming that it has used medication beyond its sell-by date, etc.

A very obviously orchestrated protest by young people to “see MSF out” of the area was highly reminiscent of the staged protests in early July against the OSCE Monitoring Mission. Those earlier protests coincided with a serious arson attack against the Mission and other disturbing incidents. There was concern then that the militants were seeking to drive out the Monitoring Mission, and the same fears seem warranted now. Nobody has presented any proof for allegations against MSF, and the accusations seem especially dubious given that almost all NGOs have been thrown out, not just MSF.

The less independent organizations, the better if you have something to hide. The de facto leaders of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ are insisting on holding ‘elections’ in October and early November in direct breach of the Minsk Accords. There is no way that they can comply with the agreement reached in Minsk since this requires free and fair elections held in accordance with Ukrainian legislation. As well as the fact that these pseudo-elections have not been agreed with Ukraine, they will also be held without free media, without real opposition and almost certainly with armed gunmen in close proximity to so-called polling stations.

Over recent weeks, in the run-up to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to the UN, there have been all kinds of conciliatory noises from the militants and from Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov. The militants, we are told, are now willing to accept integration into Ukraine. and there was even a rather theatrical ‘coup’ on Sept. 4 in which pragmatist Denis Pushilin won over ideologue Andrei Purgin.

Pushilin and his cronies have yet again changed their tune. Interfax.ru reports that Pushilin stated on Friday, Sept 25, that “It is clear that Ukraine will do everything it can to push us away, and we must be ready to integrate into the Russian Federation.” His comments came after a forum in Luhansk which discussed integration with Russia, and were accompanied by comments about the ‘elections’ they are planning. He claims that these will be attended by “several international observers”. It seems likely that he meant the same far-right or neo-Stalinist politicians who have proven so helpful in ‘observing and approving’ the previous ‘elections’ one year ago; the pseudo-referendum in Crimea and plenty of others.

Well-known Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky called Pushilin totally without principles and willing to do whatever he’s told. Why the above-described developments have taken place now remains to be seen, but it is most unlikely that Pushilin and his cronies were acting without prompts from Moscow. Whatever the political manoeuvres

From – http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1443397640

Putin and Trump Have a Lot in Common

Donald Trump, for all his gaffes and seemingly threadbare grasp of detail, remains the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. As a U.S. resident, if not voter, this is something that I confess amazes and horrifies me, although there is still a long way to go until the election.

And yet perhaps it should not be so surprising. After all, there have been other leaders who have won power not just in spite of proudly and defiantly breaking the mold of the mainstream professional politician, but because of it. Italy had its Silvio Berlusconi, Turkey has its Recep Erdogan — and Russia has its Vladimir Putin.

At first glance, the coolly austere, judo master ex-spy and the bombastic — positively braggadocious — golf-playing property tycoon may seem to have little in common, even if Trump thinks he’d “get along very well with Vladimir Putin.”

However, beneath the skin there are some striking parallels that say something rather broader. Both explicitly present themselves not as politicians but as practical men. Indeed, much of their appeal is precisely that they are disconnected from what is regarded as the “political class.”

Both espouse a nationalism and a fervent belief in the exceptionalism of their homeland. Admittedly, there is a difference. Putin is an avowed proponent of Russia as a multi-ethnic state albeit one shaped by Russian values, whereas Trump makes no bones about his feelings, whether talking about Mexican “rapists” or implicitly accepting the falsehood that U.S. President Barack Obama is a Muslim.

However, in terms of the bases with which they connect, there is a distinctly similar lowest-common-denominator racism at work.

Meanwhile, both believe that a strong nation is a well-armed one. Putin has poured resources into a massive (and increasingly unaffordable) rearmament program, while Trump pledges to make the American military “so big, so strong and so great, so powerful that we’re never going to have to use it.”

While both clearly love the military, neither served. Putin avoided conscription through going to university and then joining the KGB, while Trump relied on a medical exemption. On the other hand, Trump reportedly believes that having spent five years as a child in military school gives him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.” I suspect few real soldiers would agree.

For both of them, though, the myth matters more than the man behind it. Trump is an avowed cultivator of his “brand” — indeed, it is a central asset in his business empire. But Putin no less has built for himself a composite persona — incisive chief executive, macho adventurer, patriot and animal-lover — that has far more traction on the public imagination than whatever may truly be found behind the high and private walls of his Novo-Ogaryovo mansion.

His economy in decline, largely because of poor investment decisions in the 2000s and poor geopolitical decisions since then, Putin is nonetheless as popular as ever. One can cavil about the exact numbers, the reliability of the polls, but it is impossible to challenge the strength of his personal grip on Russians’ respect, if not necessarily their affection.

Likewise, every time Trump makes another blunder or casually offends another section of society, his popularity seems to spike, not slump. Ironically, they have become part of his brand, a sign that he is not the product of a focus-grouped, politically correct, risk-averse modern political campaign.

Unlike Putin, Trump is probably not going to be president. Even if he wins the Republican nomination, the electoral arithmetic alone will probably ensure that. The fact that he is as credible a candidate for the nomination as he still is, though, demonstrates that he — like Putin — does speak to the hearts of at least a reasonable fraction of his countrymen.

The popularity of neither man can simply be attributed to the power of propaganda or spin. Ultimately, it is because both fulfill deeply held needs within their respective countries.

Trump and Putin both offer simple solutions to complex, intractable problems. They offer a refreshing, outspoken, macho alternative to tainted political classes regarded as bland, ineffectual and corrupt.

They look out at people’s feeling uncertain about their place in a world they once felt was theirs, and tell them that they are special and destined for greatness — and actually seem to mean it rather than just be mouthing the traditional electoral platitudes.

As insurgent candidates rise across the West and across the political spectrum, from Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage in Britain to Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and Marine Le Pen in France, there seems to be a general crisis in the legitimacy of traditional politics.

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/putin-and-trump-have-a-lot-in-common-op-ed/534406.html

Norwegian TV Crime Drama Depicting Russian Invasion Irks Moscow

A Russian invasion of Norway to take control of its oilfields is the stuff of fantasy on a new Norwegian TV series, but Moscow is not at all pleased, fiction though it is.

The series “Occupied” depicts a Russian occupation of its Nordic neighbor at the request of the European Union to restore Norway’s oil production after it is shut down by a green-conscious Oslo government.

The show is based on an idea by hit crime writer Jo Nesbo, author of the Harry Hole detective books. At 90 million crowns ($11 million), it is the most expensive Norwegian TV series ever.

The Russian Embassy in Oslo, though, wishes the expense had been spared. “One should not expect any hysteria from the Russian side — it’s not our style,” the embassy wrote in a letter to broadcaster TV2.

“At the same time, it is unfortunate that during the year marking the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II, the show’s writers, as if they have forgotten about the heroic effort by the Soviet army in the liberation of northern Norway from Nazi occupants, intimidate Norwegian viewers with a non-existent threat from the east.”

The makers of the series say that existing tensions between Russia and the West did not inspire the show.

“In our story it is the EU that gives Russia the green light to invade Norway and the United States has withdrawn from NATO. It’s fiction,” Christopher Haug, TV2’s head of drama, said.

“It is not done with intention. This is a project that has been going on for a long time,” he said.

The first of 10 episodes will air on Norwegian screens on Oct. 4.

Officials at the Russian Embassy in Oslo were unavailable for further comment.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said in an e-mail to Reuters that “this is a TV series produced for TV2. For the Foreign Ministry, this is not something we spend time on.”

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/535131.html

Why Are the French Selling Russian Weapons To Egypt? Mistral Saga, Part Deux

If you’ve been losing sleep over the fate of France’s two hapless, orphaned Mistral warships, then you needn’t fret any longer: Egypt has been confirmed as the buyer of the ships originally constructed for Russia. President François Hollande and President Abdel Fattah el Sisi “have agreed on the principle and terms and conditions of Egypt’s acquisition of the two Mistral-class vessels,” the office of the French presidency said in a recent statement.

France had abandoned a deal to sell the two Mistral warships to Russia due to tensions over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine. Now a new deal for the ships, though preliminary, is finally more reality than rumor. France is at the brink of resolving what has indeed become a strange and dramatic arms sale saga.

The deal with Cairo was struck quite quickly, which is fortunate for France. Their agreement with Moscow over reimbursement was finalized a month and a half ago. Discussion about Egypt as a serious buyer for one or both warships seemed to begin in earnest last week.

“From the French perspective, whatever they can do to get out of the situation as quickly as possible is a good thing for them,” remarked Yannick Quéau, director general of Open Source Intelligence on Politics, a French think tank.

From – https://news.vice.com/article/why-are-the-french-selling-russian-weapons-to-egypt-mistral-saga-part-deux?utm_source=vicenewsfb

Russia Is Behind the Times on Migrant Crisis

It seems nobody has reacted more emotionally to the migration crisis in Europe than the Russian people and the small community of Russians who have themselves migrated to Europe. Those who predict that Europe will inevitably collapse under the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa seem to have logic on their side. Meanwhile, those who advocate an open door policy can only meekly argue that the world should be free from national barriers.

This, I think, is the main debate in the world today: either humanity must live in a world divided by fences or else all fences should be eliminated.

Television coverage from the Serbian and Hungarian borders and reports of thousands of migrants who try every night to pass through the railway tunnel under the English Channel to reach British territory really do resemble movie scenes of the zombie apocalypse. We see images of uncontrollable and growing throngs of people, surprised and alarmed European citizens and confused security personnel desperately trying to manage the situation.

Thousands of people pour across the border of the European Union every day. That means the reassuring announcement that the number of migrants does not exceed half a million was wrong and that the EU will soon have to revise that figure upward — probably more than once.

There is no reason to believe that the smugglers operating in the Mediterranean will soon face a drop in demand: quite the contrary, demand will only grow. The number of refugees will continue to increase daily, monthly and even yearly.

And of course, those masses of humanity will include not only the victims of military conflicts, but also their combatants. It is not always possible to differentiate a terrorist from an ordinary citizen at an airport terminal, much less when pulling passengers from a half-sunken ferry boat or when screening them at a refugee camp. It really is an enormous problem.

Until fairly recently, Europe still had walls that leaders could strengthen if necessary and gates that they could close and post with armed guards. This, indeed, is the question: In which type of world would you personally prefer to live? In a world of forbidding walls and guarded gates — or in a world where the gates stand wide open?

Many Russians clearly yearn for walls and closed gates. That is why they consider it pure madness, suicidal to open the gates to Europe to those who need help.

According to official statistics, Russia is second only to the United States as the country allowing in the most migrants. But do not be deceived by this honorable position in the ranking: The lion’s share of migrants to Russia come from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia in search of jobs in a labor market that is shrinking due to the economic crisis.

Russia welcomes them only because they are willing to do the menial labor that nobody else wants. They are not welcome beyond this narrow social niche and nobody is inviting them to integrate into local communities. All of Russia’s migration legislation is aimed at ensuring that they return to their homelands as quickly as possible. This is because, while Russian voters are not averse to exploiting migrant labor, they do not want those people as permanent neighbors.

And Russia has nothing to boast about regarding its attitude toward refugees. Prior to the conflict in Ukraine, Russia had granted asylum to only several hundred refugees in total.

On the one hand, there is little difference between the situation in Russia and that in Europe. Both have post-colonial peripheries that are in a state of partial economic, social and political collapse. And in both places, voters are not too thrilled with the appearance of a mosque down the street or the fact that, while riding on the subway, their native language is increasingly drowned out by Arabic or Tajik.

The difference is that Europeans seem to have realized that in the modern world freedom of movement is as inevitable as the sunrise and sunset. And that means that no matter how strict the rules of migration control are, the citizens of other countries will continue to arrive. They will come by plane, train, boat, raft or on foot.

Even the most remote and little-known corners of Europe in, say, the Czech Republic or Estonia, will not remain untouched. The world has become open simply as a result of technological changes: It is no longer possible to live as humanity once did 200, 100 or even 30 years ago.

This has two ramifications.

First, we must learn to live together. We must not merely tolerate neighbors who are different from us, but also respect them as equals. We must learn to see in diversity not just problems, but potential. At the same time, we must require that the newcomers comply with and respect the laws of the land along with everyone else.

Second, we must work toward bringing prosperity to every part of the planet because it is clear that the entire population of the Earth cannot live on the manicured lawns of Europe, North America and Australia — even if those regions were to suddenly eliminate all of their immigration restrictions.

Fences will not save anyone. That means humanity must remove those fences and ensure that manicured lawns appear everywhere. It must become possible to lead a good life everywhere, so that people would not feel compelled to flee their homelands with their children and belongings in search of sanctuary thousands of kilometers away on another continent.

Europe is trying now to make such a change, although clearly, it does not fully understand how to go about it. Russia is still trying to change the world in the opposite direction by closing its borders, dividing the continent into zones of influence and restricting freedom of movement.

In the world that the current Moscow regime is trying to build, an attempt to send a resume to Stockholm could land a person 14 years in a maximum security penal colony, as happened to engineer Gennady Kravtsov, who was convicted of treason a couple of days ago.

Paradoxically, few people are more adamantly opposed to accepting migrants in Europe than the Russians who have migrated there themselves. Unfortunately, they quickly forgot their own motivations. They cannot empathize with migrants who stand with their two children in their arms and their only suitcase in their hand and approach an immigration officer who has the power to grant them access to a world of manicured lawns, political stability and economic prosperity, while they leave behind a home blazing with the chaos of a crumbling state.

The way things are going, many who now advocate a policy of closed gates might soon find themselves in the same situation. At that moment they will suddenly call for an open world without walls and borders. Unfortunately, by that time the chance to create such a world might have been lost, thanks in part to their not so silent acquiescence.

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/russia-is-behind-the-times-on-migrant-crisis-op-ed/535103.html

Mr Saakashvili goes to Odessa

IN THE spring of 2014, as the war in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region was breaking out, deadly clashes wracked the elegant port city of Odessa. On May 2nd pro-Russian separatists shot at pro-Ukrainian demonstrators from behind police lines. The riot ended in a fire that killed 46 separatists. The city has been largely quiet ever since.

Yet over the past few months Odessa, now governed by Mikheil Saakashvili, a former president of Georgia, has become a battleground in a less visible sort of war. This pits the corrupt post-Soviet system that has ruled Ukraine for nearly a quarter of a century against the law-based state that was promised by the Maidan revolution in Kiev nearly two years ago.

It was Ukrainians’ aspirations for a modern Westernised country that spurred Russia’s aggression against them in the first place. But while the war has turned Ukraine against Russia, cost 8,000 lives and battered Ukraine’s economy, it has not created a functional state. All too often, the conflict has been used by the government as an excuse for its failure to change.

Only 3% of Ukrainians are satisfied with the pace of reforms. None of the officials who pillaged the country under its prior government and were responsible for the deaths of demonstrators in Kiev has been prosecuted. Despite a few fresh faces in government, the old elite continues to dominate, showing little interest in investigating the scams they once ran—and in many cases still do. A new anti-corruption bureau set up a year ago has been stymied. “The government is killing the spirit of Maidan,” says Yulia Mostovaya, the editor of Zerkalo Nedeli, an independent weekly.

It is this spirit that Mr Saakashvili is now trying to revive in Odessa. Lacking a responsible Ukrainian political elite, the president, Petro Poroshenko, has recruited foreigners into his administration. An ideological corruption fighter, Mr Saakashvili is trying to replicate in Odessa the reforms he successfully implemented in his native Georgia between 2004 and 2013.

Fighting corruption is a critical struggle throughout the post-Soviet region, and Mr Saakashvili’s administration has attracted a clutch of Georgian, Ukrainian and even Russian reformers. They include Maria Gaidar, daughter of Yegor Gaidar, the liberal who served as Russia’s first post-Soviet prime minister. She believes she can do more for Russia’s future in Odessa than she could in Moscow, where she helped lead the anti-Putin protests in 2011. “Putinism is based on the idea that there can be no alternative to his model of governance,” says Ms Gaidar. “What we are trying to do here is to create this alternative.”

The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine has shifted the focus from war to reform. For the first time in 18 months, nobody is dying in Donbas. Russian state television channels, whose programming is a good predictor of Kremlin intentions, have stopped showing images of combat and turned to upbeat footage of separatist leaders visiting kindergartens. “The situation in the east of Ukraine has reached an impasse,” says Dmitry Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, a think-tank. Rather than escalating the conflict and risking further Western sanctions, Mr Putin is counting on political turmoil to destabilise Ukraine.

The biggest threat to Ukraine is now not a Russian invasion, but corruption so pervasive that it long ago ceased to be a disease of the post-Soviet system and became the system itself. Police and prosecutors are in effect commercial structures used to gain wealth and power. And while in Mr Putin’s Russia security and law-enforcement agencies are controlled by one clan, in Ukraine the privatised state is divided between several oligarchic groups, providing a measure of pluralism (if not democracy). The attempt by Viktor Yanukovych, the former president, to monopolise corruption was one reason for his overthrow.

Although Maidan started as a popular movement against corruption, it was supported by the oligarchs, who put their own politicians on the stage. Getting rid of Mr Yanukovych did not end corruption; it merely decentralised it. “Instead of rebuilding the system, [the new government] is redistributing assets and spheres of influence,” says Victoria Voytsitska, one of the young members of parliament swept in by the revolution.

Rule by bribe
Russian aggression empowered the oligarchs further. Unable to rely on its corrupt, ill-equipped police and army, the new government appointed several oligarchs as governors of the country’s most vulnerable regions. Ihor Kolomoisky, a billionaire with interests in banking, oil, television and an airline, took charge of Dnepropetrovsk. He financed a private army, topped up police salaries and put a bounty on every separatist’s head.

Having stemmed the Russian-backed secessionists, the oligarchs felt entitled to continue profiting from state firms. Aivaras Abromavicius, the Lithuanian-born minister for economy and trade, says there is not a single state enterprise in Ukraine that has not been usurped by one clan or another.

Mr Kolomoisky soon tried to expand his influence to Odessa, installing a business associate as its acting governor. But after a stand-off over control of state energy firms, Mr Poroshenko fired Mr Kolomoisky as governor of Dnepropetrovsk and appointed Mr Saakashvili as governor of Odessa. Mr Poroshenko saw it as a way of consolidating power; Mr Saakashvili sees the president as cover for reform.

Odessa’s new governor faces much resistance. When he tried to clean up the customs department, the national government lowered tariffs at Ukraine’s other ports and sucked away 80% of the Odessa port’s business—to ensure a cut of the bribes would continue to flow up the chain of command. Exasperated by the sabotage, Mr Saakashvili went on national television to accuse the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, of being in the pocket of the oligarchs. He also attacked the head of the civil aviation authority for restricting competition in favour of Mr Kolomoisky’s airline. The government was forced to drop the differential tariffs, sack the head of the aviation authority and put him under house arrest.

Mr Kolomoisky vowed revenge. “When a dog without a muzzle bites someone, we need to punish both the dog and, more importantly, its owner,” he told Ukrainian journalists. The oligarchs, says Ms Mostovaya, see Mr Poroshenko not as an independent arbiter but as one of their own who is trying to squeeze out the rest. Observers say the oligarchs hope that regional elections, due on October 25th, will allow them to establish control in Ukraine’s east and force early parliamentary elections.

Mr Saakashvili argues that the only way to dislodge the oligarchs is to enlist the public. Whereas Georgia had a pro-reform economic elite, “In Ukraine, there is no such elite, but there is a strong civil society,” he says. “Ordinary people take much greater interest in politics here than they did in Georgia.”

To rally support, Mr Saakashvili has staged a series of publicity stunts. With the cameras rolling, he turned up at seaside mansions to smash walls and free up beaches illegally commandeered by tycoons. “If I tried to do it by sitting in my office or appealing to the courts, it would just never get done,” says Mr Saakashvili. He has promised a badly needed road from Odessa to the Romanian border and a Georgian-style one-stop office to cut through red tape for official documents.

Odessa’s young reformers look out of place in the regional administration’s concrete Soviet-era building. Mr Saakashvili’s 25-year-old deputy, Yulia Marushevska, is familiar to many Westerners as the face of Maidan: in February 2014 she recorded an English-language video from the demonstrations entitled “I am a Ukrainian”, and drew 8m views on YouTube. After a few months of working in Odessa’s government, she says: “I feel like sitting down and rewriting this country from scratch.”

But the key, as Mr Saakashvili knows from his experience in Georgia, is control over law-enforcement agencies. One of his biggest victories so far is the appointment of a Georgian former prosecutor as the head of Odessa’s prosecutor’s office.

On the brink of chaos
With winter approaching and electricity shortages looming, time is short. “We have two to three months at most to show some results,” says Mr Saakashvili. Poorly remunerated public services are on the brink of collapse. The population is growing poorer—and more radical. Meanwhile, Ukraine is brimming with weapons and thousands of militiamen, angry with a corrupt and listless government they feel has hijacked the revolution.

In Odessa a pro-Ukrainian volunteer force called “Self-Defence” boasts 300 men (many of them armed) and 400 more in reserve. Vitaly Kozhukar, one of its leaders, says he and his men are disappointed that Mr Saakashvili does not rely on them. “We expected more radical steps from him,” says Mr Kozhukar. “We will give him a couple of months before we start asking questions. And if he tells us that the problem is in Kiev, we will go to Kiev.”

Given the weakness of law enforcement, it might not take much for a militia battalion to move into Kiev and stage a coup. Many of the paramilitary groups are financed by oligarchs. Were they to overthrow the government, the country could collapse into regional factions—a prospect relished by Russia.

To tame the militias, the state must grow strong enough to establish a monopoly on violence. Yet law enforcement agencies are so discredited that reformers have turned to creating parallel structures. New “patrol police” departments have been set up in cities including Kiev and Odessa. Recruits are put through a vigorous selection process to weed out bad apples, trained by police instructors from California, and paid triple the salaries of the old departments to avoid temptation.

One day last month, Eka Zguladze, a former Georgian official serving as Ukraine’s deputy interior minister, stood at the top of the steps where Sergei Eisenstein filmed the famous baby-carriage scene in his masterpiece, “Battleship Potemkin”. Ms Zguladze was swearing in the first cadre of Odessa’s newly established patrol police. “We must show that our dream of the rule of law is not a Utopia. The battle taking place is not about east and west, north and south,” she told them. “It is a battle for law against lawlessness.”

From – http://ukrainia.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/20150926_eup003.jpg

Ukraine’s Richest Man Plays Both Sides of War’s Front Line

KRASNODON, Ukraine — In this town deep in eastern Ukraine’s rebel heartland, about a quarter of the population works in the coal mines owned by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man. Here and elsewhere in territory controlled by the separatist insurgency, the tycoon keeps the lights on and people clothed and fed, with a mixture of jobs, electricity and aid.

At the same time, Akhmetov operates factories on the other side of the front line, powering Ukraine’s economy and pouring hundreds of millions in taxes into government coffers. His steel products, which are finished in rebel territory, are then shipped to the West — where they bring in billions in revenue for Akhmetov that then indirectly props up the separatist government.

The billionaire is able to straddle the front line by using his fortune and business empire as leverage. His companies provide more than 300,000 jobs across Ukraine, most in the rebel-held east. Meanwhile, his control over utilities that provide electricity and heating to both sides allow him to dictate terms to the government as well as the rebels. Cracking down on Akhmetov’s factories in government territory would threaten Ukraine’s depressed economy, while a collapse of utilities in the east would undermine the rebels’ grip on power.

It makes for a striking picture of economic cooperation between enemy areas: Coal produced in Krasnodon mines, on rebel territory, travels to the Avdiivka coking plant on the government side. Coke is then shipped back to rebel lands, to a metals smelter in Yenakieve, and the metals produced there are transported to government territory on the Azov Sea — for shipping to the West.

Meanwhile, Western purchases, which account for the most of Akhmetov’s profits, are helping to keep the rebel territory afloat by fueling economic activity. Akhmetov’s Metinvest metals and mining holding posted revenues of $1.8 billion in the first quarter of the year, a 6 percent increase over the previous year, with Europe accounting for 35 percent of sales and North America for 3 percent. Steel works in rebel-controlled Yenakieve accounted for a quarter of the company’s steel output in the first quarter.

After separatist leaders occupied parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Ukrainian government said anything that is produced there should be classified as contraband. But Kiev gave the green light for Akhmetov’s empire — which stretches from coal mines and metal smelters to power plants — to trade with the rebel-held areas and export its products just as it did before the war.

When the insurgency erupted in 2014, the Ukrainian government set about shutting down Ukrainian businesses in the east, and most private businessmen fled. The war has killed more than 8,000 people, but also erected barriers between suppliers and customers. Only Akhmetov — worth $6.7 billion according to Forbes magazine — has been allowed to operate on both sides.

Neither Akhmetov nor the rebels acknowledge that he is propping up the separatists. But there is little doubt that his factories, and the back-and-forth of trade over the front line, are critical to the rebel regime. Admitting any cooperation with the rebels would be the end for the 48-year-old billionaire: His company would be in violation of international law and shut out of Western markets.

Metinvest and Krasnodonugol, Akhmetov’s coal company, say they neither pay taxes to the rebel government nor directly finance the separatists.

“We tell them that right now we cannot comply with the demands that the [Luhansk separatist] republic is putting forward because complying with them would mean the enterprise would have to shut down,” Krasnodonugol director Alexander Angelovsky told The Associated Press.

Earlier in the conflict, Krasnodonugol came under attack from the rebels, a mine employee told The AP. Its director was briefly arrested, and a separatist fighter with a live grenade in his hands stormed into a meeting room, threatening to blow up the place unless the rebels were allowed to take a firing position on the grounds. Now residents in the separatist areas speak about a sense of order, installed by Russians, which has replaced the chaos and anarchy of the first months of the separatist movement.

When asked about cooperation with separatist leaders, Angelovsky said he does not deal with fighters but rather with “new official bodies” made up of the same officials who were in charge under the Ukrainian government. The only difference, he said, is that they have “raised the new flag.”

A few blocks away from Krasnodonugol, the office of the former Ukrainian tax inspection now handles rebel taxes. Staff would not comment publicly, but a senior official, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said every business in town, about half of the 4,000 that were here before the war, is now registered to pay rebel taxes. Asked about Krasnodonugol, he chuckled and said: “We are working on it.”

Enrique Menendez, a well-connected Donetsk businessman who closed his advertising firm to launch a humanitarian effort, does not believe Akhmetov is supporting the rebels in any direct way. But it’s clear, he said, that the insurgents need Akhmetov, who is originally from the east but now lives in Kiev.

“It’s one thing when you wag a finger and vow to fight an oligarch regime,” Menendez said of the rebels. “It’s another thing if you decide to declare war on [Akhmetov]. If he shuts down his energy assets now, ahead of the heating season, what are they going to do?”

Akhmetov is also the largest provider of humanitarian aid in rebel territory, since the separatists will not allow Ukrainian government aid, and Western organizations are having difficulties delivering their own.

The tycoon’s Shakhtar FC arena, which hosted the 2012 European football championships, now serves as a warehouse for the relief effort. Last winter, when Ukraine suspended pensions and benefits to those living in rebel-held areas, and before the rebels began paying their own benefits, food packages delivered to the Shakhtar arena helped the city’s poorest residents survive. Akhmetov’s charity fund says it has now given away more than 4.3 million food packages.

In Donetsk, the capital of the insurgency, Akhmetov is not just a businessman but a father figure. When a methane blast killed 33 miners at the Zasyadko coal mine in March, he offered to pay compensation to the injured and to the families of the dead, even though he did not own the mine.

For its part, Ukraine is dependent on Akhmetov for taxes, power generation and the coal mined in rebel lands. His energy company DTEK provides half of all coal produced in Ukraine and runs three giant power plants on separatist-held territory.

Akhmetov’s holding company, System Capital Management, told The AP by e-mail that it “will continue to operate in the territory of sovereign Ukraine where is possible to do so, despite the operational challenges, and we applaud the hard work and loyalty of our employees who have continued to work in these tough conditions to ensure that business and essential services such as electricity continue to be delivered, despite hardship and risk.” Like Metinvest and Krasnodonugol, the company denied allegations that it may be paying taxes to anyone other than the Ukrainian government.

Radical Ukrainian politicians tend to call everyone operating in the separatist area a collaborator — and many are calling vociferously for a stop to Akhmetov’s operations in the east. The reality is much more complicated: Most big companies in the region are registered to pay taxes to Kiev, with more than 90,000 companies and 150,000 individuals in rebel-held areas — including Akhmetov’s — registering anew this year to do so, according to Roman Nasirov, chief of the Ukrainian Fiscal Service.

Authorities, however, cannot help but suspect them of paying off the rebels: “We realize that in reality they have to pay some fees in the occupied areas,” Nasirov said. “You may call them taxes or extortion money.”

Meanwhile, Akhmetov’s privileged status does not make him immune from the effects of the war, or restrictions imposed by Ukraine.

Five of Akhmetov’s mines in Krasnodon had to stand idle from January to June as they waited for a permit to transport coal to their main client, the coking plant in Avdiivka, on the government side.

Earlier this month, rebel leaders threatened to suspend all coal supplies to the rest of Ukraine. Akhmetov’s DTEK energy company, however, said this week that it still sends coal to Ukrainian power stations; and Krasnodonugol told AP that it is still selling coal to eastern and central Ukraine.

The Avdiivka operations are also feeling the brunt of the war. On a recent visit to the Avdiivka plant, electricity workers were busy repairing power lines cut down by the previous night’s shelling, which is nearly a daily occurrence.

Ironically, the shells fly in from Krasnodon area, which supplies Avdiivka much of its coal.

From – http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/ukraines-richest-man-plays-both-sides-of-wars-front-line/533898.html