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Does Saakashvili’s resignation mark the end of reform in Ukraine?

Mikheil Saakashvili’s resignation this week does not mark the failure of reform efforts in Ukraine. It opens a new chapter.

“Odesa can only develop once Kyiv will be freed from these bribe takers, who directly patronize organized crime and lawlessness,” he bluntly told journalists when he announced he was quitting on November 7.

This opinion was hardly “news.” Ukraine is vice-ridden and he was recruited to deal with criminality.

What is new, however, is that he is pivoting into politics. Working inside the system cannot transform the country. Only the ballot box can, along with hefty pressure from both the street and the West. Saakashvili underscored this strategy when he added: “We will definitely unite and finish this fight, bringing victory to Ukraine. The fight continues.”

The “fight” is necessary and must pivot away from divisions among reformers to the creation of a cohesive reform political coalition capable of defeating Ukraine’s ruling elite.

It won’t be easy; only two percent of Ukrainians said they’d vote for the party Saakashvili has been associated with if elections were held now.

But last week’s e-declaration revelations will be enormously useful by quantifying, for the first, the scale of looting in Ukraine.

Disclosures by 50,000 officials were jaw dropping, particularly the fact that 413 members of parliament hold $480 million in cash and deposits not including other assets. Another 50,000 declarations will be published in January.

Worse, this was only the tip of the iceberg because of gaps and loopholes in the disclosure requirements. Now conditions exist to try and take over the government itself, even before the next parliamentary elections in 2.5 years. Populists would like nothing more.

Now is the time to unify reformers of every persuasion and party from Saakashvili to Savchenko, activists, civil society, and the hundreds more in office in common cause.

Arguably the creation of such a coalition is prerequisite to win but also to govern.

Now is not the time to throw in the towel. Ukraine doesn’t need another firebrand or another political party. It needs many firebrands and parties willing to subordinate their egos to overthrow the oligarchy.

They also must join forces to push through better reforms and prevent more slippage or sabotage. Even though the disclosure laws are transformational they are badly flawed and must be improved.

For instance, Ukrainian lawmaker with President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc, Sergii Leshchenko claimed that Poroshenko had entered incomplete data in his declaration by not itemizing the eighty-four valuable paintings he owns as stipulated in the law.

Some of these works of art are masterpieces, according to Leshchenko, such as paintings by Sandro Botticelli or Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. To omit these dramatically reduces the magnitude of his wealth.

The law also lets culprits off the hook. Disclosures are based on the honor system and there are suspiciously few declarations about offshore assets. Even worse, reports are that roughly one thousand judges from the corrupt regime of former President Viktor Yanukovych resigned rather than declare their assets. (Obviously, any disclosure law should stipulate that any public official since the 2014 elections declare their assets even if they quit.)

Ukraine’s war against corruption is ongoing because it also a war of attrition. The regime entertains reforms, then erodes or replaces them with laws that neutralize their benefits. Reformers are appointed, then cast adrift in a sea of lawlessness, or quit in frustration.

Two attacks have been mounted against the newly-minted National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the High Council of Justice which monitors and disciplines the judiciary.

The Prosecutor General is attempting to have his agency overtake the Bureau’s jurisdiction. Then there is another law, passed by parliament and signed by Poroshenko recently, that defangs the Council by exempting Yanukovych-era judges from discipline by guaranteeing them seven-year terms.

“Nobody’s punished,” said parliamentarian Hanna Hopko. “There is still no justice because the judges have not been reformed. We are disappointed with progress, but this is a marathon not a 100-meter foot race.”

Rooting out systemic corruption is a daunting challenge but Ukraine’s regime has pretended it’s in favor of reform and is running out of excuses.

Compare its foot dragging to the fact that Estonia, East Germany, and Georgia dismissed all their judges after the Soviets disappeared. Ukraine may have a bigger system but a good start would be to give the Public Integrity Council the power to ban the appointment of untrustworthy judges.

Besides time is running out, suggested Presidential Advisor Leszek Balcerowicz of Poland. He emphasized, to a Toronto audience this week, that this year is critically important. “You have 2.5 years before the next election so this year is critical,” he said. “The diaspora must play a role.”

Western governments must increase pressure, according to Leshchenko and others, and extend sanctions in Ukraine to include those who were part of Yanukovych’s inner circle and are still pulling the strings.

To be fair, reformers should be proud that more reforms have taken place since the Revolution of Dignity than ever before in Ukraine’s history.

But the next step is all-out political mobilization and a reconstitution of reform efforts by individuals who will put country ahead of their ambitions, party or ideology.

The people of Ukraine deserve no less and the scoundrels in high office deserve to be driven out and prosecuted.

From – https://www.kyivpost.com/article/opinion/op-ed/diane-francis-saakashvilis-resignation-mark-end-reform-ukraine.html

Savchenko writes open letter to Trump, asks him to maintain anti-Russian sanctions

Ukrainian lawmaker and former military pilot Nadia Savchenko has written an open letter to U.S President-elect Donald Trump asking that he continue and even increase sanctions against Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

“I appeal to you with the kind request to maintain and even to strengthen sanctions against the Russian Federation, because this country understands only force. I also ask for international diplomatic, technical, and military support for Ukraine,” wrote Savchenko.

The lawmaker also asked Trump to monitor and support the release of imprisoned Ukrainians in Russia and hostages in the country’s war-torn Donbas region. Savchenko herself was released from a Russian prison under a pardon from Russian President Vladimir Putin in July, after more than two years of imprisonment there and being subjected to a sham trial by a Russian court.

“As the world called for my release, now I would like to help (Ukrainian prisoners) by raising awareness about their plight, too. I’d be very thankful for your possible future answer, in which you might explain to Ukrainians and to all the nations of the world the main points of your future administration’s steps regarding these questions,” Savchenko went on.

“I want to add that you have every possibility to prevent World War III,” added the lawmaker.

From – https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/savchenko-writes-open-letter-trump-asks-maintain-anti-russian-sanctions.html

Is World War III On The Horizon? NATO Puts 300,000 Troops On ‘High Alert’ To Combat Russian Aggressions

Whoever the next President of the United States is will have plenty on their plate to begin their term including Russia which has been testing boundaries as of late. To counter this growing threat NATO has put 300,000 troops on high alert to counter and deter Russia’s assertiveness.

NATO felt that there was strong enough hostilities coming from Moscow that they wanted a huge ground force to be ready for an all-out war. The high alert means that troops will be able to mobilize within two months, instead of the typical time of around six months.

“These measures proved themselves necessary because of Russia’s unprecedented military activity in the world,” Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg told the Times. “With Russia increasing its military power, holding exercises and increasing its expenditure on propaganda, NATO can’t avoid getting itself ready to meet any threat.”

“We have also seen Russia using propaganda in Europe among Nato allies and that is exactly the reason why Nato is responding,” NATO’s Secretary General said. “We are responding with the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”

In October, NATO was preparing to station 4,000 troops on the Russian border with the Baltic states in its biggest military build-up since the Cold War. NATO chiefs issued an ultimatum to Russia last month promising to respond with deadly military force if the aggressions did not cease.

“We have seen Russia being much more active in many different ways,” said Stoltenberg, a Norwegian. “We have seen a more assertive Russia implementing a substantial military build-up over many years; tripling defense spending since 2000 in real terms; developing new military capabilities; exercising their forces and using military force against neighbors.”

The fear is that Vladimir Putin could snatch back Baltic states in a quick land invasion. Scout.com is reporting that there are eight countries in Eastern Europe gearing up for a war, including Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Finland and Sweden. Analysts believe that Russia could easily roll into most of those countries and take over a country like Estonia in as little as 60 hours.

But it isn’t just ground troops that are ramping up their preparedness. NATO fighter pilots are also being quite vigilant against Russian aggressions.

From the Washington Post:

At least 13 Russian warplanes coursed through the skies. And the NATO fighter jets kept rushing into the air to meet them. By the end of the night, Finland and Estonia said their airspace had been violated — and in the sea below, a powerful nuclear-capable missile system was on its way to a Russian naval base in the enclave of Kaliningrad.

For the seven German fighter pilots who trade 24-hour shifts at this remote air base, the escalation has a practical effect: more close encounters with Russian fighter pilots high in the skies. The pilots often fly within 10 yards of the Russian jets, close enough to wave hello, or in one recent incident, see a Russian pilot flash a middle finger.

“Maybe he watched too much Top Gun, ” said Lt. Col. Swen Jacob, the commander of the German contingent that is posted for a four-month rotation to a round-the-clock air-policing mission in Estonia.

The Germans have scrambled 34 times since they arrived for their latest posting in Estonia on the last day of August, rushing into the air to escort Sukhoi fighter jets, Ilyushin reconnaissance planes and Antonov transport planes. The majority of the traffic comes from runs in international airspace between Russian air bases near St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave wedged between Lithuania and Poland. Russian military flights often fly without transponders, making them invisible to civilian aircraft and raising the risk of midair crashes.

Let’s hope that this does not escalate more than some military generals waving their dicks around.

Microsoft’s HoloLens Could Go to War

Virtual reality isn’t just for video games or making Skype calls in space. There’s a good chance the tech could help soldiers in real wars too. Last month, at the Arms and Security trade show in Kiev, Ukraine, defense companies gathered to peddle their wares. Amid the new guns and drones, one company caused a minor stir by finding a new use for Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Ukraine has been fighting a bloody war against Russian backed separatists since 2014. Its military is looking for anything that might give it the advantage on the battlefield. Enter LimpidArmor, a Ukrainian defense company with a fancy new helmet for tank drivers it thinks could help

LimpidArmor calls its helmet the Circular Review System (CRS). It’s a helmet outfitted with a Microsoft HoloLens and hooked to cameras on the tank’s body. The cameras come with the system so the crew can put them wherever they need.

It’s a great idea because driving a tank sucks. The metal beasts are stuffy, crowded, and loud. It’s hard to maintain battlefield awareness. Worse, tanks crews rely on slits in the armor or rudimentary black and white cameras to watch the road and hit their targets. CRS would change that.

The system comes with a HoloLens equipped helmet, a box of cameras, and some proprietary software. The crew places the thermal and optic cameras on the body of the tank as they see fit and the software feeds the images to the HoloLens.

Even better, LimpidArmor’s software allows the viewer to mark targets, highlight enemies, and track targets. They also claim the software allows users to pull in outside video feeds from drones and other sources.

The helmet could be a game changer on the battlefield. Forget the cameras on the outside, tank drivers could use drones or the helmet cameras of forward scouts to navigate conflict zones.

America’s new F-35 jet uses a similar system to give pilots a virtual view of the battlefield through their helmets, but the cost difference is insane. Each F-35 helmet costs around $400,000 while anyone can buy a HoloLens from Microsoft for $3,000.

From – http://motherboard.vice.com/read/microsofts-hololens-could-go-to-war

The State Bank of Japan tightens sanctions against Russia

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has limited the financing of Russian companies and financial institutions, Nikkei reports.

JBIC took this recent step as a show of agreement with the USA and the European Union, which has imposed relatively more severe constraints against Russia. The state bank will stop financing projects that European or American companies have pulled out of. The Japanese lender will also check to see that no private-sector peers will fund a potential borrower.

However, the JBIC will still ensure that “adequate fund-transfer mechanisms” are in place to provide limited financing. The bank stated in October that they would credit Sberbank of Russia with a 4 billion yen loan ($38.5 million).

Tokyo has severed economic cooperation with Moscow to resolve longstanding disputes though it has not taken steps as severe as the West has done.

From – http://www.uawire.org/news/the-state-bank-of-japan-tightens-sanctions-against-russia

Klimkin: If Russia does not remove heavy weapons, they could potentially have their own bases in the Donbas

Heavy weapons of the self-proclaimed republics of Donbas should be returned to the Russian Federation, and should not be stored on site during the local elections. If not, Russia could potentially then have their own military bases in the area as per the OSCE mandate. This was stated by the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, in an interview with Levyi Bereg.

“One of the OSCE’s proposals is to establish a warehouse in Donbas where military equipment and weapons could be stored during the elections. This means that Russia will actually have military bases on Ukrainian territory where weapons could be deployed from, and we will be unable to do anything about it. This is all possible under the mandate of the OSCE mission”, Klimkin

Klimkin said that there are currently hundreds of units of heavy weapons in the Donbas.

“These include tanks and armored vehicles. All of those units won’t be left there once the OSCE takes control of the border”, he said.

According to Klimkin, if all of these weapons stay in the Donbas, there is no hope for any kind of safety.

Recently, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that during the Berlin talks, the Normandy Four agreed on the deployment of an armed OSCE mission, the road map for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the withdrawal of forces.

Russia has refuted statements made by Poroshenko with regard to the OSCE mission, by claiming that only a potential agreement on the deployment was given in Berlin.

From – http://www.uawire.org/news/klimkin-russia-might-get-base-in-donbas-under-the-osce-mandate#

Reporters Without Borders Declares Putin and Chechnya’s Ruler to Be ‘Enemies of the Press’

President Vladimir Putin and Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, have earned the infamy of appearing on Reporters Without Borders’ list of “enemies of the press,” according to the RBC news agency.

The group recently updated its list, which now includes the names of 35 politicians, state officials, and criminal organizations. Putin and Kadyrov join the likes of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev, Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev, and Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the president of Turkmenistan.

On the enemies list, you can also find longtime Cuban leader Raul Castro, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

From – https://themoscowtimes.com/news/reporters-without-borders-declare-putin-and-kadyrov-enemies-of-the-press-55980

Russians Are Growing Uneasy About the Kremlin’s War in Syria, New Poll Shows

Despite Russia’s lack of independent news coverage on Syria and the heavily controlled nature of television, a new poll by the Levada Center suggests that the public is beginning to worry about Moscow’s conflict with the West in Aleppo spinning out of control.

“On the whole, most people are still positive about the Kremlin’s role,” says sociologist Aleksey Grazhdankin, Levada’s deputy director, who has been studying Russians’ attitudes since the beginning of Moscow’s military campaign. But, he says, there have been some significant changes in the way Russians perceive their country’s foreign policy.

Indeed, support for Russian airstrikes in Syria is still high: 52 percent of respondents said they support the attacks. A year ago, this figure was roughly the same, at 55 percent. But the number of those who fully support the bombings fell a significant 5 percent: from 21 percent to 16 percent. Increasingly, Russians also can’t make up their minds about Moscow’s campaign in Syria, with undecided respondents rising from 19 percent last year to 23 percent in the first week of October 2016.

Entering the Syrian conflict more than a year ago, Vladimir Putin set out to restore Russia’s presence on the global scene, following international isolation that resulted from Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

Russians sympathized with these aims, and the public welcomed the country’s return to global affairs. “Besides, Russia fighting in a foreign country adds to the self-esteem of some Russians,” argues political analyst Mikhail Troitskiy.

A year ago, 40 percent of the country said it expected Russian airstrikes would improve Western attitudes toward Russia. Today, just 30 percent of respondents — a clear minority — embrace this view. A year ago, 49 percent of Russians said that Russia and the West would be able to find common ground in Syria. That figure has dropped to 35 percent today.

In other words, what was initially thought to be a cause for cooperation has become yet another battlefield in Russia’s expanding confrontation with the West. According to Levada’s new survey, Russians have not welcomed this development.

“Some Russians saw a certain contradiction,” agrees political analyst Mikhail Troitskiy. Putin declared an exit from Syria in March, but Russian never actually withdrew, and has instead continued to support Assad’s government militarily.

Many in Russia say they have struggled to understand Moscow’s support for Assad. “For many Russians, it is difficult to figure out what interests Russia has in supporting a faraway land and why Russia should risk confrontation with the West for [Assad],” said Troitskiy.

Almost half of the country (48 percent) says it fears the Syrian conflict could evolve into a Third World War. A few months ago, in July, just 29 percent of Russians expressed this fear. While Grazhdankin notes that this figure should not be exaggerated, he says it’s significant that more and more Russians are worried about a global catastrophe. “It’s a fear of confrontation,” he says.

Generally, Russians welcome their government’s efforts against terrorism. “Russians, unlike some nations, prefer a tough approach — whether in crime or terrorism,” says Grazhdankin. Also, during last 15 years, anti-American and anti-Western attitudes have become embedded in Russian society, making perceptions of global confrontation not altogether shocking.

But still, as the Levada Center’s new poll shows, Russians’ comfort level with escalated tensions isn’t limitless.

WW3 News: Vladimir Putin Gives Obama 24-Hour Ultimatum, Satan 2 Ready For Deployment

Vladimir Putin has finally had enough of America demonizing his country that he has issued a 24-hour ultimatum to Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton as WW3 tensions run high. In his global message, he warned that he will start shooting down US aircraft in the Middle East if the United States continues to slander Russia.

The global announcement was made on Friday, October 21st with the Russian president also warning the US to prepare for the possibility of World War 3. This appears to be no idle threat because as of Sunday, October 23rd, Putin has ordered the Russian Defense Ministry to begin training and managing all local authorities, law enforcement, and state security.

According to the Conservative Daily Post, this is all to prepare Russia for a nuclear war with the United States. However, despite both superpowers teetering over the edge of nuclear Armageddon, Hillary Clinton still spent the last two days blaming Putin and Russia for WikiLeaks and continues to call him a “thug puppet.”

From – http://www.morningnewsusa.com/ww3-news-vladimir-putin-gives-obama-24-hour-ultimatum-satan-2-ready-for-deployment-23115871.html

Russia Promises to Retaliate Against New NATO Deployments. Somehow.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergey Shoigu, said Moscow will be forced to take certain defensive measures, in the face of NATO’s planned troop deployments in Eastern Europe. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Shoigu accused NATO of undermining the region’s strategic stability, according to the RBC news agency.

NATO has announced plans to send an additional 4,000 alliance troops to the region. The final deployment is expected early next year.

“On the western border of [Russia and Belarus], the U.S. and other NATO members are actively building up their offensive potential, opening new bases and developing their infrastructure,” Shoigu told reporters.

NATO officials, meanwhile, say the organization’s actions are designed to reassure alliance members that were former Soviet states.

The growing presence of NATO troops and weaponry in Eastern Europe became a hot international issue following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, with many alliance members — particularly the small countries on Russia’s borders — worried that NATO’s eastern flank is vulnerable to Russian aggression.

From – https://themoscowtimes.com/news/russia-promises-vague-retaliation-to-new-nato-deployments-55978