17 March 2014

Tougher Action Needed Against Putin NOW

So the illegal referendum went ahead in Crimea yesterday. We were anticipating a strong reaction from the EU and other western countries today but nothing of significance has happened. A list of 21 people from both Ukraine and Russia will have their assets frozen. Maybe I missed something today?

Talk about an anti climax. The people of Ukraine were again hoping that the ‘west’ would step in a do something significant to stop further Russian aggression. Diplomacy is clearly not working. Putin and Medvedev must be laughing in the Kremlin every night. The time has come for tough ACTION.

Here is my list of proposed actions:
1. STOP all flights in and out of the Russian Federation immediately. Europe should refuse to accept any flights.
2. Close the border (100% not half way) between Ukraine and Russia and stop the movement of all goods going to Russia.
3. Kick Russia out of the G8 immediately.
4. Suspend Russia from the UN
5.  STOP all banking transactions between Russia and the rest of the world.
6. FREEZE the bank accounts of ALL Russian citizens in Europe. Yes ALL.

The EU should stop worrying about upsetting Mr Putin. He should be made to SQUEAL and feel the pain as a result of his actions.
Many many foreigners, myself included are ashamed of the weak actions taken by the EU.

27 February 2014

The New Ukraine

Last night the proposed members of the new interim government in Ukraine were introduced to the people standing at Maidan. Today the parliament will decide and vote. Maybe there will be some further changes but at least by the end of today the country should have a new government.
Changes are taking place very quickly in the ‘New Ukraine’. Many changes can only be for the better and here are a few that I and many others would like to witness further:

1. Corruption – It has to stop at ALL levels in Ukraine. It would appear that everyone knew that Yanukovych and his regime were stealing money from the country and it was well known that ‘government people’ would never do anything to help you unless you provided some financial incentive. But it is not just those at the top who were corrupt. All throughout the system of government including the vast majority of state employees people were expecting a bribe. If you didn’t provide what they wanted then it was guaranteed you would have many problems. For example trying to obtain a work permit, residents permit, building permit, electricity connection the list is endless……there would be someone in the chain who wanted a payoff and sometimes these payoffs were huge in comparison to the work required. THIS HAS GOT TO STOP immediately.

2. Respect For The Rule of Law – This will be a difficult one. There is no culture of respect for laws in Ukraine. People do not abide by agreements. If Ukraine really wants to be a ‘European country’ it must stop acting like the wild east in the early days of post-soviet Ukraine. The police are in Ukraine are probably the most corrupt in Europe. Judges in the courts just cannot be trusted and bribes decide most decisions. Massive changes are required in the legal system. But maybe the one positive thing is that from now on people will no longer be afraid of the police.

3. Goodbye Government Mafia – The Yanukovych regime had zero respect for the citizens of Ukraine. Members of the government and parliament acted like they were far superior to everyone.  Drivers in Kyiv would witness the way that the regime would travel around in their expensive cars at high speed with total disregard for the law and other people. I doubt we will see any more showing off from Bentley/Roll Royce/ Mercedes drivers/owners. The government and parliament need to show RESPECT towards people.

4. Free from Oligarch Control – The country can no longer be controlled by a few billionaires. If they all disappeared today the country would still function without them. They are not gods but people who took advantage of post-soviet Ukraine and acquired many assets quickly. Moreover these few billionaires are not needed in parliament or government.

5. Free The Banks from Government Control – The new government needs to be reminded that soviet days are over, finished, no more. The Ministry of Income/Finance or whatever it will be called now should NOT be controlling what banks can do with their customers. Tax payments by individuals and businesses are NOT the responsibility of banks. The National Bank of Ukraine needs to stop acting like big bad brother. If someone wants to send a little money to their relatives in another country they should NOT have to jump through hurdles created by the government. Likewise receiving money into Ukraine should not be a nightmare experience for bank customers. THE PEOPLE MUST BE FREE TO DECIDE.

6. Allow a FREE MARKET ECONOMY to develop – Prices are far too high for many goods in Ukraine and in particular in the capital city of Kyiv. Ukrainians who have travelled to other countries are always shocked to discover how much cheaper they can by goods outside Ukraine. Clothes, food, cars, and even property are far too expensive in Ukraine and are the result of high margins set by traders. Ukrainians need to wake up and stop paying crazy high prices for simple goods and services. Why should Ukraine be more expensive than EU countries? Small and medium size enterprises need to be given the opportunities to develop in Ukraine through a genuine free market and not be controlled by big companies or government.

None of this will be easy. The new government will have tough decisions to make. Presidential elections will be held on 25th May and we all hope that a clear winner is chosen by the people and that the election process is void of any corruption. However the country also needs to make a clean sweep of the parliament and hold elections sometime during 2014.

This year Ukraine can finally bring about the changes that are badly needed to set the country on a path towards greater prosperity for all its citizens and not just a select few as in the past.
I’m sure the majority of people from Western Europe welcome the development of a New Ukraine.

22 February 2014

The People Triumph in Ukraine

Well, the people of Ukraine finally did it.
Just in two days:

1. The Parliament voted to remove the President (328 votes from 450)
2. Passed laws to enable the release of Yulia Tymoshenko
    (she is now free from prison and on her way to Kyiv)
3. The people have full access to the Yanukovych presidential palace on the outskirts of Kyiv.
4. New Interim Ministers have been appointed.
5. Elections will be held on 25th May 2014
6. Created/amended a new constitution in Ukraine providing the Parliament with greater powers.

The past months in Ukraine the world has witnessed real people power. At times it appeared that the criminal regime of Victor Yanukovych would over power the people with force using the police and berkut and many unknown forces who we later saw to use violent force against unarmed Ukrainian people.
Too many lives have been lost and thousands injured in the process.

The determination of Ukrainian people has been exemplary.

Lets all hope and pray that this is now a bright new beginning for the country.

13 February 2014

Ukraine – The Last Revolution - The only way forward or just a crazy idea?

The situation in Ukraine is looking more like stalemate every day. President Yanukovych has no intention of standing down and his Party of the Regions intend to stay in government. The opposition and ‘The People of Maidan’ are still demanding the resignation of both the President and his government. The next presidential election is exactly 12 months away.

Although the EU and US continue to release statement after statement condemning the government of Ukraine for its actions and both threaten sanctions against senior government people nothing appears to be working. Much rhetoric about a peaceful settlement will not change the peoples mind about Yanukovych. It is obvious that ‘The people of Maidan’ and maybe the rest of the country have decided – He must go.

You would have to be a complete idiot to not see that Yanukovych and his ‘Business family’ and The Party of The Regions are a corrupt criminal regime. They are not professional politicians. They care little about the people of Ukraine.  The regime places all emphasis on business. But only their business, the rest can go to hell. The parliament is run like a VIP club for the elite. Anyone trying to run a business in Ukraine who is not connected to the elite or a member of the Party of the Regions will come up against a whole range of problems from various government departments.  The threat of a visit from the Ministry of Revenue and Duties hangs over the heads of most business people. There is no independent civil service in Ukraine. Government employees are expected to do what they are told by the Party of the Regions. The same applies to Judges, Police, Teachers, Doctors and anyone that is paid by the government.

You would also have to be a complete idiot to not realise that the people will NOT give in this time. They have had enough. They have had enough of the so called elite club stealing their money year after year after year. The people want to live in a real democracy free from the fears of living under government control. Therefore this will be the last revolution in Ukraine. What of the future?

What is the way forward? – Well I’m sure that the majority of people in Ukraine would also agree that they have had enough of the same old faces in politics. They know that the current politicians including many in the opposition are corrupt. Ukraine has an unusual government system where the cabinet is still appointed with people from outside the parliament. You do not need to be a member of parliament to be a member of the government.

Therefore…here is my crazy idea. The next parliamentary elections in Ukraine will take place when the people decide but with a special restriction on candidates. Any current or previous member of parliament would be banned from running as a candidate in the next election. Members of the government would still be appointed by the NEW president and NEW prime minister but EVERY single member of the next parliament would be a new face. Parliamentary elections could be held at the same time as the Presidential election in February 2015.

This would help to provide Ukraine with a fresh start. This would help people to come forward as candidates who would not have considered it possible before due to the ‘party list’ system.

We all know that Ukraine NEEDS a fresh start.

17 January 2014

Ukraine - January 2014

I forecast some time ago that 2014 would be a difficult year in Ukraine.
The political situation took a massive change this week when new laws were quickly introduced and voted through parliament. These new laws are all designed to take action against activists involved in 'Euromaidan' and the political opposition in Ukraine.

I will not list all of these crazy/strange laws but one includes a ban on any more than five motor vehicles being driven along the road together. The occupants/owners of these cars could be arrested and imprisoned and the vehicles could be seized. Another law was passed concerning NGO's. Organisations that receive funding from 'foreign funds' are now deemed to be 'foreign agents' and must start to pay taxes on their income and their non-profit status will be removed. Many of these new laws are similar to the harsh laws already introduced in the Russian Federation.

The European Union and the US State Department have been quick to react and have issued press releases showing their deep concern about so many anti-democratic laws being introduced in Ukraine.


Ukraine's Harsh New Antiprotest Law Draws International Condemnation

This will be an even more difficult year for Ukraine than I first thought. How could anyone seriously advise or recommend to a foreign investor that they should come to Ukraine? How can any potential foreign investor accept such a high level of political uncertainty in a country?

Unfortunately I see a long period of continuous battle between the people of Ukraine and its so called government. The next election is the Presidential election and is due to be held on 26 February 2015. This will be the next opportunity for the people to make changes. But I would not be surprised if the government and the current Presidential administration were to change the constitution and the whole system of elections before next year. The system could be changed where the President is 'appointed/selected' by the members of parliament. The Party of The Regions still have a majority in the parliament and would be assisted by the Communist Party.

Doing business in Ukraine never became so difficult and is getting more difficult each day.

29 December 2013

Ukraine 2013 - The Hopes for 2014

To say that this year has been difficult for business in Ukraine would be a great understatement. There are many people who would gladly sell up their businesses tomorrow and leave the country. But as Ukraine is not a member of the EU, leaving the country is still difficult. Those who remember the days of the ‘iron curtain’ where people living in the Soviet Union were not allowed to mix or meet with ‘westerners’, when people were shot trying to cross the Berlin Wall from east to west, will appreciate the freedom of movement that EU citizens enjoy today. Many of these EU countries are former Soviet states.

Ukrainians still need visas to visit EU countries. Many young professional Ukrainians have made visits to countries like Germany, France, UK, Austria, Spain and even many new member countries like Poland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary etc. They have witnessed a different and better way of life in these countries compared to life in Ukraine. Travelling along a road in Poland for example reminds people just how very bad the roads are back home in Ukraine. Poland was able to break away from the grip of the ‘soviet empire’ around the same time as Ukraine gained independence in 1991. The GNI per capita (2012) in Poland is $12660 compared to just $3500 in Ukraine. The big question is why? (Admittedly it is estimated that as much as 50% of the Ukraine economy is in the ‘black economy’.)

Why do these former soviet countries have a much better lifestyle and higher levels of freedom than Ukraine?  Maybe because Ukraine has never broke its close links with Russia. Maybe because the country has never had any real democratic leadership. Maybe because…..the list can go on.

The year 2013 just might be the year that ignited the flame of the people in Ukraine to finally say ‘’Enough, we are tired of living like this, we demand changes.’’ It could be the start of what takes the country away from the influence of the Russian Federation once and for all and the country becomes more aligned with European countries where freedom of speech and the rule of law are respected.

During 2013 the country was due to sign an Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with the EU. This agreement would have paved the way to Ukraine becoming a more ‘European style’ nation which one day could have led towards EU membership. Just a few days before an important ‘summit meeting’ was due to be held in Vilnius, Lithuania where the President of Ukraine was expected to sign this agreement on behalf of the nation, he changed his mind. He claimed along with his government that Ukraine would suffer economic losses if they went ahead with this agreement. Moreover, the Russian Federation had already made known the consequences Ukraine would face if it went ahead and signed the agreement with the EU.  The Russians had already started to block the imports of Ukrainian goods and were generally making life difficult for businesses that have Russian customers. The Russians still wanted Ukraine to join its own ‘Customs Union’ together with Belarus.

A great sense of disappointment and betrayal was felt amongst millions of Ukrainians as President Yanukovych had taken away their hopes of becoming closer to Europe. What happened next was a surprise to many.

Ukrainian people decided to come out and protest against what they saw as a gross injustice. They were sick and tired already of this President and a government who clearly showed no concern towards the everyday life of Ukrainians. The so called leadership were more interested in their own business interests and their own family fortunes than the interests of the nation and its people. Government corruption, lies, theft and the use of state assets for personal gain were just a few of the reasons why people decided they had had enough of being held back in the 21st century by those in power and they decided to come out on to the streets of Kyiv and form what is now known as ‘Euromaidan’.

For the past month the centre of Kyiv has been taken over by ‘The People’. Initially there was no leadership from the official political opposition and due to the fact that there are three separate parties now involved the situation of opposition leadership is still unclear. However, one clear favourite has emerged from the opposition as former heavy weight boxing world champion Vitali Klitschko, already a member of parliament declared his intentions to run as a candidate in the Presidential elections in 2015.

The huge amount of people who turned out in the city centre of Kyiv to show their concerns surprised many. The crowds were even bigger than during the Orange Revolution in 2004. The people demanded change. They demanded the resignation of President Yanukovych and his Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.

Many students were active from the very start of ‘Euromaidan’, as young people they know only too well the changes that are required in Ukraine.  Unfortunately the police in Ukraine (there are many different forms of police in the country) are notorious for violence and total disregard for human rights. The riot police, Berkut, clearly demonstrated how they are out of control and caused many many injuries to peaceful demonstrators. Those injured included journalists and cameramen from other countries. This led to further outrage not only among demonstrators but throughout Ukraine and the rest of the world who were watching events unfold on television.  ‘Euromaidan’ gained strength and support and it became clear that this was not something that was going to blow over after a few weeks. It would appear that this time the Ukrainian people were going to see it all the way through until their demands was met.

President Yanukovych had been having meetings with the Russian President – Vladimir Putin.  It was strongly suspected by many that Putin would convince Yanukovych to join the customs union. It was also suspected that Putin was using threats that Yanukovych would find difficult to overcome. On 17th December, Yanukovych met with Putin in Moscow and during the next few days it was announced that the Russian Federation would buy $15 billion of Ukraine bonds plus a one third reduction in the price of gas supplied to the country. It was feared by many that Yanukovych had agreed to many things which he was not disclosing to the people. Yanukovych had sold out the country to the Russians.  Putin declared this was all ‘brotherly’ help towards a nation which shared its values. To the people of Ukraine it showed that they were still under the influence of the evil empire. All negotiations with the EU were halted.

Hopes for 2014
The 2014/5 period will be a clearly defining time for the future of Ukraine. If ‘Euromaidan’ continues the President and his government will be in for a hard time. During 2014 Ukraine will experience many more hardships and uncertainty. Yanukovych will not want to give up his Presidency before 2015 and he will not agree to early elections.

This period will allow the political opposition to get its act together. Vitali Klitschko will have a whole year to prepare for his presidential bid. At the same time the people will have an opportunity to try and clearly decide what kind of future they want for Ukraine.

Foreign direct investment in Ukraine will probably cease completely apart from some joint activities with Russia. Why would anyone want to invest in a country with such a high level of political uncertainty? If Yanukovych decides not to run for a second term this could be equally as threatening to the economy as ‘government connected people’ and the oligarchs connected to him would rape the country of any remaining assets and bribery and corruption would be even more rampant during the final days.

So far this all sounds very negative for the future of Ukraine. Well 2014 will be very negative, but at the same time positive. The negative aspects will be the continual conflict between the people who have joined ‘Euromaidan’ and the President and his government. The positive aspects will be the growth in the number of Ukrainian people who join the fight after they see that the only way forward is for Ukraine to become a free and democratic country. The main hope for 2014 is that by 2015 the people will have clearly decided who they want as their leader.

Many people will claim that they cannot wait until 2015. They want Yanukovych and his government to go now. Unfortunately the law (used loosely in Ukraine) is on the side of the current regime. There is no legal reason to hold an election until 2015 and Yanukovych will do all in his power to ensure he stays in office.

Therefore the year 2014 should be used as a great opportunity by the opposition to plan and develop clear strategies so that people can understand ‘The Way Forward’ for Ukraine. 

I wish them the very best of luck.

Business Wish List for 2014

Whilst Ukraine continues to be an Eastern European centre of conflict, the owners and managers of small and medium size enterprises in the country continue to try and survive among the daily conflicts of doing business. So, just as many people write out their list of hopes and intentions for the year ahead, here is my wish list for doing business in Ukraine in 2014.

I wish I could:

1.       Convince the government that all the money circulating in the economy does NOT belong to them.
2.       Go into a bank and do business WITHOUT the State Tax Service being involved.
3.       Send a payment of EUR 100,000+ to another country WITHOUT asking permission from the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Economy.
4.       Persuade all my accounting people that they should be doing more WORK for my company than they do for the State Tax Service.
5.       Receive a service from a government agency WITHOUT them asking for a bribe.
6.       Persuade people to STOP asking me for my PASSPORT. I have told you my name already, just believe that I am telling you the truth.
7.       Provide people with copies of documents and NOT have to keep giving them the ORIGINAL document every time I want to do something.
8.       STOP using those stupid document stamps

Is this all too much to ask? Why not. Because in REAL European countries all of the above already happens. Let’s hope that one day Ukraine can break free from old soviet systems.