31 December 2011

The Last Day of 2011

Many of us make resolutions for the new year ahead.
This gave me an incentive for the years ahead.
I WILL get fit and healthy in the new year ahead.

26 December 2011

The privilege of two Christmas holidays?

Many many foreign residents and workers in Ukraine have the privilege of celebrating Christmas twice in Ukraine. They enjoy the 25th and also the 7th January.
What normally happens amongst the 'foreign company' community in Ukraine is that they start their holidays around 22 December and return to work around 10 January.

The majority of Ukrainians who work for a 'foreign company' in Ukraine will continue to work during the 25th and onwards until 31st December. However many 'senior managers' and owners of businesses here will start their Christmas and New Year holidays from around 22 December and return after 15 January.

It would appear that this year is no different that past years. I see that the majority of flights from Kyiv to famous holiday destinations are once again full.

This year we decided to stay in Kyiv for Christmas and New Year. The weather is strange for this time of the winter season. As I write it is +1C outside and no sign of snow or ice. I have never experienced weather as good as this before in Ukraine at this time of year. But I'm sure the cold weather will be on its way soon.

22 December 2011

Income and Assets of Russian Prime Minister

As Vladimir Putin prepares to become the President of Russia again,
the Russian central election committee have released documents that show Putins assets and income as follows:
(In rubles but converted here)
Income during the past 4 years = USD 564,216 (Average 141054 per year)
Money held in deposit accounts = USD181,965
His wife has deposits which total USD 265,580

Property Assets:
1500 m2 of land in Moscow
77 m2 apartment in St Petersberg
153 m2 apartment in St Petersberg

Cars: He owns the following:
1960 GAZ (M21), 1965 GAZ (M21R) and a 2009 Lada

Putin still thinks that ALL Russian people are STUPID. :(
What would Ukraine President Yanukovych declare? :-\
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21 December 2011

The Future for Ukraine

Here is an interesting article from Andrew Wilson
Andrew Wilson is a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Previously he was a Reader in Ukrainian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), University College London. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. He has published widely on the politics and culture of the European neighbourhood, particularly on Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and on the comparative politics of democratisation in the post-Soviet states, especially its corruption by so-called ‘political technology’.

Andrew Wilson

The trial and sentencing of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko in
October 2011 generated many bad headlines. It also placed in doubt the two key agreements
with the European Union that Ukraine has been negotiating since 2008: the Association
Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).

This memo argues that the EU-Ukraine summit on 19 December should initiate a twin-track
approach. The agreements cannot be formally signed, but should be kept alive until Ukraine
is ready to implement the conditionality laid out in resolutions by the European Parliament
and other bodies. But lecturing Ukraine on human rights at the summit will have little effect.
The EU should also move towards sanctions that show its red lines have not been dropped;
targeting the individuals most responsible for democratic backsliding and signalling more
general vigilance against the Ukrainian elite’s free-flowing travel and financial privileges in
the EU.

The trial and sentencing of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko
presents a double challenge for the European Union. Its credibility is on the line after the
Ukrainian authorities first ignored clear warnings from Brussels and key member states and
then failed to deliver on promises of compromise. But the impasse is also testing the EU’s
soft power and transformative capacity. Even Ukraine’s friends, who have long recognised its
difficulties in transforming itself, would claim that this is at least in part due to the absence of
any reform incentive comparable to the membership perspective enjoyed by the accession
states of the 1990s. The Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade
Agreement (DCFTA) that were due to be signed in December 2011 are the closest equivalent
Ukraine has ever had or is likely to get.

Thus there seems no clear way out of the current impasse. While some would emphasise
maintaining the red line over the Tymoshenko trial at the expense of the agreements, others
argue that the agreements matter more in the long run. In fact, both are right. Once it is
understood that the trial was only a part of a longer process, the logical policy for the EU
should be to both initial the accords and impose sanctions at the same time.
Yanukovych’s rollback of democracy.

The early signals after Viktor Yanukovych’s election in February 2010 were not all bad. His
first foreign visit to Brussels suggested that the constant conflict and paralysis of the “orange”
era seemed to be over. But it soon became clear that not only was Yanukovych’s Ukraine still
pursuing a “multi-vector” foreign policy, it was doing so in a manner very different to the
Kuchma era (1994-2005). Unlike Kuchma, the Yanukovych approach is pendular and
sequential. Kyiv constantly switches from one partner to another, without keeping the other
side happy while it deals with the other pole. It is also far too obvious in using one side to
trade off the other. This annoys Russia as much as it does the EU.

More seriously, it also soon became clear that Yanukovych’s main priority was building his
domestic power base. Even though he was only elected by a narrow margin, Yanukovych
moved swiftly to bring every branch of state under executive control. Bribery and
intimidation of MPs were used to create a new parliamentary majority, even though the same
parliament had supported Tymoshenko as prime minister since it was originally elected in
September 2007. The constitutional court was forced to reverse a previous ruling that only
parties, not individual defectors from parties, could make up the “majority”. A legal reform in
the summer of 2010 imposed executive control over the judiciary. In October, the
constitutional court was persuaded to order the reversal of the power-sharing constitutional
changes agreed at the height of the Orange Revolution in 2004 and restore a much more
presidential version of the constitution. To many analysts, this amounted to a “constitutional
coup d’├ętat”.

1 The media was increasingly restricted. Human rights violations became more
widespread. In January 2011, Freedom House downgraded Ukraine to “partly free”.

2Moreover, the purpose of rebuilding a strong state and “administrative vertical” was not to
force through reform or crack down on corruption, but the opposite – to protect the power of
the “national corporation”, in which Yanukovych saw himself and his associates as the
“majority shareholder”.

3 After the “chaotic corruption” of the orange era, grand larceny and
state capture retuned, particularly in the energy sector. Independent businesses, or businesses
that used to support the opposition, were harassed or taken over. Growth in the SME sector
stalled and then actually reversed, with small businesses’ share of total sales dropping from
18.8 percent to 14.2 percent.

4.Yanukovych’s rollback of democracy was designed to make him a southern version of
Vladimir Putin, but he lacked the instruments that Putin had used to build his power, namely
energy resources and the security services. In Ukraine these two factors led in different
directions. Ukraine is an energy transit country not a producer country.

Yanukovych’s victory led to “the revanche of RosUkrEnergo”, the controversial gas transit venture that had been squeezed out of the market by Tymoshenko in 2009. Rinat Akhmetov is well known asUkraine’s richest man; but Yanukovych’s main sponsor in 2010 was the energy lobby linked to RosUkrEnergo. According to the leading energy analyst Mykhailo Honchar, they were more desperate to restore their business, other industries such as chemicals were desperate for cheaper gas from Russia, and they had a “stronger cash flow, better mobilisation of resources and synergy with the administrative resources of the new government to help enrich both”.
5 Second, Ukraine’s security services are more independent and the last two years have led to
empire building by the current head and energy lobby ally Valeriy Khoroshkovsky. Both
groups wanted Tymoshenko out of the way.

Ukraine sees Russia playing tough with the EU and getting away with it. The Yanukovych
elite has therefore tried to build up its own alternative cash base, although the attempt by
another Yanukovych ally Yuriy Ivanyushchenko (who has faced controversy over his visa
applications to the USA) to utilise customs scams and monopolise the grain market has been
only partially successful, because it was too public.

Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions still faces difficult parliamentary elections in the autumn
of 2012. Their poll ratings are down, at barely over twenty percent. The economy is weak,
with only 4.3 percent growth in 2010 and 5 percent likely in 2011 after a 15.1 percent
contraction in 2009. The budget and the banking sector remain fragile. Ukraine cannot
therefore risk the benefits of WTO membership (Ukraine joined in 2008), and needs to
restore relations with the IMF. So-called “administrative resources” do not have the same
effect in Ukraine in fixing elections as they do in Russia. Public institutions and channels of
control are too thoroughly degraded.

As a result, the Ukrainian government has been forced to use the instruments that do work to
try and ensure victory in 2012. Its most effective lever is tax terror: shaking down opposition
business supporters and to build up local patronage power. Tax receipts are up 50 percent,
though the public sector is hardly feeling the benefit.7 Another instrument is legal terror.
Having weakened but failed to destroy the opposition at the October 2010 local elections, the
authorities resorted to cruder judicial methods. The Tymoshenko trial was only one of many,
and part of a longer process of tightening political control. The trial of Tymoshenko’s former
Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, for example, involved an even broader catalogue of human
rights abuses, carefully documented by local sources, including Lutsenko’s ill-treatment in
prison, the use of illegally-obtained evidence and the intimidation of witnesses.8 The same
organisations have collected detailed evidence on the deteriorating human rights picture in
general, including abuse of detainees, torture and deaths in prison.

The Tymoshenko trial itself was held in one of Kyiv’s tiniest courtrooms to limit attendance,
but that only made it noisy and chaotic. A young and inexperienced judge looked out of his
depth, and made no attempt to stop a string of prejudicial comments from government
officials while matters were still sub judice. Tymoshenko, on the other hand, was imprisoned
before the trial ended on ill-defined charges of “contempt”. Tymoshenko was accused of
exceeding her authority in negotiating gas prices with Russia in 2009; but the trial provided
no “smoking gun” evidence of any serious criminal act. After the verdict on 11 October, new
charges of fraud and tax evasion were laid - but not before – confirming that trial had always
been part of the authorities’ election strategy for 2012, for which they plan to deliver cheaper
gas from Russia and deliver the message that they solved the problem that Tymoshenko
created in 2009. But by doing things this way round they only made the trial even more
obviously political.

The same “legal” instruments are also being used against civil society leaders. Seven leaders
of the “Tax Maidan” protests in November 2010 (“Maidan” is the name of the main square in
Kyiv, the centre of the Orange Revolution in 2004) were charged with damaging the
pavement. The printers of popular t-shirts using anti-Yanukovych slogans were charged with
breaking UEFA Euro-2012 copyrights.

A third instrument is so-called “political technology” to manipulate the political process in
advance of the 2012 elections. The authorities are planning to split Tymoshenko’s party from
within (the Forward Party) and without (the Radical Party). Tymoshenko’s last remaining
business supporter, Kostyantin Zhevaho, has just been forced to make his peace with the
authorities. The authorities are also scheming to replace Tymoshenko’s party with a “loyal”,
i.e. fake, opposition. In 2010, the original candidate for this role was Deputy Prime Minister
Serhiy Tihipko’s Strong Ukraine party, but he has accepted a merger with Yanukovych’s
Party of Regions. Now it is Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who is alleged to have sold half the places on
his party list to Akhmetov. The boxer Volodymyr Klychko’s Punch! party has allegedly been
targeted by regime “parachutists”.

The final element in the equation is the use of a “scarecrow party” to rally support for the
authorities as Vladimir Zhirinovsky does in Russia. In the Ukrainian case this is the ultranationalist Freedom Party, which is also useful for taking votes off Tymoshenko in west
Ukraine, but is secretly backed by the First Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev and
former Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Sivkovich.

Another priority is to manipulate the election law to restore the system used before the
Orange Revolution. Under this system, only half of parliament’s 450 members would be
elected by proportional representation. The other half would come from territorial
constituencies, where corruption and administrative resources will have a much greater
effect. Other proposed changes to benefit the ruling party include the introduction of a five
percent hurdle to get into parliament; banning smaller parties from forming coalitions; a
blanket ban on those with criminal convictions (from politically-motivated trials) from
standing; more easily corrupted election commissions; and a ban on the “against all” protest

The uses of “order” in Ukraine
However, Ukraine is not Russia. It has neither the strategic options nor a coherent narrative to
justify backing away from Europe. According to leading Ukrainian political scientist Oleksiy
Haran, “the Yanukovych elite might think like the Russians, but they can’t talk like them – at
least in public”.11 According to another analyst Rostyslav Pavlenko, Yanukovych has “a kind
of inner anti-Westernism”. However, “Ukraine is far less anti-Western than Russia: we have
a ‘leave us alone’ approach instead of Russia’s ‘we are the only true path, and we'll force you
to join’”.12 In late 2011, the Ukrainian media seemed to be preparing the ground for a rupture
with the West, but the best that regime supporters could come up with was the idea that
Ukraine’s alternative future rested on “Ukrainians themselves” and that “if we are strong, we
will be reckoned with”

Isolationism does not make strategic sense for Ukraine. Although it is fashionable in Kyiv to
talk of emulating the “Turkish model” – Ukraine would also like to see itself as a powerful
state on the edge of Europe increasingly able to act on its own terms – Ukraine is not Turkey.
Firstly, its economy is much weaker. Secondly, Turkey stands at the centre of concentric
circles of interest – neo-Ottoman, Turkophone and the business world – whereas Ukraine
doesn’t really get on even with its tiny neighbour Moldova. The world may be increasingly
multi-polar, but Ukraine is not a rival pole to the EU like China. Nor is Ukraine really drawn
to anyone else’s pole. After an initial rebalancing of foreign policy towards Russia in 2010,
the Yanukovych regime stands or falls to the degree to which it stands up for local oligarchs’
economic interests.

As a result, Ukraine is not abandoning – and cannot abandon – democracy and human rights
altogether. Instead, there is an obsession with the tropes of “order” and “stability”. The fact
that political debate in Ukraine is conducted in this type of code is noteworthy in itself –
Ukraine does not have an independent alternative dialogue to justify any more explicit
backsliding on democracy. Instead of openly repudiating democracy and human rights,
Yanukovych has therefore sought to justify his recentralisation of power in the name of
“order” after the “chaos” of the orange era. At Davos in January 2011, Yanukovych tellingly
attacked the events in Tunisia for “disrupting the stability there. In a state where on the
outside everything was always stable…”

His spokeswoman and deputy chief of staff Anna Herman was even more explicit when she told Le Monde that Russia could not allow “chaos”.
When asked whether democracy and order were compatible, she replied: “Alas, no”.

On closer examination, however, the trope of “order” has been used in four competing ways,
none of which supplies the regime with a coherent alternative narrative. First, “order” was
sold as an end it itself. In its first few months in office, the Yanukovych regime was able to
exploit the very real phenomenon of “Ukraine fatigue” or “Orange fatigue”, just as Putin
exploited “Yeltsin fatigue” in the early 2000s. This brought Yanukovych some breathing
space, and the West forgave too much in 2010, but it is not a long-term justification for
staying in power.

Second, “order” was promised in exchange for, and as a facilitator of, reform. But the new
government has achieved little. Key proposals, such as the 2010 tax reform, have been
warped to benefit its business supporters.
Third, “order” was used as a euphemism for control. According to one analyst, “the
Yanukovych team understand order to mean the ability to control the political situation,
without outside challengers disrupting the inner circle from self-enrichment. Stability means
not making painful changes if they might threaten the elite’s position”.16 The elite is reluctant
to complete pensions and utility reforms that threaten their popularity and future power, but
has done enough to bring their ratings down. The Arab Spring, which has revived fears of the
“Maidan”, has strengthened the elite’s perceived need for control. It has led them to crack
down on seemingly innocuous environmental demonstrations and build a high fence around
parliament. Yanukovych supporters are once again talking about the threat from George
Soros and NGOs financed from abroad.

A fourth possible meaning of “order” is the Putinist contract in which it is exchanged for
prosperity. Neighbouring Belarus was also able to offer this deal until recently, albeit with
Russian money. But this approach seems out of Ukraine’s reach: energy-rich Russia may still
have the resources to buy off potential discontent; Ukraine does not.

Thus the current debate about “order” is largely chimerical. It also reflects the contradictions
of Ukrainian public opinion, which sees democracy both as a check on power and as a threat
to stability. About 40 percent of Ukrainians demand stability but over 60 percent believe in
freedoms and rights such as free elections and speech, private property and entrepreneurship.
People would rather have both democracy (in the sense of protected rights and freedoms) and
order (low corruption and crime, coherent work of government bodies).

Often these two discourses exist in parallel and are not seen as mutually exclusive. In any case, Ukrainian society is famously divided, and “not every part of society is ready for the idea of a strong hand”.

The EU’s mistakes
It is therefore a myth that Ukraine can turn its back on Europe. It is also myth that Ukraine
will be “lost” geopolitically to Russia if it is cold-shouldered by Brussels. Despite its
pendular foreign policy, Ukraine will not swing too far towards Russia. Frustrated isolation is
a much more likely option. The EU still has leverage with the Ukrainian people. In a recent
survey carried out by ENPI, 68 percent of Ukrainians believed that EU cooperation aids the
promotion of democracy in their country, and 61 percent thought that the EU could help bring
peace and stability to the region.20 Elites may be wary of the EU agreements in the long run
as they will put pressure on them to clean up their act. But in the short term, Russia is
actually a bigger threat to the elite’s key priority, which is maintaining asset control.

The EU needs to recover from the opposite mistakes it made in 2005 and 2010. In 2005, it
failed to give Ukraine sufficient credit for making the Orange Revolution and bolster fragile
political momentum. In 2010, when the EU was suffering from “Ukraine fatigue” after the
chaos of the orange years, it gave Yanukovych the benefit of the doubt for too long. Earlier
and stronger protests against democratic rollback may have prevented the situation from
deteriorating to its present point.

In 2011, EU leaders found a welcome degree of unity to condemn the Tymoshenko trial.
However, they were guilty of wishful thinking when Yanukovych maladroitly hinted at
compromise. The Ukrainians have complained there were too many foreign-policy
entrepreneurs, particularly at the Eastern Partnership summit in Warsaw in September 2011,
all eager to gain political capital from condemning Ukraine – though a chorus of disapproval
is exactly what the Ukrainians deserved. Kyiv betrayed its own arrogant assumption that the
EU is a “soft power” by complaining that Brussels and Moscow had swapped positions, with
Russia suddenly forgiving and the EU playing Russia’s traditional “bad cop” role.

There are now at least three positions within the EU. Some member states have used
Ukraine’s backsliding on democratic standards to keep it where they have always wanted it:
at arm’s length. Even Ukraine’s dwindling band of friends is divided, however. One group
would emphasise the need to hold the red line that had been drawn in the clearest possible
terms. The Ukrainians have not even met the minimal conditions laid down by the European
Parliament in its resolution on 25 October.21 If the agreements fall, they argue, so be it.
Ukraine has shown it is not ready.

Another group recognises Ukraine’s faults, but argues that this is precisely why the
agreements still need to be signed. Their transformative power will not match the
membership perspective enjoyed by the accession states of the 1990s, but it is the best
Ukraine can get. Without the agreements, the abuse of democracy will get worse, and Russia
will be even freer to build up its influence within Ukraine.

On the other hand, it could be pointed out that Ukraine hasn’t followed the provisions of the
European Energy Community since becoming a member in February 2011. It has ignored the
unbundling clauses by talking to Gazprom about forming a consortium. Nothing has been
down to split up the main state energy concern Naftohaz, despite a promise to divide it into
three separate companies by the end of 2011 (though technically the Ukrainians could take
until 2015). The prospects for Ukraine doing the hard work of actually implementing the
DCFTA do not look good. Another group therefore advocates a long pause after the
agreements are formally approved, as various technical details and translation will take six
months or so. This would allow the EU to monitor the build-up to the 2012 elections. This
position overlaps with that of the final group that wishes to avoid confrontation, as in present
conditions several member states will refuse to ratify the agreements anyway.

Sign and sanction

The answer is for the EU to combine these approaches with a “sign and sanction” policy that
would allow it to initial, or note the completion of, the agreements on 19 December with a
minimum of fuss and at the same time impose targeted sanctions on Ukraine. The paradox is
only superficial. In fact, the combination would align Ukraine policy more closely with the
EU’s emerging line on Russia and Belarus, where it is trying to combine simultaneous
policies of selective engagement and proactive sanction. The EU has several “partnerships for
modernisation” with Russia, but several EU states are also contemplating following the US
lead by creating a “Magnitsky list”. Similarly, the EU had imposed sanctions on Belarus
since the December 2010 elections, but has also tried to broaden its outreach to civil society.

The EU should go ahead and impose visa bans on Ukrainian officials, as many states like
Germany are already discussing, but also recognise that the Tymoshenko trial is only one
element in a strategy for consolidating power. The current Ukrainian authorities are flouting
European values across the board. As well as sanctioning those involved in the Tymoshenko
trial, the EU should show its concern for the treatment of every prisoner in Ukraine, closely
monitor “political technology” and “administrative resources” abuse in the run-up to the 2012
elections, and keep a much closer eye on the elite’s financial crime.

More generally, the Ukrainian leaders who have been so disingenuous on a personal level
should be held at arm’s length. The EU should engage much more directly with the Ukrainian
dialogue on “stability”. The EU should speak up for democracy in all its aspects. In
particular, it should increase its outreach to NGOs, but concentrate on empowerment, public
outreach, educating activists and strengthening the role of organisations defending human
rights. It should keep negotiating on general visa policy and open skies to show that ordinary
Ukrainians will not suffer.

It should impose sanctions, beginning with the judge and the prosecutor who put
Tymoshenko behind bars, but also signal more general measures against regime malpractice.
The Ukrainian siloviki, the “men of force” who have been reducing democratic rights and
harassing the opposition, should have their diplomatic passports and visa rights removed,
especially when the Ukrainian authorities have been quietly celebrating the fact that even
their most odious members are still allowed freedom of travel, even after the Tymoshenko
verdict. Key officials from the Procuracy, SBU and Interior Ministry should be placed on a
warning list. The constitutional court judges who undermined their credibility by agreeing to
the coup d’├ętat in 2010 should also be targeted. There should also be much closer monitoring
of Ukraine’s follow-up on ECHR judgements.

It is high time to introduce closer monitoring of financial transactions for all East European
states, not least in EU states like Austria and Cyprus. Removing Ukraine from the Financial
Action Task Force (FATF) blacklist in October 2011 was bad timing. Ukraine should now be
reincluded. The Ukrainian economy has not built up its defences against double-dip
recession; but any IMF assistance in 2012 should be conditional on liberalising conditions for
SMEs and removing monopoly privileges in the state sector.

The EU should project confidence in its leverage with Ukraine rather than constantly
responding to the spectre of Russian influence. It should draw Ukraine closer in return for
respect for the fundamental values of the acquis communautaire. The negotiating capital that
exists currently within the discussions over the DCFTA should be used to insist on tough
language on democratic standards and a keen focus on the 2012 elections. EU leaders should
consider a boycott of official ceremonies at the 2012 European Football Championship
Finals, if the prospects for those elections do not look good.

Ukraine is not a lost cause, but it is a difficult case. If Ukraine fully de-democratises after the
hope invested in the Orange Revolution in 2004, it will be the worst possible example for
potential new democracies in the Arab world. If, on the other hand, the EU holds the line, it
will show that inevitable setbacks in the transition to democracy need not be fatal.


20 December 2011

The EU is a step too far for Ukraine

Yesterday the EU:Ukraine summit took place in Kyiv, Ukraine.
As many of us expected the Association Agreement and the main part of it a planned Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement were NOT even initialled as previously planned.

The diplomat language protests from EU commissioners and various EU country diplomats concerning the 'political prisoners' in Ukraine fell on deaf ears. Mainly the deaf ears of President Victor Kanukovych.

At the summit, the EU declared openly: "Our strongest concerns are primarily related to the risks of politically motivated justice, among which the Tymoshenko trial is the most striking example."

Those of us who live here in Ukraine find it difficult to see how any movement can be seen as it is commonly accepted that Kanukovych will show very little inclination to consider the release of Tymoshenko or the many other opposition figures who sit in prisons awaiting trial.

It would appear that Ukraine will now enter a period of isolation from the EU and face the coming year with even more economic difficulties. The future does not look bright for Ukraine.

see: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/216824.html

18 December 2011

Ukraine after the Tymoshenko Verdict

The trial and sentencing of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko in 2011 is a double challenge to the European Union – testing both its credibility and the transformative capacity of its soft power. Kyiv ignored clear warnings from Brussels and key member states, and then failed to deliver on promises of compromise.

The EU-Ukraine summit on Monday 19th December offers the chance to stop the rot in relations with Kyiv.

See: story here

12 December 2011

Why young people fail to understand maths these days.

I friend of mine from Canada sent me this message about teaching maths in schools.
(I have ammended it slightly to be correct in British grammar!)

The New, New Maths

I purchased a burger at Burger King for £1.58. The counter girl took my £2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 pence from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the 8 pence, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me 50 pence change, but she hailed the manager for help. While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried... Why do I tell you this? Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1960s:

1. Teaching Maths In 1960s (when I was in school)

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit ?

2. Teaching Maths In 1970s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or £80. What is his profit?

3. Teaching Maths In 1980s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £100. His cost of production is £80. Did he make a profit ?
Yes or No

4. Teaching Maths In 1990s

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for £100. His cost of production is £80 and his profit is £20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

5. Teaching Maths In 2000s

A logger cuts down a beautiful forest because he is selfish and inconsiderate and cares nothing for the habitat of animals or the preservation of our woodlands. He does this so he can make a profit of £20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down their homes? (There are no wrong answers, and if you feel like crying, it's ok).

11 December 2011

The UK, the EU and the Great British Public

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron has received overwhelming support from British voters over his historic decision to veto changes to the EU Treaty. According to a recent poll

The first poll conducted since the acrimonious Brussels summit shows that a total of 62 per cent of people agreed with the Prime Minister’s defiant stance against the EU last week, with just 19 per cent against.

On many occasions I have tried to explain to people that although there are a few countries looking towards EU membership, there is one country that would probably consider leaving the EU.

The great British public consider the EU to be a vast ‘talking shop’ or some would refer to it as a great big ‘gravy train’. The EU is seen as a vast bureaucratic organisation that spends far too much time inventing new laws that try to replace the local laws of EU member countries.

It would appear that if a referendum were to be held on continuing the UK membership of the EU, the British public would vote to leave the EU as quickly as possible.

The EEC (European Economic Community), as the EU was previously known was always seen as an opportunity for the UK to do business with a market of 500 million people. They did not anticipate that so many rules and regulations effecting everyday British life imposed by the EU.

It could be argued that we British are our own worst enemies when it comes to following rules and regulations. Whenever new EU laws/regulations etc are introduced, the UK is seen as one of the few countries that will follow them word for word and make sure they are implemented….well because that is the law. British people visiting other EU member countries then witness how most of the other member countries tend to ignore most of the laws/rules and just continue to do their own thing. Visit Greece or Malta or Spain if you want to see how ‘Health and Safety Regulations’ are completely ignored.

Moreover, British citizens do not see any real benefits from the UK being a member of the EU. Many will be quick to complain that EU membership has brought too many changes to British life including a flood of EU immigrants to the UK. A story in the British national media last week only re-enforced this fear when it was reported that one well know British company in England was encouraging its managers to learn Polish so that they could communicate with its employees, the majority of which are Polish citizens.

Not all agree with Prime Minister Cameron. Some think that the UK could be making a big mistake by playing the veto card. We will see.

05 December 2011

What should Europe do about Ukraine

By Alexander J. Motyl

As the December 19th summit between the European Union and Ukraine approaches, the petulant President Viktor Yanukovych seems determined to thumb his schoolboyish nose at EU concerns about rule of law in general and the illegal imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko in particular.

In turn, the EU isn’t quite sure what to do. Should it initial the association agreement with Ukraine and thereby seemingly signal its indifference to Yanukovych’s tin-pot authoritarianism? Should it cancel the summit? (If so, to what end?) Should it protest? (If so, how?)

Here’s a simple rule of thumb for the EU: distinguish between Ukraine and its people on the one hand and the Regionnaire regime on the other and formulate policy accordingly.

The only important questions about the association agreement are: Is it good for Europe? Is it good for Ukraine? If the answer is yes to both questions—and, as I’ve already written in this blog, the answer is yes to both questions; and, by the way, Tymoshenko happens to agree—then the EU should sign the agreement in December and thereby initiate the laborious, and far from certain, process of its eventual ratification by the EU’s member states. And that’s that.

Won’t initializing the agreement in December also be a boon to the Regionnaire thugs who are systematically pillaging Ukraine? That depends.

If the agreement explicitly states that Ukraine could join the EU if and when it fulfills all the requirements of membership and is a fully democratic, rule-of-law state with a prosperous market economy free of corruption, then even the Regionnaires will have no choice but to adapt to European standards in the medium to long term and thereby self-destruct. The thugs lose, while Ukraine and Europe win. (An aside: That Europe continues to be skittish about such a no-lose proposition makes no sense. If Ukraine does not fulfill the requirements, it stays out. If it truly becomes rich, honest, and democratic, who wouldn’t want it to join the EU?)

How about the short term? If the Europeans simply sign the agreement, shake hands, do a photo op, and go home, then yes, the Regionnaires get a free ride. But what if the Europeans weren’t to give the thugs a free ride and still sign the agreement? That way, Ukraine would win, Europe would win, and the Regionnaires could lose in the short run, too.

There are three simple ways to deny the Regionnaires that free ride.

The first is hardest and least meaningful. As one EU diplomat wrote me recently, “several EU Member States don’t want to finalize the negotiations and initial the Association Agreement at the planned EU-Ukraine summit in December because they can’t accept having a big, pompous ceremony with red rugs and handshakes with Yanukovych while Tymoshenko is in jail.”

Well, if you can’t accept having a big, pompous ceremony, don’t. As a matter of fact, there’s nothing to stop the Europeans from publicly telling Yanukovych in no uncertain terms that the EU is signing the agreement to help Ukraine and not the Regionnaires. Nothing, that is, except the reluctance of Eurocrats, normally inclined to smile sweetly at all times, to engage in diplomatic rudeness. In other words, don’t expect this to happen.

The second is easier and more meaningful. The EU could privately make it clear to Yanukovych that, unless Tymoshenko is freed and the October 2012 parliamentary elections are squeaky clean, the EU will publicly rebuke him and recommend that its member states not ratify the agreement. The Regionnaires understand the language of blackmail, but does Europe have the guts to stick to its guns? Maybe yes, maybe no.

The third is easiest and most effective, as it panders to the European preference for indirect bureaucratic measures that evade public scrutiny and hits the Regionnaires where it hurts.

Many Europeans probably don’t know that Ukraine has a 1998 statute on the books that permits just about anybody to acquire a diplomatic passport granting its bearer visa-free travel. As you’d expect, the president, prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, and genuine diplomats get to have a diplomatic passport. But so, too, do all parliamentary deputies, all cabinet ministers, all heads of provincial councils, the head of the secret police, a ton of other officials, and, just in case someone’s job description is not on the list, anybody with the “written approval of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, on condition that the President of Ukraine approves it.”

In other words, all the Regionnaire thugs and all the president’s pals get to go on shopping sprees in Europe.

Small wonder that the Regionnaires are playing hard to get with Europe. They know that, even if the association agreement goes bust, they’ll still be able to get a tan on the Riviera. As some pundits put it when commenting on Yanukovych’s 2010 electoral slogan, “Ukraine is for the people”: sure it is, and Europe is for the Regionnaires. (Another aside: Yanukovych, who, bless his heart, wouldn’t recognize irony if it hit him on the head like a miscreant wreath, reinforced this point by promising to transform Tymoshenko’s jail cell into her version of Europe: “I have recently heard a lot of comments from the lawyers of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko regarding Tymoshenko’s detention in prison, and I have given instructions to all agencies that are dealing with this issue to create the conditions that are currently envisaged at the European level.”)

The EU could end the Regionnaires’ monopoly on the real Europe in a flash. It wouldn’t have to blacklist Regionnaires, as some opposition democrats suggest. All it needs to do is quietly change a few rules and insist that the only Ukrainians who get to travel to the EU with diplomatic passports are bona fide diplomats engaged in bona fide diplomatic activity. Basta.

Everyone else—all the parliamentary deputies, all the provincial council heads, all the cabinet ministers, and all the president’s cronies—has to get on line at the appropriate European consulate, wait in stuffy rooms, fill out endless forms, pay exorbitant fees, produce invitations and bank accounts, and experience the same exact humiliation and frustration that regular folk do when they hope to go abroad.

In a word, the EU would treat Regionnaires as people, and not as fat cats.
Besides sending a powerful ethical message to the population of Ukraine, such a measure would also enable the EU to have the best of both worlds: sign the association agreement and end the Regionnaires’ free ride.

As one Ukrainian businessman told me, “If you force the Regionnaires to live like everybody else, they’ll quickly change their ways.”

I’m betting he’s right. After all, like all Mafiosi, the Regionnaires care only about their own power and wealth. If they have to stand in line with the unwashed masses, their power is worth nil. If they can’t travel at will to Paree, their wealth is also worth nil.

After all, what’s the point of having a Rolex, if you can only show it off to other crooks?

03 December 2011

Euro 2012

The draw took place last night in Kyiv.
England were drawn in the same group as Ukraine together with France and Sweden.

Maybe its good that England and Ukraine are in the same group.
The fixtures to watch for England are:

Monday 11 June at 1700 - France v England in Donetsk
Friday 15 June at 1700 - Sweden v England in Kyiv
Tuesday 19 June at 1945 - Ukraine v England in Donetsk

Where the England fans will find a place to stay is anybody's guess.

01 December 2011

Independence Vote

We congratulate the people of Ukraine on the 20th Anniversary of their historic vote for Independence on December 1, 1991.

29 November 2011

The Future could be bright...but maybe dark times are ahead for Ukraine.

President Viktor Yanukovych will do everything to keep Yulia Tymoshenko in prison.
Statements and tough ultimatums from EU country leaders won’t help.

Even the prospect of becoming an outcast dictator in the world’s eyes doesn’t seem to have much influence on Yanukovych.

According to the European Union’s ambassador to Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira, a free-trade deal due to be signed in December is in doubt – even the Dec. 19 Ukraine-EU summit might not even happen.

If it’s true, Ukraine will be deprived of trade privileges with 500 million potential consumers who have much higher incomes than Ukrainians. It also means that traveling to EU countries without a visa will be a distant dream.

It would appear that Ukraine will miss it's window of opportunity with the EU.

26 November 2011

British Club Meeting 24 November - Thanks

Thanks to all those who attended the club meeting this Thursday at Belgravia BC in Kyiv.
Special thanks to Kasper Ditlevsen who provided a thought provoking presentation on 'Personal Branding, Credibility and Networking'.

Many of us receive invitations on a daily basis to attend some kind of 'networking event' or meeting with business people for serious or fun times. I suppose in the old days all of us just 'went down to the pub'. But these days most of us appear to be using social networking tools to keep in contact with what is happening in our own environment.

I often think, what life was like before we all had mobile phones, laptops and so much instance access to other people instantly.

Kasper Ditlevsen provoked me to think about how I should 're-brand' myself.
More details later.

Farage: What gives you the right to dictate to the Greek and Italian peo...

What a refreshing change. Someone who is brave enough to say it as it is.

20 November 2011

Persecution of The Opposition

I'm just about to complete a business trip to Sri Lanka.
The political situation is somewhat similar to Ukraine.
The former Sri Lankan Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka was
found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison last Friday.
What was the offence he committed?

Maybe it was the fact that he stood as a presidential candidate
running against the sitting president Mahinda Rajapaksa during early 2010.
Fonseka received over 40% of the votes losing to Rajapaksa with 57%.

Shortly after the election, Fonseka was arrested and charged on three counts:
1. That he gave an interview to the English langauge newspaper, The Sunday Leader
where it wqs alleged by the editor that Fonseka made a comment which could
'arose communal feelings directly or indirectly'. In the comment Fonseka
had claimed that the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (The Presidents brother)
had ordered an army Brigadier 'not to allow any Tamil Tigers (terrorists) to surrender alive.
Its was alleged he had ordered instead to shoot to kill all of them.
(The trial then became know as the 'white flag trial').

2. The statement made to the newspaper could 'incite communal hatred'.

3. An attempt was made to arouse anti-government feelings among the public and or communities.

Clearly another case of political persecution.

11 November 2011

British Legion Poppy appeal 2011

Last week the BBCU and Business Club Belgravia organised a quiz night.
British expats appear to like these quiz nights.

The great news is that UAH 4500 was raised and will be handed over to the British Legion Poppy Appeal via the British Embassy in Kyiv.

A big thanks goes to Bill Bennett for organising the event.
Special thanks also to
Anthony Nichol for organising the quiz and donating the wine.
Svetlana Khmel for assisting Anthony with the Quiz.
Ronny Badendiek (Radisson Hotel) for producing the ‘shepherds pie’.
Benoit Kuborn (Opera Hotel) for donating some prizes.
Chris Jones for 'persuading people' to buy poppies.

01 November 2011

Any good news in Ukraine?

Today we hear that the Investment Bank - BG Capital has closed its office in Ukraine.
The reasons are:

Because of the negative outlook, as investors are averse to risks in the country and companies delay plans for initial public offerings abroad.

BG Capital, the investment arm of Bank of Georgia, became the first major player to leave Ukraine after a number of smaller investment banks already closed earlier this year.
Insiders say some of the remaining big investment banks are downsizing their staff and freezing or cutting salaries amid tough conditions.

Risk-averse investors are pulling their money out of the local market and turmoil on global capital markets is pushing Ukrainian companies to delay plans of IPOs on the stock exchanges in London and Warsaw.

So, Ukraine is looking like a sad case again. If anyone out there has any good news about doing business in Ukraine please feel free to share it.

25 October 2011

Whats happening in Ukraine

Find out what is happening in Ukraine.
The British Business Club in Ukraine
requests the pleasure of your company
at our monthly meeting

Ukraine Investment Environment 2011-2012
Speaker - Mr Greg Fishman
Senior Vice President
Head of Corporate Finance - Foyil Securities

Thursday, 27th October 2011 from 19.00 to 23.00 hrs
Belgravia Business Club
18/1G Prorizna Street, Kyiv 01034, Ukraine

Tel.: +38 067 320 1584 (10:00-18:00)

Priority given to BBCU Members
Fee for non-members UAH 300

15 October 2011

Ukraine - A step too far.

Much has been written, many announcements made. News items, web blogs, emails, Lord only knows how much time has been taken this week to communicate various messages to the President of Ukraine.

The conviction this week of Yulia Tymoshenko (former Prime Minister) to 7 years in prison will be recorded as a major stepping stone for the country of Ukraine.

Also this week, three EU countries Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland openly declared they would oppose any efforts by Ukraine towards European Union integration. Therefore they would oppose the signing of the proposed Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.

Therefore, we can assume that the prospects for Ukraine forging any closer links with the EU can be considered a 'Step Too Far'. It would appear that Ukraine will never make any agreements with the EU. Maybe its time to draw a line in the sand with Ukraine.

13 October 2011

New British Ambassador for Ukraine

News fresh out that we will have a new British Ambassador in Ukraine in 2012.

See: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=PressR&id=669483282

Things can only get better.

Ukraine has East or West Choice

Tuesday 11 October 2011 was a big day for Ukraine.

After a court decided to send ex Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to prison for 7 years for so called 'abuse of office powers', the US and the EU reacted quickly to what they saw as a politically motivated case. Few people would disagree.

Although the EU declared yesterday that they would continue in talks with regards the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and Association Agreement with Ukraine, it was made clear that NOTHING will be signed unless Ukraine can show it is a real democracy with a respect for the rule of law and and openly practices values on par with other EU countries.

It decision time for Ukraine.

See: http://www.kyivpost.com/news/nation/detail/114671/

12 October 2011

15 September 2011

Soviet Union Mentality in Ukraine

Is it just me, but when I read statements like this from the President of Ukraine, I fail to understand why a government is getting involved in areas that belong to the private sector.

The president said that Kyiv, Khmelnytsky region and Sevastopol had not bought enough grain.

"You're creating the threat of unjustifiable rises in bread prices through your inactivity. I warn you that you'll be held personally responsible for having such an approach to your work," he said.
WHY is the President of a country that claims to wish to join the EU using this kind of language.
Moreover, WHY is a government even involved in this area of grain production and storage etc.

Perhaps the old soviet mentality from President Kanukovych and his Prime Minister Azarov is so far out of date, they just fail to realise that only former soviet countries are still interfering in the private sector. do they really think that the leaders of 'western countries' get involved in these kinds of issues.?

Look at the language used by Kanukovych. This is the language of yester year.
Ukraine still has a very long way to go before it is recognised as a potential EU candidate.


12 September 2011

The Best Diplomatic Service in the World

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has outlined his vision of the future of the Foreign Office in a speech in London on 8 September.

See: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=Speech&id=652930982

08 September 2011

EU Referendum

If you conducted a poll amongst the population of Ukraine and asked them if they wanted to join the European Union - YES or NO. I'm sure the vast majority would be saying YES as they would consider membership of the EU to be beneficial to the country and hopefully bring much needed social, economic and political changes to Ukraine.

However, another country in the west of Europe which claims to be a 'true democracy' could perhaps be the first country to decide to leave the EU. Step forward the United Kingdom.

Many British people are seriously starting to think it would be a good idea to clear the air within UK politics and have a referendum on it's continued membership of the EU. Those regular readers of the Daily Mail will know all to well the mood expressed by its readership. However, I'm sure it goes further than Daily Mail readers.

The UK government came up with the bright idea of 'e-petitions'. This is where people can create/suggest an issue that needs to be debated and voted on within the UK House of Commons, provided a minimum of 100,000 of the electorate sign up. Paper based systems are equally considered. So this is exactly what has happened.

Now we hear rumours that maybe the House of Commons does not have enough time to discuss these issues!!! Well, that's certainly one way to upset the great British public.

The issue will now start to develop more steam since a delegation of MP's and MEP's are due to deliver sack fulls of signature to the British Prime Minister - David Cameron.
See: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23984793-cameron-urged-to-call-eu-referendum.do

A large number of the British public are already very negative towards the EU and see it as an organisation that is out of touch with British customs and culture. The British have never liked the European methods of measurement etc. Moreover, they see EU laws being introduced that sometimes conflict with British laws. Within the European Parliament, a British political party, UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) openly campaigns for the UK to withdraw its membership of the EU.

Maybe the British government are afraid to offer the British people a referendum on the EU?
But what is democracy all about? The British people should be allowed to decide.

07 September 2011

Ukraine - Some questions to consider

Ukraine. The big questions are:
1. Is this a country where you want to live?
2. Is this a country where you want your children to live?
3. Would you invest money in this country?

05 September 2011

British Club - Golf Days in Ukraine

British Club - Golf Days

Due to popular demand and the positive feedback from last Saturday the
BBCU is pleased to say that we have extended our annual golf tournament
from 2 to 3 days.

BBCU golf tournament Saturday 3rd,10th and 17th September 2011

The BBCU annual golf tournament will now be held over 3 days this year.
Guests can choose their preferred day and subject to availability both remaining days if they so desire. Players may enter their best scorecard, trophies and prizes will be awarded to the winners on Saturday 17th September.

Academy course trophy 6 hole.
No handicap. Ideal for Families.

Stapleford trophy 9 hole.
Max handicap ladies 36 gentlemen 28.

Texas scramble 9 hole. No handicap
2/3 or 4 players per team

Price: 18 Holes Main course - 45 Euros each day
Two 9 hole competition entries of your choice.

Academy Course + A beginners lesson - 25 Euros each day
Lessons with Alex Iguchi PGA the club professional.

The event will once again be held at Royal Kyiv Golf Club and this year we are pleased
to say that the clubhouse has been completed. We can now offer a fully stocked
restaurant good public conveniences and Ladies and Gents changing room with showers.

Non-players are invited to visit the club and restaurant.
Subject to availability you can hit some golf balls for FREE.

To book now or discuss this event please contact :

Bill Bennett email bepebe21@hotmail.com Tel +38067 613 68 91
Dina Melnyk email administrator@bbcu.com.ua Tel +38044 235 72 23

23 August 2011

New Director of the BBCU

New Director of the BBCU

I'm pleased to announce that we have appointed Mr Peter Burningham as a Director of the BBCU.

Peter Burningham is an MBA qualified,multi-skilled British business professional who has lived in Kyiv for over eight years.Before moving to Ukraine he worked twenty two years for the American Engineering Company Cummins Inc. holding a variety of Executive Director positions in Marketing,Distribution and Aftermarket.The positions he has held in Ukraine are; Sales Director for the leading finance and accounting newspaper "All About Accounting",Sales & Marketing Director for the software development company United Software Corporation,and he has worked for two international recruitment companies Hudson & Clarus.Now he is a private entrepreneur undertaking executive search assignments and business development consultancy.
He has been associated with the BBCU for almost eight years.

We wish him well and we know that Peter will bring new energy and new ideas to the BBCU to continue helping us grow our membership and corporate clients.

I will be working in Sri Lanka during the next few months, so please contact Peter for any BBCU related business in Ukraine.

Tel: Kyiv 2357223 or administrator@bbcu.com.ua

21 August 2011

New Visa System in Ukraine from 11 September 2011

Ukraine is due to introduce a new set of visa regulations that will be simpler and easier to understand than the current system.

PLEASE NOTE: The new system does NOT change the visa free system for citizens from countries already entitled to entry Ukraine under the visa free arrangements for a stay of up to 90 days.

Change of visa types

The new system introduces a new classification of visas depending on the purpose of a visit to Ukraine.

1. Transit visa.

2. Short-term visa (Duration of stay does not exceed 90 days during a 180-day period after the date of first entry).

3. Long-term visa (Authorising a stay exceeding 90 days). Such visa may be valid for up to 3 years.

Visas under the new system may be single-entry, double-entry and multiple-entry. In addition, the new regulations provide that citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Mauritius, El Salvador, the Seychelles and Turkey, who arrive for tourism purposes, shall have the right to obtain a single-entry visa at a State border checkpoint for a term of up to 15 days.

Expanding the categories of foreigners who can be granted temporary residence permits

A temporary residence permit allows foreigners to stay in Ukraine for a period exceeding 90 days without the need to extend their stay with the authorities and gives the right to freely enter Ukraine and leave its territory.

Besides the persons who at present have the right to obtain temporary residence permits (such as foreign employees of Ukrainian companies who obtained employment permits), according to the new visa regulations the following categories of foreigners will also be given the right to obtain a temporary residence permit:

  • Persons who arrive in Ukraine in order to work at a branch, division, representative office or other structural unit of a social (non government) organisation of a foreign state.
  • Persons who arrive in Ukraine in order to work at a foreign business entity's representative office registered in accordance with the established procedures.
  • Persons who arrive in Ukraine in order to work at a foreign bank's branch or representative office registered in accordance with the established procedures.

Timeframe for consideration of visa applications

The new system does not establish a time frame for consideration of visa applications and issuance of visas. In practice, it is expected to take one week. But as with all Ukrainian systems it will vary from one office to another. However the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine declared that the respective authority must make a decision within 15 calendar days after receiving a visa application. The period of consideration may be extended up to 30 calendar days. The procedure and time frame for considering an urgent visa application shall be established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

Fee Tariffs

The fees under the new system will be:

  • Single-entry visa – USD 85
  • Double-entry visa – USD 130
  • Multiple-entry visa – USD 200

Urgent issue of a visa is subject to a double consular fee.


The introduction and implementation of a new visa system in Ukraine will further assist towards the adaptation of visa policies within the EU and will help to increase the efficiency of illegal migration prevention.

The BBCU strongly recommends all British citizens and other foreign nationals who are living and or working on the territory of Ukraine to conform with the immigration requirements of the country.

To obtain further advice please contact the BBCU office in Kyiv: Tel: 2357223


18 August 2011

Ukraine - 20 Years as an Independent Country

Twenty years ago this week, there was an attempted coup to try to stop the reforms of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

The coup failed, but led to the end of the Soviet Union and over 70 years of the Communist empire.

As they say the rest is history. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus became independent states and so did the other 'states' from the former USSR.

Ukraine will mark its Independence Day on 24 August. This year it will 'celebrate' 20 years as an independent state. Maybe 20 years is not so long to assess how a new country has developed? My first daughter was born in 1991 and I can confirm that time seems to pass very quickly. Although she will be 20 years old this year, I still think of her as a baby.

Is Ukraine still a baby nation? Well it has certainly experienced lots of crying and kicking and screaming since 1991. Many people compare Ukraine with Poland. How has Poland managed to become so successful in the same time period and Ukraine is still struggling with a high level of poverty.

Poland was never a fully signed up voluntary member of the USSR. The poles were only too happy to break free and show the rest of the world how they could become an independent country free from the control freaks in Moscow. Today Poland is a member of the EU and is successful in attracting FDI to further develop its economy. A visit to Warsaw will confirm this.

Ukraine on the other hand was always a FULLY signed up member of the USSR. Russia and Ukraine have always been tightly knit together. Most of the USSR missile sites aimed at the rest of the world were based in Ukraine. The majority of armament factories, missiles, rockets and small arms, military equipment production was based in Ukraine. Ukraine was and still is today the home of large steel mills which produced large quantities of steel for the USSR. Moreover, Ukraine was considered the 'soviet breadbasket' with its rich farm lands producing a significant amount of grain for the whole of the USSR.

It was difficult for Ukraine to break away from the 'Moscow Influence'. Indeed, many would say, why would Ukraine want to break way? The Kyiv mentality was pretty much the same as the Moscow mentality.

But why has Ukraine not developed along the same lines as other former USSR countries like the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania?

Ukraine is a very difficult country to try to understand. I must admit one of my favourite mottos is 'In Ukraine do not try to understand everything', knowing full well it will drive anyone crazy who really does try to understand how this country ticks. The editor of Forbes magazine recently produced an article showing Ukraine to be amongst the worst economies in the world.

See: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2011/07/05/the-worlds-worst-economies/

But any visitor to the capital city of Ukraine - Kyiv, is always amazed by the display of wealth on the streets including expensive cars, designer shops, expensive restaurants and the desire for the 'new rich' in Ukraine to display their wealth pretty much like the Arabs.
Unfortunately, visitors to Ukraine will eventually discover the massive differences between the have's and have nots in the country. Approximately just 2% of the population of the country control the vast amount of wealth generated since 1991. The majority of Ukrainians still live in poverty. The so called 'middle class' are small in number and live to serve the 2% elite class.
Many of the 'middle class', highly educated and multilingual still look towards western Europe and further to seek their opportunities in life. They do not see their long term futures in Ukraine.

Ironically, there are a few 'foreigners', myself included, who came to Ukraine, because we identified the great business opportunities in a 'developing country' without too much competition on the ground. During the boom days 1999-2009, both foreigners and Ukrainians enjoyed the incremental growth in the economy, particularly in the property sector.
Unfortunately those days are over.

Many would say there are still new opportunities in Ukraine and I'm sure they are right.
But many Ukrainians still think that the country as a whole has missed many opportunities.
Corruption amongst government employees and members of the government are still major hurdles that will not be overcome for many years. Currently the country is facing a few tests which will have major implications for how it sees out 2011 and welcomes 2012.
The UEFA 2012 Football Championships in Ukraine will be a major test, plus the on going 'trial' of former prime-minister Yulia Tymosheno will be perhaps the biggest test for Ukraine in 2011.

Perhaps the one good thing that the people of Ukraine can celebrate on 24 August is the fact that they do live in an independent country free from the control freaks in Moscow...maybe.