31 March 2012

EU and Ukraine 'initial' an Association Agreement

The association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union has been initialed in Brussels. UkrInform reported.

“Today the heads of the negotiation delegations of Ukraine and the European Union initialed the text of the association agreement, an integral part of which will be the provisions on the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade area (FTA). In this regard, the heads of negotiating teams on the FTA confirmed the agreements reached by the sides regarding the content of the economic part of the document and pledged to complete the legal examination of the text, including technical annexes and protocols,” the statement said.

On behalf of Ukraine, the agreement was initialed by Pavlo Klimkin, the head of the negotiating team, Ukrainian deputy foreign minister.

As earlier reported, Ukraine and the European Union began negotiations on the signing of the association agreement in 2007. On December 19, 2011, after the Ukraine-EU summit, the sides announced the completion of the negotiation process concerning the association agreement, including the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade area.

The initialing, which is the technical procedure of agreeing the authenticity of the texts on legal and linguistic criteria, is to be followed by political processes on the signing of the document, its ratification by the European Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and the national parliaments of EU member states, and then its implementation.

BUT, It would appear that no further progress will be made until Ukraine can demonstrate that changes will take place in important areas like THE RULE OF LAW, MEDIA FREEDOM AND OPEN DEMOCRACY and many other areas as expressed by the EU leadership.

The EU have clearly stated that while Yulia Tymoshenko (Former Prime Minister) and Yuriy Lutsenko (Former Interior Minister) remain in prison, no progress can be made towards signing the agreement.

Moreover, many observers, EU included, are waiting to see how the coming Parliamentary elections are conducted in Ukraine later this year in October.

19 March 2012

Football crowd chaos in Kyiv

Yesterday in Kyiv Dynamo Kyiv played against SKY at the Olympic stadium. The same stadium where many of the Euro 2012 games including the final will be played later this year.

I was there in the city centre when the crowds were entering the ground and when leaving. It was complete chaos. Makes you think what will happen during Euro 2012 when the crowds will be much much bigger.

See video here.

10 March 2012

Hotel Room Prices - Euro 2012 in Ukraine

Much as been written this week by the UK media concerning the low level of advanced ticket sales for England games during the Euro 2012 Football Championships in Ukraine/Poland this coming summer.

The basic problem, as many people predicted, is that hotel operators/owners in Kyiv, Donestsk, Liviv and Kharkiv have set prices for hotel rooms during the football tournament in Ukraine, at sky high rates. In some cases 10 (ten) times the normal price.

English football fans are known for their loyalty and will normally follow the England team wherever they are playing. English fans usually show 'full strength' support of the national team.
But the whole process of travelling to Ukraine to support their team is proving a step too far for many. The usual process involved in a football supporters itinerary is ticket, travel, hotel, watch game.

Buying tickets for the games in Ukraine has shown to be not too difficult. In fact it has been reported that UEFA is concerned that not enough tickets have been sold to English fans.

Flights to Ukraine are easier these days but the majority of flights only fly into Kyiv (Borispol) International airport. There is only one low cost operator with regular flights in and out of Ukraine. Wizzair provides flights from London Luton to Kyiv (Zuliany) airport.
The problem is getting to Donetsk from Kyiv. The options are; another flight to Donetsk, an overnight train to Donetsk (if you know how to buy the tickets) or a bus ride to Donetsk.

The next stage is booking a hotel room. UEFA have done a great job in planning and organising various agencies to help book hotels and offer package deals. See: http://www.accom2012.com/Accom2012

However, this is where the hurdle appears for most football fans. Who wants to pay the equivalent of EURO 500 plus per night for a hotel room. The popular 4 and 5 star hotels in Kyiv and Donetsk were booked out many months ago by the large tribe of 'officials' associated with the tournament. Many of these hotels are charging EURO 1,000 plus per night.

Each English fan could be looking at a total package price way above what they consider to be acceptable. Remembering that the first games for England are in Donetsk on 11 June, then Kyiv on 15 June and back to Donetsk again on 19 June. All this before the quarter finals, semi finals and final in Kyiv on 1 July. Even if a supporter only stayed for the first stage games they would need 8 nights of hotel accommodation.
This is where the majority of football supporters begin to think about staying at home and watching the games on TV, or even collectively at special events planned in English pubs and hotels.

Perhaps the easiest answer for English football fans would be to fly in and out of Ukraine for each game. Flying from London into Kyiv and then getting down to Donetsk and using the airports as 'sleeping grounds', although I doubt the Ukrainian authorities will like this idea.

Moreover, it is not just English football fans who are affected. When it comes to being tight with the euro, we know that Germans, Danes, Dutch, Portuguese, French and Swedes will also refuse to pay sky high prices in Ukraine.

Let's hope that some hotel owners/operators will see sense and start to offer rooms at 'normal' prices as seen in Western Europe. Plus I know that many people will say "Ah but hotel prices are also very high in London for the Olympics this year.". Yes, I agree they are very high but many are just double the price or treble the price, not TEN times the price as in Ukraine. Plus Euro 2012 is NOT the Olympics!

06 March 2012

EU Enlargement Video

This video has been produced by the EU to encourage enlargement of the union.
It is not a joke.
I will say no more.

05 March 2012

Voting - The Russian Method

Video evidence says it all:

Putin returns to power.

With hundreds of military trucks, menacing police vans, hovering helicopters and tens of thousands of soldiers and riot police in full gear, Moscow felt like an occupied city last night.

And so it was. Manezh Square, in front of the Kremlin, and a good portion of Tverskaya, the city’s main shopping street, were taken by a crowd of some 100,000 grim-looking people dressed mostly in black, who were brought in to celebrate the victory of Vladimir Putin. Russia's outgoing prime minister officially won just less than 64% of the vote in yesterday's presidential election.

This was a very different crowd from the privileged middle-class Muscovites normally seen on Tverskaya, who largely voted against Mr Putin. Actors and singers tried to warm up the pro-Putin crowd, but few responded with enthusiasm. This was the Moscow Mr Putin addressed with his emotional speech.

“A special thank you to those who gathered today in Moscow, who supported us in every corner of our limitless motherland, to all those who said 'yes' to our great Russia.” By “Russia”, Mr Putin meant himself. A tear—later blamed on the cold wind—rolled down his face.

“We won! We won in an open and honest battle! Thank you friends, thank you!” said Mr Putin. This was the speech of a conqueror in a hostile capital. Moscow gave Mr Putin less than half of its votes. More than 20% went to Mikhail Prokhorov, a liberal business tycoon. There were no kind words in Mr Putin's victory speech for his opponents; no promise to be a president of all the people, including those who voted against him; no offer of a compromise—only of an unrelenting fight.

“We showed that nobody can force anything upon us!” Mr Putin said twice. “We showed that our people can differentiate between a wish for renewal from political provocations aimed at only one thing: to destroy Russian statehood and usurp power. Russian people today showed that such scenarios will not pass in our land,” Mr Putin said.

It is as if he were haunted by the spectre of a colour revolution of the sort that overtook Georgia and Ukraine almost a decade ago. Such a development is unlikely in Russia. But a separate mobilisation has already taken place.

In the run-up to the election Mr Putin had called on his supporters to unite for a last battle, against enemies both domestic and foreign. Mr Putin's "provocations" presumably meant the massive protest marches in Moscow that erupted after December's dodgy parliamentary elections, where huge crowds demanded “honest elections” and the end of Mr Putin’s personalised, corrupt system of governance.

The protests made a big impression on both the Kremlin and Russia's urban middle classes. They forced the Kremlin to launch political reform (albeit in half-hearted fashion), to simplify the rules governing the registration of election candidates and political parties, and to bring back the elections of regional governors, which were scrapped in 2004.

But they also mobilised hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. The numbers volunteering to act as voting observers at yesterday's election was four times greater than in December's election. That made the Kremlin’s manipulation job that much harder.

Many of the protests’ organisers, and some journalists, convened last night in a smoke-filled small theatre hall in Moscow, which turned into the makeshift headquarters of an alternative vote count. It was set up by Alexei Navalny, an influential blogger and anti-corruption crusader with an eye for big politics.

Throughout the night the centre broadcast news and commentary about the election on to the internet from its makeshift television studio. Guests, including influential columnists, opposition politicians and even celebrities—such as Ksenia Sobchak, former host of the Russian equivalent of “Big Brother”—told stories of electoral fraud.

Mr Navalny says the methods of manipulation yesterday differed from December's elections. Back then the electoral commission simply kicked out election observers and falsified the count, particularly in Moscow, which voted overwhelmingly against the Kremlin’s United Russia party. It was the blatancy of these acts that enraged Muscovites and drove them on to the streets.

This time, Mr Navalny says, the Kremlin used more labour-intensive methods. Although the counting itself was more transparent, the numbers of people voting for Mr Putin in the first place was artificially increased. Voters were delivered to polling stations by special buses. Electoral registers were supplemented by additional lists of people from state organisations, both fake and genuine, allowing for multiple voting.

According to Golos, an election-observing organisation, Mr Putin’s real result was just over 50% (the threshold needed to avoid a second-round run-off), followed by Gennady Zyuganov, a veteran Communist leader, with 19%, and Mr Prokhorov overtaking two other candidates in the official result with nearly 17%. But the numbers are falling, and could dip below the 50% threshold.

Yet pumping up the numbers of Putin voters was not so much a means of securing victory in the first round but a demonstration to the bureaucracy and particularly to the security services that Mr Putin is still in charge and able to mobilise whatever resources necessary to stay in power.

The problem for Mr Putin, writes Alexander Baunov, a Russian columnist, is that his legitimacy is not recognised by a large and active minority of Russian people, and by a majority in the capital itself.

The Kremlin can pump up Mr Putin’s ratings and mobilise millions of state employees on election day. But it cannot provide that legitimacy. Many of those who voted for Mr Putin yesterday do not trust him. Sociologists say Mr Putin’s majority is passive, and crumbling.

In a conciliatory but also pre-emptive gesture to the protestors, this morning Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s outgoing president, asked the country’s prosecutor-general to review the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the jailed tycoon, by April 1st. Given Mr Putin’s tough position and Mr Medvedev’s weakness, the review is unlikely to result in Mr Khodorkovsky’s release and is more likely to be a smokescreen.

The main dishonesty, however, was that the rules of yesterday's election were skewed from the very beginning. The Kremlin had monopoly over election coverage on television, which remains the main source of news for much of the country (although no longer in Moscow), and disqualified any plausible opponents from the outset, creating an impression that there was no alternative. This was supplemented with scaremongering about the threat of a revolution.

The danger is that the Kremlin may now feel the need to justify its mobilisation. And it may find an excuse. A mass demonstration is planned this evening in the centre of Moscow, and although the mayor’s office has granted permission for it to go ahead the dangers of a provocation remain from either side: some protestors may want to go beyond the prescribed march limits and take their protest towards the Kremlin.

Alarmingly, Mr Putin had pre-emptively accused protestors of spoiling for a fight, and might even “knock someone off” so that they can blame the Kremlin. But for the thousands of Muscovites who will take to the streets this evening, the main point is to demonstrate that this city belongs to them.