Friday, June 26, 2015

Past articles: Right to be rememberd

In response to google's interpretation of the EU's 'right to be forgotten' legislation, I claim the 'right to be remembered'. A link to some at least some of my past articles:

The Quiet Elections
New Eastern Europe 26th September 2014

Crimea:What Comes After Non-Recognition?
New Eastern Europe 28th May 2014

The Counterintuitive Dynamics of the EU-Ukraine Relationship Euroscope (Sussex European Institute) Autumn 2011 p53

Has Change in Power Panicked European Union Into Action
Kyiv Post 11th March 2010

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The principles of free speech vs the monuments against it

Ukraine's anti-communist law should be rewritten, but not scrapped 

The recently published open letter on Ukraine’s ‘anti-communist law’ has weighed into a heavily emotive debate. We could consider the law from the point of view of the ammunition it will give Ukraine’s critics, but I do not think this should be a key consideration. If their use of the repeal of Ukraine’s regional languages law (which never happened) is anything to go by, the trolls at 55 Savushkina street will have this woven into their technical tasks for the next few months, irrespective of whether it is ever signed into law. Russia has dictated Ukraine’s affairs quite enough, one would think.

There are some points on which this letter hits the nail on the head. Where was the rigorous political debate in the Rada on such potentially divisive issues? Also, that the law creates a vaguely defined offence of denying the legitimacy of Ukraine’s struggle for independence in the twentieth century. Vaguely defined laws on which individuals could be arbitrarily lynched are a post-Soviet model of justice which surely has no place in today’s Ukraine. The offence of denying the criminal character of the entire Soviet regime from start to finish is also fraught with risks, although I think the examples given of potential offenders amount to mere thought experiments. This poor quality of legislative practice shows that Ukraine still lacks a culture of constitutionalism, and President Poroshenko should indeed send lawmakers back to the drawing board to pass a better law which better addresses these concerns. But the essence of what Ukraine is attempting to do here must not be discounted.

I first moved to Kiev in 2006, living first near Arsenalna, then Nyvky out in the suburbs, both on the metro system. Using the metro regularly there brings you face to face with the Soviet legacy, from small hammer and sickles in metal grills to the garish representation of Lenin and his sayings at Teatralna. I always hated it, and I also hated the seeming indifference of most locals to it. Even amongst the more active, nobody really raised this issue. The moderator of one pro Ukrainian language Facebook page was more concerned with a small Russian language sign at Palats Sportu station (only retained as it was part of the station’s original design) than de-Sovietisation. For me the latter was far more important.

The Lenin menagerie at Teatralna was finally removed last year, and I was overjoyed on a visit back to Kiev to see it gone. Perversely, it is this exact display which is pictured atop the open letter itself on the Krytyka webpage. It’s common for western visitors to Eastern Europe to wonder why countries in the region saw the need to rip up their communist monuments. After all, it’s part of their history, they say. But as we all know, history is written by the victors, and in 1922, after a civil war which ravaged Ukraine, that’s what the Bolsheviks were. This regime not only built its own monuments but destroyed royalist monuments, churches etc. and, ultimately, their monuments were designed as symbols of central power, prescribed history, control and obedience. How can a country build a democratic mindset with monuments glorifying totalitarianism everywhere?

So in many ways the gist of the law is actually correct. Retaining Soviet detritus has been too costly to Ukraine's societal development, and people’s indifference unhealthy. The law also bans Nazi symbols. Again, the law should bear in mind Ukraine’s needs, not Russia’s, and I think there’s a much more searching debate to be had about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. To me, the black and red flag should be permissible, Wolfsangels and other SS symbols etc. should not be. It's difficult to apply a consistent standard across both the Nazi and Soviet periods as they are so vastly different in scope.
The most important desired outcome is freedom for independent historians, academics and journalists. Remember, by the way, that it was Yanukovych who closed the KGB archives in 2010, aiding the mythologisation process in Western Ukraine, boosting the Svoboda party and creating a foil for the pro-Russian ‘anti-fascist’ constructs that the Party of Regions was using. When you have Ukraine sympathisers writing things like "so it is estalished fact that the UPA slaughtered tens of thousands of Poles? I don't think so" (some here in Warsaw can tell you they lost family members at the hands of the Ukrainian insurgents), you realise the importance of the work of these historians.

Holodomor remembrance is a good example of the power of education. Not so many years ago the average Ukrainian knew little in concrete terms about what had happened to their country in the 1930s. The bringing to light of historical evidence has brought about the right kind of response, one of reverence and remembrance in which all public figures participate (leaving aside the more specific question of genocide). The fear of the mythologising of history in Ukraine, as in Russia, is a legitimate one. Ukraine shouldn't follow Russia down the path of pseudo-history.

Is there an alternative to smashing or bulldozing Lenin statues and other monuments? Perhaps. Hungary's Statue Park is an example Ukraine could follow. What they do in former East Germany with Karl Marx in Chemnitz (complete with giant winter scarf!) is a perfectly sensible thing to do in the context of the free world safely inside the EU and NATO. But in Ukraine the monuments underline a medieval understanding of power which makes them much more problematic to retain. Another risk is that Soviet monuments can be reactivated as symbols by subversives or invaders. The reconstruction of a Lenin monument in occupied East Ukraine reminds us of their value to the opponents of a free Ukraine. 

Perhaps the most damning criticism that could be made of the law is that it is in a way a cop out. If Communism was so bad, when will Ukraine act on lustration for the crimes of the Soviet period (not to mention for the Kuchma and Yanukovych eras)? The open letter is a thoughtful contribution to this difficult discussion. Although signed by one or two dubious figures it is also signed by many more respected and knowledgeable academics with Ukraine’s best interests at heart.

The debate about de-Sovietisation must by necessity move into controversial territory. Should it be only street names such as Lenina or Kominterna which should be changed? Should street names such as Heroiv Stalingrada (Heroes of Stalingrad) be changed purely because they contain, and indirectly venerate, the name of one responsible for the deaths of millions of Ukrainians (I’d like to see it renamed Heroes of Donetsk Airport instead)? The argument the open letter makes is for inclusivity of those across Ukraine, but surely, as someone has suggested, that inclusivity could be found in countless numbers of local figures worth celebrating. Monuments and street names to those who weren't Ukrainian & killed Ukrainians is inclusivity Ukraine can do without.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Anti-trolling guide

Be aware that message boards are swarming with pro-Kremlin contributors, very likely paid in organised trolling operations. They will spread disinformation which denies the following facts:

-Russia has invaded Ukraine using undeclared, hybrid war

-Ukraine was peaceful for 23 years before this operation began-repeat:there was no war, regardless of whether there was a pro-western or pro-Russian government.

-a majority across Ukraine supported Ukraine's independence and unity before the invasion (now even more do!). This majority includes millions of Russian-speakers who do not want Putin's 'protection'.

-Russia staged a 'referendum at gunpoint' in Crimea, and similar 'elections' recently in Donbas and Luhansk. These lack any democratic legtimacy whatsoever (in any case, what sense is there in a vote to join a country that's not a democracy?)

-since the annexation, Crimean Tatar activists have been tortured and sometimes killed, the Crimean Tatar leader has been exiled from his homeland, and Russians there have even held Nazi-style book burnings of Ukrainian books.

-Euromaidan was, over a period of several weeks, a peaceful demonstration which did, at its fringes, turn violent (long after Yanukovych had already resorted to violence). The protests were visibly home grown-you only had to visit the makeshift camp to see that there was no sophisticated CIA covert op at work.

-America, far from promoting 'regime change' in Ukraine, has pursued over several years an appeasement policy towards Russia, including the 'reset' policy, scrapping the missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and failing to respond robustly to the Russian aggression on Georgian territory in 2008 that untimately lead to the Russia-Georgia war. The EU has done little to encourage Ukraine's European ambitions since the Orange Revolution in 2004, refusing to consider any prospect of EU membership for Ukraine, so the idea that Ukraine's revolution was a 'western-backed coup' doesn't stack up.

-Ukraine's coup was in 2010. Although, President Yanukovych was democratically elected, he proceeded to unconstitutionally take control of Ukraine's parliament by paying deputies to switch sides, and taking control of other state organs such as the Constitutional Court and judiciary in general (hence the Tymoshenko imprisonment). By late 2013, Ukraine's political system had been thoroughly hollowed out and there was little democracy left to speak of.

-It was Yanukovych who started killing his own citizens by shooting 100 dead on Instytutska St. in February this year. There's is a body of evidence that Russia was directly involved in it. A visit to Instytutska St. and a quick inspection of the bullet holes shows that the shots were fired from government buildings. Putin also is responsible for the deaths of his own Russian citizens on Ukrainian soil-estimates of Russian military casualties in Russia's hybrid war on Ukraine number in excess of 4000.

-If Russia left now, the war ends. Simple as that.
Not to say that the Ukrainians are angels. We all know about the record of corruption over Ukraine's 23 year history but, unlike in Russia, Ukrainian society is taking action to at least try to do something about it. The far right in Ukraine is vocal but small, as evidenced by the recent elections which saw barely half a dozen far right deputies elected to parliament, a lot less than in many European countries at the moment. The issue of civilian casualties must be discussed, but put in the context that Russia's proxies position themselves in residential areas precisely to paint this picture. As stated, if Russia pulls the plug on this operation, the fighting will soon stop.

If most of the comments down here aren't worth reading, these examples might give you an idea why:
Fake Ukrainian news sites are being run out of the same office as where the Russians who flood comments section work.
Someone in Russian Foreign Ministry spends his time editing Wikipedia articles about Eastern Ukraine
Monday last week French paper Le Figaro declined to publish the results of a survey on whether to deliver the Mistral ships to Russia, citing massive automated trolling originating in Russia. Number for yes rose from 60% to 78% overnight...

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Quiet Elections

Published in New Eastern Europe 26th September 2014

As winter approaches, Ukraine moves to plug its democratic legitimacy gap.

You could forgive the residents of Kiev for having other things on their minds besides the upcoming elections to the Verkhovna Rada. With gas deliveries from Russia having long halted, many Kievans have been living without hot water for the past couple of months as the country tries to fill its gas storage facilities. The annual switching on of the central communal heating system has been delayed two weeks to the beginning of November. Gazprom has reduced its gas deliveries to those countries providing a potential lifeline to Ukraine via a reverse flow, Poland and Slovakia. A Russian government advisor, Sergey Markov, has even predicted that Ukraine’s government will collapse in the winter. As with the prophecies of Ukraine’s descent into “civil war”, Russian predictions are often statements of intent. Ukraine’s government needs to be in the best shape possible if Russia is going to attempt to freeze them out, so questions about its legitimacy matter.

Ukraine is also a country at war. From the mobile mechanisms that enable donations to the Ukrainian army to the men standing on the road collecting money to relentlessly paint the country’s railings and street furniture yellow and blue in defiance of the would-be occupiers, the war is ever present. Where you might have expected to see early discussion about the upcoming elections, TV news reports have unsurprisingly been dominated by the daily national and personal tragedies of the conflict. This has led some commentators to question the wisdom of holding a vote in such circumstances. The presidential elections also took place in a similar situation with election coverage slotted in between the latest news about the Anti-Terror Operation.

President Petro Poroshenko’s strong mandate from this election and his growing reputation with the West have put him in a strong position, although it is bound to have diminished somewhat following the toxic, but perhaps unavoidable, Minsk agreement and the delay to the EU-Ukraine trade agreement (what was simultaneously “signed” September 16th in Kiev and Strasbourg was in fact only around one-fifth of the original Association Agreement text). Beyond the presidency, Ukraine’s democratic credentials don’t look so clever. Ukrainian society has had a new injection of civic activism and engagement, but this is not reflected in the country’s parliament. Unsuspecting politicians may now find themselves being “caught” by journalists in interviews or thrown into skips, but their existence in parliament is not so different as to what it was before.

This situation goes back to the real coup d’etat of Ukrainian politics, the parliamentary coup of 2010, where the Constitutional Court, which had previously ruled otherwise, ruled that deputies were free to move between parliamentary factions. Whilst this is entirely acceptable in constituency-based systems like the UK, Ukraine’s deputies had been elected on a closed list system, so changing factions was like your vote growing legs and walking away from you, and hence Yanukovych induced deputies from the Orange parties of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to form a loyalist parliament on which to build his power vertical. The turncoat deputies were dubbed “tushki”, or animal carcasses.

The victory of the EuroMaidan might have ushered in a new era of openness and civic engagement but, as Yanukovych fled the country, something not very dissimilar took place in the current parliament. As the emergency government formed around Prime Minister Aresiny Yatsenyuk and Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, deputies, particularly those from the Party of Regions, hurried to either join the new bloc or become independent. Thus, whilst Poroshenko is the legitimately elected President, the parliament we see today is in fact little more than a group of “reverse tushki”. So whilst the new government is clearly no “junta”, it certainly has a democratic legitimacy problem that successful parliamentary elections are absolutely vital to solve.  

The current parliament has also inherited its predecessor’s poor standards of parliamentary procedure. The practice of piano player voting, where deputies push the voting buttons of their missing colleagues, still continues. The recent vote on the ceasefire law was held in a closed session and rumours abound that the screen that shows the voting results might even have been tampered with. Perhaps there is an argument that in the time of war certain measures must be pushed through (many democracies experience a temporary democratic deficit in times of war), but such actions are unlikely to give Ukraine’s democracy a clean bill of health.

In addition to the oncoming freeze and parliament’s democratic inadequacies, Poroshenko must be aware that his initial popularity can quickly nosedive in Ukraine. The support for Yushchenko had all but evaporated within six months as president. Therefore, Poroshenko must see the need to use what momentum he still has as quickly as possible. Current polls back his bloc to do well, despite recent controversial decisions.

There are some ways in which the elections will not be a departure from the Yanukovych era. They will be held under the same election law as the 2012 poll, a mixture of party list and geographical constituency mandates that was designed to skew the vote in Yanukovych’s favour. Clearly, elections for the electoral districts in the occupied territories will not take place, meaning out of 450 seats, 15-20 will be empty. In one sense, maintaining those “empty chairs” would be a powerful symbol that these regions remain, in the sense of international law, part of Ukraine. Ukraine must feel a duty to continue to represent those regions in some way. This is perhaps reflected in the fact that Mustafa Dzhemilev, exiled head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, itself now facing the prospect of exile, is on Poroshenko’s electoral list.

As in the previous elections, oligarchic clans are still likely to figure prominently, but this time different clans stand to benefit. Whereas at previous elections the Donbas clan came to the fore, they are now variously exiled or in the quagmire of the Russian-sponsored breakaway entity now being established there, although some are rumoured to be funding the Party of Development which is emerging from the ruins of the Party of Regions. It will be fascinating to see the extent to which Russian aggression and occupation have sliced through Ukraine’s traditional pro-western/pro-Russian cleavage. In the new parliament, Poroshenko and Dnipropetrovsk-based Ihor Kolomoyskyi look like the potential big winners. Parties and party groupings continue to be fluid even with just a month left to go. Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR has merged into Poroshenko’s group of pragmatists, whilst others collect around Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party or the slowly climbing People’s Front, Yatsenyuk’s new party. Figures from Ukraine’s past have apparently been manoeuvring themselves onto party lists by various means, but this will be a gamble, assuming the vote is substantially free and fair. Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party may conceivably even struggle to enter parliament.

Each western-leaning party will also have a handful of Maidan activists towards the top of its lists who may or may not turn out to be capable politicians, but should at least look on parliament’s procedural deficiencies in a new light. However, despite a myriad of options on the ballot paper, the party system arguably still will not be offering choices that truly reflect voters’ needs and preferences. Large shares of the vote at the previous election for the far right Svoboda and the first banned, now unbanned, Communists alarmed observers in 2012, but suggest that for many Ukrainians ideology is important, just as for other Europeans. The persistence of so-called “virtual parties” built around clans or individuals does little address this need.

It seems that Ukrainians continue to misguidedly seek the “good politician”, whereas evidence of the reform process across Central Eastern Europe tells us that in most cases it is the political system, not the quality of its politicians that is the decisive factor in reform-making, specifically the parliamentary system of the government. If Ukraine is to truly succeed, its political system needs to be a radical departure from anything seen thus far in the post-Soviet space.

As things stand, expect a quiet election as Ukrainians continue to fight and die for their country and for Ukraine’s political system to take incremental steps forward, if they can survive the winter.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Debunking so-called 'stop the war' coalition's '5 facts'

This is a brief response to debunk the '5 facts' article the so-called 'stop the war' coalition posted today. Although it barely dignifies a response, I feel duty-bound.

For the record, I opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion and supported the work they did then, but if Putin succeeds, with the help of poorly informed UK citizens susceptible to Russia's propaganda machine, we'll end up with war that makes Iraq 2003 look like a playground fight.

Point 1: Countries joined NATO of their own accord. Why were countries like Poland & the Baltics so keen to join? Because they understand Russia much better than you do

Point 2:How can an organisation that purports to be left wing prop up Russian ethno-nationalist arguments? People in Ukraine are from a variety of backgrounds but want to be Ukrainian-ethnicity is not the issue. A great many Russian-speakers living in Ukraine don't want to live in a dictatorship like Russia or Belarus.

Point 3:The EU's Association Agreement was a 'do minimum' option by Brussels,who for 10 years offered Ukraine virtually nothing.

Point 4:more than half a million protested in Maidan entirely peacefully.Plenty of people wanted to see Yanukovych go, not just far right fringe. What you don't realise is that the 'coup' was Yanukovych's. Upon seizing power in 2010 he illegally took control of parliament & gutted the country's institutions

Point 5:How do you account for 23 years of peace in Ukraine that were only broken 'coincidentally' with the arrival of Russian fighters & arms?

So basically, the '5 facts' don't stack up.

P.S. The article references another article by Stephen Cohen, who some may not be aware is a notorious Putin apologist, irrespective of people killed or planes shot down etc.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Crimea adds to reasons for nations to skip 2018 & 2022 World Cups

With FIFA credibility at rock bottom, Russia and Qatar both morally untenable, and that winter World Cup, should our nations even go to 2018 & 2022? And what's Crimea got to do with it?

FIFA knows it's virtually impossible to boycott a World Cup, unless you're a housewife who goes to one of those World Cup matinée showings at the local cinema. Despite a barrage of criticism of FIFA's shady goings on, Gary Lineker most recently getting in on the act, FIFA, rather like Vladimir Putin, look set to carry on regardless.

There were already many large clouds gathering over FIFA before this summer. As John Oliver's first class putdown of FIFA on the eve of this year's tournament basically said, if you're a football fan it's in a way better not to know. Brazil 2014 was, on the pitch, a resounding success, with some compelling games. Off it, the picture didn't look so clever. Many Brazilians had put the boot in on the project long before their team's infamous 7-1 defeat.

The FIFA bribery scandal is covered elsewhere by those that know far more about it than me, but suffice it to say that, if Qatar is guilty of giving bribes to get the 2022 World Cup, and not forgetting that Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup at the exact same FIFA Congress in 2010, some further dots may need to be joined up there. Franz Beckenbauer's suspension for not complying with FIFA's internal investigation has something of the air of a Putin-style scapegoating of some low-ranking official.  

The Qatar decision has brought with it all manner of strife. At present FIFA appears to be procrastinating over whether to upset Europe's clubs and associations and their calendars by holding a winter World Cup, or whether to chance the fate of millionaire footballers in the summer desert temperatures, which seems increasingly unlikely. Again, many are doing a far better job than me highlighting the dreadful human rights situation in the country and the horrendous working conditions of the migrant workers who are building the facilities.

There was already a lobby against the holding of the 2018 World Cup in Russia which had been exponentially growing with Russia's annexation of Crimea and its instigation of terrorism and armed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, added to the remnants of the anti-Sochi campaign appalled by Russia's gay rights situation. Then, with the shooting down of MH17, citizens and families of nationals from Holland, Australia, Malaysia and the UK were suddenly thrust into the world Ukrainians have been living in since November last year, and Chechens very much longer. All of a sudden politicians from those countries were talking tough about taking the World Cup away from Russia. Who's to say if they will keep it up?

Russia 2018 also faces practical problems. Visiting teams basing themselves in Crimea looks a non-starter as non-recognition policy is already beginning to restrict the ability of airlines to fly there. Russia itself is already starting to turn the screw on World Cup sponsor McDonald's (even Coca Cola is not safe, not to mention iPhones and iPads). Russia is busy banning products and this is likely to push up prices. Airlines may not be able to fly over Siberia to get to the tournament. After Euromaidan, political change in Russia is also not out of the question. Somebody somewhere in FIFA must be a bit jittery about all this, but publicly there seems little concern.

Many believe that there is about as much chance of FIFA moving the 2018 or 2022 World Cups as there is of Formula 1 missing out Bahrain or Sochi from its race calendar. At least F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone is blunt, if morally bankrupt, on human rights issues affecting host countries, whilst FIFA loftily proclaims that the World Cup can 'bring positive change'. If that's the kind of 'positive change' the Sochi Winter Olympics brought, then sorry, we don't want it.

So, think about this, in particular if you are, for example, the English FA. You have already been deprived of hosting a World Cup in what was quite possibly a corrupt voting process, and your leagues and clubs are not happy at all about the impending 2022 winter World Cup. FIFA has taken hold of world football when in fact it is the national leagues and the Champions' League which are the sport's bread and butter. Couldn't the various associations quite easily get together and pledge to run a rival competition for 2018 & 2022?

I would personally be more than happy to see Europe's great sides (Germany, Holland etc.) take a decision for the greater good of football and humanity, and simply decide not to send their teams to either of these World Cups (I'd also like to see the USA, Australia and England do the same, but if it was only those 3 most would assume they just hadn't qualified). The English FA seem more worried about demolishing the English lower leagues with Premier League B teams than whether or not the World Cup will be played in climatic or political conditions safe for their players. As with all things it seems, Germany is the key. If the defending champions didn't show up, what sort of World Cup would that be? Kazakhstan v Vietnam anyone?

Doubting even that as the force to topple FIFA's falkekirche, what about the law? Is there a legal basis to at least get Russia stripped of the 2018 World Cup and hope the corruption issues are exposed in time to spare us a World Cup under the blankets in 2022? The answer may lie in Crimea.

Crimea: What happened to FIFA and UEFA's own rules?

Whilst not the most illustrious footballing outpost, the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea is another moral test case for both FIFA and European football governing body UEFA. That's because, a few years ago both organisations made some rules, which they enforced too.

As recently as 2010, France was threatened over what FIFA calls political interference in football. Some countries, such as Brunei and Kenya, have even had their football associations and national teams suspended over it. Presumably hosting a World Cup under such circumstances would be out of the question. Early reports after Crimea annexation, regarding Tavriya Simferopol in particular, suggested that, until the UN rules that Crimea is part of Russia, the clubs would prefer to stay in the Ukrainian league. However, one of the earliest voices, back in late March when the dust was still settling, to claim that Crimean teams would be playing in the Russian league was Russia's Sports Minister, Vitaly Mukto (FIFA later claimed they had given no such consent). A FIFA letter as recently as early June seemed to confirm what we all know-Crimean football is Ukrainian football. The clubs were affiliated to the Ukrainian FA, so their fate was none of Russia's business.

The solution has in fact been to unceremoniously kill off two football clubs, Tavriya Simferopol and FK Sevastopol, and place three new entities into the Russian 2nd division, created under 'Russian law'. What 'Russian law' means in a territory not internationally recognised as Russia is an open question. As Russia is not a democracy, we will probably never know precisely what forces were brought to bear, but it looks as if political interference, which has pervaded every aspect of life in Crimea since March, looks highly likely.

For some, the issue has been kicked into the long grass by the fact that whilst Tavriya played in European competition as recently as 2010, the peninsula's fans are now unlikely to see European football there for the foreseeable future, but this is not just about which country the team represents in European competition. If the move is allowed to stand, what will be the fallout for football in general?

That's where UEFA comes in. When Evian were promoted to the French top division, and lacking the facilities to match, they more than once sought to play home games just across the border at the much flashier Stade de Genève in Geneva, a request which UEFA denied in 2013 on the following very clear basis:
"Though sympathetic to the predicament of the club, Platini pointed out UEFA regulations do not allow clubs to play their games in national competitions outside the confines of their country's borders."
So that seems very clear. Even if one is sympathetic to Russia's wishes (and, by the way, none of us are), rules are rules. Crimea is not internationally recognised as part of Russia and UEFA is an international organisation.

Of course there are exceptions that every football anorak knows. Teams from Lichtenstein and San Marino play in neighbours' national leagues, Berwick Rangers are based in England but play in the Scottish league, and most notably, Swansea City play in the English Premier League with a handful of clubs scattered further down the English football pyramid. However, that's no justification for the Russian league's move. First of all, such a move was never made unilaterally by a single association. In fact, what was once perhaps unfairly dubbed the Comical League of Wales (Konica the unfortunate inaugural sponsor) came into being over strained relations over the very issues of where teams from a particular country play, and the possible knock-on threat to Wales's national side. All but four of the Welsh clubs in the English league were ordered to join the Welsh league, and many played in exile in England as the dispute rumbled on. 

In the end it was recognised that Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham would be cutting their own throats giving up playing in the English league to play in basically a semi-professional league, rather like Tavriya and Sevastopol will be doing playing 'Torpedo Armavir' and 'Mashuk-KMV' instead of Dynamo Kiev and Shakhtar Donetsk, not to mention the 12 hour wait for the ferry from Kerch. I bet their fans are really excited. Many fans, most notably Tavriya's ultras (who were loyal backers of the Euromaidan protests) have no desire to watch Russian lower league football.

Alas there's not much optimism that UEFA will take a principled stance on Crimea either, particularly being that the Russian government's energy arm Gazprom sponsors its flagship Champions' League. And there we all were wondering why Gazprom would bother sponsoring the Champions' League. Isn't that clever? Match ticket €40. Replica shirt €60. Cutting off Ukraine's gas in winter? Priceless.

Will the Ukrainian FA challenge it? They should. Gibraltar took their case for FIFA/UEFA membership to the Court of Arbitration for Sport where they finally got justice. Kosovo are still battling for full FIFA membership. These things take time. They are not simply decided unilaterally by a single national football association under political coercion.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Current situation in Luhansk

From a friend who has close family in the area:

What they don't talk about on BBC: Lugansk (my hometown in the east of Ukraine) is now fully blocked by pro-Russian terrorists. There's currently no electricity or running water supply, no Internet, mobile or landline connection. People are completely cut off from the rest of the world. Those who try to leave through the so-called green corridor, risk being shot by the terrorists, vehicles are often confiscated and volunteers are kidnapped. Food and water supplies are scarce. Shelling doesn't cease throughout the day, people are too afraid to go outside and often spend days hiding in air raid shelters. Those with serious health problems are dying because they can't get medication. And it's just one town in Eastern Ukraine. Now, what is it but Russia-orchestrated genocide of the 21st century?