Showing posts from July, 2013

Ukraine ten years on

In 2003 I travelled to Ukraine with supporters of the Northern Ireland football team, a trip that cemented a long-standing interest in the countries of the former Soviet Union.  I was with a group of fans who visited Kiev, before taking an overnight train to Donetsk - the capital of the Donbass coal-mining region - where the match was played. 
I found the country hospitable and fascinating, although, at times, it could be a little rough around the edges. 
I remember the pitiful brown trickle which emerged from the shower in our first hotel room and being startled by lumps of falling masonry, which crashed into the pavement beside buildings undergoing refurbishment. Only a short distance from Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev’s main square, we had to stumble along unlit streets when we made our way back to the hotel at night and, in a bar in Donetsk, a drinker took out a gun and waved it about, after a dispute over an arm-wrestling match.  Whether it was the real thing or a replica, no-one was …

Gaol term for Navalny will be counterproductive

The media’s reaction to the 5 year prison sentence handed to Russian opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, after his trial for embezzling timber, is familiar.  The editorials read very much like any number of columns written after Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s multiple appearances in court, or the outcry after members of ‘Pussy Riot’ were sent to prison.  However this verdict is different and has more regrettable implications.   
Firstly, even staunchly pro-Russia commentators acknowledge that the case against Navalny is not strong.  At Da Russophile Anatoly Karlin argues that the trial is ‘further delegitimizing’ the Russian legal system.
When the state previously used legal methods or the threat of proceedings to sweep aside political challenges from Gusinsky, Berezovsky and, famously, Khodorkovsky, it was acting against men who were determined to use their wealth and influence to manipulate the democratic process.  The nature of the oligarchs’ asset grab in the 1990s provided ample ground…