Association Treaty with Ukraine is adopted by The Netherlands

Dutch senate has ratified the European Association agreement with Ukraine. The adaptation is controversial because Dutch voters rejected the treaty in a referendum last year in April. The vote will result in the permanent adaptation of the treaty in Europe.

With today’s vote the Dutch senate has adopted the European Association Treaty with Ukraine. Being the last EU-member state to have ratified the treaty, the vote implies that the Association Treaty will now permanently be adopted by all EU member states. Consequently, the treaty will obligate Ukraine to distance itself from the Russian Federation and move closer to the EU. The Dutch senate has voted in favor despite that the treaty has sparked the Maidan and consequently led to the civil war in Ukraine due to pro-western orientation of the Association Treaty.

Controversy

The adoption of the treaty is controversial. Last year in April a referendum was held in The Netherlands in which 61% of the people who cast their votes rejected the Association agreement. In the months following the referendum most political parties vowed to accept the outcome of the referendum. Nevertheless, a majority of political parties has been secured in both houses of parliament.

The Ukraine referendum is not the first time that the Dutch government has chosen to ignore the results of a referendum. Back in 2005 voters rejected the proposed European Constitution. Though the Constitution itself was not adopted, it was replaced by a treaty similar in function as the original constitution but under a different name: The Treaty of Lisbon.

Low Turnout

With 32% the voters showing up to vote, the turnout was low. The low attendance resulted in criticism whether the result reflected the true will of the Dutch population. One of the reason for suggesting this was that many voters deliberately chose to stay at home in the hope that the mandatory 30%-voter threshold would not be met. Nevertheless, a poll done by Dutch TV station, RTL4, shows that even if all voters would have shown up, the result would have been a rejection of the treaty.(2) This suggests that a group of voters stayed at home expecting that the referendum result will not be respected.

Legally Binding

Despite the referendum not being legally binding most political parties did indicate to respect the referendum result. However Prime Minister Rutte did push forward the Association Treaty. But to meet with criticism Rutte has added a ‘legally binding appendix’ to the association treaty. The appendix is supposed to meet the main criticism of the no-voters such as to prevent Ukraine from becoming a candidate member state of the EU. Furthermore, the appendix further clarifies that the treaty does not permit Ukraine from receiving military assistance, funds or permitting Ukrainian nationals to work in the EU.

The claim of Prime Minister Rutte that the appendix is legally binding is rather questionable. During the debate about the appendix several members of parliament have expressed their concerns whether the appendix is indeed binding, pointing at the fact that Ukraine itself has not signed the appendix.(4)(6) Furthermore, the highest administrative court in the Netherlands, de Raad van State, writes concerning the treaty’s legal status: “About what the addition of the appendix in juridical term does and does not mean the appendix is insufficiently explicit.”(3)*

European Interference

The whole referendum has been overshadowed by influence from the European Union. In the months preceding the vote, president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker warned that a no-vote ‘might lead to a continental crisis in Europe’. Saying that Russia might pick the fruits of an easy victory.(1)

When asked in Parliament why the Dutch government had not yet decided on what to do with the referendum results (as is mandatory by law) prime minister Mark Rutte replied: “Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. Adding that our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way.(2)

Dutch government and political parties also have been pressured by the EU and other EU member states. Dutch TV channel RTL 4 uncovered that both Juncker and chancellor Angela Merkel have pushed Dutch prime minister Rutte to come up with a solution to save the Association Treaty. The associated pressure resulted in a lot of phone calls and text messages from European politicians, employers organizations, foreign sister parties and famous politicians to influence the parties reluctant to vote in favor of the treaty.(5)

Ukraine

The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement has been a source of controversy ever since Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign the deal. The act of Yanukovych not signing the treaty sparked protests on the Maidan square eventually leading to the over through of Yanukovych’s government. The strong anti-Russia sentiment of the protests would anger ethnic Russians in Ukraine. This anger resulted in a referendum in Crimea. In this referendum Crimeans would choose for Crimea to join the Russian Federation. The anti-Russian sentiments of the Maidan would also lead to the civil war in Eastern Ukraine.

Despite far reaching effects on the relationship between Ukraine and Russia and the controversy in Ukraine itself, Ukraine did ratify the treaty. More so, the ratification took place after the toppling of Yanukovych’ government but before any elections were held. The treaty will obligate Ukraine to synchronize its economies to European Standards (instead of Russian ones), but also to converge its foreign and defense policy with that of the EU. (7)

See also: Ukraine and freedom of press: are journalists allowed to write what they want in Ukraine?
https://russiasinvisibleborder.wordpress.com/2017/05/27/donbass-and-the-freedom-to-write-what-you-want/

 

Notes

1 – https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2016/01/09/je-moet-in-een-democratie-niet-achter-kiezers-aanr-1574010-a1117731

2 – https://debatgemist.tweedekamer.nl/debatten/uitslag-raadgevend-referendum-associatieverdrag-met-oekraïne
“As soon as possible, why not the coming weeks? Because of the simple reason that the UK referendum is also taking place. And our political taxation and also the first signals we received from our European partners is that we first want to have that out of the way, thatis the 23rd of june. That has to be over with before people openly want to talk about this. This does not mean that behind the sences nothing can take place. But the official conversations in Brussels can only lead to conclusions, and what us concerns, as quickly as possible after the 23rd of june.
Tot slot Voorzitter, zo spoedig mogelijk, waarom niet de komende weken? Om de Simpele reden er dat ook het VK referendum speelt. En onze politieke taxatie en ook de eerste signalen die we krijgen van onze Europese partners is dat we dat eerst weg willen hebben, dat is 23 juni. Dat moet eerst voorbij zijn voordat men openlijk hierover wil spreken. Dat betekend niet dat er achter de schermen niets kan gebeuren, maar het openlijke gesprek in Brussel hierover kan pas tot conclusies leiden en wat ons betreft heel snel na 23 juni.

3 – https://www.raadvanstate.nl/adviezen/zoeken-in-adviezen/tekst-advies.html?id=12467

4 – https://debatgemist.tweedekamer.nl/debatten/associatieovereenkomst-met-oekra%C3%AFne

5 – https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/nederland/politiek/reconstructie-oekraine-referendum-hoe-de-nee-stem-een-ja-wordt

6 – https://www.tweedekamer.nl/kamerstukken/plenaire_verslagen/kamer_in_het_kort/voldoende-steun-voor-oekra%C3%AFneverdrag

7 – Art 4, Art. 10, Introduction. https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/trb-2014-160.html

* Please note: the translation I have proposed here has filled in the signal words. The part I have quoted in the text is: “Over wat het besluit in juridische zin wel en niet betekent is de toelichting echter nog niet voldoende expliciet.”

 

Picture in header: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oekraïne#/media/File:Un-ukraine.png

Donbass and the freedom to write what you want

With the sound of a coffee machine at the background, we started our first interview with a local journalist, working in here since the start of the conflict. After the usual introductionairy questions we asked her the obvious question about freedom of press in the Donetsk People’s Republic: why don’t you dare to show your face on camera?

NL: http://blikopnosjournaal.blogspot.nl/2017/05/persvrijheid-donbass-deel-3.html

The airplane’s delay gave us only ten minutes to spare to get into our train, we found a replacement for the coach we would be traveling in when we arrived in Rostov. Everything went just fine until now, the most essential part of the trip: the border crossing with the DNR. Despite all the positive experiences with Russia the last year, the Russian stereotype of security officials saying “NJET!” was very much alive. The atmosphere was tense, would this be the moment that all the hard work of the last four months of preparation would prove in vain? The guard looked and he joked to his colleague: “Look they are worried! Better rattle your handcuffs.” – The joke broke the ice. Strange how relaxing that sound could be while waiting at a Russian border post. We were unaware how much trouble we were getting ourselves into at that very moment. Yet, just as much, we did not fully realize how much trouble we were being saved.

In 2015, a group of independent American and Lebanese journalists, would arrive in Donetsk. They were behind schedule, and such, were only left with three days to make their reports from Donetsk. A local journalist, Helga Green, met them. She recalls the meeting: “They travelled through Ukraine. First they came to Kiev.” And talking about their journey into Donbass: “They told me that, when they revealed their interest in visiting rebellious territories, they met with deep resentment on the part of the Ukrainian authorities.” The delay being caused by the subsequent ‘good deal of red tape and hindrances’ left them short on time. She adds “That is why most reporters come via Rostov.”

The story which surprised me most was that of Oxana Chelysheva, a journalist that has been living in exile fearing to return to her home country Russia. Not being able to travel via Russia, she had to take the Ukraine-route. If anything, I have would expected a Russian dissident to be gladly given passage by a country which so much struggles against ‘Russian aggression’, yet ironically, she writes: “While I could have been in Donetsk, all westerners went to Donetsk via the Russian Federation.”

Such stories played a large role in deciding to take the more expensive, more complicated, and longer route via Moscow, Rostov and finally Donetsk.* Yet, the route via the Russian-steppe, was met with much resent from people with strong mistrust in Russia and some western journalists alike. The former were sure to point out, rather fanatically, that by traveling to ‘Ukraine’s occupied territories’ via Russia, we were in fact violating the law. The above-mentioned journalists in turn looked at the route with much suspicion. Why travel via Russia, when you could travel via Ukraine? Indeed, even months after returning to the Netherlands, a major Dutch newspaper would still write about our chosen route with distrust: “Instead of traveling to rebel held area via Ukraine, like almost all journalists do, the two would choose a route via Russia.” (1)

 

DSC_0003

Photo: Michel Spekkers

Back to the café: a pseudonym: “Elena”, and a picture of back of her head – that’s all you, as my reader, will have to make due. This was the reality of the DNR, she did not dare to show her face in fear of repercussions to her family. Elena was born and raised in Donetsk and now works there a journalist. She is employed in for a big news organisation in Russia. “In Ukraine live my close relatives”, she replies when asked why she did not want to show her face. “I am simply scared that if I will show my face and people will see this report that my family will get into trouble. They might be summoned by the SBU (Ukrainian secret service), interrogated. I do not want there to problems for them because of that.”

There is another reason for preferring to stay anonymous, she remains to be a citizen of Ukraine. “I would not like to travel over there and that they would hold me and say, here, we made up some kind of article about separatism and terrorism and would imprison me.”

Another journalist we talked to is Katya Katina. She tells us she wanted to enlist in the local militia, but instead of fighting, the former model was asked to make reports about the conflict. She was confronted that she does show her face, and was asked why other journalist do not want to reveal their identities. She thinks it might be because they might have families in Ukraine. “When I have interviews with soldiers in the DPR-army, the same problem.” She explains. “Lots of them have parents, they have families, they have on the Ukrainian territory and of course it is just a question of safety.”

“There are a lot of examples”, Elena tells us about journalists working in Donbass, but having problems in Ukrainian controlled territory. “There is in Ukraine a site called ‘Mirotvorjets’, they publish all information about all journalists and their relatives with passports, birthdates… And people, who have relatives over there, are being lured to come to Ukraine such that he can be imprisoned by pressuring their families.”

untitled

Snapshow of Mirotvorjets, this page shows the profile of Vladislav Zelenyj, foto of passport and adress included.

Katina gives a similar account when asked what might happen with soldiers or journalists if they reveal the identity. “Well I think SBU can take their parents or the wives and so on, you know they have all these inquiries.” She gives an example of what happened to a soldier some time ago: “We know already that such situations happened, when some soldier showed his face and the next day SBU guys came and they even took the families to the prison. So everything can happen, so people think about the safety of their relatives.”

While listening to the recording of the interview with Elena, one cannot help but notice how often we have asked her if she felt safe in Donetsk. But she keeps answering the same: she does feel safe to do her work here. She explains that she might receive comments, for example if she did not understood and reported something not completely correct. “But”, she says, “forbidding me to write something, that does not happen. I did not hear about such cases. Maybe it happened with other journalists, but personally, I did not hear about it.” It seems as if western prejudice of what is supposed to be happening in Donbass fades only slowly. “So you feel free to do your job?” we asked, as if checking that we did not hear something incorrectly, yet Elena again repeats herself: “In general, yes.”

 

 

* Another reason was that it was unclear whether Ukraine would choose to arrest me. As loyal readers know [link], I have visited Crimea the summer before by traveling there via Russia. The sentence for entering ‘Ukraine’s occupied territories’ illegally, could mount up to five years of jail time.

1 – De Volkskrant, 13 mei 2017, “Voor het karretje van de Russen”, by Bert Assink and Gerben van den Noorda.

 

Reporting from Donbass: We still need to get you to the airport

This was the same street I had seen on a video just a few days ago. One cannot help but wonder what makes that street so ghastly. Maybe even more then the destroyed houses was the ground. Only months and months later you realize what my subconscious had already long since figured out; a normal street has grass. But this one, deserted, allowed only for weed to grow wild in summer, leaving a comfortless picture of mud for winter and fall.

As far as trees were left, they were being cut. Where once the ground was flat, it now was heaped up in piles of dirt as long as the road stretched. This was the area around the Donetsk Sergej Prokovjev airport. The place where fighting was going on literally from the start of the civil war in Ukraine till the present day.

Foto1

Nothing could speak to the conscious mind of this more, then the constant stream of destroyed houses. Some had a just few tiles of the roof blown off, others, less lucky, lost their entire roofs. Some had no more need for doors as the whole front of the house was blown up.

“This used to be a very popular place to live”, Graham Phillips explained. A lot of people build their houses here. Now, only some people could be seen here and there, some stray dogs, that was it. Sometimes one could see the writing “ЗДЕСЬ ЖИВУТ ЛЮДИ” – “Here live people”, which was a starch reminder of the time that the fighting was going on, while people were still in their houses. In rare cases, one could see that the writing was changed to say: “Here live people with guns.” More ironic still, was that on some places, one could see the writing, probably from before the war: “For sale.”

forsale

“Are there still people living here”, I asked Phillips. “Yeah, yeah”, he replied. “Can we visit some of them?” and after a pause, thinking, he responded, “ Probably yes”, and while driving to the house to visit, there was the strange sight of a man, building a snow man amidst the ruins, together with his daughter. They still lived here, but this despite their situation, the man waved at us and greeted us with a smile.

The family we visited, consisting of a pensioned miner and his mother, farther up on the road, was located at the edge of the village at the airport. One of their houses, seemingly, without too much damage, the other had an improvised roof made from United Nations relieve packages. Just a few weeks ago, this was one of the places where Patrick Lancaster delivered aid with his fund: aid packages, some food, including a chicken.

After having been shown the house, we were invited for tea. “Yes”, I said, just a quick cup of tea and on our way again. But this wasn’t The Netherlands, where one is lucky when one is offered a cookie to go with your coffee, this is the Russian world. While just having been explained that they need to come by from about 30 euro’s a month, we were served a dish called ‘Golodetsk.’ We silently knew that it was made from the same chicken Patrick brought these people just days before.

“There”, the pension’s mother pointed to area not under DNR control, “There are the fascists! The bandarites!” Without other income, the two were forced to keep living in their damaged house as moving was impossible. Only a month ago, their side house’s roof was blown off by a mortar, while it was just was repaired by another mortar strike some more time ago. It was the third time a mortar hit their residence. For the first one landed right in their kitchen, with the pensioned mineworker being right in the next room. The shell failed to explode.

A few days later, having just finished an interview, we were on our way back to our hotel. While all of a sudden, we heard a bolt of lightning. Yet there was no flash. The sound came from the airport, and all of the sudden, realizing what is was, the taste of Golodets was back in my mouth.

Disinformation as a Weapon in Hybrid Warfare

A recently held talk given in The Hague gives insight in the way Russian media, press statements and other forms of information, are perceived in the west. Among the speakers part of the conference was Mark Laity, Chief Strategic Communications (1) at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). His talk gives insight in how Russian’s press statements and media strategy are perceived in NATO.

‘Disinformation is launched for a reason, it has a goal’, says Marc Laity, Chief Strategic Communications at SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) at NATO. ‘Hence, publishing of a certain piece of information is linked to a certain event and made to influence certain players.’

To explain the Russian view of information warfare, Mister Laity refers to a well-known article written by General of the (Russian) army, Valery Gerasimov. Laity places stress on the fact that ‘Information Conflict’ is placed in between the non-military and military measures and stretches from the beginning of a conflict to its end. Hence the ‘information conflict’ is being fought if only a potential military threat is present. “We needs to stop thinking that there is war and there is peace.”, Laity concludes from this. “Informational confrontation does not a ‘pre’ to an invasion, but is a permanent state.”

As an example of the working of Russian disinformation Laity uses the recent publishing of radar data by the Russian government. While the Dutch Joint Investigation Team (JIT) just published its report claiming the responsibility of a separatist operated BUK-system. The Russian released radar images allegedly shows that the missile could not have been fired from the site indicated by the JIT. The result is that anyone viewing the events at home is puzzled what account to believe.

A similar example is giving about Crimea. Initially president Putin said that the soldiers appearing from nowhere all over Crimea were not Russian. However, at a later moment in time he would admit that, indeed these men were Russian soldiers. The result of initial denial is that western powers, not knowing who these soldiers are. Because western countries do not possess a picture of what exactly is happening, they are to postpone their reaction until it is too late.

The above cases are used by Laity to demonstrate that parties are paralyzed by the multitude of information. For example, governments do not know what is going on and therefore incapable of taking serious measures. While at home, using the mistrust in governments, one might lead to discredit the fact in total, not being able to know what is true and what is not. Resulting in a reaction, as Laity put it, “God, I do not know! Stuff it!”

‘So what is NATO doing?’ was a reaction from the audience. ‘Does NATO have a counter strategy?’ Laity responds by saying that there are insufficient resources at a tactical level. To demonstrate this Laity refers to supposedly Russian ‘troll farms’, organizations in Russia solely dedicated to making comments on forums and spreading pro-Russian information. ‘Russia has a clear idea what to do, but in the West we do not’. Laity adds that before NATO formulates any strategy, NATO should have a clear idea what the Russian strategy actually is.

The moderator of the conference adds an interesting remark to Laity’s strategy. He states that Russia’s attempt to influence public opinion is a 24h industry and that the West is insufficient in combatting this. Adding that ‘We in the west only come up with propaganda on a project basis like in Iraq.’ This last remark put into perspective some of Laity’s words. Indeed, the west also makes use of propaganda and while discussing Russia’s attempt of ‘disinformation’ this is often forgotten. When certain information of Russian origin is referred to as disinformation does not automatically make it as such. Indeed the Chief of Strategic Communications at SHAPE, might well have his own reason to spin certain information in a certain way. While discussing Russia’s information strategy, Laity suggested that much Russian information is incorrect. While in fact (if not the vast majority), a significant part of information of Russian origin is different information (but true), and from a different perspective.

1 – https://nl.linkedin.com/in/mark-laity-b6b86b6

https://twitter.com/marklaity