· Budget Battles: Ukraine’s Parliament passed the first reading of amendments to the budget code for 2015 with 264 votes. A surprisingly large number of MP’s actually voted against the law (43). In Ukraine, a minimum of 226 votes is required to pass any legislation. Therefore, not voting is far more common than actually voting “no” on a bill since it denies votes toward the magic 226 number. Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko urged passage of the law before New Years and noted that changes can be worked out in committee before the third and final passage of the budget. The Opposition Bloc’s Nataliya Korolevska called on the government to resign after seeing the budget amendments. Besides the fact that the government has a year before it can be dismissed, knee jerk reactionary statements like that from the opposition are both a sign of political immaturity as well as sadly comical coming from Yanukovych’ Minister of Social Policy. Expect passage of the budget by New Years out of political and economic necessity. Without a reform oriented budget, the IMF and international community will not provide the additional financial assistance that Ukraine needs to survive in 2015. Thus, the budget won’t please everyone – and in fact it will offend many lawmakers- but ultimately it will pass.
· Ukraine’s FBI/Anti-Corruption Bureau Formed: Whether a response to the IMF’s demands for reforms or a sincere desire to fight corruption, Ukraine’s government has now officially created its’ National Anti-Corruption Bureau which some have dubbed as “Ukraine’s FBI”. The nine member bureau consists of three appointees each from the Parliament, President and Cabinet of Ministers. President Poroshenko appointed historian Yaroslav Hrytsak, Kharkiv Human Rights Group Chairman Yevhen Zakharov and Crimean Tatar Medzhlis Head Refat Chubarov. The future work of the Anti-Corruption Bureau aside, Poroshenko has consistently highlighted the plight of the Crimean Tatars with his appointment of Chubarov and prominent role given to MP Mustafa Dzhemilyev. The Cabinet of Ministers selected Yosef Zisels the highly regarded Chairman of the Association of Jewish organizations and Helsinki Group Member, Oleksandra Yankovska an ad hoc Judge for the European Court of Human Rights and www.censor.net.ua Chief Editor Yuri Butusov. Finally, Parliament voted to approve recent Culture Minister Yevhen Nishchuk, constitutional lawyer and former MP Viktor Musiyaka, and Italian Prosecutor and Director of the European Anti-Fraud Office Giovanni Kessler. In addition to Italian Giovanni Kessler, Poroshenko has consistently called for a foreigner to serve as the director of this bureau. According to inside sources, Ukrainian-American and former Assistant US Attorney (Democrat, New Jersey) Bohdan Vitvitsky is one of the leading candidates for the director’s post. Former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s name has also been mentioned, and given the hostile reaction by current Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili, confirms that the matter is under serious consideration by Poroshenko. Former Georgian Deputy Chief Prosecutor David Sakvarelidze is also under consideration. The key question that Ukrainians and the international community want answered is will the National Anti-Corruption Bureau be merely a cosmetic adornment to Ukraine’s government’s modus operandi, or will it be more like the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover? Given Hoover’s successful career in fighting the mafia and Communists, a replication of Hoover’s FBI in Ukraine would be exactly what the doctor ordered.
· When do the “Bandits go to Prison”? With the average Ukrainian increasingly feeling the effect of the economic downturn (due to Yanukovych’s looting and the war), there is a growing sense that “little has changed” with the new government. Prosecutions of Yanukovych era officials have gone almost nowhere and the Europeans may soon have to lift their sanctions against those individuals. Vitaliy Yarema, the Prosecutor General is receiving increasing criticism for his failure to get a major conviction, although privately he complains that Poroshenko is holding him back. In wartime, priorities change and Poroshenko must unify the nation rather than divide it. Nonetheless, the public appetite for “bandits to go to prison” has not abated and the growing frustration is starting to resemble the post Orange Revolution environment in 2006. Failure to put a Yanukovych cabinet level official and/or oligarch in prison by next spring will lead to major disenchantment with the current government. If no officials are sent to prison, then that will de facto mean that the result of Euromaidan was not justice, but only about power changing hands.
· Kovalchuk To Be Appointed 1st Deputy Premier?: There is credible discussion that President Poroshenko will appoint Klitchko’s right hand, Vitaliy Kovalchuk as First Deputy Prime Minister. Kovalchuk’s appointment would give Poroshenko more influence within the Cabinet of Ministers as well as a potential check on Yatsenyuk. Although Kovalchuk is generally not well liked due to the perception that he is arrogant, almost everyone agrees that Kovalchuk is effective. In addition to strengthen the President’s influence on the Cabinet, Kovalchuk’s appointment would further erode UDAR as a political party, as he is only the latest of many current/former UDAR personnel who are now occupied with government positions and have no time for party building. Another UDAR member, Rostaslav Pavlenko was named as Deputy Chief of Staff with a domestic policy portfolio. Pavlenko is highly knowledgeable on policy issues and brings smart political instincts to the table. Pavlenko previously served in Yushchenko’s Secretariat and was regarded as one someone who “could get things done”. UDAR’s Vitaliy Chuhunnikov was appointed Governor of Rivne. In other appointments, former Byut MP Valeriy Holovko was appointed Governor of his native Poltava, Mykola Klochko the Chairman of the Sumy Oblast Council was appointed Governor of Sumy and Andriy Taranov was named Deputy of Chief of Staff with a security portfolio. The overriding effect of all of these appointments is to strengthen President Poroshenko and his party (although perhaps at the expense of UDAR and other parties).
· Moldovan Premier Minister: Due primarily to Western diplomatic pressure, incumbent Prime Minister Leanca now stands a much better chance of keeping his job. Following the November 28 Parliamentary election, the Liberal Democrats lost nine seats and there was speculation that Deputy Speaker Adrian Candu from the Democratic Party would be the new compromise Prime Minister. Candu, a financial professional and godson of Moldovan oligarch (and Democratic Party financier) Vlad Platuhinc, was being promoted as a viable candidate to replace Leanca. Now however, the governing coalition seems to be leaning towards keeping the status quo with Leanca remaining at the helm. The decision on the head of government is not likely to be made until after New Years.
Dates to Watch:
· December 30, 2014: Last Voting Session of Parliament for the Year and likely 2015 budget passage.
· January 13, 2015: First Voting Session of Parliament in 2015
· October 2015, National Local Elections:
Recommended Restaurant of the Week:
This week I continue my restaurant reviews. Please note that the restaurants recommended in this blog are for those who love fine dining and local food. If you want a review recommending a restaurant in Athens, Greece because it serves salads with “real” feta cheese, then read www.TripAdvisor.com. However if you want recommendations on an overall fine dining experience that includes quality food, good service, and atmosphere, then you will find this blog feature useful. My intention is not to evaluate every restaurant in a comprehensive manner. My intention is only to highlight the restaurants that I enjoy and comfortably can recommend to my friends. They may be better restaurants, but these are the restaurants that I like and trust.
In hopes of improving Ukrainian-Georgian relations which have been strained lately (see above), this week’s recommended restaurant is Shoti (telephone +380-44-339-9399). Shoti, which means “bread” in Georgian, is located at 9 Mechnikova Street next to the Good Wine supermarket and currently has the best Georgian food in Kyiv. Ukrainian-Georgian ties are long standing and envelope a mutual love of each other’s cuisine. Consistently Georgians cite Ukrainian food as their favorite non-national favorite which Ukrainians frequently cite Georgian as their favorite. Twenty years ago the Georgians might have cited Russian food as their favorite but a couple of Russian invasions later and all of their favorite Slavic dishes have become “Ukrainian”.
Shoti has managed to create a sophisticated and upscale atmosphere which is atypical for Georgian restaurants. In Georgia for example, often the best restaurants are holes in the wall located on the side of the road. Also, and this is highly important, the restaurant has maintained a high level of quality for more than a year. Those familiar with restaurant dining in Ukraine now that the norm is for a new restaurant to have wonderful food for three to six months and then raise prices and dramatically decrease the quality once the clientele has been built. Fortunately Shoti has built its clientele but not at the expense of sacrificing quality. As a result, it is advised to telephone ahead for reservations as the restaurant is frequently full.
The khachapuri is authentic, the khinkali is juicy, and meat is savory and not overcooked. Traditional Georgian dinners involve a tour de force of multiple dishes and Shoti has the diversity of dishes to accommodate your next “supra”. The only dish on the menu that doesn’t meet Georgian standards is the chkmeruli (chicken in garlic sauce) which is ok but not culinary delight that it is Kaheti. Also, don’t expect a great dessert menu but after Georgian food, who has room for dessert? Service depends on which waiter/waitress you get. Some are noticeably better than others. Prices are reasonable but can add up quickly in a large company.
Shoti is ideal for parties, entertaining “Western” visitors who are looking for a taste of Georgia in Ukraine, and fulfilling your desire for a genuine Georgian meal that doesn’t disappoint.