Sir Gerald Howarth's Monday evening did not go according to plan. While addressing a meeting of the British Ukrainian Society held at Portcullis House (the new secure building attached to Parliament), the Party Representative of the Conservative Party to the people of Aldershot (or, if one insists on the outmoded traditional title, the Member of Parliament for Aldershot) was visibly taken aback to be interrupted. He had proceeded no further than his introductory remarks about the role of his All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine being "to ensure that the UK Parliament is constantly aware of the challenges that are faced by Ukraine" when he faced an unforeseen question from the floor by independent journalist Graham Phillips:
Will you be commenting on how Ukraine is shelling and killing civilians in Donbass [eastern Ukraine]? Because I think that should be on the agenda.
This did not go down well with the audience, to put it mildly, and the incident ended in his unceremonious American-style expulsion from the venue in a manner we have rarely seen in Britain heretofore. This brief flurry, conducted before the gaze of a roomful of the Society's guests which included some quite significant movers and shakers, was a rare chance for Mr Phillips (who is fluent in Russian) to put any kind of challenge at all to the Ukrainian establishment, as he is banned from the country.
Sitting rather dispassionately at the front table next to Sir Gerald while the scene reached its dénouement was his opposite number from the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine), Svitlana Zalishchuk. Sir Gerald was, as he tweeted, 'delighted' to be celebrating the quarter-century of UK-Ukraine relations side by side with her. And one can quite see why. Only seven years old when Ukraine effectively gained independence from Moscow, this dynamic lady spent her first years after graduation as a journalist in the Leonid Kuchma era and soon made a name for herself as a vociferous opponent of Kuchma's vicious muzzling of the media and of his increasing rapprochement with the Russian Federation. As the 2000s wore on, the vulgar and mercurial Kuchma (whose alleged voice was heard in scandalous tapes in 2000 threatening to feed unmentionable parts of a journalist's anatomy to the dogs) became disillusioned with the EU and NATO, who had initially been wooing him.
The rise and rise of media reframing specialist Svitlana Zalishchuk
Zalishchuk, unlike her country's then president, never gave up her passion for what is known among my generation (those now in their thirties and forties) in the countries of the former Soviet Union as the holy grail of "Euro-Atlantic integration". After the Sorosite Orange Revolution of 2005 which brought Vladimir Putin's nemesis Viktor Yushchenko to power (a revolution which turned sour so quickly that when my choir toured the arch-nationalist city of Lviv in early 2006 we were advised by our hosts that donning orange scarves would go down like a lead balloon even there), she served as the press secretary to the head of Yushchenko's presidential secretariat. She obtained this post thanks to her evident enthusiasm for the wholesale integration of the entire territory of Ukraine (including its overwhelmingly Russian east and south) into the EU and NATO.
She led a civil society organisation named Common Space (Russian: «Общее пространство» / Ukrainian: «Спильный простир») from 2006 to 2009, a slick PR operation which appears to have occupied itself issuing Ukraine's greatly diverse and far-flung regions with unified Lines to Take, as a prelude to entering politics in her own right. Common Space is still extant and just last month was collaborating with the EU's diplomatic representation in Kiev on a project to monitor the number and type of mentions of Internally Displaced Persons (i.e. refugees from eastern Ukraine's civil war) in the country's media. Aleksandr Chekmyshev, Common Space's current "Monitoring Projects Consultant", described these findings as the outcome of Common Space's "fourth round of media monitoring" of the country's local media on that theme, and the findings were that the number of mentions of IDPs was low and decreasing, particularly in ethnic-Ukrainian regions further away from the fighting.
Zalishchuk's activism continued in a number of Euro-integrationist civil society organisations in the early 2010s, plus a summer fellowship stint at Stanford. In 2014, President Yanukovych was toppled by Euromaidan, the country's second Sorosite revolution within a decade, one which was thick with violence against the police from its very inception and whose success was signally helped along by the impassioned EU nationalist Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and current leader of the European Liberals (ALDE) bloc in the European Parliament, who has just announced his second attempt to become President of the European Commission.
Zalishchuk's decision to run for parliament was, in her own words, an outgrowth of her experiences in "activism" during Euromaidan. She had come to regard the duties of journalism, activism and legislation as indistinguishable and their respective roles as part of one and the same struggle; a doctrine long preached by cultural Marxists from Antonio Gramsci to Saul Alinsky. As she told the English-language Kyiv Post then (in an article which also lists some of her other NGO activities after Common Space):
“In the last year, the lives of many of us have merged with the life of the country. We no longer think of ourselves as apart,” Zalishchuk says. “Journalists and activists going [in]to politics is a kind of civilian mobilization to shoulder the responsibility.” [...]
“The school of civic activism is the best school for a politician,” she says.
The October 2014 parliamentary elections followed hot on the heels of the Euromaidan revolution. In anticipation of them, Zalishchuk secured a place on the nomination list for the Tymoshenko Bloc. Sensing, however, that she did not stand a great enough chance of fulfilling her parliamentary hopes through that oversubscribed party (a loose association of politicians dominated by oligarchic business interests), Zalishchuk signed up instead with the Poroshenko Bloc, whose founder is of course now the Ukrainian President and leader of a government which has turned its artillery on its own citizens in the east.
Her fellow MP and party colleague, the Afghan-born Mustafa Nayyem, frankly admitted to a Ukrainian journalist that she, he and a whole group of other Euromaidan activists—"some of whose names you won't be familiar with"—abandoned their promises to the Tymoshenko Bloc and joined the Poroshenko Bloc because:
There was no other way for us to get into Parliament. (У нас не было другого способа попасть в парламент.)
On the eve of the 2014 elections, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, the West's long-time propaganda effort for Eastern Europe and the Middle East, rather honestly described the group of change agents which included Nayyem and Zalishchuk as:
dozens of Euromaidan activists who are trying to pivot from street politics to the halls of power[.]
Thus Zalishchuk became an MP at 32, on the crest of a wave of Hope and Change, and is now a member of the Rada's Foreign Affairs Committee, indeed the chairwoman of its "sub-committee on Euro-Atlantic Cooperation and European Integration". In fact, she even has a pan-European representative role: she is an alternate (the stand-in for another MP of her own nation) at the venerable Council of Europe, whose Parliamentary Assembly meets quarterly at Strasbourg to provide members of parliament from all European nations (whether or not EU member states; in fact, the CoE pre-dates the EEC) with a forum for discussion of constitutional and general issues. Her alternate seat is in PACE's Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media. Holding such a position at PACE so early in one's parliamentary career, although it is admittedly more routine in some CoE member states than in others, is generally an indication of fierce ambition.
Back home, she is a member of the Rada's "Euro-Optimists Parliamentary Grouping" (an equivalent of an All-Party Parliamentary Group, drawing individual MPs from various parties).
The Misha connection
Zalishchuk's early interest in "anti-corruption" drives (George Soros-style) has never gone away, In late 2015, she joined the Coordinating Group of the 'Clean-up Movement' (Движение за очищение) launched by the then Governor of Odessa, Mikheil Saakashvili (this report by Ukrainian Pravda describes the movement's early days). 'Misha' Saakashvili, the New York-educated ultimate Soros politician who pioneered the original colour revolution in Georgia in November 2003, obtained the gubernatorial position in this notoriously corrupt Ukrainian port city after serving as President of Georgia. He had to take on Ukrainian citizenship to assume the role, which led to his successors in Georgia stripping him of his Georgian citizenship.
Incidentally, this article provides a good opportunity to update readers on the fortunes of that former star of the Sorosian firmament. Since Saakashvili is wanted in Georgia for alleged corruption during his presidential terms (and as, for the past two years, the possibility of future indictment at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for possible war crimes committed in South Ossetia in 2008 has hung over him by a thread), this was a useful solution for him, as well as undoubtedly useful to Soros and Poroshenko. Sadly for Saakashvili, however, he has since had a falling-out with Poroshenko, quit his governorship and was recently spotted wandering discombobulated through JFK Airport in New York with his paunch hanging out of a lurid yellow T-shirt. Saakashvili's party, now showing poorly in opposition, has just split over his personality (one might say, split over his split personality), and appears to have realised that with its old leader becoming persona non grata in an increasing number of countries, the former revolutionary hero has become an albatross around its neck.
Where's the money coming from?
The aforementioned Kyiv Post interview broached the delicate topic of Zalishchuk's slender financial means:
When asked how she is going to live on $320 a month, which lawmakers are currently making, under the new law, she says her father and fiance will support her, but she would like this issue to be addressed in the future.
“In a civilized state only high salaries can help to fight corruption, but we have to save our economy first. There are more important issues to tackle right now than salary of the deputies,” she says.
She does not appear to be in such a tight spot now. Even an anti-Russian outlet, GordonUA.com, has carried the news that Zalishchuk managed to purchase a 1,700 sq. ft apartment in glitzy downtown Kiev in the year of her election, but that she transferred its entry on the register of MPs' interests to the previous year (2013) in order to avoid it appearing on the election year's declaration and becoming a political football during the election campaign. As that same article reports, Zalishchuk herself took to social media to confirm that she had indeed purchased the expensive real estate as recently as 2014 and that it had been co-purchased by her common-law husband, the Swede Mårten Ehnberg, who had sold his Stockholm property to move in with her.
Another Ukrainian news article contains a screenshot of Ehnberg posing with a high-end 2010 Land Rover Discovery with CD (Corps Diplomatique, Diplomatic Corps) plates and announcing his return to Ukraine in May 2016. Ehnberg was appointed Head of the Council of Europe's office in Ukraine that summer and had previously (with an interim spell, apparently in Armenia) been Deputy Head of Mission at the Swedish Embassy in Kiev.
Even in English, one can see on the Ukrainian transparency website Politically Exposed Persons that Zalishchuk's declared earnings for both 2013 and 2014 hovered very close to a quarter of a million Ukrainian hryvnia (around £7,000 or $9,000).
Absorbing this information, one "anti-fascist" commentator, Aleksandr Vorontsov, wrote in an opinion piece that "the apartment cannot have cost less than half a million dollars". He is right, because Sofievska Street leads right off the Maidan (Kiev's central square). What he goes on to point out is highly significant:
Самое интересное, что новый скандал вокруг бывшей журналистки раздул ее коллега Всеволод Филимоненко. Этот шепелявый патриот родом из Луганска, до Майдана готовивший различные провокации в Донбассе, а сегодня продолжающий подрабатывать провокатором и прославляющий "нэзалэжну" Украину, еще в 2012 году был активистом так называемого движения "Честно". Того самого, которое якобы основала, а на самом деле, возглавила, получив гранты от UNITER (PACT, USAID) в размере $ 63 122 (зарплаты, аренда офиса и т.д.) Света Залищук.
The most intriguing aspect is that this new scandal around the former journalist [Zalishchuk] was exposed by her [old journalistic] colleague Vsevolod Filimonenko, a lisping patriot who was born in Lugansk [another region in the east of Ukraine that is now under attack by the Ukrainian state military], who staged various provocative incidents in Donbass up until the Maidan [revolution], and who still continues to moonlight as an agent provocateur and a cheerleader for "independent" Ukraine. As recently as 2012, he was an activist for the organisation that calls itself Chestno ['Honestly']. The very same organisation, in fact, which was reportedly founded, and indeed was led, by Svitlana Zalishchuk, having received a $63,122 grant from UNITER ([a project of] PACT and USAID) for salaries, rent of office premises, etc.
As it happens, UNITER's website has ceased to be active in the past two months.
The bare essentials
Readers will have noticed the reference in the title to Lady Godiva. This refers to Zalishchuk's greatest claim to fame in Ukrainian and Russian politics: her promise to run naked through the streets of Kiev waving a Russian flag if the Donbass town of Debaltsevo should be lost by the Ukrainian state military to local forces. The promise turned out to be an empty one, as the town was indeed taken by the People's Republic of Donetsk the same month but Zalishchuk kept her togs on. One can perhaps forgive her, given how cold February is in Ukraine.
Dropping in on No. 10 and Chatham House
While still in London this week, Zalishchuk posed with Theresa May on Wednesday in what looks very much like No. 10 Downing Street, and tweeted that the Prime Minister had promised her
to continue British robust support to Ukraine in future.
The manager of Chatham House's Ukraine forum also arranged for Zalishchuk to speak there this week.
Why is Zalishchuk right up Sir Gerald's street?
So much for Zalishchuk herself; in closing, we must consider what Sir Gerald Howarth wants to do with her.
That there should be a British Ukrainian Society, with some quite senior patronage, is nothing in the least untoward. I was a member of the very comparable British Georgian Society before emigrating, and on several long visits to various parts of Ukraine have seen what potential there is for the country's incredibly talented people to trade with Britain and exchange knowledge and cultural treasures with us.
But why is there an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ukraine? There are in fact All-Party Parliamentary Groups on almost every country in the world and on well nigh everything under the sun; there is even an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tennis, which none other than Melanie Shaw's MP Chris Leslie finds the time to chair. Yet sometimes strategic interests can hide in plain sight. Sir Gerald Howarth's interest in chairing the Ukraine APPG is, I am quite sure, related to his former career as a banker and his previous political bent, stretching all the way back via his years as the Thatcher government's attack dog on the Tory backbenches to his Monday Club days at the University of Southampton. Sir Gerald has long given himself out to be a champion of the British defence industry, which the UK Column severely doubts, and Private Eye even reported in 2009 (issue no. 1247) that he would be quite happy to take the title of Her Majesty's Minister for War because, he admitted, Britain was at war.
Patriotism runs deep in Sir Gerald's own constituency of Aldershot, a town associated in the public mind with the peerless Parachute Regiment (although Army cuts have increasingly resulted in the Paras' being re-based at Catterick). His protestations of love for the Armed Forces (and for the public witness of Christianity, despite which he appears never to have done anything against the Royal Navy's 2004 approval of Satanism on board warships) and his Home Counties seat have provided him with excellent cover. So has his involvement with the British Forces Foundation. This whole profile served Sir Gerald well when he was the junior minister who acted as the spokesman for SDSR 2010 and who piously regretted the decision taken then to scrap Britain's last two aircraft carriers (HMS Ark Royal and Illustrious) and anti-submarine warfare capability, the Nimrod airframe.
David Ellis of Strategic Defence Initiatives has set out at length how the EU is determined to subsume HM Armed Forces and our nuclear deterrent into an EU military union with an EU strategic nuclear force. As he asked on Thursday 27 January on UK Column News, "Who would vote for the EU to have nuclear weapons?" We can rest assured that there will never be any such referendum or general election question, but what he is getting at is of course that one needs to manufacture a bogeyman in order to gain even the semblance of public traction for a new military force where one did not previously exist. Ukraine, like Syria, represents an ongoing conflagration on Europe's eastern periphery—both conflagrations stoked by the EU, the BBC and the previous US Administration—that is an ideal foil for the rhetoric of "the need for Europe to do defence jointly".
The inclusion of eastern and southern Ukraine in a state independent of Russia has a flimsy basis in international law; the inclusion of Crimea was even flimsier, as recent world events have proven. The whole eastern and southern flank of Ukraine, which forms the "heartland" of Eurasia (a term coined in the nakedly aggressive Edwardian era by British geostrategist Sir Halford Mackinder, later the inspiration for Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler's designs on Ukraine and the Caucasus) is very rich in hydrocarbons and forms the gateway from Europe to the Middle East, as well as from Russia to the Mediterranean. That being the case, Sir Gerald and those whom his actions benefit are not likely to lose their interest in Ukrainian change agents for quite some time.