Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Yep, this kind of practice is pretty common. In some cases, I'm sure it's just a way to squeeze more money out of people, but sometimes I honestly think people believe this is a legitimate pricing model. In the U.S., this
Thursday, January 15, 2009
I've been working a post that gives my opinion on the whole mess. But there has been so much written already, that I don't want to regurgitate all of it, and I don't want to write a book. But this morning I read a commentary in The Moscow Times that prompted me to respond. The commentary, written by a French deputy, annoyed me on a number of levels, not all of which I addressed in my response. In general, anyone who tries to point the finger exclusively at one country makes their objectivity suspect in my book. And the fact that this person seemed to touch on practically every aspect of the Kremlin's version of things, makes it even more suspicious to me.
But instead of writing a full analysis, I decided to merely post the commentary and my email response to the editor. Feel free to send your response to them as well. I kept their contact info in the article. I'm told that my response will be printed in the next letters-to-the-editor section.
FROM THE MOSCOW TIMES
Kiev Must Pay the Price For Victimizing the EU
15 January 2009
By Thierry Mariani
The crisis between Russia and Ukraine that threatens gas supplies to Europe each year was caused by Ukraine's refusal to pay Russia what it owes and the attempts by Kiev to escape its responsibilities. Throughout this conflict Ukraine tried to put pressure on Europe, using it as a pawn in its economic dispute with Gazprom and to avoid paying the billion dollars Kiev still owes.
At the onset of the crisis, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko made multiple reassuring declarations affirming that Russian gas destined for Europe could continue to transit through Ukrainian territory -- regardless of what happened in the conflict with Moscow. We have seen what his promises are worth: The Ukrainians have not respected their commitment.
This manipulation of Europe by the Ukrainian government is even more questionable than it may appear. Each day it becomes more and more evident that Kiev's stance was driven by internal politics and rivalry among the top Ukrainian business clans. Yushchenko left the field free for Naftogaz to break negotiations and has continued to block attempts by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to mediate the conflict.
Europe should not have to pay for these mistakes. Europeans have been the victims of Ukrainian blackmail as well as Kiev's incapacity to insert itself into a global market economy and achieve political maturity. The envoy of European observers to Ukraine was an indispensable measure for the return to normality, but it is not sufficient in the long term. This situation cannot continue. We Europeans must think now about the future.
With regard to our supply levels, we must begin to work on finding diverse ways of transporting Russian gas to Europe -- for example, the Nord Stream project to transport gas through a pipeline under the Baltic Sea or the European Union- and U.S.-backed Nabucco pipeline, which envisions transporting gas from Azerbaijan and/or Kazakhstan through Turkey and the Balkans.
On a political level, this crisis confirms the urgent need to reinforce the partnership between Europe and Russia, which is essential for the equilibrium of the European continent. Ukraine can and should have its place in this partnership, but the country must understand that this depends on its own actions -- particularly, its ability to provide political and economic stability.Thierry Mariani, a deputy in the French National Assembly from the Union for a Popular Movement, is president of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.
Thierry Mariani, a deputy in the French National Assembly from the Union for a Popular Movement, is president of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.To Our Readers
The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number. Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.
Thank you for publishing Mr. Mariani's insightful yet disturbing and one-sided commentary. It speaks volumes about the current problems with Ukraine, Russia and Europe and the attitudes which perpetuate them. Anyone who is familiar with Russian and Ukrainian relations, particularly since 2004, should understand that there are always at least two sides to every story and every conflict in this relationship. Informed people know that this gas crisis is not merely a commercial dispute, and anyone who points the finger exclusively at one country or the other suggests to me that person is either ill-informed or biased in some way.
I do agree with Mr. Mariani that Europe needs to diversify its energy supplies. But it needs to diversify its energy sources as well as its routes, particularly central and eastern European countries. Merely shifting the pipes through which Gazprom's gas flows may be a short-term solution for Europe, it does not change the fact that Russia has shown itself willing to use energy as a foreign policy tool. I don't blame them for that, but it is a fact that must be considered as Europe plans its energy strategy. I hope the western European countries will listen and learn from the experience of their newer member countries.
I am not an apologist for Ukraine's political leaders. In fact, the opposite. All of them have let down their citizens. Guided by their own self-interests, they are the main obstacle, to use Mr. Mariani's words, to the country "inserting itself into the global economy and achieving political maturity". The past four years have been extremely disappointing for anyone who cares about Ukraine's political, economic and societal development. However, one cannot deny that Ukraine's geopolitical status makes it an extremely important political battleground for other countries' to achieve their own foreign policy goals, which only exascerbates its internal divisions.
It is disappointing to see this opinion coming from an EU citizen who is also leading a regional body whose mission it is to foster economic interaction and harmony among the Black Sea countries. Even if this is Mr. Mariani's position in his private dealings with BSEC's members, it seems to me that publishing these kinds of opinions only polarizes people and squelches open discusson.
I hope that The Moscow Times has remained an independent publication and will also publish opposing or more balanced opinions (whether it is mine or someone else's) to give your readers a balanced viewpoint on which to base their own opinions.
Friday, January 2, 2009
Therefore, going forward this blog will focus exclusively on Ukraine-related observations. I've started another blog for my mobile/tech/customer experience/innovation posts. As of now, I haven't posted anything there yet.
None of us can completely separate our personal and professional interests. In fact, the key to a satisfying and successful career is to have as much overlap as possible. Therefore, readers of either blog will likely continue to find some intersection in my posts, but any references will be in the context of that blog's focus.
I hope you enjoy both of them!
Saturday, December 13, 2008
- Keep an "international traveller's" mentality. In other words, a heightened state of alertness and awareness of your surroundings and human behavior.
- Treat life as an experiment. Be willing to fail, and learning from your failures.
- Have an attitude of wisdom. A healthy balance between a confidence in what you know, and distrusting what you know just enough to give you a thirst for knowledge.
- Use your whole brain. Applying the left brain, which is what most education trains us to us, and right brain at the same time. Find time to let your "tortoise mind" work. This is the part of your mind that kind of works in the background, and which grows ideas over time, and leads you to the "aha!" moments.
- Find your muse. Know what makes you most creative. It can be while listening to a certain kind of music, being stimulated by lots of noise or quiet, or certain times of day. Follow your passion.
Is there innovation being done in Ukraine for Ukrainians?
For innovation to occur, something more than the generation of a creative idea or insight is required: the insight must be put into action to make a genuine difference, resulting for example in new or altered business processes within the organization, or changes in the products and services provided.
If you know there is innovation happening, what are some examples and which companies and/or individuals are leading this innovation?
Monday, December 8, 2008
These days I can relate to the depositers in this clip who stormed the Bailey Brothers' Building & Loan looking to withdrawal their savings. That's exactly what I went to do, as well as change it from hryvnia into dollars. This not so much anymore because I fear my bank will close its doors, but mainly due to the risk that the currency with further devalue.
Although in the end I completed my transaction, it took me 7 visits to 3 different bank branches over 3 days to do it. Actually, by Ukrainian banking standards that's not too bad, especially considering most bank employees were friendly, efficient and, of course, actually allowed me to do what I needed to do. Below are the main highlights of my experience:
- Branch #1: I'm told that there is a limit on the amount of dollars I can buy each day from a given branch. At the same time, I'm informed that I could repeat the transaction at an unlimited number of branches per day. Don't ask me what sense that makes. After completing my withdrawal and dollar purchase at Branch #1, I casually ask if I could also buy euros, even if I'd max'ed out my dollar limit. The answer is "yes". Again, don't ask me why. Result: 13% complete.
- Branch #2: After a 20-minute walk to the next branch on a bitterly cold day , I'm told there that my limit for buying dollars per day is not X, but 3X. Good news, but they couldn't explain to me why Branch #1 told me X. Result: another 13% complete
- Result for the day: about 25% completed
- Branch #3: I remembered that a new branch opened up near my apartment, so I thought I'd save some time and make a withdrawal there. The quite snitty and self-confident bank teller there informs me that it is illegal for the bank to sell foreigners like myself currency. When I explain that two other branches sold me currency yesterday, she simply shrugs, indignantly said her memo informed her that is impossible, and shows no interest in looking into the matter. After many run-ins with these types of people over the years, I've learned not to waste my time on them. So I quickly tell her she is wrong and set off for the better informed branches. Result: 0% completed, 30 minutes of my time wasted, and my patience lost
- Branch #2, Visit #2: The same teller I spoke with on Day 1 tells me that she got yelled at for selling me currency over the X limit. She doesn't have any dollars to sell, but tells me to come back near the end of the day and she'll probably have some. Result: 0% completed, 1 hour of my time wasted
- Branch #1, Visit #2: I play dumb and tell the teller I'd like to withdrawal hryvnia and buy dollars. "How much," she asks? "As much as I can," I reply. I learn for the first time that there is a daily limit on hryvnia withdrawals. If converted to dollars, this limit is almost 7X the original dollar limit I was told. After checking with her colleague, the teller tells me I can buy 4X dollars and 2X in euros. Again, good news but why didn't any of the other tellers do this? For some reason, this transaction involved additional paperwork to be completed, but after about 45 minutes standing at the window, I had my money. Result: another 50% completed
- Result for the day: another 50% completed, but half my morning wasted to get it done
- Branch #1, Visit #3: No messing around this time, back to Branch #1. This time all goes smoothly. My remaining balance is withdrawn, dollars purchased (3X the original limt I was told on Day 1), streamlined paperwork process (for some reason).
- Result for the day: mission accomplished
Unfortunately, a vast majority of Ukrainians believe that their banks are run by a bunch of Potters, even in the best of times. Given their experiences to date, whether the result of bank policy, government regulation, or incompetence, you can't blame them. My first inclination is to be suspicious of banks, which makes me ultra-sensitive to the inconvenience and inconsistency of information that I had to go through, especially because I think this type of thing would happen even without a crisis.
I can't say that George Bailey would have convinced me to leave my money in his bank if it had a Ukraine address. But then again, George Bailey probably would either have lost his bank to some oligarch or government official, or become one himself by now.