KYIV BLOG: Corruption in Ukraine - business as usual?

KYIV BLOG: Corruption in Ukraine - business as usual?
All the president's men: Archive photo of Viktor Yanukovych (centre) with former Ukrainian presidents Viktor Yushchenko (l), Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma.
By Sergei Kuznetsov in Kyiv December 2, 2016

On November 28, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was indicted for state treason for facilitating Russian aggression. However, it is highly unlikely that the fugitive leader, who fled to Russia after his kleptocratic regime was toppled in February 2014, will stand trial any time soon given his Moscow-ensured safety from the reach of Ukrainian prosecutors.

Generally, Ukrainian society believes that even former officials and law enforcers who are still in Ukraine enjoy effective impunity for past crimes, as the country still lacks an effective law enforcement system and Kyiv's progress on the path towards fight against corruption is minimal.

“[Yanukovych] committed state treason... with the aim of assisting the Russian Federation in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, hoping to receiving the assistance and protection from representatives of the Russian Federation for living in that country and avoiding criminal responsibility [for his actions] in Ukraine,” Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko said during the recent hearing.

According to the chief prosecutor, an official notice was sent to all known addresses of Yanukovych and his lawyer with accusations of “opening the door to the [Russian] aggressor”.

However, this move triggered a mixed reaction in Kyiv. Sergii Leshchenko, a lawmaker from President Petro Poroshenko’s faction, said that Yanukovych was indicted for state treason for a written request he allegedly sent to President Vladimir Putin in 2014 to deploy Russian army forces to Ukraine. However, the lawmaker noted, the country’s prosecutors have failed to present this document and other significant evidence.

“Lutsenko is helping a future appeal by Yanukovych to the European Court of Human Rights,” Leshchenko wrote in a blog. “It will cost us [Ukraine] money and lead to another disappointment. This is the price Ukraine will pay for its ineffective leadership.”

Meanwhile, another reform-minded lawmaker, Mustafa Nayyem, accused the SBU security service, which is controlled personally by Poroshenko, of illegally wiretapping his phone conversations. “How are you different to [the regime of] Yanukovych?” he said in an interview with the Novoe Vremia magazine published on December 1.

Yanukovych fled to Russia after around 100 anti-government protesters were shot dead in central Kyiv. Even two and a half years later, Ukrainian prosecutors have yet to bring a single charge against any high-level official of the former regime.

The ex-president said during the recent court hearings that he left Ukraine in 2014 in order to prevent a civil war erupting in the country. “I made the decision [to leave Ukraine] and only then did I contact Russian President Vladimir Putin and told him,” he said by video link. “A war like the one in Donbas would have started across Ukraine if I had stayed there.”

Yanukovych also rejected accusations that he gave an order to use force against anti-government protesters in Kyiv in 2013-2014. “I was against the use of weapons and against bloodshed from the very beginning until the very end. It was my committed position,” he underlined. “I could not have issued such orders.”

Meanwhile, on December 1, the SBU security service announced that it had put lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who is suspected of being involved in the embezzlement of state-owned natural gas, on the national wanted list for treason. In response, the lawmaker accused the president of multi-million off-the-books payments to Ukrainian MPs so as to ensure desired results during voting.

The SBU said Onyshchenko had obtained a Russian passport and reached an agreement with the Russian secret services to destabilise the situation in Ukraine. Onyshchenko immediately denied that he had received Russian citizenship.

He also vowed to make public compromising material against Poroshenko, claiming to have secretly wiretapped their meetings. “You will hear the voice of the guarantor of [Ukraine’s] constitution and all your illusions about his love for the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian people will disappear,” he told Ukrainska Pravda. “I have been close to him [Poroshenko], and I know him well.”

The lawmaker added that he already provided evidence of Poroshenko's corruption to US law enforcement agents, who “flew to my location in Europe”.

In July, Ukraine’s parliament sanctioned the criminal prosecution, detention and arrest of Onyshchenko, a member of the Volia Narodu (People’s Will) parliamentary group, under an investigation into the activities of a criminal group allegedly involved in illegal schemes when selling gas produced with the participation of state-owned company Ukrgazvydobuvannia.

Onyshchenko, who denies any wrongdoing, fled Ukraine and announced his intention to seek political asylum in the UK.

The current corruption rift between Poroshenko and the lawmaker could be a clear indication that there has been little change in the behaviour of political elites in Kyiv since Yanukovych was driven out. This also appears to be a root cause of the disappointment of the Ukraine's Western backers and donors with its new leaders and their cohorts.

Six months after Yanukovych’s ousting, as Ukraine grappled with economic crisis and Russia’s military invasion of its eastern territory - still emphatically denied by Moscow - the greatest single risk factor facing Ukraine was what could be called business as usual, former US Ambassador Geoff Pyatt told the Atlantic Council. To stabilise the country, “the political class will have to put aside the habits of the past and focus on implementing the ambitious programme of reform”, he stressed.

In this respect, however, to most Ukrainians today, time can only appear to have stood still.