Ukraine faces a potential major diplomatic crisis with its Western partners as lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada are due to vote on December 7 on a draft bill that would bring the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) under the direct control of the president and parliament, and gut the county’s anti-corruption efforts.
The bill is being rammed through, as it was only introduced on to the roster on December 6 and will receive its first and final readings on December 7.
NABU was forced on the government in Kyiv by international donors who have been demanding that the government tackle the endemic corruption in the country. The law comes at a time when the government’s attacks on NABU have become increasingly more aggressive and blatant.
Only a week earlier, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko arrested a NABU agent in the middle of a sting operation and went on to publicly expose several agents’ identities. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has also raided NABU’s offices.
Lutsenko went as far as to say that NABU agents are an illegal grouping and that they should have been employed by an open competitive procedure. However, at a press briefing on December 5 he toned down his criticisms, saying that there is no war between the Prosecutor General’s Office and NABU.
These attacks have brought sharp condemnation from Ukraine’s international partners. The US State Department issued a blunt rebuke that publicly sided with NABU and called for the government to back off. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office published a statement on December 6 that read: “The (NABU) is a critical piece of the anti-corruption machinery in Ukraine, and has made great strides in its development and its investigations.”
If the law to take NABU under direct government control and end its independence goes through, it could potentially cause a major rift with the West and a reassessment of its support for Ukraine. That would leave the country entirely isolated, as Kyiv has already broken with Russia and relies on Western support in its fight with Russia.
President Petro Poroshenko seems to be calculating that when push comes to shove the West will not abandon Kyiv, because its fear of Russia is greater than its dissatisfaction with the lack of reform progress.