Sunday, August 7, 2016

Update on Ukraine - Part 2

Yesterday's opening paragraph applies more to today's post so I will simply repeat it.
It has been months and months since I posted anything about Ukraine on this blog. Because it is simply too infuriating, depressing, maddening, frustrating and on and on anon. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.  Or something.

The Maidan Revolution of Dignity after two and a half years, for which many gave their lives and continue to give their lives on the Russian Front of the Donbas, seems no closer to realizing its goals than ever. It was about corruption, plain and simple. About wanting to move closer to Europe where, in spite of its shortcomings, there is rule of law, freedom of speech, transparency and democracy. 

Ukrainian finances and the Russian invasion brought the country to the point of bankruptcy.  The IMF and other lenders/donors demanded and got certain changes. Trade in natural gas has been cleaned up and prices brought closer to market and software has been developed and slowly implemented to improve the transparency of government purchases. New police forces have been created and trained in several large cities.

However when it comes to dealing with endemic corruption, most everything else has been simply window dressing. Newly created anti-corruption agencies have no independence, no budget and are limited in cases they are allowed to investigate.  Should they become too vigorous and get too close to someone, the investigators are suddenly investigated on phony charges.  Able and enthusiastic reformers appointed to various Ministries have quit in disgust or been forced out.  This brought down the government last spring.  A new Prime Minister was appointed and new cabinet but there is little to show for it.

Mikheil Saakashvili, past president of Georgia, was brought in as Governor of Odessa. He has had good success in cleaning up things HE is able to control but when it comes to anything that needs support from Kyiv, things fall apart. 

Saakashvili's team set up the Odessa Package of Reforms initiative and submitted dozens of legislative proposals to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Yet not a single one of those has ever been voted in—some got “lost” at their respective ministries, while others got stuck in parliamentary committees.

Saakashvili can also be proud of his Odessa customs chief, Euromaidan activist Yuliya Marushevska. She eliminated many shadow schemes and simplified customs clearance procedures. The Open Customs Space reduced administrative checks to only fifteen minutes per container. Marushevska reports that increased tax revenues will assist Saakashvili’s road reconstruction project, the Odessa-Reni motorway, which will soon connect Ukraine with Romania and the EU.

But Marushevska’s job was complicated by the appointment of Roman Nasirov as chief of Ukraine’s State Fiscal Service. In late March, she accused Nasirov’s team of helping dishonest businesses avoid paying full duties by bypassing Odesa. But instead of preventing potential cargo value manipulations, central authorities opened seven investigations into Odesa’s customs activities.
Saakashvili's right hand man in combating local corruption, David Sakvarelidze, served only six months as Odessa oblast prosecutor. He opened several investigations into local mafia bosses, but they have all stalled. Sakvarelidze was then driven out by then Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who replaced him with Mykola Stoyanov. Civic activists launched a protest against Stoyanov's appointment and closed the Odessa-Kyiv highway to demand that Poroshenko take action. In response, the president appointed two prosecutors from his hometown of Vinnytsia as chiefs of the Odessa Oblast prosecutor’s office.
But little has changed. The most visible demonstration that Odesa’s old business and political elites are holding a tight grip on power was Gennadiy Trukhanov’s shocking victory in Odessa’s October 2015 mayoral elections. Apparently he had the reliable support of two strong forces: the city’s electorate and the powers-that-be in Kyiv.

NOT ONE person of the Yanukovych crime family has been sent to jail and very little of their stolen money has been recovered.  Politicians and bureaucrats of the Yanukovych regime have been and continue to be recycled.  The judges and prosecutors who make up the core of Ukraine's corruption problem remain in office, continuing to frustrate any attempt to bring transparency and justice.

There seems to be a belief in the Ukrainian government that the West will continue to support Ukraine against Russia, regardless of the level of corruption in the country. ("America has been noted in the past to support highly corrupt governments, why not us?"). This may well be a mistake.  Ukraine fatigue is setting in at a great rate.  Consider the number of calls to abandon sanctions against Russia. 

Foreign Policy had this to say in a recent article:

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer noted in a blog post: “One sometimes gets a feeling that Ukraine’s elite have an inflated sense of the country’s geopolitical importance between the West and Russia — that they believe that their country is too important to fail and that, regardless of what Ukraine’s leadership does, the West will stick with Kiev out of fear that it might otherwise turn to Moscow. That could be a mistake.”
Brian Mefford, a political and business consultant who has lived in Kiev for the past 17 years, said that Ukraine will soon face an uphill battle trying to convince a new U.S. president that it is serious about reform. “There are three key things that Kiev can do to ensure that ‘Ukraine fatigue’ does not set in. One: fight corruption. Two: fight corruption. Three: fight corruption.”
But so far, the problem just keeps getting worse — and it goes all the way to the top. This month, one of Ukraine’s most respected anti-corruption journalists, Sergii Leshchenko, himself a member of parliament from President Poroshenko’s party, wrote a devastating piece accusing Poroshenko of creating a “clan” of cronies and oligarchs around himself in the same way as his corrupt predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych. Leshchenko and other prominent reform-minded politicians are forming a new party to challenge the administration.
It won’t be easy. Lawmaker Arkady Kornatsky, also a member of the president’s party, told me that his experience in government has revealed to him the extent of the corrupt system. “All the parties in parliament, including the one of which I’m a member, were created and funded by oligarchs, and they are protecting each others’ interests,” he told me. “I want to believe that the president himself is honest but I don’t see him seriously fighting corruption. Mr. Biden is naive if he thinks an oligarch will put his kind into jail. This government will stall on reforms unless the U.S. leans on it.”

The problem is that corruption is so intertwined that to finger and investigate one, leads to the downfall of all, so those in power MUST support each other.  

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. Benjamin Franklin


  1. It must be "beyond frustrating" for those of you living in the midst of this.

    1. It is that. I guess we can only hope and be thankful for what little gains we get.

  2. I'm going to go and look at my skunk picture now... it makes me much happier than this. And while I do that, I'm going to give quiet thanks that I have the option to withdraw from the unpleasantness, unlike everybody over there.

    1. More skunk pictures. I like skunks. Just watch their behaviour though. If they turn aggressive, get the hell out of there as that is NOT normal.
      I do not like to call our politicians and bureaucrats skunks as it demeans the skunks. it is more like sun ripened cow. And their stench is as hard to get away from.


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