Poroshenko is failing to combat Ukraine’s three “enemies”


Picture of Taras Kuzio
Taras Kuzio

Taras Kuzio is Senior Fellow at the University of Alberta’s Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies

On a visit to the US last month, Ukraine’s prime minister Volodymyr Hroysman said the country’s three main ‘enemies’ are populism, corruption and Russia. As Hroysman is a member of Petro Poroshenko’s team, it is worth analysing how his mentor is coping as President and Commander-in-Chief with these ‘enemies’.

The first, populism, is an abused term used everywhere to negatively denigrate one’s opponents, and most people, including Ukrainian politicians, use it without understanding what it means. It was always ridiculous for Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions to accuse the opposition of being ‘populists’ when they themselves (oligarchs) were the biggest populists (towards working-class voters) in Ukraine. It was also a sign of the term being politicised when it was primarily used against Yulia Tymoshenko – if she is a populist then so is every other Ukrainian politician.

Poroshenko, who has routinely derided Tymoshenko for populism, has never undertaken any steps to deal with the issue. He has never invested in Ukraine’s political party system, and the absence of parties is a major problem; after all, parliamentary democracy cannot function without political parties. Poroshenko has always had close relations with oligarchs, who are the main funders of populist political projects. His failure to reduce their influence is something commonly accepted by experts all over, and it is almost universally thought that the next three years will see no change. Oligarchs are as bad for the development of European-style political parties as they are good for populism, as they often create election projects that use populist rhetoric. Their monopolisation of the economy prevents the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, which produce less than 20% of Ukraine’s GDP and are often forced to operate in the shadow economy – where half of Ukraine’s GDP has come from for the last two decades, double the size of Italy’s underground economy.

Poroshenko is building a hybrid Ukraine that inherently generates political instability

The ‘enemy’ of corruption has never been tackled by Poroshenko; and when the New York Times criticised him for this, he described it as part of the ‘hybrid war’ being conducted against Ukraine. Not a single member of Yanukovych’s mafia cabal has been brought to justice. As journalist and MP Serhiy Leshchenko wrote, ‘nowhere is the rottenness of Ukrainian politics more evident than in the prosecutor’s office’. It seemed, after the deaths under Viktor Yanukovych of people wanting a fair and democratic Ukraine, that punishments of corrupt officials should have been a matter of honour for the new government. But instead, Berkut snipers who murdered protesters have been allowed to flee Ukraine, others (such as Party of Regions MP Yuriy Ivanyushchenko) have been removed from Interpol lists of wanted Ukrainians and a third group (such as gas lobby leaders Yuriy Boyko, Dmytro Firtash and Serhiy Lyovochkin) have been given immunity from prosecution. President Poroshenko’s four prosecutor-generals have shown no commitment to fighting high-level corruption.
Leshchenko and other journalists and politicians from Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchina (Fatherland) party have repeatedly raised the president’s failure to combat corruption, but to no avail. Ukraine is in the midst of a battle between genuine pro-European political forces including Batkivshchina and civil society who are psychologically in Europe confronting Poroshenko’s faction that wants Ukraine to remain in the twilight zone between the Soviet past and European future. In other words, Poroshenko is building a hybrid Ukraine that inherently generates political instability as it fails to fulfil people’s expectations for justice.

Poroshenko’s four prosecutor-generals have shown no commitment to fighting high-level corruption

The third ‘enemy’ is Russia. This is an area in which Poroshenko has failed in four ways. First, he has been unwilling to reform Ukraine’s intelligence services and clean out Russia’s spies. The intelligence services are not only important for the ongoing war against Russia but also for the fight against high-level corruption. Ukraine has a Security Service (SBU), but is it Ukrainian? When one intelligence officer is caught spying in the West, it is a major scandal; but in Ukraine, there have been thousands found since 2014. The SBU recently published a list of 1,397 of its own officers who betrayed Ukraine in the Crimea. Even the Deputy Commander of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) – Ukraine’s official name for military operations in the Donbass – was a Russian spy.

The second was the signing of the Minsk accords, which benefitted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s transformation of the separatists into a large and well-equipped army and placement of the economy and finances of the DNR and LNR under the control of a Russian shadow government. Instead of dismantling the separatist institutions, as the Minsk accords outlined, they were consolidated. European leaders on the other hand were able to wash their hands of Ukraine by claiming Minsk had brought peace to Europe.

The third area is Western military support for Ukraine. A lack of reforms in the SBU and its continued infiltration by Russia makes it problematical for it to run the ATO, as NATO and the West more generally are concerned that weapons sent to Ukraine would be stolen (through high-level corruption) or even sold to Russia. If Ukraine declared the Donbass conflict to be a war, not a terrorist threat, its commanders would be the military rather than the clearly unreliable SBU.

Even the Deputy Commander of Ukraine’s military operations in the Donbass was a Russian spy

Additionally, in providing immunity from prosecution for the gas lobby, Poroshenko is failing to assist the US in the pursuit of criminal charges against Firtash, who is waiting in Vienna for a response to American demands for his deportation to stand trial in the US. It is in Ukraine’s interests to do everything it can to please American politicians (who are influential in NATO) in order to receive political support, military equipment and training. By instead supporting the old boys’ network and putting personal gain first, the president is damaging Ukraine’s national security.

The last factor is the vast unpopularity of the commander-in-chief among Ukrainian soldiers. During my two visits to the front line in March and May of this year, I heard not a single soldier voice support for Poroshenko. Most soldiers said their enemies are Russia, politicians and incompetent and corrupt generals in Kiev. I mentioned this to the US government’s representatives at a seminar I gave last month in Washington DC, and they were genuinely shocked, indeed no one could imagine hearing such negative and at times threatening views of their commander-in-chief on an American or British military base, particularly during wartime.

Prime minister Hroysman pointed to Ukraine’s three ‘enemies’ of populism, corruption and Russia. What a pity that his mentor President Poroshenko is failing or unwilling to deal adequately with any of them.

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