Ukrainian activists with their hands tied and plastic bags over the heads sit next to other demonstrators holding placards reading "GPO (General Prosecutors Office) is the place of tortures", "Prosecutors torture people in Ukraine" during a protest in front of the General Prosecutors Office (GPO) in Kiev on August 17, 2016. Some hundred protesters gathered to protest against the pressure on the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) - a new body created with the purpose of cleansing government of corruption, launching of which was one of the IMF and European Comission key requirements. On Aug. 12 NABU officials accused GPO staff of "the first open unlawful confront", saying that two of their officers, while being on duty, were illegally detained for 11 hours. / AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY
Photo by AFP
Is the glass half full or half empty? Indeed, is this debate irrelevant because the glass has been long stolen?
There are certainly two notable improvements in the fight against corruption Ukraine since the Euromaidan. The first is that Ukrainians and civil society are more politically mature than they were after the Orange Revolution. Then, revolutionaries and civil society activists went home and left the task of transforming Ukraine to the new ‘good czar’ Viktor Yushchenko. We all remember what a disaster he was. After the Euromaidan Revolution this did not happen and Ukrainian patriots, journalists and civil society activists have continued to participate, cajole, lobby and write about Ukraine’s reforms or the lack of them. President Petro Poroshenko and other members of the ruling elites are less politically mature than the average Ukrainian taxi driver who can tell you what, when and who stole what and what should be done about it.
The second is through pressure from Ukrainians and the West, new institutions and processes have been created that could over time improve the rule of law and reduce high-level corruption. E-declarations forced ruling elites to disclose embarrassingly large and exotic sums they had stolen during a quarter of Ukrainian independence.
But, these important psychological changes in the mindsets of Ukrainians and building of new state institutions are faced by two major hurdles.
The first is a complete absence of political will on the part of President Petro Poroshenko to fight corruption and bring to justice the thieves, murderers and traitors in the Yanukovych clique. Vox Ukraine’s Index for Monitoring Reforms ranks reforms between minus five and plus five in five areas. In the field of governance and fighting corruption, Vox Ukraine have ranked Ukraine between 1-2 which is not the worse but nevertheless an underachievement.
The second is that fighting and winning the battle against high-level corruption is a huge task and has to overcome a deeply ingrained culture. Former Minister of Finance Natalie Jaresko said recently to a seminar in Berlin that I participated in that the problem of corruption in Ukraine rests not only with a small group of oligarchs but includes thousands of others who have an interest in not changing the system.
Two democratic revolutions and two presidents – Yushchenko and Poroshenko – have failed to reduce the high levels of corruption in Ukraine. Transparency International continues to rank Ukraine with higher levels of corruption than all but three of the 15 former Soviet republics. Poroshenko’s commitment to fighting corruption is not taken seriously in Brussels and Washington because five members of the Eurasian Economic Union have lower levels of corruption than a country that claims to be integrating into Europe!
We have to look upon the persistently high levels of corruption in Ukraine as a product of a kleptocratic coalition of clans controlling the economy and political system who emerged in the 1990s. The E-declarations forced them to show some of their stolen assets. They are very scared of losing these stolen gains and, even if some of them would want it, they have no trust or faith in a transition to a post-corrupt world. Who would guarantee an amnesty and the drawing of a line on the past in a country where levels of trust have been very low for decades?
The coalition of kleptocratic clans defends all of its members through the presidents control of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Security Service of Ukraine, known as the SBU. Therefore, nobody important is ever criminally charged and imprisoned. The only members of the ruling elites who have gone to jail have been in Germany and the U.S. – but not in Ukraine.
Defending the interests of the kleptocratic coalition of clans is far more important than domestic goals of “reform” or foreign policy goals of “returning to Europe.” Hence their rhetoric is never matched by actions to achieve these goals.
It is profoundly wrong to divide oligarchs and kleptocrats into "pro-Western" and "pro-Eastern" groups. Indeed, “pro-Western” Yushchenko or Poroshenko have a lot in common with “pro-Russian” Rinat Akhmetov and Yushchenko backed Viktor Yanukovych over Yulia Tymoshenko in the 2010 elections.
Their prime motivation is self-interest and not national interest. I wrote 12 years ago that President Leonid Kuchma’s foreign policy is neither pro-Western or pro-Russian but pro-Kuchma (http://www.rferl.org/a/1343966.html). The same could be said about the incumbent president’s foreign policy being pro-Poroshenko.
The kleptocratic system breaks down when dissident oligarchs, such as Pavlo Lazarenko and Ihor Kolomoisky (the Russian examples would be Mikhail Khodorokovskyy and Boris Berezovsky), attempt to challenge incumbent presidents. Sanctions are applied against them forcing them to move abroad (Lazarenko and Berezovsky) or they are threatened with jail or imprisoned (Hennadiy Korban and Khodorokovsky). Their business empires are taken over by loyal oligarchs or the state. Others, such as Kolomoyskyy, withdraw their opposition after negotiating a non-aggression pact.
Tymoshenko is the exception to this rule in refusing to flee abroad in the late 1990s or under Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Yanukovych. From 2000-2004 she fought against Kuchma, who briefly imprisoned her, and against Yanukovych who was more successful in imprisoning her for a longer period of time.
Despite two democratic revolutions, Ukraine’s post-Soviet political and economic system has been immune to change because presidents such as Poroshenko continue to draw upon the kleptocratic coalition of clans for mayors and governors in eastern and southern Ukraine. The examples are numerous and include Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov and Kharkiv Mayor Hennadiy Kernes, both of whom are conservative, resistant to change and unaccountable for their actions.
The only manner to prevent mass protests and political instability is to hold pre-term parliamentary elections. If these are not held, Ukraine’s next popular protests, and possibly third democratic revolution, should not negotiate compromises with members of the kleptocratic coalition of clans who have hijacked and undermined two earlier popular revolutions.
Taras Kuzio is a senior fellow at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta and author of the forthcoming "Russia’s War Against Ukraine: Nationalism, Revolution and Crime."