Things in Ukraine are heating up, as reported by our Kyiv correspondent Mark Raczkiewycz, who says the unrest on Kyiv’s streets last weekend is something the capital has not seen since the Euro-Maidan – the Revolution of Dignity. This time, the demands are for Ukrainian authorities to get serious about the fight against corruption, with some calling for President Petro Poroshenko’s resignation or impeachment. (Yes, the Mikheil Saakashvili drama is connected to this political crisis, but we would argue it is not the main element.)
Mr. Poroshenko’s credentials as a reformer are being questioned since his administration is seen as hindering the establishment of an anti-corruption court. Furthermore, pro-presidential parliamentary factions have tried to create obstacles to the work of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and they have dismissed outspoken anti-graft activist Yegor Soboliev from his post as chairman of the parliamentary Anti-Corruption Committee
The reaction from the United States, the European Union and others was unequivocal. “It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “Anti-corruption institutions must be supported, resourced and defended.” The EU delegation in Ukraine said on Facebook that a bill that would allow the Rada to dismiss the heads of SAPO and NABU “goes against Ukraine’s fight against corruption” and underscored that anti-corruption institutions” must be strengthened, not weakened.
Reacting to accusations leveled against him, President Poroshenko on December 8 denied he is interfering in the work of anti-corruption agencies and said he would “not allow any threats of political interference” in their activities. A day earlier, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde had spoke with Mr. Poroshenko to underline that battling corruption “is expected by the Ukrainian society and is critical to improve transparency and accountability and create the conditions for sustainable growth. She noted: “…we agreed on the need to maintain the independence and enhance the operational capacity of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. …We also agreed that the prompt establishment of the anti-corruption court is an essential complement of these efforts.” In fact, the IMF has said establishment of such a court is a precondition for further funding of Ukraine’s economic recovery.
At a December 12 press conference, NGOs and national deputies in Ukraine asked the Ukrainian diaspora to support the fight against corruption in Ukraine by pushing for the establishment of an anti-corruption court. According to Interfax-Ukraine, National Deputy Soboliev asked Ukrainians from all over the world to help peacefully establish “good governance of the state.” He pointed out: “This is the first time that society has come out for the sake of establishing rules, rather than kicking someone out or taking revenge on someone.” A co-founder of Razom for Ukraine, Lyuba Shipovich, argued that battling corruption is absolutely essential for progress on reforms. In a subsequent post on Facebook she noted that an anti-corruption court is needed to provide focus, hasten changes to the system, and create a cycle of work encompassing investigation, indictment and prosecution. She added that corruptioneers often have assets abroad; thus, they fall under the jurisdiction of other countries. “Ukrainians in different countries should unite and exert pressure with the help of these countries” to investigate illegal activity, she said.
Clearly, corruption has become Ukraine’s No. 1 internal enemy. It’s time for Kyiv to get real.