Two weeks ago, I penned a column outlining the current Ukrainian President and Prime Minister’s sorry inaction in dealing with the on-going pervasive corruption that plagues the Ukrainian government at all levels. My diatribe was prompted by the resignation of Cabinet Minister Aivaras Abromavičius who claimed that blatant political interference and oligarchic self-serving manipulation was stifling many attempts at real reform. Needless to say, aside from some pusillanimous rhetoric, neither Poroshenko nor Yatseniuk did anything to react to this political wake-up call.
Last week, the situation got even worse. Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kasko also resigned, stating that his attempts at prosecuting the corrupt and investigating the sniper shootings on the Maidan were being continuously stymied by his boss Victor Shokin. His parting quote was telling – “The General Prosecutor's Office has become a dead institution, which nobody believes is independent.”
The resignation evoked a firestorm of criticism from diplomats, foreign leaders, reform politicians and the general public, many furious at President Poroshenko’s head in the sand attitude towards what is rapidly becoming an existential crisis for Ukraine’s whole political system. Finally sensing that he had seriously missed the boat on an issue that could bring his own term of office to an early end, Poroshenko decided to act, publically asking for Shokin’s resignation as well as that of Prime Minister Yatseniuk.
Here the story begins to get a little complicated. Although the media was quick to publish news of Shokin’s resignation, some of his deputies contradicted the official announcements, saying that Shokin had not resigned but had just taken sick leave or gone on a vacation. As for Prime Minister Yatseniuk, he refused to resign, taking the issue to parliament, where a non-confidence motion failed to get the necessary votes to depose him. The failure of the motion was not exactly a vote of support either, as most deputies simply held their noses and stayed away from the vote.
What is obvious is that the leadership in the Ukrainian government is rapidly losing its credibility with the populace. What is also clear is that President Poroshenko does not have either the strength or the desire to seriously take his oligarchic friends to task and clean out the remaining rot that infects much of the Ukrainian government. What Poroshenko should have done after the Kasko’s resignation is not just ask for Shokin to resign, but he should have sent the police to arrest Shokin and throw him and his sabotaging cronies into jail where they belong.
For two years, President Poroshenko has laid it on thick with flowery speeches and fine words about reform and his desire to bring corruption under control. To be fair, there has been good progress made in many spheres such as the police forces, the energy sector, banking, education and others. There are competent people in the Ukrainian government dedicated to genuine reform. However, the two primary bastions that perpetuate and protect the old corrupt oligarchic system, namely the Prosecutor’s office and the Justice system, remain totally unreformed and unrepentant. No one of consequence responsible for the wholesale pillaging of tens of billions of dollars from state coffers during the Yanukovich regime has been prosecuted or brought to justice. The ranks of government are still rife with Yanukovich era hold-overs who continue to live the life of Reilly on the public purse.
It saddens me greatly that I was once an admirer and supporter of both Poroshenko and Yatseniuk, believing them to be genuine reformers and patriots, willing and capable of rescuing Ukraine from the morass of post-Soviet and Yanukovich era political sleaze. Regrettably, it is becoming more and more evident that their sympathies and actions are more aligned with the oligarchic classes and system that they seem to be protecting, rather than the average Ukrainian Ivan longing to be free and part of the European community. The bandits are alive and thriving under their rule, just as they did under Yanukovich and Kuchma before him.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that Poroshenko will not be the Moses to lead Ukraine out of this political wilderness. Ukrainians must look deeper for someone that is not tainted by being part of the amoral and self-serving ruling classes that have dominated Ukrainian politics for the last several decades. There are smart, young and principled Ukrainians who are willing and able. At the next elections, whenever they come, hopefully sooner than later, Ukrainians must look beyond the shallow populism, the artificial charismatics, the big money election campaigning, and the old guard, and elect those from a new generation with a genuine commitment to move Ukraine towards true democracy and responsible government. The first big step was taken two years ago on the Maidan to turn the Ukrainian ship of state around. The next step will be to find the proper leaders to steer that ship to the ultimate destination.