Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
With his personal popularity and that of his Servant of the People Party sinking to new lows, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken several new steps to battle corruption, lawlessness, and Russian influence.
On February 20, Zelenskyy signed a decree that brings into force sanctions against Viktor Medvedchuk, a political heavyweight and tycoon, and other Ukrainian politicians who have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Along with Medvedchuk and his wife, Oksana Marchenko, six other individuals and 19 companies tied to him were also sanctioned.
The sanctions freeze the assets of Medvedchuk and his wife for three years and prevent them from doing business in Ukraine. Most of Medvedchuk’s assets are under his wife’s name. In addition, an oil pipeline that transports Russian oil products to Europe and is reportedly controlled by Medvedchuk may be nationalized.
Six days later, a fresh set of sanctions were imposed against 10 individuals close to ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. These include former Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko and former Security Service Chief Oleksandr Yakymenko. Zakharchenko was accused of unleashing deadly force against anti-government protesters in Kyiv in 2014. He later fled to Russia along with Yanukovych.
And earlier last month, Zelenskyy’s administration sanctioned Taras Kozak, a close associate of Medvedchuk, and three television stations that he formally owns. Ukrainian media say the media assets, which aired pro-Kremlin propaganda, really belong to Medvedchuk. Zelenskyy’s administration also says the stations receive Russian money from mining activities in those regions of Ukraine controlled by the separatists.
Medvedchuk is a deputy to the Verkhovna Rada and chairman of the pro-Russia Opposition Platform for Life (OPZZh). The party reacted by calling these measures “the destruction of Ukrainian democracy.” That would be true if the OPZZh was what we understand to be a “loyal opposition”. Though the concept of a “loyal opposition” originated in the British Parliamentary system and the title is formally used by Commonwealth countries with the Westminster system of parliamentary government, it really applies to all democracies. The word loyal indicates that the non-governing parties may oppose the actions of the sitting cabinet while remaining loyal to the formal source(s) of the government’s power, such as the monarch or constitution. It does not apply to any party that acts in the interests of a foreign power – especially one that has illegally invaded the country, occupied its territory, and continues to wage an undeclared war.
But that is exactly what Medvedchuk and the OPZZh are doing. What’s more, Medvedchuk has a warm personal relationship with Putin, who is the godfather of his daughter. That makes them what Ukrainians call “koomy”. Medvedchuk was sanctioned by the United States in 2014 for undermining democracy in Ukraine and has been referred to as “the undisputed leader of Russia’s fifth column in Ukraine” by the Kyiv Post. He deserves much more than mere sanctions and we are pleased to report that he is being investigated on suspicion of “financing terrorism”, which really amounts to treason. As for the television stations, bear in mind that for many in Ukraine’s eastern regions they are their main sources of information. But if they are spreading enemy propaganda during wartime, they should be shut down, period.
In another move, Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Bureau on February 22 arrested Volodymyr Yatsenko, the former deputy chairman of PrivatBank at Boryspil Airport as he attempted to flee to Vienna to escape justice. He was charged with embezzlement and his accomplices, former CEO Oleksandr Dubilet, and head of the financial management department Olena Bychikhina, both of whom live abroad, were charged in absentia. PrivatBank also faces a probe for failing to act to stop a wider alleged US$5.5 billion fraud scheme that lasted over a decade.
This is indeed a bold move for Zelenskyy as PrivatBank is owned by oligarch Ihor Kolomoysky who has been Zelenskyy’s mentor in the past and contributed heavily to his campaign. Many observers considered him to be the power behind the throne in Zelenskyy’s presidency. Even now he controls many parliamentary members in Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People Party which has effectively stymied the president’s reform efforts in the past. Both Kolomoisky and his partner Hennadiy Boholyubov are being investigated for money laundering by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The U.S. has welcomed Zelenskyy’s actions against PrivatBank and Medvedchuk and many observers suggest that Zelenskyy has initiated these moves to curry favour with U.S. President Joe Biden. If that’s the case, then it is not such a bad move. Biden has shown himself to be a good friend of Ukraine in the past and, on February 26, reiterated his strong support for Ukraine in its war with Russia. “The United States does not, and will never, recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia’s aggressive acts. We will continue to work to hold Russia accountable for its abuses and aggression in Ukraine,” Biden said.
Zelenskyy’s actions may be intended to please Washington, but they are also good for Ukraine. Therefore, we commend Zelenskyy for acting to reduce both Russian influence in Ukraine and Ukraine’s endemic corruption. As first steps they are good, but much more is needed to turn Ukraine into a stable and prosperous European-oriented democracy independent of Moscow once and for all.