Ukraine’s Failed Friends

We interrupt your regular scheduled programming for a very important message. You may say that any message that requires me tearing away from the latest Call of Duty title must be pretty damn important, and guess what?

It is.

In case you’re an ignorant Westerner or spent the last several months living under a rock, Leonid Bershidsky wrote a piece about how Ukraine is, quote, ‘becoming a failed state’, unquote. Of course, RIA Novosti gleefully latched onto the piece. You could say anything RIA Novosti latches onto should be considered bullshit, but this is apparently lost on the Western observers (this is a swear word) who began endorsing Bershidsky’s article.

Bullshit. Bull. Shit.

What Bershidsky does is rehash the ZRADA myths that are prevalent in Ukraine’s informational landscape. He doesn’t mention the Lipetsk chocolate factory or call President Poroshenko a ‘Chocolate tyrant’, but boy oh boy, here’s poor Kolomoyskiy being oppressed, and here’s quoting Leschenko, and here’s… Well, actually, it is a very mild version of the ZRADA narrative, compared to some. That doesn’t make it any less bullshit.

What Bershidsky doesn’t understand – or what everyone, including Ukrainians, fail to understand – is that ANY attempt at reform, in ANY country with ANY government takes time to bear fruit. This was true for post-Communist Poland (whose reforms actually started when Jaruzelski was President – you know, the bloody military dictator who imposed martial law and ordered ZOMO riot police to shoot at unarmed protesters?); this is even more true for Ukraine, because, well, Ukraine is no Poland. Poland didn’t have oligarchs and local strongmen with an iron grip on mass media and industry. Poland didn’t have a proxy war with Russia, neither.

The main reason why Ukraine is no Poland is that it squandered the last 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. Oh, there were plenty reforms under President Kuchma, but he mostly used them to cement his own power. Then we had the Orange Revolution and an endless shitfight for power – spurred, in part, by no other than Yulia Tymoshenko. Then we had Yanukovych and his cronies, who stole, then stole, then stole some more. When Yanukovych finally fled for Rostov, Ukrainian treasury was around 33 000 Euro.

Ukrainian ZRADA pundits and ivory-tower Western observers proudly declare that ‘nothing changed’ in the last two years. The problem is, most Ukrainians have very short memories and barely remember the Maidan, let alone the events afterwards. If Ukraine was on its way to becoming a failed state, it did then. It was a big Russian propaganda schtick at the time.

Somehow, though, Ukraine held together, got back with the separatists, stood its own against what was undoubtedly a covert Russian invasion, and now, since the war wound down, it has to deal with its own internal problems. However, apparently holding the country together and facing down Russia doesn’t count in favor of the Ukrainian government anymore, because it failed to wave a magic wand and make Ukraine’s decades-old problems go away.

Where Bersidsky is right is on exactly one count: the hovercraft legislature is full of eels populists. The problem, though, is that it is the Rada that gets everything done in this country… yet it doesn’t. This is especially funny when someone in the West starts talking about ‘reform-minded pro-European MPs’, usually in contrast to the corrupt Chocolate tyrant Poroshenko. From what I’ve seen in the last year, these reform-minded, pro-European, MPs actually do everything in their power to stall reforms… and then blame the executive branch for it.

Rada couldn’t vote military procurement bills because of personal interests of some MPs. Of course, the greatest interest here is being able to scream about ‘our boys’ having inadequate equipment, which is somehow the government’s fault – despite the fact that the government can’t do anything without a law voted by the Rada.

Rada can’t change the Criminal Code, which includes a neat provision that mandates that suspects in corruption cases MUST be offered a possibility of bail. This is what happens to everyone suspected of corruption: the court HAS to offer them bail – bail which they’ll gladly pay. This Criminal Code was the brainchild of Andriy Portnov, Yanukovych’s former chief of staff. Only the Rada can change it, but it doesn’t. How would it cry itself hoarse about ‘Poroshenko not jailing corrupt officials’ if it does?

Corrupt judges? Have to be fired by the Rada, which fired a grand total of 145 judges out of a list of 303. But if Rada fires judges, how can it howl about ‘the judicial system is unchanged!’?

MP immunity? Has to be abolished by the Rada with a minimum of 300 votes, since MP immunity is written into the Constitution. But the Rada doesn’t do that. Guess why? So it can shout about how ‘the government abides criminals’ – criminals that hide behind MP immunity in the first place! In fact, most of the ‘reform-minded’, ‘pro-European’ MPs have done a lot of highly questionable things – take ‘Tourette Man’ Ihor Mosiychuk, who was famously arrested right inside the Rada’s plenum chamber on corruption charges and bribery. Mosiychuk recently plead guilty to both. Quite a number of the MPs have reasons to fear the same fate.

EVERY reform in this country has to go through the Rada. Yet somehow only Poroshenko, and sometimes Yatsenyuk, are to blame.

Speaking of Yatsenyuk, he’s pretty much set to go at this point. I’m not sure about Bershidsky’s claims that it will automatically trigger parliamentary reelections, but he pretty much is. To be sure, Yatsenyuk held the country together at its worst, but it just seems he’s not up to the challenge anymore. The most reform-minded ministries are headed by Poroshenko appointees.

Of course, Rada populists want a stake in the coming government. Thus the parliamentary circus we witness on a daily basis. But reelections are hardly a viable proposition nowadays. One needs only to look at local election results to see that.

And now we come to the oligarch question. Remember what I said about the iron grip over mass media? This is exactly the reason. 1+1 (which includes Ukraine Today) belongs to Kolomoyskiy. Inter belongs to Firtash. ICTV belongs to Pinchuk. Ukraina belongs to Akhmetov. 112 is linked to the infamous former interior minister Zakharchenko (no, not the DNR one). Even the nominally independent outlets like Espreso and Hromadske are increasingly linked with private interests. None of these are particularly happy with the government’s anti-oligarch policy. Contrary to what Bershidsky claims, Kolomoyskiy is not the only oligarch to be bossed around: Akhmetov loses billions, and local energy companies are slowly being twisted from Firtash’s grip. And there is really no other way: would Bershidsky rather the Ukrainian government nationalized everything the Bolshevik way?

Kolomoyskiy is merely under fire because he is the biggest offender, with Ukrnafta, Ukrtransnafta and a private army at its beck and call. A political angle is laughable because Kolomoyskiy’s man Korban lost the recent mayoral elections in Kyiv, and the UKROP party didn’t show decent results outside of Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizzhia. Or, well, any results. How is someone with barely a percent of votes a huge political threat to the government?

Korban got arrested merely because he had a lot going for him. The man was foolish enough to boast about his illegal successes on national TV, for God’s sake! This is probably one of the reasons he strived for MP immunity – or any immunity; but that didn’t come to pass.

And lastly, there’s Serhiy Leschenko the journalist-turned-MP. Leschenko and his fellow ‘Eurooptimists’ recently ignored the infamous Rada meeting outright: so much for Eurooptimism, I’d say! But the problem is that Ukrainian journalism is very much a relic of a begone age. Muckraking was fashionable in the 2000s Ukraine; then the economic crisis came and most self-proclaimed muckraking journalists started selling their skills for the highest bidder. Thus the rapid deterioration of Ukraine’s journalist corps we see today. Leschenko isn’t one of them; but now, as MP, he confuses his muckraking journalist impulses with, actually, his job. His job is to vote in the Rada. When Rada failed to approve urgently required laws, Leschenko chose to be absent.

Actually, Ukrainian journalism is probably what prompted Bershidsky to write his article – because most Ukrainian journalists serve certain private interests, interests not at all happy with what the government does or what it can do. Most of the incidents Bershidsky alludes to about ‘Ukraine’s souring relationship with the West’ actually turned out to be fakes spun by Ukrainian mass media journalists and outlets like Ukrainska Pravda – which will gladly spin anything if its the least bit anti-establishment. Bershidsky doesn’t include any alternative opinions in his article – something Ukrainian journalists don’t do very often. It’s always ‘expert’ this or ‘source’ that, and the hated government isn’t even allowed a say. It isn’t journalism. Certainly not Western journalism that Ukrainian journalists aspire to. It’s spin doctoring.

Ukraine has been slow on the reform angle, that is true. But despite the best efforts of corrupt officials, populist MPs, pissed-off oligarchs and yellow journalists, it’s not a failed state by any stretch.

I’ll believe when I see a 1 billion hryvnya note.

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Ukraine’s Failed Friends

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