The Narratives of Collapse

Alex Clarkson, whom I greatly admire (until he retweets something I admire much less, if at all), has this thread on his Twitter about the narrative of an omnipresent looming EU collapse that’s so popular with both analysts and journalists nowadays.

One would think the EU has weathered more than enough to conclusively prove it’s robust enough, but with the popularity of doom and gloom that seems not to be the case. This is about the time when I noticed the uncanny resemblance this ‘doomed EU’ narrative has to a particular brand of doom and gloom that we might as well call ‘self-destructing Ukraine’.

Yes, it is pretty popular. What’s even worse is that sometimes it seems that people actually take steps to make sure it stays popular.

It goes something like this: Ukraine is an unreformed, deeply divided nation that is presently self-destructing (as it has been for three years in a row now), a corrupt hellhole with neo-Nazis torch-parading in the streets, brave hounded anti-corruption crusader MPs standing up to the evil criminals in the government, which uses the war as a pretext to install an authoritarian hybrid regime and ensure superprofits for Roshen. It is also a country 404 with the GDP per capita of Vanuatu and miniscule salaries, where ordinary people live hand-to-mouth in new-built housing developments and drive from bread queue to bread queue in their new, if slightly used, European cars with Lithuanian plates. The list of the innumerable problems with unreformed Ukraine goes on and on, and it will surely self-destruct at some arbitrary point in the future, and the only thing the Western world can do to prevent this is… cut off Ukraine’s foreign aid, cancel the Association Agreement and bring back visas for Ukrainians, which will somehow magically fix everything and Make Ukraine Great Again.

Or at least, that’s what the narrative says. Now, the above is a gross exxageration, but this is exactly the image one gets from reading one too many English-language articles containing ‘Ukraine’, ‘reforms’ and/or ‘corruption’ in the title. Or all three. Needless to say, not a pretty picture. I’ve been accused of bashing Western journalists on the ground in Ukraine, but the problem is that they do the same quite often, too, or I would be able to read KyivPost without punching myself in the face several times in a single article. There are probably explanations for that, ranging from complex to simple, and for the sake of this post I’ll stick to the ‘simple’ one: treating Ukraine like a failed state on the verge of collapse is an expected part of the narrative. Painting Ukraine as a black hole of corruption in Europe, when recent revelations in Paradise Papers show the opposite, is an expected part of the narrative. Making Ukraine out to be a borderline-authoritarian regime that oppresses dissidents is, again, an expected part of the narrative. Giving voice to certain members of the civil society is, yet again, an expected part of the narrative. On the other hand, nobody bothers to interview people who actually happen to support the Ukrainian government and make their voices heard, too.

I mean, I started this blog, years ago, to make my voice heard. Apart from a few popular articles, I failed. Nobody bothered to hear.

But this is somewhat besides the point.

Ukraine isn’t entirely peaches and sunshine right now, but it is far from an unreformed, self-destructing hellhole that is the image often peddled in both domestic and Western media outlets. In fact, I’d wager it is the most stable it’s been since the Maidan by now, which is a bit of a problem by itself. It’s just that my yardstick for ‘a bit of a problem’ is somewhat different from the one Western journalists and civil society activists use, and I do not advocate bringing back visa restrictions or cutting off foreign aid as a solution. Probably because it sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I’d be entirely unfair not to mention that there’s actually been quite a few more positive articles published about Ukraine this year, and while their authors do put a paragraph aside to bash the government (this seems to be obligatory when one’s writing about Ukraine, apparently), I mostly can’t argue with them – they are pretty decent. We’re not seeing a slew of condemnation that led me to a nervous breakdown in early 2016, and even the recent outrage over governor appointments is a little low key compared to what we once had.

But the narrative didn’t exactly go anywhere. The EU did pretty good this year, too, quite contrary to the established narrative about its imminent collapse, but that isn’t stopping anyone from perpetuating the notion that it’s about to collapse. The same is, unfortunately, true for Ukraine.

I’m not sure what could actually stop that, to be honest. Of course, journalism is probably expected to question everything and take a pessimistic stance, but I can’t exactly shake off the feeling that this pessimistic stance has been done to death – and everyone concerned is perfectly fine with this. No amount of explanation is going to change that.

It might help to be a little more cautious when dispensing condemnation left and right based on circumstantial evidence, though.

But so far, you’re not helping.

And that saddens me a lot.

 

 

 

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The Narratives of Collapse

The Great October Socialist Expectations: A Ukraine

A scant two weeks ago, I made a public promise that, on November 7, I was going to write a post on this here, oft-forgotten, English-language blog about Ukrainian politics by someone who actually lives there. Now, parts of that statement are untrue, but it’s time to own up, as they say.

I don’t really subscribe to the kind of infectious anti-communism and anti-leftism prevalent in Ukraine today. My good, if somewhat ideological, friend Jim Kovpak outlined the reasons as to why it’s so best; I can only confirm that quite a lot of people actually subscribe to these views in everyday life. I don’t, partly because there’s only so much Pinochet jokes and helicopter jokes one can take without puking in disgust, and partly because I don’t really see much reason – or, well, much realism – in putting one’s trust in a wild unregulated capitalist model that pretty much discredited itself after WWII and which was one of the causes for the topic we’re going to tackle today: the October Revolution.

I personally have trouble reconciling the positive effects of the October Revolution with its more immediate, and much more bloody, results, i.e. a three-year civil war, revolutionary terror, starvation and mass repressions; but I can hardly argue it was a landmark event on par with the French Revolution. In a blink of an eye, the entire Imperial Russian legal and social system, hopelessly backwards even by the standards of the time, disappeared overnight. Chaos emerged, but the Bolsheviks managed to come on top out of that chaos and reshape a sixth of the world in a way no one had ever seen before. We’re still recovering from the results. Of course, most of the change and reform introduced in Soviet Russia was lip service at best and fiction at worst, but one can hardly deny that universal education wasn’t a thing in Russia before October, and then suddenly (if you call three years of bloody civil war sudden) it was. Too often, pieces that condemn Bolshevism or October kind of negate that fact, asking if universal education is worth all the millions of deaths in the process. I’m not prepared to subscribe to that kind of binary thinking, or indulge in alternate history what ifs. Instead, I’ll get to the point.

Ukraine’s been dodging the ‘bloody civil war’ and ‘chaos’ bullet for quite a few years now, with some success. There is a war, which is an immense drain on the country, but at the very least it’s safely contained in the East. There was chaos, but to a much more limited extent compared to Petrograd in 1917. There is also a steadily growing social demand for ‘stability’, such as it is, which may be either troubling or disconcerting, based on which worldview you subscribe to. But October lives on in human memory as an ur-example of a successful revolution (never mind that it fits the definition of a ‘coup’ much better) – and obviously, by that measure, Maidan isn’t a successful one. Can’t have a revolution without revolutionary sailors prowling the streets, after all!

But what’s more puzzling is how so many people not in Ukraine, but abroad subscribe to the same notion, even if they don’t say it out loud – by expecting Ukraine to act as drastically as Bolsheviks did in 1917, and then churning out op-eds about ‘unreformed Ukraine’ ‘self-destructing’ when it, predictably, doesn’t. This can be expected from someone who basically grew up on October Revolution narratives (i.e. born in the USSR), but it’s just puzzling when you have Western journalists doing the same.

I’ve long been talking about people’s unrealistic expectations about post-Maidan Ukraine, but I kind of feel obliged to do that again. Maidan wasn’t a failed revolution per se, not the least because its two stated goals were ousting Yanukovych (done, he lounges in Rostov nowadays) and restarting EU integration (done, Association Agreement and FTA in full effect and my blue passport is worth more than the Russian one for a change). Nobody promised anyone there would be peace, plenty, or radical reform – like, say, demolishing of the entire system overnight and then picking up the pieces. There was a renegotiation of the broader social contract in Ukraine, which may not sound pleasing to Western journalists or some Ukrainians, but it’s a fact of life. In fact, things like widespread corruption are part of that same social contract: Ukrainians love to complain about graft, but they also love when they can pay their way to get what they want without the accompanying hassle. We’re dysfunctional like that. This is something people, both inside and outside Ukraine, often fail to take into account.

Yet the widely-held position is that Ukraine had to go the October way, i.e. destroy everything and start from scratch, with the kind of power Bolsheviks once had – and since it didn’t, it’s ‘failed’ and ‘self-destructing’. This is a very strange self-destruct if I’ve ever seen one, but my point is this: October-style reform is only possible by October-style means, including, but not limited to:

  • civil war;
  • revolutionary terror;
  • military communism;
  • political commissars with Mauser pistols;
  • a ruthless state security apparatus;
  • Leon Trotsky.

We’re kind of short on Trotsky, with him being dead and all, but I just have to wonder. Would an anarchic, chaotic Ukraine in a state of civil war, with a demolished economy and the government killing undesirables left and right, be much more palatable to the average Western observer than the current fare? It is much palatable to me, at least, and I live here, not to mention that I much appreciate not being drafted into a civil war, not having to house seven revolutionary proletarians in my flat, not having to queue for bread and not getting shot in a basement somewhere by the not!Cheka. So why the hype?

At least all of the above amenities are in ready supply out East in the occupied Donbass.

The point is, don’t expect Ukraine to do wonders. I have said so a few times in the past, but I fear that this particular point is still relevant. Don’t expect Ukraine to perform the same things Bolsheviks did in 1917 – without the tools that Bolsheviks actually had in 1917. Or without the consequences the Bolsheviks got.

And don’t go on yet more spiels on an unreformed Ukraine that’s self-destructing when Ukraine doesn’t live up to your great expectations.

It’s not, no thanks to you.

And you’re not helping.


P.S. Perhaps the same could be said for people advocating a Pinochet or Park Cheung-Hee approach to reform, but these particular voices are few and far between in Ukraine-watcher circles.

P.P.S. At this point I seriously wonder why people don’t bring up the Khmer Rouge as paragons of radical reform.

The Great October Socialist Expectations: A Ukraine

The Man Who Cried ‘Corruption’

Once upon a time, when grass was greener and sun was brighter, I created a blog about Ukrainian politics by someone who actually lives here. This was fun when it lasted, and then it kind of didn’t when I got, rather unceremoniously, ran out of Twitter, got a day job, wrote a book, wrote another book and more or less got out of the Ukrainian political commentary altogether. Now while I’m still waiting for my hard-earned Roshen sweets for my gallant services to the Bankova, I find that political commentary is something you can’t just give up that easily. And so, I blow the dust off my rather forgotten English-language blog once again – the second time for the last, eh, two months? – to hammer out a few thousand symbol on that happy fun ride that is politics in Ukraine. It is sometimes mind-bogglingly stupid, and sometimes it makes you want to cry (much like, say, Russian cursive), but I wouldn’t give up this happy fun ride for any other one.

Prompted by the rather sad spectacle at the steps of the Verkhovna Rada these last few days, the topic I particularly want to tackle today would be corruption. Now, I’m allergic to corruption. I’m also allergic to anti-corruption, both terms having long since lost the original meaning some (read: Western observers) continue to ascribe to them. I’m serious: it takes one mention of ‘corruption’ anywhere, not even related to Ukraine, to send me frothing into an epileptic fit. This is not at all a pretty picture.

I’m also widely known to be a Ukrainian apologist. This particularly concerns my second passion with local politics, a field also dominated by hacks in Ukraine, and my relentless, Russian/Ukrainian-language, campaign against popular perceptions of Europe as a magic land of magic, where everything is so much better than the corrupt African hellhole that is Country 404. Said perceptions are then compounded by the Ukrainian zrada mentality and the fact that over 70% of Ukrainians never actually left Ukraine. Now, here’s hoping this is going to change sometimes soon, now that the bezviz is upon us and my blue passport opens more doors than my friends’ Russian and Belarusian ones. Until then, however, I’m stuck fighting the one-sided fight against people’s misconceptions on one hand, and getting accused of vatnost’, apologism and whataboutism on the other.

This is actually what compelled me to launch into this particular essay. I came to kind of understand the vatnik in the years since 2014, what Sun Tsu might have called ‘know thy enemy’, and from what I do know, corruption conjures some strange and arcane kind of pride in a vatnik. Corruption, to a vatnik, is something uniquely Russian, a virtue, not a vice, of the perfidious Russian soul, something ought to be immortalized by the likes of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Definitely not something to fight against, you dirty pro-Western State Department shills! The more moderate agade goes that oh, of course, there is corruption in Russia, but it’s only the bad boyars that do it, definitely not the good Tsar and his good boyars, no siree!

I don’t particularly like being compared to a vatnik (even though I have an actual fashionable vatnik, which I famously wore on my trip to Moscow),  nor accused of whataboutism, nor do I, actually, want my essays or literary works to project the same image. Which is why I’m going to make my opinion clear on this:

a) Corruption is an issue;
b) It’s worth fighting against;
c) This needs a little more elaboration.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on Russia, much like I don’t claim to be an expert on Poland, Hungary or Latvia. This is in itself a sign of the times: Ukrainians, your obdt servant included, have just begun to see Russia as a foreign country, not a ‘brotherly people’ or ‘former fellow Soviet republic’ or whatever else, and I’m intensely proud of that. I’m decently informed, though, to say that Russia may indeed seem a little less corrupt than Ukraine does right now (at least, according to various corruption perception indexes and Transparency International, the first of which relies on perceptions and the second is back from 2015). If you don’t catch the eye of a friend of Putin’s and if you pay off the right people exactly once, and if you keep your mouth shut all the while, you can do your business and everything will be fine. The right people get their cut, the businessmen get to do business, and Transparency International gets to give Russia good corruption ratings. Moreover, the state control over practically all Russian media means that corruption is not, in fact, perceived as a major issue by a majority of Russians – the exact opposite of Ukraine, where hapless TV viewers are barraged by accusations of corruption heaped on one official or another, all the time, without much in terms of constructive proof, by a group of intrepid, self-proclaimed anti-corruption crusaders. Which brings us neatly to the next point of the essay, namely that ‘corruption’ and ‘anti-corruption’ are so overused in everyday Ukrainian political discourse that they pretty much lost any and all meaning and became nothing but convenient labels. Everything bad (or done by the government) is ‘corruption’; everything good (or done by the civil society) is ‘anti-corruption’.

That is not to say corruption is not an issue. It’s just that the term is so massively blown out of proportion by now that the issue is not even tackled in good faith.

The culprits at work, of course, are the same intrepid ‘anti-corruption crusaders’ I’ve harped a several times about on this very blog. Of course, I quit writing it shortly before some of their more unsavory activities – such as unexplained real estate purchases and e-declaration software scandals – came to light. I might have had a few choice words to say in that regard. The problem is that those same ‘anti-corruption crusaders’, in the years since 2014, have consecutively:

a) appropriated anti-corruption;
b) turned it into a political tool to be used against their opponents, said opponents including the acting Ukrainian government;
c) not that this is a particularly new thing in Ukrainian politics, it’s just it reached the levels never thought possible in 2005-2007.

Now, I’d be fine with that by itself, were it not for the media coverage anti-corruption crusaders get in Western media (who don’t know much better and get their info from these same anti-corruption crusaders and their journalist colleagues) and the Western diplomatic circles. For some reason, Western observers are so enamored by the image of the intrepid, young, reform-minded anti-corruption civil society activist that it actually hurts to read their opinion pieces quoting Serhiy Leschenko, Mustafa Nayyem or Vitaly Shabunin. For people who had a taste of who Leschenko, Nayyem and Shabunin actually are, that is.

I’ll confess – I met Leschenko at a McDonalds in 2014 and at the time he seemed like a decent enough fellow. Little did I know I would be sadly mistaken a few months after, when Leschenko and Nayyem, now both Rada MPs, actively campaigned against the 2015 state budget. And the 2016 state budget. And the 2017 state budget! This is just scratching the surface of the superior parliamentary work they do when they’re not tweeting, streaming or typing opinion pieces about how West should cut off Ukraine’s aid (or EU should take away the bezviz). But the main reason I’m mad at them was because they took anticorruption, and made it their bitch.

And a fat load of good it did us all.

The problem with fighting corruption is that pointing fingers is very easy. Actually proving the guy you’re pointing at is at fault is much harder, especially in a court of law. Even a Ukrainian court of law. Even if you have your own siloviki (the National Anti-Corruption Bureau), your own prosecutors (the Special Prosecutor’s Office), your friendly media and a couple of Western embassies at your beck and call. Now, if only we had good judges who would jail all the bad people… and, of course, we’ll tell them who the bad people are… that would be a completely different story, now wouldn’t it?

I’m not, in principle, opposed to an anti-corruption court. I’m just pointing out that comparable institutions aren’t particularly successful even in EU countries like Slovakia (where the first successful case was concluded this year, twelve years since the court was established in 2005), and there is no realistic reason to expect they would be successful in Ukraine. I mean, the NABU and the special prosecutor, try as they may, have yet to win a single high-profile case in an ordinary court. A specialized court, which would presumably obey the same procedures as the other courts do, wouldn’t be any different – if we’re not going around setting up kangaroo courts or Stalin’s troikas, that is.

The thing is, we had kangaroo courts in Ukraine a few years ago. There was the political will back then to put all the ‘bad’ people – the undesirable people – away to the gaol and let them rot. Judges fell into line after a single call from the then-occupants of the Bankova. This was a vicious circle that was one of the reasons Ukrainians took to the Maidan – and Maidan won.

People insisting we should bring back kangaroo courts and ‘telephone law’ undermine the basics of what Maidan stood for. This isn’t rule of law – which Ukraine reportedly doesn’t have, according to Western observers. Said Western observers then cheer when anti-corruption crusaders loudly insinuate the Bankova had to use ‘telephone law’ to pressure the judicial system into putting all the bad people to jail, evidence be damned.

That’s another reason why I more or less put down my hands with this blog.

What’s the point, you may ask?

The point is that, as I’ve said before on this very blog, corruption is not a cause. It’s a symptom. And right now, ‘anti-corruption crusaders’ and their supporters waste a hell of a lot of time on fighting the symptoms, not the disease. It’s even worse when Western diplomats start insisting on the same.

Ukraine already did some impressive work on combating the causes of corruption. There is Naftogaz, which went from budget black hole to an active contributor when consumer price schemes were eliminated by the new management. There is a catch, but there is always a catch, and this essay would be even longer than it is if I went into detail. There is Prozorro, and while I personally don’t like Max Nefyodov too much (thanks to him being firmly in cahoots with the anti-corruption crusading crowd), he did a hell of a job with tackling corruption in public procurement. There is deregulation, which is slow, but inexorable and well underway, as Ukraine’s improvements in Doing Business ratings testify. There is always more to be done, and while we would have wanted this process to go faster, you can’t just wave a magic wand and make old habits die easily and old people go away. There is no magic wand in politics, or in society, at all.

That is, if one doesn’t mistake a gun for one, and open a yet another can of worms.

Jailing some people ‘just because’ isn’t the magic wand, either. Even the worst crook in the system was enabled by that system in the first place. You put him away, and a different crook takes his place. You change the system, and there are no more crooks. Or at least, sufficiently few crooks that people wouldn’t notice.

Unfortunately, Ukrainians love easy solutions. And while the average Ukrainian doesn’t know MP Leschenko, ask him about corruption and you’ll get an earful on how everyone ‘up there’ deserves to be jailed and shot. Your average Ukrainian would then probably hand a bribe to some official or another in exchange for favors, but that wouldn’t bother him for a minute.

And this is another reason why you can’t change the system by removing people. Not if you want to put the entire nation in the gaol, and not if you want to have your cake and eat it, too. Only by changing the system you can succeed.

Corruption is a worldwide issue costing the global economy trillions of dollars per annum. This already is reason enough to tackle it. But there is a world of difference between fighting corruption and talking of fighting corruption for your own ends.

A world Ukrainians and Westerners alike both miss.

I would probably get an earful about Lee Quan Yew were I to bring this line of thought up in a discussion. But Singapore isn’t a prosperous nation because he jailed three of his friends, a ritual of some magical properties Ukrainian commentators often refer to. Singapore became prosperous because he took the system, broke it down and remade it again – and he wasn’t shy of cracking a few heads along the way.

Ukraine doesn’t have the option of going around cracking heads. We threw down one murderous dictatorship and fought another murderous dictatorship to a stalemate precisely because they thought they could solve everything by cracking heads.

We have to do it the hard way.

And you’re not helping.


P.S. There may be a light at the end of the tunnel in the face of recent events, after all’s said.

But there’s no cure for human short-sightedness in sight, and that, my friends, is even worse than any corruption.

The Man Who Cried ‘Corruption’

Unforeseen Consequences

So you’ve probably heard about the latest arms scandal involving Ukraine, this time as a NYT scoop rather grandly titled ‘North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant, Investigators Say‘. History moves in strange cat ways: I’m old enough to dimly remember the Kolchuga scandal back in 2002 about Ukraine allegedly providing Iraq with anti-air systems, which turned up nothing, but the damage was done: the Late Kuchma Ukraine was briefly alienated from the West and forced to turn back to Russia. Yesterday, thanks to NYT, we stood on the same rain-slick precipice of darkness, and barely managed to turn away at the last second.

It is rare that we get a speedy reaction from our government, in this case NDSC, as seen here – Ukraine has never provided arms to DPRK, is not providing arms to DPRK, and will not provide arms to DPRK, period. This is an abridged version with 100% less mentions of Russia, although I wouldn’t argue Russia is to blame here. At the very least this is an effort to whitewash accusations leveled against Russia last week; at most those are more than mere accusations – those are facts. Seeing as the world – Ukraine included – has been reluctant to cease space cooperation with Russia – that would be damning indeed.

The tone of the discussion changed markedly from yesterday. For one, NYT’s message is far too biased against Ukraine, even mentioning Ukraine in the headline, than the report it’s based on. While the report attributes the possibility to smuggling, citing the ‘hard times’ Ukrainian missile industry’s fallen on, the article, on the other hand, shifts emphasis to the country, nay – the government, instead. While I understand the Western press’ reservations about our government (not that I agree with them, mind you), this is a serious accusation and to levy it at Ukraine based on a possibility is going a bit too far.

There’d been some U-turns as certain opposition politicians here in Ukraine retracted their previous statements, the author of the IISS report clarifying that he did not mean Ukrainian government condoned or was involved in the event – sadly, Mike Elleman’s Twitter account @Elleman_IISS is dead now, for some reason; and the Ukrainian-language Deutsche Welle came out with a pretty balanced story (Ukrainian). The disaster may have been averted for now. So why am I writing this in a half-dead blog?

Apparently some people still read this particular half-dead blog, but that’s besides the point. What I wanted to say was that blame should be allocated proportionally. And that the problem is bigger than Ukraine, Russia, North Korea or the US-DPRK trans-Pacific shouting match.

The problem is that space, the final frontier, is more or less incidental to nuclear weapons delivery systems even now. The first rockets to propel Gagarin and Glenn into the great black yonder were essentially retooled ICBMs. The Tsyklon rockets used to punt satellites into orbit nowadays still are. In their previous life they were the dreaded SS-18 Soviet ICBM – the one NATO nicknamed ‘Satan’. The same that were assembled here, in then-Soviet Ukraine, in the sleepy town of then-Dnipropetrovsk, at a then-top secret factory now called Yuzhmash. As Cold War ended, both Yuzhmash and its Russian colleague, Energomash, realized that nuclear swords can be beaten into non-nuclear plowshares, thus giving birth to Tsyklon rockets. What Yuzhmash failed to realize, however, was that plowshares can be beaten back into swords.

Yuzhmash is officially a state enterprise. State property in Ukraine is rarely praised for transparency; what most fail to realize, however, is that this lack of transparency doesn’t necessarily serve someone’s dictatorial whims. Most of the time it serves the much more worldly monetary whims of those in charge. The directors. The deputies. The top management. State industries have historically low wages – unrealistically so, seeing how much money Ukraine repeatedly sinks into them. Too little of that ends up in the rank-and-file workers’ pockets.

It would be prudent to say this state of affairs should end. Frankly, I think it should and I hope SBU’s shaking up Yuzhmash the way they do unlucky bitcoin miners. The truth is that Ukraine has no alternative. There are no new people to take up the torch of leadership in a state company – and even fewer of those who wouldn’t reap the benefits of unlimited state financing themselves. This is a country where civil activists drive luxury cars and own penthouse apartments; to expect less of upper management would be unrealistic. And there is no simple solution. Yuzhmash is a strategic enterprise: I’ll be the first one to argue that it shouldn’t be privatized – even if privatization in Ukraine wasn’t accompanied by so much political shitstorm. But what it should be is scrutinized – or at the very least kept on a very tight leash.

It is irrelevant whether Yuzhmash did it or did not. There should be an investigation and I’m positive there already is one. SBU has a reputation to come down like a ton of bricks on industrial espionage – after all, several North Korean nationals already got arrested back in 2012 for trying to acquire rocket know-how from Yuzhmash, and they are still serving time in a Ukrainian prison even now. The problem is that Yuzhmash may have inadvertently given those secrets away – by putting them in Russian hands. There are no legal obstructions to cooperating with Russia on spaceflight – neither in Ukraine or the West. Which is what most probably transpired in this case.

It’s bad enough that we entrust dangerous technology to what effectively is a hostile nation. It’s even worse that the whole world does. And it’s a nightmare that this technology, intended for peaceful use, can be handed over to an unstable third party – a feudal dictatorship only too eager to use nuclear weapons for its own political gain.

North Korea has an impressive track record of human rights violations and crimes against humanity – yet it cannot even manufacture its own liquid rocket fuel, importing it from, that’s right – Russia and China. This is a nationwide concentration camp, essentially an entire state relying on slave labor and brainwashing to eke out a miserable living. And this death camp now has an intercontinental ballistic missile. A missile that can’t even hit Continental US – but it’s still more than a death camp should have. And now the world teeters on the brink of a shouting contest that may see mutually assured destruction – what held the world from combusting in nuclear flame for the past half century – unraveled once and for all. This should not come to pass.

And Ukraine is the most interested that it doesn’t come to pass. Not only because we gave away our nuclear arsenal and got precisely nothing in return. But because if nukes go off at Guam and Pyongyang, we will be next.

We can’t bodily drag Trump or Kim away from their red buttons. But we can make sure this doesn’t happen again. We can make sure Yuzhmash is buried under a ton of very nosy and very angry bricks, and its senior management is fired in disgrace. And we can make sure there is no space cooperation with Russia anymore – lest it be used against as.

What you can do? Understand. Think. I’ve seen more capacity for thinking this time around than I see in most cases when Ukraine is concerned nowadays. This is an encouraging sign. However you may distrust our government, however many reservations you may harbor against us – just stop. Read what was written above. And only give blame where due.

You don’t want a nuclear war.

Ukraine doesn’t, too.

Unforeseen Consequences

Sad post

It would be nice if Western journalists and pundits stopped denigrating Ukraine by equating new IMF tranche with internal matters i.e. Nasyrov case.

Because, frankly, I find it hard to believe an organization like IMF makes its monetary aid conditional on arresting people, much less prosecuting them.

It would also be nice if people, including Western journalists and pundits, stopped crying wolf for a change and parroting Ukrainian opposition rhetoric i.e. ‘hybrid Poroshenko regime’. Preferrably not while demanding that Poroshenko order the judges to indict Nasyrov a la Yanukovych.

Although it would help in perpetuating the ‘evil regime’ rhetoric so many Ukraine watchers in the West now embrace.

Sad post

Stephen King’s The Leshch Tower

So (I know this because of my learnings) Western journos apparently disregard the whole scandal with Serhiy Leshchenko and his hard-earned (not) posh apartment smack dab in the centre of Kyiv. I wasn’t here to cover it in painstaking detail, but the down and dirty is this: Leshchenko bought the apartment with funds of questionable origin, rumored to be a loan from Russian-owned Sberbank Rossiyi, then tried to lamely excuse them as a loan from his former employer (Alyona Prytyla, of the Ukrainska Pravda news site), then tried to lamely excuse them as a gift from his mother, and then the National Anti-Corruption Bureau declined to investigate this case, despite Leshchenko being an MP and thus falling smack dab under NABU jurisdiction. Leshchenko evaded attempts at investigation from the National Corruption Prevention Bureau ever since, publicly decrying them as politically motivated by Kononenko, Granovsky, the Bankova et al, all the while keeping the apartment, which is actually the last of the three he owns.

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The Citadel of Anticorruption

Western journalists so far have decidedly ignored the matter, even though I’m not in the habit of reading the likes of Oliver Carroll or Shaun Walker anymore. I could say that they’re ignoring Leshchenko’s apartment troubles out of journalistic solidarity (they do seem intent on sharing Leshchenko’s denials re: Manafort blackmail, which may or may not have been a thing, I’m not saying anything), but my working theory is thus: Western journos chalk any grassroots criticism of Leshchenko’s real estate to jealousy, plain and simple.

They’re not far off the mark. Jealousy of this kind is quite widespread in Ukraine, reaching its maximum intensity in direct proximity to posh neighborhoods and apartment blocks. The average Ukrainian on the street (or, in my case, on the 118 bus) has little flattering to say about these posh neighborhoods – or their inhabitants, come to think of it. This is what 25 years of corruption and income inequality do to you, even if both are somewhat blown out of proportion. Corruption is a symptom, not a cause: income inequality somehow doesn’t stop Ukrainians from buying cars and apartments, taking loans in foreign currency (which since jumped several times) and casually evading taxes.

However, I have just discovered one critical flaw in my reasoning. Western journalists aren’t ever shy of showing off other people’s real estate – other high-standing officials, judges and MPs, in this case. In fact, this is usually considered an effective way of bringing attention to a corrupt official’s misdemeanors, doubly so for Ukraine. Self-proclaimed anti-corruption crusaders spend quite a lot of time discussing these ill-gotten properties in exquisite detail, which then gets aired in the West by respected publications ranging from KyivPost and Moscow Times to The Guardian and Mashable, destroying Ukraine’s reputation and support in the West. For maximum effect, this should be done right before an important decision is about to be made, in Brussels or Washington, concerning Ukraine, as demonstrated by the last year’s Dutch referendum.

Yet now, when one of their own is under fire, Western journalists resolutely keep mum.

A double standard if I’ve ever seen one.

Stephen King’s The Leshch Tower