The cor­rupt go­ings-on in Ukraine are back on the radar

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - WORLD AF­FAIRS

FOUR YEARS INTO A stale­mated war, it takes some­thing very big or very bizarre to get Ukraine back into the head­lines. Even the news in April that the United States has started de­liv­er­ing lethal weapons (Javelin anti-tank mis­siles) to Ukraine didn’t do the trick, but the non-as­sas­si­na­tion of Arkady Babchenko last week did just fine.

Babchenko is a Rus­sian jour­nal­ist, turned into a critic of the Putin regime by his ser­vice in the Rus­sian army in two wars in Chech­nya, who took refuge in Ukraine last year af­ter re­ceiv­ing death threats in Moscow. Last week it was re­ported that he had been gunned down out­side his apart­ment in Kiev, and Ukrainian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Groys­man im­me­di­ately blamed Rus­sia.

There was footage of Babchenko’s life­less body ly­ing in a pool of blood and be­ing borne away in an am­bu­lance. But the fol­low­ing day he walked on stage at a press con­fer­ence to re­veal that the as­sas­si­na­tion had been faked with the help of the Ukrainian in­tel­li­gence ser­vice, the SBU.

‘In­tel­li­gence’ may not be quite the right word here, since this was an ex­cep­tion­ally stupid thing to do. The Putin regime con­demned the episode as ‘fake news,’ and will have much more cred­i­bil­ity the next time it needs to deny killing a critic. The Ukrainian govern­ment’s rep­u­ta­tion for telling the truth, never that high, is shot to pieces.

Why did the SBU or­gan­ise this de­cep­tion? Ac­cord­ing to Babchenko, the fake mur­der was planned for a month, even to the ex­tent of hav­ing a make-up artist come to his apart­ment on the day of the ‘as­sas­si­na­tion.’ “I was made up, the blood was nat­u­ral, ev­ery­thing was for real,” he said.

It was al­legedly part of a clever plan to trap a real Rus­sian op­er­a­tive who was plot­ting Babchenko’s mur­der, but that doesn’t even make sense. Was the SBU ex­pect­ing the ‘real Rus­sian op­er­a­tive’ to break down in tears of frus­tra­tion when he heard that some­body else had got to Babchenko first? This is re­ally just more ev­i­dence of how dys­func­tional the whole Ukrainian state is.

The three-month con­fronta­tion on the Euro­maidan in Kiev in the win­ter of 2013-14, end­ing in a blood­bath that left 130 demon­stra­tors dead, was sup­posed to be the revo­lu­tion that fi­nally freed Ukraine from rule by cor­rupt oli­garchs backed by Moscow. It wasn’t.

The pre­vi­ous revo­lu­tion had man­i­festly failed, with the pro-Moscow leader who had been re­jected in the ‘Or­ange Revo­lu­tion’ in 2004, Vik­tor Yanukovych, back in power through a free elec­tion in 2010. The 2014 revo­lu­tion drove him out of the coun­try en­tirely – but by over­throw­ing Moscow’s man in Kiev again, Ukraini­ans greatly alarmed Moscow.

Vladimir Putin feared that Rus­sia’s big south­ern neigh­bour would end up join­ing both the Euro­pean Union and the main Western mil­i­tary al­liance, NATO. In the spring of 2014 he there­fore in­cited a re­bel­lion in two Rus­sianspeak­ing prov­inces of eastern Ukraine, backed the re­volt with Rus­sian troops, and an­nexed the Crimean penin­sula out­right.

These il­le­gal acts be­gan a war that still rum­bles on in the east, with 10,000 dead (mostly civil­ians) in four years. How­ever, Putin is clearly not out to con­quer all of Ukraine (which he could do quite eas­ily). He just wants to par­a­lyze the govern­ment in Kiev and make the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try so prob­lem­atic that NATO would never con­sider tak­ing it aboard.

That’s not hard. In the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of May 2014 the Ukraini­ans elected an­other oli­garch, Petro Poroshenko. He’s just as cor­rupt as his pre­de­ces­sor, and there have been no re­forms in the sys­tem that keeps him and his fel­low oli­garchs rich and the rest of the coun­try poor. (Ukrainian GDP per capita is less than a third of Rus­sia’s.)

The ba­sic prob­lem is that prac­ti­cally ev­ery­body who has ex­pert knowl­edge or ad­min­is­tra­tive ex­pe­ri­ence rel­e­vant to govern­ment has been co-opted into the sys­tem. Many vet­er­ans of

the Euro­maidan protests were elected to parliament, but they are strug­gling on $600-a month salaries while they know that vot­ing the right way can get them ten times that.

The op­po­si­tion has done no bet­ter at stay­ing united since 2014 than it did af­ter 2004. The war in the east is largely a cha­rade (although real peo­ple get killed in it), and it’s widely known that Poroshenko and Putin fre­quently have ami­able latenight tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions. Pre­sum­ably they are dis­cussing busi­ness deals, since there’s no money in talk­ing about pol­i­tics.

So what are the odds that the two men might one day cut a deal that ends the war? It’s pos­si­ble. Putin wants an end to sanc­tions, and given cer­tain guar­an­tees he’d be happy to see the two rebel prov­inces re­join Ukraine.

“Rus­sia wants the re­gions (con­trolled by proRus­sian mil­i­tants) re-in­te­grated as a block­ing share in the Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal sys­tem,” explained An­drei Kor­tunov, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the Rus­sian In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs Coun­cil, in 2016. “The aim is to guar­an­tee that Ukraine does not join NATO or move too far from Rus­sia.”

The real ob­sta­cle to a deal now is prob­a­bly Crimea. Rus­sian na­tion­al­ism won’t let Putin give it back, and Ukrainian na­tion­al­ism won’t al­low Poroshenko to let it go. But if the United States wants to en­sure that there is no deal, it might try giv­ing Kiev enough mod­ern weapons to get things mov­ing again on the mil­i­tary front.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.