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Proletarian issue 75 (December 2016)
Ukraine’s millionaire junta
An orgy of corruption: junta bigwigs fiddle (the books) while Ukraine burns.
As ordinary Ukrainians continue to suffer under the crippling regime of austerity demanded by the EU and the IMF in exchange for pouring yet more millions into the black hole of Ukraine’s bankrupted economy, the Kiev junta and its corrupt hangers-on are still living high on the hog.

This state of affairs won’t be remedied by any number of ‘anti-corruption’ drives, generated as it is by Ukraine’s abusive and corrupting relationship with imperialism itself.

Millionaires with cash under the mattress

A Bloomberg report has this account of a recent survey of the personal wealth of the country’s parliamentarians and top officials: “The European Union ... did its best to impress on officials in Kiev that it wanted them to declare their incomes and property in a publicly accessible electronic system. It was a condition of European financial assistance and one of the terms of the agreement allowing coveted visa-free travel to the EU.

“The Ukrainian parliament at first passed the necessary bill in a watered-down version, then had to vote again on a text approved by the EU. Finally, by early September, the system was ready and officials had 60 days to file their declarations.

“The resulting documents shocked Ukrainians, whose per capita gross domestic product, with purchasing power parity, is just $7,449 – one-seventh of the US level. The social networks were flooded with jokes about how the flow of aid from the International Monetary Fund could now be reversed.”

It has been calculated that members of the parliamentary Rada are collectively sitting on 12.3bn of Ukraine’s national currency, the hryvnia, which works out at nearly a third of neighbouring Moldova’s entire budget.

The scandal is not simply over the enormous personal wealth creamed off by these comprador bourgeois, but over the fact that so much of it is stashed under mattresses rather than lodged in bank accounts, and that so much of that cash is in foreign currencies.

The prime minister himself, Volodymyr Groysman, has owned up to cash holdings of 2.4m hryvnias, 870,000 US dollars and 460,000 euros. And whilst the governor of the central bank, Valeriya Gontareva, is honour bound to keep her personal stash in a bank, her patriotic faith in the national currency is demonstrated by the fact that she keeps 1.8m of her savings in US dollars, doing little to burnish the reputation of the plunging hryvnia.

What these declarations fail to clarify is where all of this off-the-books cash-wealth comes from in the first place, leaving a cynical public to draw its own conclusions about money laundering, tax dodging, influence peddling and all-round corruption. (Ukraine’s millionaire officials come out of hiding by Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg, 31 October 2016)

A headache for imperialism

This is a headache for imperialism. Whilst the parasitical greed of Ukrainian oligarchs is but a mirror of the routine corruption practiced at home by their imperialist sponsors, it is important to the west that the levels of visible corruption should be held in check. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, whilst the population at large sweats under the yoke of IMF dictated austerity, this does not automatically translate into a successful programme of deregulation and privatisation as required by the EU. When the economy minister Abromavicius resigned at the beginning of February 2016, saying he did not want to act as a “smoke screen” for corruption, he railed bitterly at the way that state-owned industries, especially in the energy sector, were being milked by private interests – a form of corruption which benefited from the preservation of the nationalised model which the EU/IMF seeks to dismantle.

In April, the US-born finance minister, Natalie Jaresko, initially touted to replace Arseniy Yatsenyuk as prime minister, instead left the field completely, with another homegrown oligarch, Groysman, taking over instead. (Mikheil Saakashvili resigns post in Ukraine by Ivan Nechepurenkonov, New York Times, 7 November 2016)

Secondly, imperialism, against all the odds, needs to present the ultra-nationalist Kiev regime as a model of ‘good governance’ and ‘transparency’, acting as a bulwark of ‘European values’ against the Russian bear. This PR challenge is not made easier by the constant feuding between rival mafia clans and their respective fascist sponsors, all fighting over access to IMF largesse.

The money is supposed to (a) buy control of the Ukrainian economy, and (b) finance a permanent military provocation on the Russian border. The money is not supposed to make Ukraine a world laughing stock and a byword for parasitic greed.

Saakashvili pops up again

Yet pressure from the west on Kiev to clean up its act has been a conspicuous failure, only serving to bring the issue of corruption into yet sharper relief. Perhaps the most ludicrous ‘anti-corruption crusader’ of the lot has been the former president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who has just quit his post as the governor of Odessa and announced the creation of a new political party.

Wanted in his own country on charges of embezzling thousands of dollars from the state budget, apparently spending the cash on parties and gifts for his family and friends, Saakashvili was in May 2015 appointed by Poroshenko as governor of the Odessa region – supposedly to clean up corruption and organised crime!

The Russian foreign ministry’s human rights representative, Konstantin Dolgov, acidly summed up the situation: “Saakashvili, accused of multiple crimes against the people of Georgia, has been appointed the governor of Odessa, where neo-nazis had burned people alive and got no punishment” (referring to the massacre of anti-fascist demonstrators in an arson attack on Odessa’s trade union house in May 2014). (Ex-Georgian president, wanted at home, becomes governor in Ukraine, RT, 30 May 2015)

When the new gauleiter donned the ill-fitting cloak of anti-corruption crusader, it is reported, he “fired a number of top- and mid-level officials and replaced them with young, western-educated Ukrainians, inexperienced but telegenic young activists, and a small coterie of political loyalists from Georgia.”

In December 2015, Saakashvili broadened his scope, bragging at a government meeting that he could prove that the government itself was at “the apex of corruption”, prompting the interior minister Arsen Avakov to throw a glass of water at him and tell him to “Get out of my country”, whilst the then PM, Yatsenyuk, told him (accurately enough): “You’re a travelling showman and a blabbermouth.” Then, in March 2016, he was again promising snap solutions, claiming: “About twenty vitally important persons should be imprisoned in Ukraine, and everything will stop.” (The case against Saakashvili by Adrian Karatnycky, Foreign Policy, 20 January 2016)

Finally, in November 2016, Saakashvili resigned from his governorship and announced the formation of a new party based on “a platform of new forces” to get rid of the “existing so-called political elite, who are actually profiteers and misfits”. As a close confederate of Poroshenko for many years and one of the ‘elite’ himself, he should know!

Having offered his services to imperialism by stoking up the ‘Rose revolution’ in Georgia in 2003, Saakashvili now hopes that his empty anti-corruption grandstanding in Ukraine will persuade the US to hire his services again (on the doubtful assumption that he ever left its employ).

He was quick to seize on Trump’s election victory, digging out some archive footage of the president-elect enthusing over Saakashvili’s reform efforts in Georgia and boasting that Trump, unlike Poroshenko, understands his true worth. Unlike Trump, he says, Poroshenko “did not want to use my experience because he didn’t want to change Ukraine”. (Saakashvili announces new political force by Christopher Miller, Radio Free Europe [!], 11 November 2016)

Whether Trump will be as eager as Clinton might have been to hire his trouble-shooting services remains to be seen. Either way, the stubborn fact remains that the corruption dogging Ukraine is inseparable from the reduction of the country to a vassal state, its economy in permanent hock to the IMF and its army hired by Nato as de facto auxiliaries against the people of the Donbass.

That is why the only serious fight currently being waged against corruption in the Ukraine, in deeds not words, is the anti-imperialist struggle being led by the anti-fascist resistance of the Donbass.
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