In George Orwell’s 1984, “the party” is constantly re-writing history. Depending on who Oceania is currently fighting, the party claims that either “Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia” or “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is quite an Orwellian type. He and his army of Internet trolls, turncoat lobbyists, and reactionary diaspora sycophants had claimed since 2014 that martial law would have a disastrous economic and foreign policy impact and those who support it are Kremlin agents. Now the party line is the exact opposite: martial law will not hamper the economy at all, and anyone who’s against it is a Kremlin agent.
Martial law was introduced by Poroshenko in half of Ukraine on November 28 after Russia seized three Ukrainian boats near Kerch Strait and captured 24 Ukrainian sailors. These actions were open aggression and a violation of international law by Russia’s near-dictatorial president, Vladimir Putin, and his semi-totalitarian regime since the incident took place on the border between Ukraine’s internationally recognised territorial waters and neutral boundaries.
Poroshenko claimed that martial law would not restrict any civil liberties unless there’s a Russian invasion. That was a complete falsehood as elections and public rallies are now prohibited under martial law, regardless of what Poroshenko says.
Martial law also allows the authorities to censor media, use forced labour, confiscate private property, introduce a curfew, ban political parties and NGOs, restrict the freedom of movement, introduce the billeting of soldiers in private dwellings and intern foreign citizens. Unlike the ban on elections and rallies, these restrictions may or may not be introduced.
But the freedom of movement has already been limited: checkpoints have been set up in martial law areas. Since Poroshenko appears interested in acquiring ever-more authoritarian powers, other restrictions are also likely to be applied.
Given how corrupt, politicised and lawless Ukraine’s “law enforcers are, providing them with sweeping powers to annul any human rights without a clear justification is madness.
Poroshenko did not outline any plan for martial law and did not explain how exactly it would help to fight Russian aggression.
He now claims that the grounds for martial law is an unprecedented fact of open Russian aggression.
In fact, there’s nothing unprecedented about it. There have been much more serious cases of Russian aggression since the war in Ukraine broke out nearly five years ago, including Putin’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, which was as blatant as the Sea of Azov attack on a much larger scale, and Russia’s massacre of hundreds of Ukrainian troops during a ceasefire at the Battle of Ilovaisk in August 2014.
Though Russia has denied its participation in the massacre at Ilovaisk, the evidence revealing the Kremlin’s role is irrefutable.
Poroshenko’s actual goals were threefold: postpone the March 31, 2019, presidential election, use it for pre-election publicity stunts and stifle opposition media and political opponents and critics ahead of the election.
Under the initial plan, martial law would be introduced for 60 days in the whole of Ukraine and would delay the beginning of the election season and the election date because elections are banned under martial law. This plan was blocked by parliament, which approved martial law only for 30 days.
Poroshenko is highly likely to use an escalation in the war with Russia to prolong martial law, assume dictatorial powers and disrupt the elections since his approval rating is still pretty low.
By introducing martial law, Poroshenko is trying to portray himself as the ultimate patriot. But if he thinks his circus tricks are convincing, the fake nature of his pseudo-patriotism is obvious to anyone who knows anything about his track record.
His Roshen confectionary paid taxes to the Russian budget from its Lipetsk factory in Russia until 2017, thus funding an aggressor state, and Roshen products are still sold in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Poroshenko’s anti-Kremlin credentials look rather weak given that he was a co-founder of the pro-Russian Party of Regions and a minister under Moscow’s man in Kyiv, former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Putin’s right-hand man in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, has been a close partner of Poroshenko since the latter was a member of Medvedchuk’s Social Democratic Party of Ukraine in 1998.
Despite the overtly pro-Kremlin activities of his other party, the Ukrainian Choice, Medvedchuk has faced no charges – in contrast with Poroshenko’s opponents, who have been routinely harassed and prosecuted by law enforcers.
Under Poroshenko, Medvedchuk has dramatically increased his political clout and returned to public politics for the first time since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
In 2016, Russian-state owned companies Transneft and Rosneft sold their assets to a firm owned by Medvedchuk associates with Ukrainian authorities’ permission.
Poroshenko’s law enforcers last year blocked liquefied petroleum imports by the competitors of a firm owned by a Medvedchuk associate, accusing them of financing Russia’s proxies in the Donbass. The only one not accused of financing Russia’s proxies was Putin’s right-hand man in Ukraine.
Earlier this year Medvedchuk’s allies took over the 112 Ukraine and NewsOne television channels. In January 2018, ZIK journalist Roksana Runo said she was quitting ZIK because she didn’t want to comply with the management’s requests to provide positive coverage of Medvedchuk.
Ex-ZIK producer Gaygysyz Geldiyev said then that the channel’s management had requested coverage for Medvedchuk associates and had promoted Medvedchuk’s agenda.
ZIK is formally owned by the wife and daughters of businessman Pyotr Dyminsky. However, Atlantic Council fellow Anders Aslund claimed in June 2018 that the channel had been de facto taken over by Medvedchuk, which was denied by ZIK.
Conversely, Pryamy television, a propaganda mouthpiece for the president, is promoting the openly pro-Russian presidential candidate, Yuri Boyko, who is a former energy minister that was under criminal investigation for illegal oil and gas deals but has been able to avoid prosecution after Poroshenko blocked any criminal charges being brought up against him.
Turning martial law into a laughing stock, Poroshenko and his loyal SBU intelligence service are covering up for Odessa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov, who has no legal right to be the mayor of Ukraine’s most economically important city because his Russian citizenship, has been confirmed by the official site of Russia’s Federal Tax Service.
Using old KGB connection tactics and acting far more like their FSB counterparts in Moscow, the SBU, which is required to check such information, has turned a complete blind eye to the matter.
According to an Italian police dossier, Trukhanov was a member of an Odessa mafia gang involved in extortion, arms trafficking, and planning gangland-style hits. In February, Trukhanov was charged with embezzlement. Poroshenko’s puppet courts made sure that Trukhanov was released without bail and stayed on his job.
As a Russian citizen, Trukhanov ironically became the head of the military council created under martial law to fight Russian aggression.
In August, Poroshenko appointed Sergey Semochko as a deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence Service. The irony is that as one of the main players charged with rooting out Russian spies, he, himself, has direct links to Moscow. Members of Semochko’s family have Russian passports, according to Russia’s Federal Tax Service, and, according to the Bihus.info journalism project, regularly visit occupied Crimea and have luxury mansions in mainland Ukraine. Semochko has lied that his common-law wife doesn’t have a Russian passport, but the Security Service of Ukraine, the SBU, has confirmed that she and her daughter are Russian citizens.
Poroshenko, however, has covered up for Semochko and refused to suspend or fire him.
In a move that also occurred in August of this year, Poroshenko also appointed Valentina Simonenko as a justice of the Supreme Court despite having full knowledge that Simonenko had registered as a Russian taxpayer in Russian-annexed Crimea in 2015, according to the official register of Russia’s Federal Tax Service. Her decision to register with Moscow’s tax authorities would automatically list her as having illegally cooperated with Russian occupation authorities under Ukrainian law.
The war with Russia is just a source of profit for Poroshenko. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) is investigating an embezzlement case into Kyiv’s Soviet-era Rybalsky Kuznya shipyard, which was owned by Poroshenko and his top ally Igor Kononenko when the investigation began.
Meanwhile, firms owned by Poroshenko’s business partner Oleg Gladkovsky have gotten lucrative military contracts.
Last year the NABU also arrested Igor Pavlovsky, a deputy of Poroshenko’s protege and Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak, in a theft case. The investigation involves a firm financed by a business partner of Poroshenko’s top ally and lawmaker Alexander Granovsky.
In fact, fighting Russia with fake martial law won’t achieve anything. Ukraine has a chance to successfully fight Russia only if it builds a strong and well-functioning European state with the rule of law and an incorruptible government. Corrupt and Kremlin-friendly officials (including Poroshenko’s allies) must be fired and prosecuted.
This means that voting Poroshenko out of office is a necessity, not just a precondition, for winning the war with Russia. Moreover, all accusations of corruption and wrongdoing against him must be
investigated by Ukrainian and foreign law enforcers.
Now nearly four years into his presidency, Poroshenko has done everything in his power to weaken the Ukrainian state as he has obstructed all law enforcement reforms, entrenched and spearheaded corruption and cracked down on human rights and liberties. By doing this, he has helped a far more powerful aggressor that continues to wage war on Ukraine.
The culmination of Poroshenko’s corrupt reign came on December 11, when a Kyiv court headed by a loyalist of Poroshenko ally Granovsky reinstated State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov on his job. Nasirov, an ex-Poroshenko Bloc lawmaker, has been on trial for abusing his power by delaying the tax payments of fugitive lawmaker Alexander Onyshchenko‘s firms.
Onyshchenko has claimed that Poroshenko instructed Nasirov to delay tax payments and used the unpaid tax money to finance Poroshenko’s political projects. Poroshenko denied the accusations.
Poroshenko’s values are identical to those of the Russian elite: kleptocracy, authoritarianism and lawlessness. He is trying to build a copy of Russia in Ukraine: instead of a European liberal democracy with the rule of law, he is creating an archaic authoritarian regime based on manipulating linguistic, ethnic, and religious issues.
If Poroshenko is re-elected for a second term, Ukraine may not survive. Emboldened by his electoral victory, he will completely succumb to his authoritarian and kleptocratic instincts. This may open a Pandora’s box and lead to the collapse of state institutions and the transformation of Ukraine into a failed state and easy prey for Russia.
The European Union should stop its misguided policy of turning a blind eye to the corruption and authoritarianism of Poroshenko’s regime. Poroshenko’s main competitor, ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is also part of the same kleptocratic system.
Similar to Poroshenko, Tymoshenko has been one of the most corrosive pillars of Ukraine’s post-Soviet politics since the 1990s. She has been involved in dozens of corruption scandals and is no more a reformer than Poroshenko or any of the same class of criminal kleptocrats that have systematically ruined Ukraine for more than a quarter of a century.
The EU should actively encourage the replacement of Ukraine’s kleptocratic Russo-Soviet elite spearheaded by Poroshenko in favour of genuine pro-European reformers. If they fail to do that, the European Union may get a catastrophic meltdown and an even bigger crisis in Kyiv instead of a strong Ukraine, one that can serve as a bulwark against the Kremlin, which it so desperately needs.