Three years after the murder of Belarusian-Ukrainian journalist Pavel Sheremet, time is up for Ukrainian law enforcers.
It’s hard to imagine a more utter failure: not a single person has been charged for the killing of the journalist in a car explosion in central Kyiv on 20 July 2016. There can be only one plausible explanation for this failure: top officials or people close to them may be involved.
Sheremet was critical of several governments, including those of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. He worked in Belarus until 1998; Russia from 1998 to 2014; and Ukraine between 2014-2016.
Several hours before Sheremet’s murder, he met several veterans of Ukraine’s far-right Azov Regiment. One of them, Sergei Korotkikh, used to be a self-proclaimed national socialist in both Belarus and Russia and studied at the academy of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the successor of the Soviet Union’s KGB. He has been accused of links to Belarus’ KGB, which he denies.
Korotkikh and other Azov fighters are close to Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Ironically, it is Avakov’s police who are investigating the murder.
“In Belarus, Korotkikh is considered a neo-Nazi,” Sheremet wrote in 2015. “…Korotkikh was accused of beating up a group of Belarusian opposition activists in 1999 and assaulting Belarusian anti-Fascists in 2013.”
Sheremet wrote that Korotkikh was acquainted with Valery Ignatovich, another national socialist who had been given a life sentence for kidnapping Belarusian journalist Dmitry Zavadsky.
Zavadsky disappeared without a trace in 2000 – like many other critics of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko.
“My comrade and colleague Dmitry Zavadsky left his home at 10 a.m.,” Sheremet wrote in 2015 as if predicting what would happen to himself. “He kissed his wife and went to an airport to meet me. In an hour I found his car parked right in front of the airport but Dima was nowhere to be found.”
To be fair, Sheremet then said that he had talked to Korotkikh and did not believe the accusations against him. Korotkikh denies any accusations of wrongdoing.
Sheremet was the common-law husband of the Ukrainska Pravda newspaper’s owner Olena Pritula and the newspaper’s executive director. Ukrainska Pravda criticised many Ukrainian top officials, including Avakov.
Prior to his murder, Sheremet had been followed by the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, employee Igor Ustymenko, according to an investigation by The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.
At a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 23 July, National Police Chief Sergey Knyazev read a report on Sheremet’s murder, which was mostly irrelevant gibberish without any substance. Then he showed Zelensky some secret materials about the investigation but no one knows what they are.
Zelensky, who had previously lashed out at minor officials, was very friendly with Knyazev and Avakov. This is a bad sign – apparently, Zelensky intends to let influential heavyweight Avakov, who helped him during the 21 April presidential election, keep his job.
If the murder suspects are not identified soon, this will indicate that Zelensky’s administration is not interested in any real progress in the investigation, just like his predecessor Petro Poroshenko. This will mean that the corrupt establishment will remain intact, and impunity will reign supreme.
The dismissal of those responsible for the cover-up of the murder – Avakov, Knyazev and Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko – is the first necessary step towards progress.
If there is no progress in the Sheremet case, European governments and journalist organizations should see it as the first sign that Zelensky’s administration is no different from his predecessor’s. This case must become a global issue, with every journalist in the world paying attention to it and demanding that the Ukrainian government solve the murder.