Ukraine needs a change.
The latest scandal, involving allegations of massive profiteering from the war against Russia by well-connected Ukrainians, proves the need for a new leader in the upcoming presidential election.
Allegations are that the son of a close business partner of President Petro Poroshenko sold smuggled Russian parts to Ukrainian defense factories at wildly inflated prices—factories that his father oversaw as deputy head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council. The father, Oleg Hladkovskiy, has been temporarily relieved of his position, and the son and others are proclaiming their innocence.
The independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau has started an investigation. But it is unlikely that the detectives will complete it before the election and, even if it eventually lays charges, prosecutors and judges are mostly corrupt.
The allegations appear solid, backed by documents and contracts, and led high-profile reform MPs within Poroshenko’s faction—Mustafa Nayem, Sergei Leshchenko, and Svitlana Zalishchuk—to leave his party. Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist, said Hladkovskiy was one of the president’s “closest associates” in politics and the two had bought holiday homes close to each other in Marbella.
“This isn’t the first time that the president has been implicated in corruption,” he said, “but what gives the revelations more weight is that they come a month before elections, concern corruption in the military sphere, and involve Russia.”
Clearly, Poroshenko’s re-election chances have been damaged, but his supporters believe that voters will vote for him because they see him as the best option for taking the country to the West. But that assumption is wrong. Ukraine will never become part of the European Union until it cleans up its act, and Poroshenko has stood in the way.
Others say Poroshenko is the lesser of evils compared with front-runners, producer and satirist Volodymyr Zelenskiy or former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. That assumption is also wrong. Zelenskiy is an experienced and successful businessman whose hit “Servant of the People” provided viewers with an impressive guide to Ukraine’s corrupt overlords as well as a playbook for reform. Tymoshenko, on the other hand, is an experienced politician, but failed to move the dial on corruption. Then there are others such as former Minister of Defense and independent MP Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Lviv Mayor and leader of the Samopomich Party Andriy Sadovyi.
Poroshenko must go because:
- Despite nearly five years’ mandate, Poroshenko has not dismantled Ukraine’s corrupt system of government or taken on the oligarchy.
- Poroshenko has not upheld the rule of law by removing corrupt judges, police or prosecutors, and replacing them with bullet-proof law enforcement institutions. There has not been one high-profile accused convicted in Ukraine, nor charges laid against the odious former President Victor Yanukovych and his henchmen.
- Poroshenko has not protected reform-minded ministers or officials from harassment or obstacles by oligarchs, corrupt government officials, larcenous politicians, and organized crime. His former ministers of finance, infrastructure, and economic development have quit in frustration or are under attack like acting health minister Ulana Suprun.
- Poroshenko has failed to create and protect a free and unfettered press by forcing oligarchs, criminals, and powerful vested interests to divest their media assets.
- Poroshenko has failed to instigate or support the removal of immunity for members of parliament, who “sell” their seats and votes which is the basis of political corruption in the country.
Allowing corruption leads to tragedy. One year ago, the naked body of a young activist lawyer was fished out of a river in Kyiv. Her name was Iryna Nozdrovska, and her death came after she took on the country’s corrupt legal system, seeking justice after her sister was killed in 2015 by a drunk driver. The complicating factor was that the culprit was the nephew of a prominent judge, and thus able to manipulate the system, but she took it on and was murdered.
Another corruption victim was activist Kateryna Handzyuk, who died a slow, horrible death after acid was thrown over 40 percent of her body in Kherson. Her family has had to pursue justice themselves to try and find those responsible.
Corruption corrodes a nation. It kills people, overcharges for medicines and food, allows unsafe buildings to be built, fails to remove dangerous people from streets and marketplaces, skims tax dollars earmarked for roads, infrastructure or intended to equip and arm soldiers who are in harm’s way, and repels legitimate investment that grows an economy.
Five years after the Euromaidan, Ukrainians still live under the yoke of a third-world governance that abuses them. They deserve better, and they will vote for reform on March 31.
Diane Francis is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, Editor at Large with the National Post in Canada, a Distinguished Professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, and author of ten books.