Jeesh, what is the world coming to? Just as you thought Viktor Yanukovych was settling into his role of sultan extraordinaire, there he goes charging former President Leonid Kuchma with complicity in the 2000 murder of journalist Heorhii Gongadze. Has Yanukovych gotten religion? Has he changed his ways and stepped onto the path of righteousness? Has he—gulp—accepted rule of law?

Before I answer those questions, consider three sobering documents. The first is “An Appeal to the Free World Community” by the Kyiv-based journal, Krytyka:

We observe with growing alarm as threats to freedom and human dignity are compounded on the European Union’s eastern border. In their scope and virulence, the continuing repressions in Belarus remind us of the darkest days of the Soviet Union…. In Ukraine, we see a steep descent into authoritarianism and the beginnings of repressions against the opposition—all in the course of one year. The last local elections showed how brittle and superficial were the democratic achievements of the last five years after the Orange Revolution.... Russia suffers under cynical abuse of law and is obliged to ultimately give up hope for even partial “democratization” and “modernization” from above…. We appeal to those who live in that free world, in societies who attained their freedom stubbornly and with great sacrifice: do not be indifferent, do not leave Eastern Europe to the darkness of a new despotism, do not leave Belarus, do not leave Ukraine, do not leave Russia beyond the reach of law and freedom. Both for our sakes and your own.

The second is a March 21, 2011 open letter from Miklos Marschall, deputy managing director of Transparency International, to the Speaker of Ukraine’s Parliament:

On March 15, 2011 the Parliament of Ukraine adopted at the first reading Bill №7532 on public procurement. We are concerned because this bill lacks the strong safeguards required to prevent corruption…. The bill in its present form violates the main principles for sound public procurement: transparency, integrity, accountability and competition. The new law has been amended so that the majority of tender documentation will not be available to the public…. This lack of transparency means that it will be hard to assess the integrity of the tendering process. It could limit competition and make it difficult to spot issues of conflicts of interest among various bidders. In addition Bill №7532 makes it possible to exclude up to 70 per cent of all contracts—the equivalent of 7 billion Euros annually—from tender legislation in instances where the state owns 50 per cent of commercial or communal enterprise. This has been done ostensibly to simplify the process. Such so-called simplification of procurement procedures weakens public control over the costs and demonstrates unwillingness to reform the process in the interests of society as a whole.

The third is a private communication from an astute observer of the Ukrainian economy:

Yanukovych is not undertaking any serious reforms. The IMF cooperation agreement is being stalled because of Ukraine’s not undertaking any reforms. After a decline of GDP by 15%, a recovery of 4.2% last year and about that much expected this year is truly miserable. Nothing has been legislated on the pension reform and now the gas price hikes are delayed after having been watered down before. Thus, corruption is the aim, not reform. In order to defend corruption you need authoritarianism.

The three commentaries amply illustrate that Ukraine is still the anti-democratic, anti-reformist, and deeply corrupt place that Yanukovych and his predecessors have made it. Seen in this light, the anti-Kuchma campaign may be about many things, but it’s most definitely not about rule of law.

What, then, is it about? Ukrainian commentators have suggested that it’s about punishing Kuchma for making Yanukovych the fall guy of the Orange Revolution, about sending a tough message to wavering oligarchs and political allies, about distracting the population from the country’s woes and the Yanukovych regime’s authoritarianism, corruption, and incompetence, or about impressing naive Westerners who like big gestures.

Although all four versions make perfect sense, my personal favorite is the fourth: pursuing—or seeming to pursue—Gongadze’s killers could play well in the West, while fitting perfectly with Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko’s ongoing charm campaign. Americans, in particular, are easily impressed by celebrity causes and the anti-Kuchma campaign might just persuade some of them that the sultan is going straight.

It’s a fair bet that Yanukovych figured that giving Kuchma his comeuppance would be an easy way to score some points. Little did he know that the case will turn out to be a major-league embarrassment for him and his regime. Probably prompted by his son-in-law, the Western-oriented oligarch and Davos Man, Viktor Pinchuk, Kuchma hired star American defense attorney, Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University, to represent him. The supremely smart and impressively articulate Dershowitz—whose right earlobe has a higher IQ than the entire Ukrainian government—will run circles around the Yanukovych mugs, asking impossible questions, probing into unflattering corners, and exposing the Ukrainian political elite as a bunch of vindictive, petty, stupid, corrupt, and criminal dolts with no experience of genuine rule of law, especially as practiced by one of the world’s toughest lawyers.

Dershowitz’s intervention may or may not save Kuchma, but it will surely damn Yanukovych. Unsurprisingly for an overextended sultan, Yanukovych has—once again—maneuvered himself into a cul de sac. If he decides to duck by dropping the charges against Kuchma, he will look indecisive and dumb. If he decides to go ahead with the case, he will look decisive and dumber. Heck, with a little luck, Dershowitz could succeed in doing what the hapless Ukrainian opposition has thus far failed to do—bring the Yanukovych regime to its knees. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.

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Alexander J. Motyl



Ukrayinska Dumka


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