Corruption and supposed efforts to reduce it have become a neoconservative weapon of choice with which to operate the controls on the funding sluice gates to acolytes of the U.S.-led international neoconservative empire.
by Oliver Boyd-Barrett
Part 5 - Poroshenko and Zelensky
Ukraine’s two presidents since the 2014 coup, Petro Poroshenko (2014 to 2019) and Volodymyr Zelensky (2019 to the present), each started with strong support that quickly waned. The country has scarcely improved. Gross National Product peaked in December 2013; unemployment has increased from 7% to over 10%; Ukraine remains the second poorest country in Europe per capita.
Corruption, the supposed key force behind popular support for the elections of both Poroshenko and Zelensky, continues to be rampant. Kiev’s policies of stand-off with Russia have been dramatically counter-productive and have deprived Ukraine of Crimea and control of major industrial areas of the Donbass. Some 14,000 lives have been taken, 1.4 million people displaced, and 3.5 million remain in need of humanitarian assistance.
With Russia’s development of Nord Stream 2, bitterly contested by the U.S., Ukraine stands to lose $3 billion a year in transit fees that with more prudent negotiation it might have hoped to retain. Kiev administrations have been unwilling to progress the Minsk Protocol, agreed in 2015 to end the struggle in the Donbass and signed by Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Under the agreements, Ukraine was required to pardon the participants of the conflict, carry out local elections, and recognize a de facto autonomy of the region in the Constitution. Russia was obliged to return its equipment and mercenaries to Ukraine, ensure that local military formations laid down arms, and cede to Ukraine control over its border with Russia.
Ukraine has complained that, as warfare is ongoing, elections are hardly possible and that fair elections are not achievable before it secures control of the border. Russia insists that amnesty should be granted in advance of the elections and before Ukraine regains control of the border, while Ukraine considers that an amnesty can happen only after these events and after public discussion. The Kiev administration has been wedded to a highly centralized vision and finds the idea of greater regional autonomy repugnant. It claims that Russia supports greater autonomy because that gives it greater control over the Donbass. It would be truer to say that Ukraine is an ethnically riven polity in which the dominant ethnicity does not have sufficient political will to risk taking the only measures that can yield a lasting peace.
Any indication that Poroshenko might move in the direction of Minsk provoked far-right paramilitary opposition. His successor, Zelensky, is a former comedian, a neoconservative cutout who achieved power on the basis not of actual policies but of the imaginary policies of his satirical show (aired on a channel owned by anti-Russian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky) — also the title of his political party, Servant of the People.
As Zelensky loses support (his party performed disastrously in local elections in November 2020 – it did not win a single mayoral race or even a majority in any regional parliament or city council), he has escalated action of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donbass (despite some ministerial appointments that appear pro-Russian), in an apparent bid to establish greater political legitimacy for his party in western Ukraine but at the cost of a steeply rising number of weekly ceasefire violations. He has continued to collaborate in joint actions with NATO and allied forces in military exercises along the Russian border that appear designed to provoke Russia (whose 4,000 troops mustered there remain insufficient for invasion, given the estimated total number of 100,000 NATO and Ukrainian troops participating in exercises during 2021).
In recent months he has introduced measures to sanction pro-Russian opposition leaders, shut down pro-Russian media outlets owned by opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, and restrict Russian language use, while he condemns opposition leaders who back a negotiated settlement with Moscow.
In March, Zelensky signed Presidential Decree No. 117/2021, declaring it was official Ukraine policy to take back Crimea. He approved plans to admit foreign troops for military exercises led by UN and NATO nations and asked NATO to monitor airspace across the border with Russia. His new military strategy emphasizes subjugation of Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea. In 2020, NATO designated Ukraine an “Enhanced Opportunity Partner,” giving it the same status as Georgia, Sweden, Finland, Australia and Jordan (Ritter, 2020), to promote the “partnership interoperability” initiative, which in effect means that NATO extends greater trust to Ukraine to follow NATO’s orders and interests.
Actual full membership in NATO is unlikely, given European opposition to this, the rift between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea, the persistence of corruption, and Ukraine’s dispute with Hungary over curbs on minority rights. Yet the lure is sufficient for Zelensky to offer Ukraine to NATO as a suitable battleground for possible nuclear war. Understandably, this enthusiasm for NATO is not shared by most Ukrainians.
Zelensky may believe, in the face of European opposition, that playing footstool to NATO aggression will secure full membership in NATO for Ukraine and NATO intervention in the Donbass to secure victory for the Armed Forces of Ukraine — despite the fact that Ukraine’s rift with Russia would need first to be resolved before full membership is possible under the conditions that must be met for membership, and even though direct NATO intervention would be tantamount to a declaration of war that could turn nuclear at any point. There is no conceivable advantage to the Ukraine, the U.S. or Russia in this scenario. But mad pursuit of idiotic objectives is de rigueur machismo among adherents to neoconservative ideology at the service of corporate and plutocratic power, much as it is for the politics of resistance to meaningful solutions to climate change.