Democracy in reverse

Mikhail Katkov

The coming year has added problems for the President of Ukraine. On the one hand, the US Republican Party demands to launch an audit of Kyiv’s funding, on the other hand, it is increasingly difficult for local elites to hide their dissatisfaction with the central government. How this can turn out – in the material of RIA Novosti.
Accountant instead of a friend
Having gained control of the House of Representat-ives, the Republicans immediately began to look for corruption schemes in financing Ukraine. According to the American media, Kevin McCarthy was elected speaker on the condition that he carefully monitors this. The politician himself publicly promised to stop the practice of “open checks” – when tens of billions are allocated without any accountability.
According to the US budget for 2023, Ukraine will receive about $9 billion for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Another 13 billion to support the economy. The more weapons and money sent to Kyiv, the more closely the Americans will monitor how they dispose of this help. Oleg Soskin, a former adviser to former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, warned that if the US Congress convicts Zelensky of embezzlement, his political career will end.
According to Western human rights organizations, the situation with corruption in Ukraine has improved since 2014. In particular, special institutions have appeared to combat it. However, for example, Transparency International believes that the situation cannot be called stable. And Freedom House notes that the problem remains acute because the Zelensky team does not have the political will to continue active anti-corruption actions. Even serious pressure from the West does not help.
In 2022, the United States allocated $21 million to Ukraine for justice-related programs. The Pentagon said that they did not see convincing evidence of the resale by Ukrainians of the weapons transferred to them. Nevertheless, Washington admits that oversight has faced such difficulties as a shortage of personnel and non-compliance with security measures in the war zone. Republicans want to increase spending on surveillance, and some are proposing to cut aid to Ukraine.
Bag of snakes
But in 2023, Zelensky will have problems not only with the Americans. The Turkish edition dikGAZETE predicted a war with the oligarchs for the Ukrainian leader. Since the end of February last year, the country has entered a period of political uncertainty, the newspaper writes, and the president still has too little experience in the struggle for power. This opinion is based primarily on the fact that big business has already lost billions of dollars due to hostilities, and now it will be shaken up by Zelensky, who needs funds to pay off debts to the West.
According to Forbes, in 2022, the loss of the 20 richest Ukrainians amounted to $20 billion. The leader of the rating is still Rinat Akhmetov, whose fortune has decreased from 13.7 to 4.4 billion. Maxim Lytvyn and Alexei Shevchenko are next (2.3 billion each), then Viktor Pinchuk (2.2 billion). Former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has dropped out of the ranks of billionaires: his fortune has more than halved and is now estimated at $730 million.
Akhmetov, who suffered the most, has been tipped as Zelensky’s opponents since 2021, when the president suspected the oligarch of being involved in preparing a coup d’état. The accusations were forgotten, among other things, because of the outbreak of hostilities. At the same time, the businessman lost his main enterprises in Mariupol.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Akhmetov said that he was treated unfairly at home. In particular, he considers the law on the fight against oligarchs to be wrong, because there is nothing of the kind either in the US or in the EU. He calls himself “the largest private investor, employer and taxpayer.”
Another candidate for Zelensky’s opponents is Petro Poroshenko. Like Akhmetov, he has lost a lot and falls under the law on oligarchs. But, in addition, he does not hide political ambitions. The so-called gunners (bloggers loyal to Poroshenko) have been actively criticizing the President of Ukraine throughout the past year. The reasons are different: they were not prepared for hostilities, they are slowing down with the supply of weapons, they infringe on freedom of speech, and the like. Some even suggest that the Russian authorities are deliberately helping Zelensky to stay at the head of the country.
By the way, at the end of October 2022, the Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities reported suspicions against 15 persons involved in the Rotterdam Plus formula, according to which Kyiv bought all coal (including mined in the republic) with a European margin. Akhmetov and Poroshenko are considered the ultimate beneficiaries of the corruption scheme, although they have not yet been formally charged.
Democracy in reverse
According to experts, 2023 will be a serious test for Zelensky’s domestic policy. “The processes that are taking place in Ukraine are not typical for a state with a liberal system. In fact, the president’s team is rebuilding the country for themselves. The changes have turned out to be a serious challenge for many businessmen and politicians, and they can resist,” says Denis, an expert at the Financial University under the Government of Russia Denisov.
In 2022, he recalls, many large enterprises were nationalized. Among them are Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta, owned by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, Motor Sich by Vyacheslav Boguslaev, previously arrested for allegedly cooperating with Russia, Zaporizhtransformator by Konstantin Grigorishin, and the AvtoKrAZ holding by Konstantin Zhevago. The list of authoritarian practices Denisov also includes the normalization of the practice of imposing sanctions against fellow citizens with the help of the decision of the National Security and Defense Council – that is, bypassing the court, government and parliament.
In addition, Kyiv has canceled public auctions for government purchases in order to distribute the most attractive contracts to loyal entrepreneurs. In parallel, the Verkhovna Rada received the right to control the content of Ukrainian media and close them out of court. Also, the parliament can now form a “list of persons” who pose a threat to the national media space of Ukraine, information about which cannot be disclosed.
Political scientist Alexander Dudchak believes that Zelensky decided to concentrate power in his hands because he is not sure about the future. “Perhaps he regrets that he got into all this, but he can’t just leave like that. The ideal option for him would be to establish Russian control over the entire territory of Ukraine. Then he would become president in exile, without obligations, but with honors. And while it remains a human function that curators can get rid of at any moment, and no one will feel the difference,” the expert explains.
Anything can become a reason for “dismissal”, including the revealed facts of embezzlement of money allocated to Ukraine. Zelensky wants to insure himself against unforeseen changes, so he hopes to strengthen his position by subordinating the oligarchs. Whether they will agree to the role of henchmen or offer Western curators an alternative to the incumbent president, time will tell.