Two weeks ago, a video of former Ukrainian prime-minister Yulia Tymoshenko was aired by her lawyer and went viral. In the video Tymoshenko called upon the Ukrainian people not to vote on the ‘Maffia Government’ led by ‘criminal’ current president Yanukovych.
Tymoshenko was jailed after being found guilty for criminally abusing her office while in power over natural gas import negotiations with Russia in 2009. Last year, she went on hunger strike to call attention for her bad treatment in prison. Tymoshenko has always denied all charges and her supporters claim they are politically motivated. The Ukrainian government however alleges that in 2009 the former prime minister’s company owed more than $400 million to the Russian defence ministry, and that this conflict of interest led her to sign a deal that few dispute was not to Ukraine’s advantage.
There has been a lot of criticism of the EU, not so much on the question whether Tymoshenko is guilty or not, but on the process. For example, the case was handled by a young and non-specialized Judge, Tymoshenko was prisoned during her trial and was not allowed to read the relevant documents on time. Tymoshenko will not be able to run for this month’s elections.
But Tymoshenko’s process is not the only subject of western criticism; the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Human Rights watchdog, expressed concern on the ‘attacks on press Freedom, censorship and physical attacks on journalist’ in Ukraine.
There’s more, released in a Wikileaks diplomatic cable, Volodymyr Horbulin, one of Ukraine’s most respected policy strategists and former presidential advisor, told the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine in 2006 that the ruling Party of Regions, which “enjoyed deep pockets, being largely financed by billionaire Rinat Akhmetov” is partly composed of “pure criminals” and “criminal and anti-democracy figures.” In another calbe, the U.S. Ambassador referred to Akhmetov’s Party of Regions as “long a haven for Donetsk-based mobsters and oligarchs” and called Akhmetov the “godfather” of the Donetsk clan.
So who’s this Akhmetov guy? Rinat Akhmetov is the richest man in Ukraine and a classical example of an oligarch: after the independence in 1991 he made a fortune with the privatization of the Ukrainian economy. In 2012, Forbes estimated his wealth on $16 billion, although there are other estimations he is worth $31.1 billion. Now you think Russia is famous for his oligarchs, in Ukraine they really matter. In Russia, with its abundance of natural resources like gas and oil, the oligarchs are good for 35% of the GDP. A stunning number perhaps, but in Ukraine oligarchs are responsible for 85% of the GDP!
Lada L. Roslycky, a PHD-researcher at the University of Groningen, wrote a thesis on the political-criminal nexus in the Black Sea Region. She addresses the role of organized crime in the political structure and their close ties they have with politicians. The oligarchs are somewhat above all of this, they don’t just influence politics, they dominate it.
It appears not just to be politics, the oligarchs have managed to corrupt the judicial system as well. According to Roslycky, nowadays it is whoever brings the biggest briefcase of money to court is ‘right’. And although members of the current government have many allegations of corruption, money laundering and involvement in organized crime, the judiciary has not started one investigation.
On the 28th of October the people of Ukraine will vote, whether this will be against the ruling Party of Regions, as Yulia Tymoshenko pleaded from prison, remains uncertain. But what really remains the questions is what a new government can do in a corruption-ridden state where oligarchs have twice the amount of money the state has.