Yanukovych’s old guard is staging a comeback

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s critics allege that his presidency is tantamount to the comeback of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s old guard.

Some of Yanukovych’s allies have returned to Ukraine and others already serve in Zelensky’s administration.

However, Zelensky’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, had also refused to fire some Yanukovych associates subject to a 2014 lustration law that bars them from state jobs. Poroshenko also recruited ex-members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions for his own party.

The lustration law itself is seen by its critics as inconsistent or unfair.

Critics of Zelensky accused his administration of trying to do away with the lustration law via the Constitutional Court. Zelensky has denied the accusations, proposing instead to fire top officials of the Poroshenko era.

Oleksandr Lemenov, head of anti-corruption watchdog StateWatch, denied that there has been a comeback of Yanukovych-era cadres, given that explicitly pro-Russian parties now have less popular support.

“There’s no comeback because (pro-Russian forces) have no institutional capability to win in elections,” he told the Kyiv Post.

Fugitives return

Yanukovych’s former deputy chief of staff Andriy Portnov returned to Ukraine on May 19 — after Zelensky’s victory in the April 21 presidential election. Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Bohdan used to be an aide to Portnov, and he has also called Portnov his friend.

Meanwhile, Renat Kuzmin, a fugitive deputy of Yanukovych’s Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, was elected to the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, on July 21 and returned to Ukraine. Kuzmin is on the party list of pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk’s Opposition Platform.

Yanukovych’s chief of staff, Andriy Klyuyev, was initially registered in the July 21 parliamentary election but later his registration was canceled.

Yanukovych’s Health Minister, Raisa Bogatyryova, returned to Ukraine on Aug. 27 after a court ordered prosecutors to close a corruption case against her. However, prosecutors had not closed the case by that date and arrested her. She was released on bail. Yegor Sobolev, former head of the Verkhovna Rada’s anti-corruption committee, told the Kyiv Post that Yanukovych-era fugitives are not afraid of returning to Ukraine because they are “partners in corruption” with top Ukrainian officials and law enforcers.

Sabotage of lustration

Zelensky has also been accused of directly violating the lustration law by appointing Yanukovych-era officials to top jobs. He denied the accusations.

Both his Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan and Bohdan’s Chief of Staff Oleksiy Dniprov are barred from their jobs by the wording of the lustration law. Both argue that they hold their positions legally.

Another Yanukovych-era official subject to lustration, Anatoly Kalyuzhnyak, was appointed as a deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine’s (SBU) anti-corruption unit in June.

Kalyuzhnyak had signed a Jan. 18, 2014 plan by the SBU to implement Yanukovych’s so-called “dictatorship laws.” This greatly cracked down on civil liberties and the EuroMaidan protesters.

Kalyuzhnyak had admitted that his Inspectorate General had received the plan and submitted it to the leadership of the SBU. He said, however, that he had taken no part in drafting it.

Under Poroshenko

Poroshenko’s critics, however, argue that the alleged comeback of Yanukovych’s cronies started under the previous president.

Poroshenko himself was a co-founder of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in 2000 and served as economy minister under Yanukovych in 2012.

Anti-corruption activists and investigators have accused Poroshenko, his Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and his prosecutors general — Vitaly Yarema, Viktor Shokin and Yuriy Lutsenko — of blocking criminal cases against Yanukovych allies and reaching deals with them. All have denied the accusations.

About 22 percent of regional legislators from the Poroshenko Bloc and 12 percent of Verkhovna Rada members from the Poroshenko Bloc were former Party of Regions members, according to a 2016 estimate by Channel 1+1’s TSN show.

Poroshenko also partnered up with Odesa Mayor Gennady Trukhanov and Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes — both controversial ex-members of the Party of Regions. Yuriy Boyko, who was energy minister under Yanukovych, was heavily promoted by Pryamy, a pro-Poroshenko channel.

Moreover, the Justice Ministry’s lustration department has also accused Poroshenko of sabotaging the lustration law by refusing to fire Presidential Administration official Dniprov, ex-Kyiv Oblast Governor Oleksandr Tereshchuk, ex-Kirovohrad Oblast Governor Serhiy Kuzmenko, ex-Luhansk Oblast Governor Yuriy Harbuz, the SBU’s former top investigator, Grigory Ostafiychuk, and the ex-head of the SBU’s Kyiv Oblast branch, Oleg Valendyuk. Poroshenko has denied the accusations of sabotage.

Zelensky fired almost all of the above but kept Dniprov despite the lustration law.

Many officials escaped lustration under Poroshenko by using a loophole that exempts participants of the war with Russia. In some cases they claimed to be veterans of the war without having taken part in it.

Imperfect law?

The 2014 lustration law has faced criticism. Some, including ex-members of the Party of Regions, claimed it is unfair. Others called the law inconsistent.

Sobolev dismissed those accusations.

“They, for example Bohdan, held top jobs and did not see large-scale corruption in (Yanukovych’s Prime Minister Mykola) Azarov’s government and kept silent,” he said. “If a state official sees the government committing crimes, he or she must either stop that or resign.”

Some critics claim that the lustration law was tailor-made to exempt Poroshenko. Those who served as ministers under Yanukovych for more than a year were subject to lustration, while Poroshenko served for less than a year.

The law also drew criticism because it does not bar officials who served Yanukovych from elected offices, allowing Yanukovych’s Chief of Staff Serhiy Lyovochkin and others to be elected to the Verkhovna Rada. Sobolev said, however, that the law would have been recognized unconstitutional if it had applied to elected offices.

Another argument is that some of those who served under Yanukovych had a good reputation.
Lemenov argued that some military officials who were subject to lustration had been praised by military experts. However, Sobolev said the law allowed the president to exempt such officials, including Hennady Vorobyov, from lustration.

Two officials who held jobs at Yanukovych’s government have a reformist background, although their jobs were not high-level enough to make them subject to lustration. They are Zelensky’s Deputy Chief of Staff Ruslan Riaboshapka, who is expected to become prosecutor general, and Oleksandr Danylyuk, secretary of the National Defense and Security Council.

Canceling lustration?

Zelensky’s administration has been accused of cementing the comeback of Yanukovych’s old guard by canceling the lustration law. Currently, the issue is being considered by the Constitutional Court.

In April, the Schemes investigative journalism project reported that then Constitutional Court Chairman Stanislav Shevchuk had met with Bohdan at the Constitutional Court on March 13. Shevchuk, who was fired from his job on May 14, said he had known Bohdan for 10 years.

Bohdan and Shevchuk admitted that they had met, but denied discussing the lustration law. They said they had discussed the Constitutional Court’s controversial Feb. 26 decision to cancel a law criminalizing illicit enrichment as unconstitutional.

“The law is good,” Lemenov said, of lustration. “It’s not written in a perfect way but it doesn’t mean it should be canceled through the Constitutional Court.”

Lustrating Poroshenko

Zelensky denied trying to cancel lustration and offered to expand the law on July 11 by banning top officials who served Poroshenko from government.

Lemenov dismissed the idea as a pre-election stunt that Zelensky would never try to actually implement.
The proposal prompted a discussion on whether Poroshenko’s administration was fundamentally different from Yanukovych’s and why lustration applied only to the Yanukovych era.

Both administrations were accused of large-scale corruption.

“I wouldn’t divide people by party — it doesn’t matter if they were from the Party of Regions or the Poroshenko Bloc,” Sobolev said. “Regardless of whether they are orange or white and blue (a reference to the colors of pro-European and pro-Russian parties) — it’s all a cover for corruption. Just that some of them speak Russian, and others Ukrainian.”

However, Sobolev argued that Zelensky’s proposal to fire top Poroshenko-era officials was unjust.

The 2014 lustration law was an extraordinary measure applied to a government involved in murdering about 100 EuroMaidan protesters, while Poroshenko’s administration was not implicated in such crimes, Sobolev said.

He said that many Poroshenko-era officials should have been fired under the “property lustration” clause of the 2014 lustration law.

The clause envisaged the disclosure of asset declarations and the firing of officials who could not explain the origin of their assets. However, property lustration effectively failed, with only some rank-and-file officials being fired.

There were also reformist officials in both parliament and the Cabinet under Poroshenko, Sobolev added. Some of them — including Danylyuk and ex-Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius — are currently working for Zelensky.


One comment

  1. The country appears still to be suffering PTSD plus maybe a dose of Stockholm Syndrome after centuries of Russian occupation. Until all the human and ideological remnants from that time are kicked out or locked up, only limited progress can be made.

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