On Sept. 4, Ivan Bakanov, head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and other allies of President Volodymyr Zelensky attended the birthday party of pro-Russian lawmaker Grigory Surkis, who called Bakanov his friend. Surkis is a major partner of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s main Ukrainian ally Viktor Medvedchuk. Surkis, along with ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s top ally Igor Kononenko, is also under investigation in an energy sector corruption scheme, although they deny the accusations of wrongdoing. It is ironic that, instead of investigating pro-Kremlin politicians, the SBU’s chief befriends them. This is reminiscent of Medvedchuk’s alleged partnership with Poroshenko.
Meanwhile, Zelensky’s Chief of Staff Andriy Bohdan attended the wedding of Andriy Dovbenko, a controversial lawyer accused of running shady schemes at the Justice Ministry under Poroshenko, on Ukraine’s Independence Day — Aug. 24. Arsen Avakov, who was accused of being a key symbol of corruption under Poroshenko, was re-appointed as interior minister at Zelensky’s government on Aug. 29. Zelensky himself met billionaire oligarch Igor Kolomoisky to discuss business issues on Sept. 10.
All of this shows that business as usual continues in Ukraine despite the change of government, with oligarchs and top officials being part of one large family. Prosecutors get chummy with the suspects they’re supposed to prosecute, and self-proclaimed patriots of Ukraine get along wonderfully with the Kremlin’s friends. Officials and judges are always ready to switch their allegiance from one government to another, and corruption schemes are inherited from previous administrations.
The vicious circle of Ukrainian history repeats itself: every new government promises to end the abuses of their corrupt predecessors and ends up perpetuating the cycle of corruption. So far, Zelensky has not lived up to his promise of breaking with Ukraine’s corrupt past. There is still time to change that.