Illia Ponomarenko: Ukraine’s Friend and Foe of the Week
Editor’s Note: This feature separates Ukraine’s friends from its enemies. The Order of Yaroslav the Wise has been given since 1995 for distinguished service to the nation. It is named after the Kyivan Rus leader from 1019-1054, when the medieval empire reached its zenith. The Order of Lenin was the highest decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union, whose demise Russian President Vladimir Putin mourns. It is named after Vladimir Lenin, whose corpse still rots on the Kremlin’s Red Square, more than 100 years after the October Revolution he led.
Ukraine’s friend of the week: British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade
This week in Ukraine feels like an extra Christmas for all defense and security geeks.
These days Ukraine hosts as many as two major military exercises, Rapid Trident and Joint Endeavor 2020. Ukrainian, American, British, and Canadian forces are engaged in complicated maneuvers in the air, on the ground, and in the sea.
And there’s a range of military wonders one can see these days: U.S. Force’s convertiplanes CV-22 fly low over the banks of downtown Kyiv, heavy strategic bombers B-52H make their third visit to Ukrainian skies in several weeks, while Ukrainian and American special operations troops jointly exercise landing in a plain field.
But the biggest stars of the show were the ones who hit the stage first — the British army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade’s company task team, the paratroopers of which carried out a massive airdrop together on Sept. 19, opening the exercise series.
Some 250 elite British airborne troopers, together with their Ukrainian brothers in arms, swarmed the sky with parachute canopies over the Ternivsky firing range in Mykolaiv Oblast.
Photos from the scene show a very impressive picture of the event, a slight reminiscence of grand airborne operations of the past. The U.K. press was no less excited, calling this the British army’s biggest airdrop in 20 years.
It was even more touching to see British and Ukrainian paratroopers hanging out together at their rendezvous points after the landing, talking to each other, shaking hands, probing each other’s firearms. These soldiers of the same branch of service originally from opposite ends of Europe quickly and easily found a common language.
That was one of the brightest moments of recent times in Ukraine’s military. And this was the loudest display of Great Britain’s military activity in support of Ukraine throughout the years of Russian aggression since 2014. English paratroopers immediately became celebrities in the Ukrainian defense and security community and social media.
The British-Ukrainian adventure continued with even more interesting maneuvers during which the paratroopers successfully cut across the Dnipro River, and, with support of armor and attack aircraft, successfully captured a beachhead from a simulated enemy.
Notably, Ukrainian troops presented themselves very well in front of their British colleagues in action.
And this is no less important than the obvious political significance of such military joint exercises.
Ukraine’s military is slowly and tightly building its way to major reforms and westernization, despite hard resistance of old Soviet hardliners, towards full adoption of modern NATO regulations and complete interoperability with the Alliance.
In many ways, such cooperation with Western forces inspires and encourages forward-minded soldiers and officers. It shows them that Ukraine’s allies are still giving it the hand of friendship amid Russia’s war.
This was the time when Ukrainian airborne troopers could bro-fist their British colleagues, the bearers of the most glorious traditions of airborne forces since World War II.
It was a clear demonstration of the fact that the Ukrainian soldier is more than welcome in the family of Western militaries and, moreover, that the Ukrainian soldier has enough skills to be given a NATO membership card.
For giving us all this impulse of hope and inspiration, the Kyiv Post undoubtedly declares the 16th Air Assault Division as Ukraine’s friend of the week. In addition to its numerous awards gained in Iraq and Afghanistan, we decorate it with the symbolic Order of Yaroslav the Wise.
Hopefully, our British friends in battle fatigues will be more frequent guests on Ukrainian soil in the future, helping us create a modern military force that would be the nation’s undefeated shield against Russian expansionism.
Ukraine’s foe of the week: Global banks involved in dirty transactions from Ukraine
The global war on high-profile corruption saw yet another heavy explosion this week.
On Sept. 19, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published a new investigation titled FinCEN files, a collaborative work of over 400 journalists from all around the world, revealed how numerous respected banks “moved dirty money for drug cartels, corrupt regimes, arms traffickers and other international criminals.”
In general, the journalists analyzed over 2,100 highly-confidential suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed by various banks to the United States Treasury Department’s intelligence unit, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is known as FinCEN.
And they found out that numerous global banks between 1999 and 2017 alone sent a total of $2 trillion in transactions they believed were suspicious, including flagged clients who were identified as being involved in potentially illicit transactions.
The gruesome list of banks busted by the journalists includes worldwide-famous names like JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, and Bank of New York Mellon. According to the investigation, these institutions moved illicit cash for shady characters and criminal networks even after U.S. authorities fined them for their wrongdoing.
It comes as no surprise that some of their problematic clients are very well known in Ukraine.
They are some of the country’s richest, such as oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov, Ihor Kolomoisky, and Dmytro Firtash, politician Yulia Tymoshenko, ex-president Petro Poroshenko, ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and a businessman known as Yanukovych’s “wallet,” Serhiy Kurchenko.
For instance, Kolomoisky and Firtash, along with businessman-politician Andriy Klyuyev, were flagged as bank clients whose money transfers were suspicious.
Yet, it didn’t stop the Bank of New York Mellon, which moved more than $263 million for companies controlled by Kolomoisky between 2012 and 2017. Deutsche Bank also moved more than $215 million for Kolomoisky’s Ukraine International Airlines in 2015 and 2016.
And it did not stop Standard Chartered and the Bank of New York Mellon, which transferred more than $1 billion from Nadra Bank owned by Dmytro Firtash in Ukraine in 2008. Firtash’s company Bothli Trade AG in 2008 sent $78,101 via Standard Chartered Bank to an individual named Periyasamy Sunderalingam, who allegedly helped facilitate Firtash’s bribes to Indian officials, charges he denies.
The long list of illicit transfers from Ukraine continues, and it contains hundreds of millions of dollars gained from dirty political deals and massive embezzlement of state budgets.
For instance, the investigation probed multimillion transactions made by Klyuyev, the former chief of staff for Yanukovych, as he funneled secret payments to Paul Manafort, the ill-fated political counselor who used to work for Yanukovych and later for U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Yet, in numerous cases, the explicitly suspicious nature of such transactions from such clients was consistently ignored.
And because of this, the Kyiv Post declares all the banks involved in this dirty business in Ukraine as our nation’s foe.
Here in Ukraine, journalists, activists, and honest law enforcers are carrying out a cruel battle on organized crime and endemic corruption practiced by crooked politicians, tycoons and oligarchs. They work day and night to stop millions of dollars from being stolen from ordinary people and moved elsewhere to secret offshores on a regular basis.
But how can we have a hope of victory when even the world’s most-respected banks often end up not only turning a blind eye on what’s done in the dark but participating in it?