The brazen cynicism with which Ukrainian judges are spurning the law and getting away with crimes has few parallels in the world. It acts more like a criminal gang (with some notable exceptions) that has taken a whole country hostage.
A good example is Judge Pavlo Vovk, who has been charged with corruption and obstruction of justice and is still keeping his job and ignoring summonses.
One reason is Ukrainian society’s apathy and indifference towards such a seemingly abstract subject as the rule of law. In fact, there is nothing abstract about it — millions of people’s lives depend on the integrity of the court system.
Another reason is that Ukraine’s Western partners have been too lenient towards corrupt Ukrainian officials. When lawless judicial bodies rigged the selection of the current Supreme Court under ex-President Petro Poroshenko and appointed tainted judges and political loyalists, Western donors accepted it as “reform.”
They argued that, although compromised, the Supreme Court was still better than the previous one. But time has shown that the Ukrainian judiciary has not improved at all since the Supreme Court’s selection.
It could have even gotten worse.
After the EuroMaidan Revolution overthrew President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, judges and other officials were still afraid that a popular rebellion could sweep them away if they misbehaved. Now, based on Vovk’s behavior, they are afraid of nothing.
They have good reason to be fearless: very few judges have been punished for unlawful rulings against EuroMaidan protesters, other lawless decisions or corruption.
The complacency of both Ukrainian society and Ukraine’s Western partners has resulted in judges becoming more and more shameless and out-of-touch.
Ukraine’s Western donors should cut off funding until a genuine judicial reform begins. Otherwise, their money will sink into the bottomless abyss of Ukrainian corruption.
The West should also consider imposing sanctions on corrupt Ukrainian officials, including Vovk and members of the High Council of Justice, who are implicated in corrupt dealings with Vovk.
The front page of this edition includes opinion columns by three distinguised leaders — ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and judicial expert Mykhailo Zhernakov. They all agree that the courts are working to Ukraine’s detriment and are in need of a serious reboot.
It’s time to call President Volodymyr Zelensky’s bluff: he has been unable or unwilling to reform the judiciary during his one and a half years in office, coming up with various absurd excuses for his failures. Given his lack of action, it appears that Zelensky is not even trying to imitate judicial reform anymore.
Based on his past behavior, Zelensky is unlikely to reform anything until the end of his term unless pushed hard enough.