Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 05.12.2017
An inter-agency rivalry within the Ukrainian government has broken out in public. The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine (PGO) and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) have criticized the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), saying it has gone beyond the scope of its mandate in carrying out its investigations. Bureaucrats are supposed to keep disputes “in house” but public airings of grievances are not unheard of in any country in the world. What is concerning about this current spat in Ukraine is that it touches on foundational politics: the legacy of the Revolution of Dignity, the fight against corruption, and Ukrainians’s “European Choice.”
The current dispute is about NABU agents working undercover. The PGO unveiled the operation, exposing the NABU agents and alerting their targets who were the suspects in the anti-corruption investigation. Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko made public statements condemning NABU sting operations, and also claimed that co-operation between NABU and allied agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the United States was illegal. Much earlier in its mandate, NABU had lost a battle to be able to do electronic surveillance on its own. When NABU does wiretapping, it must reveal details of the particular operation to the SBU. The effect of the criticism and actions of the PGO and the SBU against NABU have been to limit the mandate of the anti-corruption agency, and to reduce its scope for action.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine is a new agency in Ukraine, founded after the Revolution of Dignity, on 16 April 2015. Many of the hopes of Ukrainians for a better life are embodied in structures that did not even exist before 2014. Another such structure is the Patrol Police, which replaced the Militsya. Such government bodies begin life untainted by the Yanukovych past, the oligarch past, and the Soviet past.
The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine never underwent lustration after the Revolution of Dignity. The Prosecutor General up until the end of EuroMaidan was Viktor Pshonka. On 23 February 2014 a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he fled to Russia. His abandoned mansion in Kyiv was revealed to be jaw-droppingly opulent. Although the thoroughly corrupt former head of the PGO Pshonka was gone, the remaining members and structures were left untouched by the Poroshenko government that was democratically elected on 25 May 2014. In fact, the notion of a Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine is a hold-over from the Soviet Union. Western democracies have Ministries of Justice or similar, where the country’s number one lawyer serves as a top administrator of justice. That means prosecution and defence and mediation and a lot more. Ukraine has no plans to reform its administration of justice in as thorough a way as it did its police force, and this leads to conflict. The new patrol police and anti-corruption bureau arrest and investigate suspects, but have to then navigate through the unreformed prosecutors and court system to gain a conviction.
The Security Service of Ukraine also never underwent lustration after the Revolution of Dignity. At the time of EuroMaidan, the SBU was widely believed to be thoroughly penetrated by Russian intelligence services. This belief was supported by some of the things that have transpired in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since 20 February 2014. On 7 April 2014 the SBU building in Luhansk was taken without a fight by out-of-uniform armed Russian soldiers and agents. The SBU did not appear to have resisted this take-over, nor did they attempt to recapture their lost property. To this day, Luhansk city remains out of the control of the central government. SBU Lieutenant-Colonel Leonid Pasechnik went over to the Russians, and became the so-called “Minister of State Security” in the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” – effectively, he works for the Russian siloviki. Last month, Leonid Pasechnik took over from Igor Plotnitsky as the nominal leader of the “LPR.” It is very difficult to know the loyalty of the SBU in free Ukraine. It is no longer as compromised by Russia as it was in 2014, but no one is going to claim that Moscow no longer has eyes and ears inside the Security Service of Ukraine.
Ideal bureaucracies have functions. They don’t have personalities. Anti-corruption is worthy and noble and absolutely essential for Ukraine. Prosecution of offenders and the administration of justice under the rule of law is essential for any civilized nation. Protecting the nation from spies and enemies is a prerequisite for national sovereignty. The functions of NABU, and the PGO, and the SBU need to be carried out.
The world is watching Ukraine. In this current fight between Lutsenko and NABU, Western backers of Ukraine see a risk of losing the fight against endemic corruption. Western backers were forgiving when the expatriate deputies were squeezed out and resigned: Natalie Jaresko, Aivaras Abromavicius, Alexander Kvitashvili, Khatia Dekanoidze, and Eka Zguladze. But that was mid-2016. This is end-2017. The European Union has just put off the final loan tranche of 600 euros, because Ukraine did not fulfil four requirements: Ukrainian authorities failed to cancel the timber trade moratorium, launch an automatic system for checking the “e-declarations” of assets, launch a system for checking who are the beneficial owners of companies, and adopt the law on the credit register of the National Bank of Ukraine.
Ukraine should have a powerful anti-corruption agency and an independent anti-corruption court not because Western partners want it as a condition for loans or for trade deals or for visa-free travel arrangement. Ukraine should have it because Ukrainians deserve it. The activists on Maidan demanded it. The defender in the ATO count on the integrity and honesty of the country they’re fighting for. Every Ukrainian, but especially the most vulnerable, deserve the unbiased administration of justice governed only by the rule of law.
Photo: Artem Sytnyk, head of NABU, and Yuriy Lutsenko, head of PGO