Atlantic Council | 08Jan2018 | Diane Francis,  17Jan2018
This Time It Will Be Very,
In 2014, a 16-year-old Ukrainian, nicknamed Maley, watched the
Euromaidan Revolution and Russian invasion on television and contacted
his local army recruitment office to sign up. His calls went
unanswered, so he took a train from the Carpathians to the front, armed
with his grandfather’s hunting rifle and a brass plate bought by his
mother taped to his chest as protection. He joined a volunteer militia.
“I went to save my country,” he told me in a 2015 interview from his
bed in a Kyiv hospital. He was wounded after the army medic behind him
stepped on a landmine and lost both her legs. “She wasn’t paying
attention. I’m going back.”
If it wasn’t for Ukrainian farm boys, nurses, veterans, and
grandfathers, the Russians would have swallowed half of Ukraine. In
fact, this was the plan. The stage for invasion had been set by former
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who consolidated his power,
jailed opponents, rejected European Union membership, and gutted
Ukraine’s army by selling off its best equipment. By 2014 Ukraine had
only 6,000 combat-ready troops.
Unfortunately, 2018 is starting to shape up like 2013. President Petro
Poroshenko consolidates his power by foot dragging on reforms promised
to Western donors, then by harassing opponents. Like the Yanukovych
era, there is no rule of law, no parliamentary accountability, and no
effective pursuit of corrupt officials or even of Yanukovych who stole
billions. Conditions resemble those that led to the 2004 and 2014
“street” revolutions, a situation that officials continuously say
cannot be allowed because it would lead to instability and renewed
But if Ukrainians must take to the streets again, it will be different
The specter of a Russian invasion no longer exists, nor does the
possibility that more “little green men” will foment insurrections. The
reason is that military conscription, and Western funds, have created
one of Europe’s biggest military forces, with 204,000 soldiers
(slightly fewer than France’s), 46,000 support staff plus paramilitary
forces or 53,000 border guards, and 60,000 in the National Guard.
Most importantly, the Trump administration is sending Javelin anti-tank
missiles (an estimated 200 missiles) as well as M107A1 sniper rifles to
Ukraine’s military. In return, Ukraine pledged to clean up its corrupt
The deployment of such weapons represents a shift from Ukraine’s
turn-the-other-cheek ceasefire orders to an ability to return or
initiate preemptive attacks. For instance, the Javelin is a fearsome
“fire and forget” missile that tracks and obliterates a stationary or
moving tank or building using infrared guidance. The sniper rifle has a
range of 1,800 meters and fires bullets that go through walls and
essentially vaporize enemies.
In other words, it’s different this time because Ukraine is armed to
the teeth. The country is full of patriotic veterans, like Maley and
thousands more, in addition to its powerful, conscription army. This
not only neutralizes Russia, but underpins any future street revolution
should the current regime refuse to fully reform the country before the
Ukraine’s army is the bulwark against Russia, which means that the
fight against corruption can continue and escalate. This issue is more
important to Ukrainians, according to independent polls, than are
concerns about Russia.
Another difference is that the West, its governments and institutions,
are solidly behind Ukrainian aspirations for a real democracy and just
society. By contrast, Russia took the world by surprise in 2014, with
its sham “separatist” insurrections, but now there is no question that
Moscow abrogated international law with its invasion.
Another difference, should change come about through elections or
otherwise, is that Ukraine would not be left in chaos as happened in
2014. Ukraine has developed stronger financial institutions, important
Western allies and expertise, and an “infrastructure of governance,”
consisting of hundreds of honest parliamentarians, executives,
financiers, lawyers, activists, international donors and benefactors,
and political leaders. Some meet informally already, like a private
Kyiv group of 200 technocrats, who could immediately execute a peaceful
and credible transition.
Poroshenko, who ran as a reformer, has undertaken some good work, but
four pieces of unfinished business remain: Withdraw and quickly revise
his recent sham proposal to create the Anti-Corruption Court by making
it truly independent in accordance with the wishes of Ukrainians and
Western donors; stop the harassment of the National Anti-Corruption
Bureau of Ukraine; strip parliament of immunity which perpetuates a
“Club of Crooks” culture by allowing members to flout the rule of law;
and ban political ads from all television stations during the 2019
elections to remove oligarchic influence.
Poroshenko is running out of time. The Anti-Corruption Court must be
operational in time to adjudicate, and convict, at least three
high-profile cases brought to it by the National Anticorruption Bureau
of Ukraine before the spring 2019 election. The other reforms must be
completed early this year.
If these transformations are not embedded, another street protest in
the months leading up to the elections is likely, and it will garner
mass international support. And with their military bulwark against
Russia, Ukrainians may finally have a chance to overthrow their odious
It has been four years, and hundreds of deaths later, since the
Euromaidan, but election laws and courts remain rigged. It’s tragic
that, billions in support from the West to fight Russia and corruption
later, the only “opposition party” that hasn’t been smeared by
Ukraine’s criminalized oligarchy will have to be its good citizens
amassing on its streets.
And if that must happen, there’s little doubt that this time will be
very, very different.
Diane Francis is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council's
Eurasia Center, Editor at Large with the National Post in Canada, a
Distinguished Professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of
Management, and author of ten books.
Atlantic Council | 17Jan2018 | Diane Francis
How Poroshenko Can Easily Be Reelected
Democracies guarantee freedom of speech for their elected politicians by
granting them immunity from libel or slander for statements made inside
their legislative chambers. This privilege was established centuries
ago in Britain to protect the people’s representatives from the
monarchy, House of Lords, and other powerful vested interests.
on the other hand, has perverted this principle by guaranteeing elected
officials complete immunity from civil or criminal prosecutions unless a
majority of its 450 deputies allow charges to be laid. The significance
of this cannot be overstated. This is impunity, not parliamentary
immunity, and has been a license for up 450 people and their sponsors or
allies to break laws and loot the country.
Every election cycle
Ukraine is for sale to the highest bidders. This year, the estimated
cost (bribes) required to get a seat is roughly $2 million, according to
insiders. Theoretically, the country could be “bought” for about $900
million, or $2 million times 450 deputy seats. It’s a bargain because
parliamentarians are above the law and also have access to the national
purse and government contracts.
This perversion underpins
Ukraine’s rotten and rigged polity, and its blanket immunity must be
eradicated before the 2019 elections, or it will be monkey business as
usual. Of course, most believe the possibility of that happening are
like believing opposition leader Alexei Navalny will beat Russian
President Vladimir Putin this spring, but, believe it or not, cautious
optimism may be appropriate.
“Lifting immunity would be one of
the most understandable policy initiatives to Ukrainians because it
shows how unfair the system is,” said reformer Vitaliy Shabunin, head of
Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, in a recent interview. “And I
think it will happen.”
Of course, not all seats are bought and
not all parliamentarians are crooks, but most are and this is why. Half
of parliamentary seats are held by those elected to represent specific
jurisdictions, and voter bribery is rampant even though illegal. These
bribes are financed by oligarchs or accomplices, and once elected these
parliamentarians work for their benefactors and themselves, not for
The other half of Ukraine’s parliamentary
seats are held by those who were appointed to party “lists.” Corrupt
parties sell these seats to oligarchs and appoint their chosen
candidates (who are sometimes celebrities or reformers). In return,
parties get millions in cash or contra such as free commercials on
oligarch media outlets to get their roster elected.
The result is
that oligarchs directly control more than one-third of all
parliamentary seats and indirectly control enough more to provide a
majority. By contrast, there are only three dozen reformers in Ukraine’s
parliament, or roughly eight percent.
Fixing Ukraine’s Potemkin
parliament by stripping away its immunity should have been the first
action in 2014, but wasn’t. However, Shabunin actually believes that a
good outcome is possible, based on Petro Poroshenko’s desire to be
“He [Poroshenko] won’t have solid things to build his
reelection campaign on, but the limitation of parliamentary immunity is
tangible and understood by all Ukrainians. Strategically, it would also
be a good maneuver against Yulia Tymoshenko, and other factions, who
won’t support it. They will be punished by voters,” said Shabunin.
first hopeful sign came in October during mass protests in Kyiv,
calling for an independent anticorruption court and other reforms. The
president announced an initiative to remove immunity and the next day
tabled a draft law which, Shabunin said, “was a good draft” to be sent
to the Constitutional Court for review. Hours later, some 330 members of
parliament approved this referral and second and third readings should
be completed by the fall.
“Polls show that there is huge support
for this. It’s a very simple issue. It would be political suicide to not
vote for this for any of them and that is why burying it won’t happen,”
If Poroshenko also creates a viable
anti-corruption court and convicts a few high-profile individuals before
the 2019 presidential election, he will win handily. Ukrainians are
more concerned about corruption, according to independent polls, than
the war with Russia.
Eliminating parliamentary immunity would be
the anti-corruption equivalent of obtaining lethal defensive weapons
against the Russians. And the United States, European Union, and other
Western donors must double-down and demand this be done this year, not
in 2020 as Poroshenko proposed.
Fish rot from the head down and
the only way to bring prosperity, democracy, and justice to Ukraine is
to turn the Rada into an institution for the people, not for the elites.
immunity is gone, the motivation or gold rush would be finished and the
only people who will run for parliament will be those trying to pass
laws that will do something for the country rather than those who have
business meetings and sell their votes by sitting there,” said investor
and Kyiv Post Publisher Mohammad Zahoor.
[W.Z..: Links to other articles by Diane Francis archived on this website are listed below.]
Why Are Taxpayers Funding a Russian Propaganda Concert in Washington? Atlantic Council, 08Nov2017; Diane Francis
Ukraine’s Invisible Refugees Atlantic Council, 19Oct2016; Diane Francis
Corners Himself in Ukraine. We Would Be Crazy to Placate Him Now
Atlantic Council, 05Feb2016; Diane Francis, 
Henry Kissinger,  15May2016
Ukraine still fighting Western ignorance and Russian aggression
Kyiv Post, 05Jul2015; Diane Francis, 
17Aug2015,  14Oct2015