No matter what Ukraine’s leaders might do in the way of reducing their country to economic and administrative chaos and ramping up tension with Russia, the countries of the US-NATO military alliance continue to support the Kiev government in anti-Russian bluster – even when its posture is patently absurd.
And absurdity descended to buffoonery in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, at the beginning of December, when there were two intriguing events.
First came a visit by Mr Joseph Biden, Vice-President of the United States of America, who, in the words of the UK’s Economist «has become the spearhead of American policy», and spoke to the parliament accordingly.
Vice President Joe Biden about to address Ukraine’s Rada, December 8, 2015.
His performance was followed a few days later by a slapstick comedy scene in which a representative of the people, Oleh Barna, a devotee of President Poroshenko, «physically picked up Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and pulled him from the podium» resulting in «an angry brawl».
No holds barred in the Rada on December 11.
(As revealed in a leaked 2014 telephone call by the US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk – ‘Yats’ as she affectionately calls him – was the person most favoured by Washington to be in government after the US-supported coup against President Yanukovych succeeded.)
The Youtube recordings of the Barna-Yats rough-and-tumble do nothing for the dignity of the Rada but are a fair indication of the effectiveness of Kiev’s government which, as Vice-President Biden pointed out, is dubious. He stated bluntly that «corruption eats Ukraine like cancer», which was an unusually harsh comment for any US visitor to Ukraine to make.
This was Biden’s fourth visit to Kiev since the US-fostered coup last year resulted in the rise to power of Yats and Poroshenko, and although Biden came bearing gifts – «formal approval of a third $1 billion bailout loan guarantee», for example – he had instructions from Washington to scold Ukrainian lawmakers for their ineptitude, which didn’t go down at all well. His declaration that «We saw oligarchs ousted from power, only for them to return» was greeted with stony silence, which wasn’t surprising, as on the same day the London Times reported that «Ukraine’s top prosecutors are investigating the alleged involvement of Arseny Yatsenyuk, the country’s prime minister, in a $90 million-a-year corruption scheme ... David Sakvarelidze, Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general, said that a raid on the state-owned Odessa Port Plant had uncovered documents tying the prime minister to theft of the enterprise’s profits».
The corruption virus has been apparent in Ukraine for a long time, and Newsweek noted in April that «Watching the [Ukraine’s] top prosecutors leaving the General Prosecutor’s Office in sharp suits and stepping into gleaming Porsches, BMWs and Land Rovers, it’s clear that the average state prosecutor’s wage, equivalent to 400 euros [USD 430] per month, isn’t their only source of income ... They’re off to the Rugby World Cup in London later this year, an event where one ticket sells for the equivalent of 400 euros».
The place is rotten to the core, and in spite of Biden’s bleating it isn’t going to improve. The New York Times considered that in his speech «Mr Biden was right to upbraid Russia» (which resulted in the only applause he was given), and to criticize Ukraine about rampant sleaze, fraud and bribery, but made it clear that no matter what level of corruption there might be, the US had agreed «to pledge an extra $190 million in aid to Ukraine».
It is not known where these 190 million dollars will go, but it’s reasonable to suppose that a few millions of them might end up in the pockets of some of the «50 magnates [who] currently own about 85 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product».
Washington’s «efforts to help Ukraine» didn’t stop at handing out 190 million dollars for unspecified purposes, but included inviting prime minister ‘Yats’ to visit the US aircraft carrier Harry S Truman at anchor off the US military base at Sigonella in Sicily on December 3. He was accompanied by his defence minister, and according to the media release the two dignitaries were «familiarized with the aircraft carrier capabilities, its operational centre and equipment on the vessel». It was not explained how this familiarization would benefit Ukraine, but it is presumed that the hospitality was intended to demonstrate US support, in the same fashion as the December 17 visit to NATO HQ by President Poroshenko who obediently stated that he was «pleased to be in the NATO Headquarters and continue sincere and consistent dialogue with my friend Secretary General Mr Jens Stoltenberg, which was efficiently started a few weeks ago in the course of the visit of Mr Stoltenberg to Ukraine».
The US-NATO grouping does not itself provide money to Ukraine (apart from five «Trust Funds» intended for various military purposes), but President Poroshenko is delighted that «Ukraine-NATO relations are at the highest level» while, as the Voice of America reported on December 7, «the Obama administration has provided $470 million in direct economic assistance since pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych was driven from power».
The message to the world is obvious: the level of corruption in the present government and overall administration of Ukraine does not matter to Washington. Its prime minister’s alleged involvement in «a $90 million-a-year corruption scheme» is of no consequence. ‘Yats’ will still be invited to visit US nuclear aircraft carriers and similar deference will continue to be accorded to his now bitter rival, President Poroshenko.
The US State Department may have forgotten the content of a cable from its ambassador in Ukraine of May 6, 2006 in which he wrote «Bezsmertny [a politician] said that ... Poroshenko’s reputation was tainted by serious corruption allegations, but he wielded significant influence within Our Ukraine [a political party], and his interests had to be accommodated – it was as simple as that».
And ten years later it continues to be «as simple as that» because it is essential for America’s visceral anti-Russian stance that their men Poroshenko and Yats be supported at any cost – no matter the incompetence they have demonstrated since taking power.
In spite of Mr Biden’s declaration that «corruption eats Ukraine like cancer», Kiev has received massive support from the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, the IMF, which bailed out Ukraine to the tune of 17.5 billion dollars and quietly altered its policies so that it can continue to lend to (selected) countries even if they default on debt – which Ukraine has just done, by failing to repay Russia a 3 billion dollar Eurobond loan.
As Reuters observed on December 18, the IMF policy alteration was «effectively throwing Ukraine a borrowing lifeline». But it will be interesting to see just how many lifelines are going to be thrown before the seas of corruption drown the innocent people of formerly prosperous Ukraine.