The photo above says it all. Soviet era façades. The blonde in an expensive ski jacket. The bloodied body on the sidewalk next to a luxury car. It’s the stuff of post-Soviet pulp novels. On Thursday, Denys Voronenkov, a Russian parliamentarian who fled to Ukraine, was assassinated in downtown Kyiv. To many in the West, this is their image of Ukraine.
To many in the West, this is their image of Ukraine.
All too often the impression is that Ukraine is still submerged in corruption and violence. Not much different from Russia.
But much of the newsworthy violence in Ukraine starts with Russia’s subversion of Ukraine’s determination to carry out democratic reforms, including anti-corruption reforms. These reforms are a threat to Putin because they demonstrate that there is next door in a fellow post-Soviet country an alternative to his oppressive rule. Nearly everyone in Ukraine, including President Poroshenko, believes Voronenkov’s death was a Russian hit. Voronenkov had been a vocal critic of Putin since fleeing prosecution for corruption himself in Russia.
What bothers Putin is that Ukraine’s reform process is succeeding. It has already had some notable successes, which provide a striking contrast to the absence of reform in Russia. Reform in the Ukrainian energy sector has greatly reduced the opportunity for corruption where it was once rampant. The establishment of an anti-corruption bureau is producing its first potentially big success with the arrest of Roman Nasirov, the head of Ukraine’s tax agency, in a US$75m graft case–even while Ukraine’s judicial system remains mired in corruption. A new e-procurement system has made public procurement more transparent and therefore less susceptible to fraud. And a new financial disclosure requirement makes it harder for politicians and high government officials to hide their wealth.
Support for reform from Western capitals is critical, though, both in terms of funding and expertise. That support is contingent on success.
Greater accountability needs to be backed up by consequences for those who have engaged in corruption.
Denys Voronenkov was not only a critic of Putin but also a key witness in the case against Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s previous president, for corruption and treason. The legacy of Voronenkov’s death should not be that yet another case is deflected, stalls and peters out.
Until then, lurid headlines about Ukraine will continue to reverberate across television screens in the West and overshadow the effort to end corruption leaving the impression that life in Ukraine is like a potboiler crime novel.
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