Black books and bought elections

20 June 2016, 11:26

When Ukrainska Pravda’s journalists published the Party of Regions’ inventory register, it was not a sensation, but it did stir up even more talk about the need to battle political corruption. The published documents were nothing new for most Ukrainians, as there isn’t anyone who didn’t already know that Viktor Yanukovych and his team bought votes, paid for materials to be aired on the national channels, and were completely corrupted. The only shock came from the actual sums revealed: this was the first time that specific numbers were published.

Debate immediately began over the veracity of the list. Those politicians whose names were on this list dove in to deny that they had ever cooperated with the Regionals. Still, at least one of the individuals named confirmed that the list was authentic. Journalist Oleksiy Mustafin shared a link to his 2012 interview on his Facebook page, in which he openly admitted that he had consulted for Party of the Regions. Nor did he deny that he was paid US $20,000 a month for his efforts.

One of the main surprises was that even Nasha Ukraina, the party founded by Viktor Yushchenko, took money from PR. Still, such information has circulated in back rooms and the press for some time. For instance, in 2012, regional branches of Nasha Ukraina did little to hide the fact that relations with their one-time bitter rivals were quite comfortable. Moreover, NU campaign tents stood quietly on the central square of Donetsk next to those of the Regionals. Back in 2004, this would have been completely unthinkable: anyone wearing orange colors on the streets of the oblast capital risked being beaten. It seems that relations between Yushchenko and Yanukovych warmed up over the years.

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When he found his name in the published lists, Yuriy Kostenko was quick to assure voters that he never took money from PR. Still, given the marginal ratings of both Kostenko and Nasha Ukraina, the scandal is unlikely to cause them any harm. In 2012, Nasha Ukraina had decided not to join the United Opposition and campaigned independently, in contrast to the other “orange” parties. Gaining just over 1% of the vote in the end, Yushchenko effectively played into Yanukovych’s hands, taking 226,000 voters away from the opposition.

Another unexpected sum that appeared on the newly-revealed lists was US $2.2 million given to Donetsk sociologist Yevhen Kopatko. Previously, he had headed PR’s “pocket” sociology firm called R&B Group, which published falsified numbers in support of Yanukovych and Party of the Regions. Those who knew something about politics just laughed at the numbers. But those who didn’t care sold their votes for peanuts and disregarded all the polls. The impression is that Kopatko actually pulled numbers out of a hat and his sociology service was a front that existed only on paper. But it now turns out that he was actually being paid enormous sums for his efforts. These days, Kopatko lives in Crimea, where he is apparently working off his millions writing all kinds of apocalyptic prognoses about Ukraine and stories about how lovely life is in the annexed peninsula and in DNR.

The published bits of this illegal register are only a small percentage of the money that disappeared from the PR storehouse. Viktor Trepak told Dzerkalo Tyzhnia in an interview that he has sent quite a bit more material to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, confirming that he had given the law enforcement agency documents involving up to US $2 billion. The small portion published in Ukrainska Pravda journalists say came from a source that they would not name.

Why this exposé happened right now is not quite clear. Obviously, this is just the visible part of some political game that is still mostly under covers. Some journalists and experts are already hypothesizing that the revelation of this fragment of the list and the curious interview with Trepak, in which he acknowledged that the registers contain the names of any number of politicians and officials who are currently in office, is part of some kind of horse-trading: those in power are signaling to those who are on these lists that if they make the right offer, they can have their names removed.

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The odd story of Oleh Liashko seems to support this interpretation. A day before the lists were published, the head of the Radical Party announced on Facebook that his name would likely appear in there and that this was a “provocation” on the part of the Administration against him and his party. When the publication came out, it provided plenty of grist for jokes and anecdotes. Never had the thieves’ hats burned so brightly. And yet, Liashko was not on the lists, after all. Apparently, he’s not being targeted but is being invited to make an offer.

In the end, the main conclusion that can be drawn from the appearance of part of the black cash register in the press is that the Yanukovych regime, which considered itself legitimate, really never was. All those hundreds of thousands of dollars that PR paid district electoral commissions (DVK) and circuit electoral commissions (OVK) prove that its members never did come to power based on democratic procedure, but blatantly bought their places on various councils.

In fact, it turns out that, at a minimum, the 2012 election was completely falsified in favor of Yanukovych and his clan. So all the accusations coming from the “separatist” enclaves about a “state coup” in 2014 have no basis whatsoever. Ukrainians were fighting on the streets with a militarized mafia organization that had usurped power in the country, not with a legitimate government.

In light of these new facts, events of 2013-2014 become quite unambiguous: resistance to the illegal taking of power. This means that the so-called “junta” in that situation was more correctly Yanukovych & Co., not the government that came to power after he fled and the Maidan prevailed.

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What can be hoped for now, is that this time the corruption scandal will end with at least some of those who were involved being brought to justice. Lawyers are not so sure about this. According to some experts, the documents that have been published are unlikely to provide the basis for a criminal case, because the hand-written records simply don’t provide enough evidence. In a more civilized country, the publication of this kind of information would probably be the kiss of political death for every individual on the lists. But in Ukraine, as we know too well, many voters are not so demanding, so many of the “heroes” on the lists are likely to enjoy a long and healthy political career.


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