Not Quite Ready for Sainthood

by CHAD NAGLE

Kiev, Ukraine.

"The present government, it is known, is corrupt and controlled by the oligarchs," declared Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko in a televised debate against his opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, on November 15. "I have already signed a package of decrees we will issue at once after our victory. The first is a resolute fight against corruption at all levels," he said. According to opinion polls he is now favored to win the run-off election on December 26.

Reformer-politicians in the former Soviet Union invariably campaign as "anti-corruption" crusaders. Mr. Yushchenko is one such figure, and his professed drive to sweep away the old "oligarchic" structures and bring in a new generation of reform-minded democrats is a familiar refrain. Yet Washington should think twice about the possible consequences of a Yushchenko presidency in a strategic lynchpin of its policy in the region. Americans like to believe their government is supporting politicians committed to building cleaner, more affluent societies and economies, but even a cursory look at Yushchenko’s background reveals his "Mr. Clean" image is not quite deserved.

Viktor Yushchenko began his career in the banking structures of the USSR, as an official of the Ukrainian division of the giant centralized Soviet planning apparatus known as "Gosbank." In the final years of the Soviet Union’s existence, the disintegration of Gosbank spawned many scams and crooked schemes. Under the guise of allocating credits for state-approved projects, the emerging "entrepreneurs" embezzled the equivalent of billions of dollars worth of state resources. Corruption proliferated under a collapsing regime where legislative oversight of banking activity was practically non-existent. Almost overnight, a new breed of financial "oligarchs" was born. Mr. Yushchenko likes to brand others as "oligarchs," but few people personify the concept better than he does.

Western observers tend to dismiss the crime and corruption of the ex-USSR as the "growing pains" of countries striving for civilized free-market capitalism. Some people seem to believe that former Communist states must go through a period of "robber baron" rule on the path to a market economy governed by the rule of law. This view is misguided. As some contemporary observers put it, the "patriots" of post-Soviet Ukraine made their first million with their first billion, a reverse of the Rockefeller-Morgan scenario of success through hard work and discipline.

Yushchenko was a founding father of Bank Ukraina, successor to the Soviet Ukrainian Agro-Industrial Bank, which inherited billions of rubles in reserves ­ equal to those of all other banks in Ukraine combined ­ at a time when the official ruble-dollar exchange rate heavily favored the Soviet currency. Bank Ukraina issued credits for a variety of ventures that looked legitimate on the surface but were actually illegal. Yet, in the chaotic circumstances of the USSR’s collapse, the culprits were able to bury the facts.

During the time when the Ukrainian parliament was considering Yushchenko’s nomination to head the National Bank of Ukraine, proof emerged that in October 1991 he and his colleague at Bank Ukraina, Igor Mitiukov (now ambassador to Britain), had bypassed required procedure and approved issuance of a 100 million ruble loan for conversion into hard currency, ostensibly to buy agricultural equipment. The money was never returned to Bank Ukraina and, since the bank was partially state-owned, public resources had been embezzled. In other words, a serious crime had been committed. Yushchenko’s candidacy was mysteriously approved by Ukraine’s fledgling parliament and the prosecutor’s office dropped its investigation.

Was Yushchenko simply employing the necessary means to reach his goal of leading Ukraine to a better future? Perhaps, but the record suggests that the notion that Yushchenko acted as a patriotic democrat standing up for Ukrainian national interests against a pro-Russian Soviet holdover is a carefully constructed myth.

In 1992, as deputy chairman of Bank Ukraina, Yushchenko was the de facto benefactor of a pro-Russian political movement in Ukraine’s southern region of Crimea. From 1992-93, the demagogic leader of this movement, Yuri Meshkov, claimed to be standing up for the rights of Russians threatened by nationalism in the newly-independent Ukraine. Meshkov dangerously provoked conflict between Russia and Ukraine in a highly militarized area that served as the headquarters of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. Would a genuine Ukrainian "national patriot," as Yushchenko is alleged to be, fund a political figure like Meshkov?

All this was happening at a time of serious hardship for ordinary Ukrainians. Hyper-inflation began soon after the breakup of the USSR, and Ukraine’s currency changed three times. The eventual collapse of Bank Ukraina was one of the most tragic episodes in post-Soviet Ukrainian history, as millions of ordinary Ukrainians lost their life savings.

Viktor Yushchenko was one of the people who profited from the chaos and social breakdown accompanying the Soviet Union’s disintegration. But his opportunism in those days doesn’t make him a statesman today.

CHAD NAGLE is an American lawyer who was accredited as an international observer for the 2004 Ukrainian presidential elections.

Editors’ note: CHAD NAGLE’s first report on Yushchenko’s medical condition contained a description of rosacea that should have been attributed to Dr Thomas Boyle, not Dr Chris Rangel. Here’s Boyle’s lore, as cited by Nagle: "As for rosacea, I disagree with all those who have said that it does not look like what Yushchenko has and that rosacea does not progress this rapidly. Rosacea can be explosive, and extremely disfiguring — and it can be triggered by even one alcoholic drink. In five years of work at major inner city hospitals in Manhattan, I saw several such cases." See Dr Boyle’s entertaining and iluminating weblog for 12/12/2004. There’s a Rangel link at the foot of his comment, which led to the erroneous attribution.


Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece
Jeffrey R. Wilson
“It Started Like a Guilty Thing”: the Beginning of Hamlet and the Beginning of Modern Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Star Whores: John McCain, the Apache and the Battle to Save Mt. Graham
Pepe Escobar
The Eurasian Big Bang: How China and Russia Are Running Rings Around Washington
Charles Larson
The USA as a Failed State: Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me”
Robert Fantina
Israel and “Self-Defense”
John W. Whitehead
The American Nightmare: the Tyranny of the Criminal Justice System
Leonidas Vatikiotis
Rupture With the EU: a Return to the Cave Age or a New Golden Age for Greece?
Murray Dobbin
Harper is Finally Right: the Canadian Election is About Security Versus Risk
Brian Cloughley
Meet General Joseph Dunford: a Real Threat to World Peace
Manuel García, Jr.
The Trump Surge and the American Psyche
Pete Dolack
We May Have Already Committed Ourselves to 6-Meter Sea-Level Rise
Eric Draitser
US Targets Venezuela Using Border Dispute as Pretext
Michael Barker
The Challenge to Labour and Tory Extremism
Robert Hunziker
America’s Purple Politics
Ishmael Bishop
Decentering Whiteness in the Wake of a North Carolina Tragedy
Chad Nelson
Something About Carly: Fiorina and the Professional Political Class