FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castille’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail