The hottest issues in Ukrainian society last year were fighting COVID-19 and attacking corruption infrastructure, with its partial leveling present sometimes. While the COVID battle is being fought in the hit-and-miss mode, ruining anti-corruption institutions by the team in power and its satellites was quite successful.
Saving Private Tatarov, Political Cheating, Staff and Budget Battles
December witnessed the ever ongoing list of corruption scandals. On December 18 NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine) informed Oleg Tatarov, the president’s deputy chief of staff, that he was a suspect in a case with a corruption component (involvement in schemes with apartments for National Guard). This story had a sudden twist. One week later the Prosecutor General’s office changed investigative jurisdiction and handed this case from NABU over to Ukraine’s Security Service. Let us remind that top level corruption in Ukraine is handled by NABU, Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) and High Anti-Corruption Court. SAP, in its turn, stated that the Prosecutor General’s office does not have such powers. Such actions are going to result in further negative consequences both on the domestic (as they undermine public trust to authorities and anti-corruption institutions) and on the international arenas. The Prosecutor General’s Office created a precedent, which basically means that almost any corrupt person from any echelon of power may be let off the hook. It is worth noting that the corruption scandal in the office of the head of the state did not have any consequences for Oleg Tatarov himself. Moreover, the person involved still carries out his duties.
The parliament wasn’t sitting back and doing nothing in December either. At the beginning of the month a law on restoring criminal liability for lying in electronic declarations was adopted. However, the MPs decided to turn to political cheating. The Criminal Code of Ukraine got a new chapter on limiting liberty for providing false information instead of previous punishment of imprisonment. Alexander Novikov, the head of the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption, called on the president to veto the bill. The head of the state remained indifferent to such calls and signed the bill.
The parliament also witnessed fervent budget and staff battles. In mid-December the deputies adopted the main financial document in the country. Let us remind that the deadline for adopting the country’s budget, according to Ukrainian legislation is December 1. It is worth noting that the ruling mono-majority secured only 225 votes out of the minimal number of 226 needed in order to adopt the bill.
Staff decisions in the parliament were also made after borderline voting. On December 17 the Verkhovna Rada appointed Serhiy Shkarlet to be acting Minister of Education and Science, even though the profile committee did not support this candidate and reported this twice (he was accused of plagiarism). Yuriy Vitrenko wasn’t as lucky. He was considered the most likely candidate for a deputy prime minister and concurrently an energy minister. It looks like his high salaries and bonuses in Naftogaz weren’t forgotten, with his efforts behind Ukraine winning in Stockholm arbitration court against Gazprom’s appeal being not up to the liking of some pro-Russian political forces. However, this was not the end of the story with Yuriy Vitrenko’s appointment. On December 21 the Government, sidestepping the Parliament, appointed Yuriy Vitrenko as acting Ukrainian energy minister.
“National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine informed the president’s deputy chief of staff that he was a suspect in a corruption case”
Hopes and Disappointments
According to the reports provided by the ministry of economy, overall, the year was not bad. Instead of the planned UAH 400 million (around $14 million) from privatization of state property the revenue made up UAH 2,5 billion (approximately $89 million). In some cases property prices increased by over 300% at auctions. It is expected that there will be even more income from more large-scale privatization – almost $500 million.
Ukraine also made an agreement with the European Union on signing ACAA agreement (the so-called industrial visa-free regime) on some types of products with added value: low-voltage equipment, electromagnetic equipment, machines and mechanisms. Goods produced in Ukraine under these categories and certified by a Ukrainian market control body will be able to get to EU market without additional barriers.
In early 2021 Ukraine will also initiate including pharmaceuticals and seafood in the revised list of goods within the Association Agreement.
Moreover, Kyiv intensified its dialogue with Bejing. In the course of the fourth meeting of the intergovernmental commission on cooperation in December, China and Ukraine agreed on joint cooperation to fight COVID-19 pandemic and establishing deeper relations within the Belt and Road Initiative. It is worth noting that the Ukraine-China Intergovernmental Commission on Cooperation previously had a meeting in December 2017.
However, against the backdrop of general optimism it is quite alarming that both in November and December the Ministry of Finance did not allow the State Treasury to make payments under unprotected categories that is a sign of deficit in a state treasury. The Pension Fund also remains subsidized, with its deficit making up approximately UAH 26 billion (around $1 billion) in 2021 and plans to compensate this gap using the state budget.
Better Relations with Moldova and Constant International Support
Contrary to the country’s domestic political arena, its international agenda was not turbulent. The leading part in December foreign policy developments was played by the head of Ukrainian diplomacy Dmytro Kuleba. At the beginning of the month the country’s main diplomat had a working visit to Moldova. In the course of bilateral meetings including one with Maia Sandu, Moldova’s new president-elect, both parties pledged mutual ever-present support when it comes to sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Ukrainian minister also invited Maia Sandu to pay an official visit to Kyiv and join the Crimean platform – a Ukrainian initiative calling on the country’s allies to develop extensive dialogue on the issues of de-occupation of the Crimean peninsula. Such kind of warming-up in relations between Ukraine and Moldova was only possible after the political change that took place as a result of presidential elections, when pro-European Maia Sandu became President following bluntly pro-Russian Igor Dodon.
In early December the head of MFA held meeting with NATO ministers of foreign affairs via secure communication lines. This resulted in a statement that NATO is going to be more involved in security in the Black Sea region. The North Atlantic Alliance is also going to involve third countries in these matters, including Ukraine.
American support is ever-present when it comes to Ukraine. At the plenary session of OSCE ministerial council Stephen Biegun, US Deputy Secretary of State, stated that Russian aggression against Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea is a serious violation of international law in Europe. According to the top American official, the biggest task is to keep Ukraine among the priorities. Romanian partners also did their part. In the course of the same OSCE meeting, Bogdan Aurescu, the head of Romania’s MFA, expressed his concerns on the significant amount of military equipment on the contact line in the East of Ukraine. The Romanian minister also noted that his country supports efforts on reaching a stable political conflict resolution respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally acclaimed borders.
Zelensky at a meeting of the Verkhovna Rada
Photo: 24 Channel