The Bright Side of Shame
Something we already knew, but not really
(Clockwise from top left: Atlantic Council Deputy Director Melinda Haring, Atlantic Council Eurasia Center Senior Fellow Andrian Karatnycky, Atlantic Council Resident Fellow Anders Aslund and ex-Minister of Economic Trade, Development and Agriculture Dr. Tymofiy Mylovanov)
It was definitely not some form of self-loathing that drove these four experts to talk more than an hour about Ukraine during the video conference titled “Zelensky at home: One year of economic reform?” on May 15. The event was sponsored by the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, the stated aim of which is to promote policies that strengthen stability, democratic values, and prosperity in Eurasia.
Karatnycky said in his opening statement that it’s difficult to assess what Zelensky is all about. Twice.
Anders concurred, noting the absence of a government program.
“A serious concern is that there is no government program. We thought there was sort of a government program, until he [Zelensky] changed the government on March 4, and worse, when he sacked the Prosecutor General [Ruslan Ryaboshapka] on March 5,” Aslund said.
Asked what government’s biggest achievement and worst misstep was, Dr. Mylovanov said land reform.
“It was supposed to be transformational, but it’s not. …Yes, we passed some land market law which was transformational, but not really,” Dr. Mylovanov said.
Whatever, I thought.
Dr. Mylovanov said by the end of December 2019 the reform process stalled when Servant of the People MPs were “captured” by vested interests, “including being paid.”
“At least that’s the rumor on the block. I haven’t seen it for myself, but it’s common knowledge, or consensus, now that some MPs are taking money,” Dr. Mylovanov said.
“Face it, at least 30 members of the Servant of the People Rada faction are servants of [Ukrainian billionaire Ihor] Kolomoisky. They are paid by him. They are his former employees and they are his current employees, just working in parliament, instead.” Aslund said.
Dr. Mylovanov said he could have remained in the new government as head of the non-existent Agriculture Ministry, but for the appointment of Illia Yemets as Health Minister and Ihor Umansky as Finance Minister, who both horrified him.
This is the part of the chit chat where I lit up a joint and nodded off.
I woke up to Karatnycky’s exquisitely nuanced comments about the “state of civil liberties” in Ukraine.
“….Attacks on Maidan activists, opening criminal cases that have been closed by the procuracy for lack of cause and the prosecution of what I would say are frivolous - or preposterous - cases against former political leaders, including President [Petro] Poroshenko. I am not going to say blanketly that there are no issues that deserve not to be investigated in terms of Poroshenko and his past government, but the cases that were brought forward, which were resisted by [sacked] Prosecutor General [Ruslan Ryaboshapka], who was fired because he allegedly resisted proceeding with these frivolous, weak cases, suggests that there is a certain kind of climate of meanness and retribution that is also at the heart of government,” Karatnycky said.
He later identified another problem.
“The two, I wouldn’t call them epochal, but fundamental, movements that shaped civil life in Ukraine over the past six years were the Maidan and the early volunteer efforts to build resistance to the [autocratic leader*] and to resist the Russian Spring. None of the representatives of those values, or that ethos, is currently in the administration,” Karatnycky said.
*I heard autoch
The panelists covered many interesting topics during their chit chat, especially Dr. Mylovanov, who said he agreed originally to enter government for pragmatic reasons and may write up - special for Atlantic Council - what he called his “Alice in Wonderland” experience.
It’s probably worth mentioning that Ukraine has a parliamentary-presidential form of government. Although Zelensky was elected president in April 2019, his appointments were confirmed only in late August. “Eight months of economic reform” would have been a more apt subtitle for the discussion (without the question mark), or maybe even “Five months of economic reform,” ending with the sacking of government in early March 2020 and start of Ukraine’s COVID-19 disaster.
(to be continued)