Ukraine appears to have taken some very deliberate, forceful, and very welcome steps towards fighting the corruption that has been at the heart of its state since independence.First, in a bid to end a dangerous standoff that had developed over the weekend, President Petro Poroshenko late last night fired upstart oligarch Igor Kolomoisky from his appointed post as governor of Dniepropetrovsk. Kolomoisky, chafing under a recent law which had restricted his veto power in two state-owned energy enterprises, had sent armed men to Kyiv to occupy the offices of the state oil company earlier this week. Poroshenko had given Kolomoisky 24 hours to stand down. Yesterday, Kolomoisky was already signaling that he was softening, saying in an interview on his own television station that he had spoken to Poroshenko, and they had agreed that “this is not the way things should happen.”We wrote as far back as June of last year about the threat that empowered oligarchs present to the viability of the Ukrainian state. If Kolomoisky has gone quietly, as it initially appears he has, this is a big step toward finally establishing the rule of law in the country. Of course, the devil is always in the details. The thing to watch for next is if and how the militias Kolomoisky has been funding are integrated into Ukraine’s security services, and what kind of compromise, if any, was struck with Kolomoisky over his stake in the energy sector.But that’s not all. In a second surprise move, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrested (and fired) the head of its State Service for Emergency Situations (GosChS) Sergei Bochkovskiy, and his deputy Vasiliy Stoitskiy, for corruption—in the middle of a cabinet meeting being televised on live TV. According to the Interpreter, the GosChS had made fuel purchases from Lukoil and Alliance without receiving competing bids from other firms, and then skimmed off the top:
At a later stage, the GosChS transferred money to these companies for the fuel, after which 15% of those funds were transferred into the accounts of non-residents and other foreign companies. These, in turn, transferred funds to the GosChS managers’ own accounts, said the MVD investigator.
The footage is dramatic:Having the arrest made in full public view is sending a very strong signal: the Ukrainian government sees that rooting out this kind of corruption is a priority.A good day in Ukraine today, then, and a good start. The fight against the oligarchs is far from over, as young parliamentarian and Maidan organizer Mustafa Nayyem wrote after Kolomoisky’s ouster. And Ukraine’s finances are in as bad a shape as ever, with Moody’s downgrading the country to its second-to-lowest rating and warning about an imminent default. But events like these give one hope that eventually Ukraine might be able to turn the corner after all.