Sunday, April 3, 2016

Poroshenko’s Two Messages in Washington
President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine again brought his passionate message about his country to Washington, DC, last week during the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit. However, while his plea and warning about Ukraine’s war with Russia have not yet fallen on America’s deaf ears, they are sounding frayed due to Kyiv’s halfhearted battle with corruption.
In speeches to the Congress, the World Affairs Council of America and the Ukrainian American community, Poroshenko pointed out that since the Russian invasion of Ukrainian Crimea in February 2014 the country has stagnated economically while successfully defending itself from Russian aggression. He emphasized that Ukraine is embroiled in a war of survival and it has singlehandedly managed to halt the invasion of well-armed Russia. Poroshenko advised the free world to understand that Ukraine is not only fighting for its existence as an independent, sovereign and indivisible European country but also for the free world’s safety and security.
Ukrainian patriots are losing their lives defending the same values that are dear to America and Europe. We are of one blood, one mind and one values. Democratic values,” Poroshenko observed.
“There are so many reasons not to carry (leadership): indifference, fatigue, self-doubt… And there is only one reason to carry it: you have it in your blood. In these times of doubt, I urge America to be strong and believe in itself – just like people of goodwill worldwide keep believing in America. Don’t let pragmatism make you forget about values, with freedom being at the top of them. Don’t let America become small-minded,” Poroshenko expounded in the US Congress.
Ukraine’s fight is a fight for freedom.  And this fight continues,” Poroshenko said, urging American lawmakers to provide support for Ukraine.
And Congress and the White House have been for the most part supportive of Ukraine, perhaps due to the herculean efforts by Ukrainian American organizations and citizens. During the latest visit, Vice-President Joe Biden told Poroshenko that the US was moving forward with an additional $335 million in security assistance, the White House said in a statement.
Biden, who has been the White House’s point person in contacts with Poroshenko and Kyiv, again cautioned the Ukrainian leader that efforts by his administration to form a reform-oriented government were critical to unlocking international economic assistance, including an essential third $1 billion US loan guarantee, the statement said.
By comparison with other admonitions, Biden’s was the most constructive and palatable. Hopefully, Poroshenko will not belittle it.
Poroshenko argued that US and free world sanctions against Russia must remain intact until the restoration of peace in eastern Ukraine and Kyiv’s authority over Crimea. Indeed, sanctions must be upheld and even amplified until Russia withdraws its soldiers and terrorists from Ukraine. Anything less would signal the free world’s contempt for Ukrainian spilt blood.
“If the West lifts sanctions, the Kremlin’s wish will come true: Ukrainian blood will cost nothing. Killing Ukrainians will go without punishment,” said Poroshenko.
“Can anyone in the West accept this? I hope not. Sanctions are the only ‘line in the sand’ that the West drew after 2014. It is the only line between good and evil drawn in the context of this war,” he said.
“And if there is no line anymore – then what’s the difference between good and evil? Do we really want a world devoid of political boundaries? Do we want a world where one can grab other nation’s land, kill thousands – and stay unpunished? Therefore, without sustainable peace in Donbas – sanctions must stay in place,” Poroshenko insisted.
Without restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea – sanctions must stay in place.  Without a new Russian attitude – sanctions must stay in place. Anything less would be a compromise at the cost of values and justice,” he said, echoing sentiments expressed a couple of days earlier by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.
The Ukrainian president – and other x-captive nations’ leaders – said the right signal to send to Russia “is that if you pursue an aggressive policy, no one will deal with you.”
Poroshenko’s message has been simple: Criminals must be held accountable for their aggression; and they must withdraw from occupied territories. Russia must be banned from the global table.
The Ukrainian president also said some 10,000 people, including more than 2,700 Ukrainian army troops, had been killed in fighting between Russian soldiers and terrorists and Ukrainian armed forces.  Russia has delivered more than 750 tanks, more than 1,500 artillery systems, stores of ammunition to a very small territory. He said nearly 1.8 million people had been forced to leave their homes in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since the war started.
Furthermore, Ukraine’s economy shrank 9.9% in 2015 in addition to a drop of almost 7% in 2014, Ukraine’s economy has also been hurt by a trade war with Russia, formerly its largest market for exports, and a drop in the global price of its wheat and steel exports.
Since the start of the war, the World Bank Group has provided a total of more than $4.1 billion in budget support, investments and private sector financing to Ukraine.
Faced with Russian gross violations of international law and order and national pain and suffering, Poroshenko expressed surprise at the international community’s reluctance to provide Ukraine with lethal military assistance.
While the world places its hopes for peace on the so-called Minsk accords, Poroshenko indicated that the ceasefire agreement has not contributed to a lessening of death and anguish. Russia continues to press onward with impunity in its aggression against Ukraine.
“Nineteen months after we initiated the Minsk process, I still receive reports about losses and shelling of our positions in the frontline every single day. Every morning I have a report from Chief of the General Staff, General of the Ukrainian Army Muzhenko. Unfortunately, every day we have from 50 to 100 bombardments per day,” he said.
While logistic and military demands placed on Russia can be easily satisfied, Poroshenko said “changing Russia’s attitude and making it leave Ukraine alone” aren’t, revealing his understanding of Ukraine’s ongoing precarious predicament of having to share a border with belligerent Russia.
Russia’s more than 24-month occupation of Crimea have resulted in systemic and large-scale violations of human rights in Crimea, he said.
“The occupation regime targets everyone who shows dissent, especially Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars who support sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. The Russian occupation regime has launched over 130 criminal cases against Crimean Tatars, including a case to ban their main organization – Mejlis. 21 Crimean Tatars have been kidnapped, 3 found dead, 9 are still missing. More than 20,000 Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars were forced to leave the peninsula,” Poroshenko detailed.
But in the context of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, Russia’s most dangerous plans are its militarization of the Ukrainian peninsula and its intention to station nuclear weapons in Crimea.
“This is Russia’s understanding of security in the region,” Poroshenko summarized disparagingly.
While Poroshenko’s message about Ukraine’s war with Russia is one side of its current profile, the reverse side is fast becoming the single greatest impediment to attracting supporters. Corruption can isolate Kyiv from the international community before a global campaign can be mounted to expel Russia from Ukraine. Biden had called corruption a cancer that is eating Ukraine.
The New York Times, in an editorial, among other sources, called Ukraine on the carpet for this glaring offense.
“But the president, the prime minister and the Parliament must be made to understand that the International Monetary Fund and donor nations, including the United States, cannot continue to shovel money into a corrupt swamp unless the government starts shaping the democratic rule that Ukrainians demanded in their protests,” wrote the New York newspaper.
“Alas, nothing is likely to change unless President Petro Poroshenko and Parliament agree to install some real corruption fighters and approve serious judicial reform.”
Ukrainian patriots from across the country have said corruption is the single greatest domestic evil that is plaguing Ukraine. Despite Poroshenko’s declarations that Ukraine is making headway in its war against graft, very little has been accomplished. Corrupt officials remain in office at all levels of government or else they are rotated to different offices to conceal their activities.
The President and the Verkhovna Rada must find the courage to weed out corrupt officials regardless of whose friend or relative they may be. This process must begin with the President himself by his divestiture of all his financial holdings rather than establish off-shore venues for his current and future sources of income. This conflict of interest cannot be tolerated in a country that seeks to establish a new credible, democratic, law-abiding image.
Ukrainians are also sick and tired of government corruption. But as they clamor for good officials to arrest the bad ones, they tolerate graft on their local levels as they seek jobs, buy goods and services, and apply to higher education. The people must also do their share to end this dishonest holdover of the Soviet era.

The nation has demonstrated with the Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity that it has the true grit – like Nadiya Savchenko – to seize the day and improve its fate. Poroshenko, the government and people are winning against Russia. This Ukrainian triumvirate must now stand shoulder to shoulder and defeat corruption before it is too late.