The Cost of Dissidence in Ukraine

Despite the innumerable bodies within and external to Ukraine aiming to combat its feverish corruption, the Saakashvili case says more than any fact that may be used to prove Ukraine’s progression. There’s no desire or promise of change.


Mikhail Saakashvili, the Georgian revolutionary.  Following his election as the third President of Georgia, Saakashvili achieved more in office than his predecessors could have ever imagined. He revolutionized the inherently regressive public services in Georgia, cured the disease of corruption as much as possible, moving Georgia from 133 in 2004 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, to 51 in 2012.  Saakashvili left Georgia after ceding his party’s defeat in October 2012, and was subsequently barred from the Georgian constitution to prohibit him from seeking a third Presidential term. Saakashvili was a public advocate of the Ukrainian Revolution and the Euromaidan movement, before being appointed Governor of Odessa Oblast and being granted Ukrainian citizenship. This adoption of Ukrainian citizenship was a bold sacrifice, losing his Georgian citizenship in the process. The perils of this only became clear in the last year, as Poroshenko and Saakashvili’s relationship became increasingly tumultuous and Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian passport, making him a stateless person. Simply, his endeavour to oppose the Poroshenko status quo has jeopardized his citizenship, reputation, and civil liberty.

Corruption in Ukraine has been a fervent issue, consistently threatening the political and economic progress of the state since its independence. Ukraine is notoriously kleptocratic, ruled by glorified criminal syndicates. Ernst and Young has condemned Ukraine to the title of the top three most corrupt nations in the world, comparable only to Brazil and Colombia. The success and viability of Ukraine as a progressive first world state is compromised tirelessly, the Guardian labelling Ukraine as the ‘most corrupt nation in Europe’. Corruption is as deeply ingrained in the Ukrainian state as the legacy of post-Sovietism, which some argue feeds the issue itself. Bribery is barely less acceptable than legitimacy with many Ukrainians acting as pawns in the games of the Ukrainian Government.

How Ukraine governs and addresses dissenters is a matter of contention, for the mystique shrouding the Ukrainian Government is impenetrable. Ukrainian politicians themselves have referred to the system as “rotten to the core”, which is immensely indicative of the condition of the reality of the government. The difficulty lies herein when considering the 2019 elections. The Kremlin, seeking a proxy state and having its foot still firmly wedged in Crimea, is pursuing parties and politicians that can most easily be bought and manipulated to remain in keeping with Kremlin demands. It cannot be disputed particularly, that Putin is aiming to have the Government in Kiev under his thumb, and a disjointed polity within Ukraine would aid his pursuit.

Despite the Obama administration’s best efforts to draft in the assistance of the FBI, Department of Justice and department experts to subdue the ever-worsening corruption plague in Ukraine, seldom did it have a tangible effect. A national requirement of 2014 was that MP’s must legally publicize their personal wealth as a matter of public interest, and the impending revelations were extraordinary. The October report revealed that 413 MP’s had an inclusive wealth of near $460million. It is difficult to conceptualize how dissenters will be punished, in an environment where there are no tangible ramifications for individuals who overtly exploit their power for economic gain.

The political and economic condition of Ukraine is ambiguous at best, and a criminal syndicate at worst. The exploitation of those in power, to incomprehensible extremes, must be overcome before the country may experience any form of progression toward EU and NATO cohesion. The Saakashvili case magnifies the enormity of the task at hand for those truly attempting to wage a war with corruption and political malpractice in Ukraine. The treatment of dissenters is one of extreme hostility, of public shaming and condemnation. Poroshenko’s exclusion of Saakashvili from Ukraine was more of an advertisement than of a pragmatic political decision. Poroshenko was creating a palpable case for others to see- he revoked the citizenship and publicly disgraced a politician who threatened his position- he set a precedent.

There are few possible solutions to this dilemma of such deeply embedded proportions. A corrupt politician in Ukraine, at present, may only face a sentence of up to two years in prison- this seldom realized when bribery is such an integral tool used in the game of Ukrainian politics. Former US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, openly disclosed her view that it’s time to “lock up people” who are exploiting the population, and “eradicate the cancer of corruption”. However, the idealism of her US exceptionalism rings true and loud. Despite the innumerable bodies within and external to Ukraine aiming to combat its feverish corruption, the Saakashvili case says more than any fact that may be used to prove Ukraine’s progression. There’s no desire or promise of change.

Farrah Barber is an International Relations and Russian student at the University of Saint Andrews. She is particularly interested in Political Risk and Intelligence, with a specialization in Russian foreign policy. 

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.



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