Ukraine Day 777: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.
Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.
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Two Ukrainian soldiers were captured near the city of Gorlovka today, Unian.net reported.
“Two Ukrainian servicemen were captured near Gorlovka. Meanwhile, more detailed information about the incident will be provided after conducting special measures which for now cannot be revealed in order to secure the safety of our servicemen.”
At the briefing, Motuzyanik also said that Russian-backed forces have received the order from Moscow to reduce their numbers by 20% due to “significant losses on the part of the fighters of the command of the so-called 1st and 2nd army corps of the Russian occupying forces.”
He said forced mobilization was therefore under way in the separatist-controlled areas. He said Russia continues to supply troops to the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic.”
Militants also concentrated their fire on Ukrainian positions in Opytnoye, Shirokino, Krasnogorovka, Stanitsa Luganskaya, Zaytsevo and Novotroitskoye.
Today residents of Krasnodon, also controlled by Russian militants reported an explosion of a fuel tank, Unian reported.
Panama Papers Reveal Trail Of Money Circling President Putin
LIVE UPDATES: A vast trove of documents have been leaked from a Panama-based offshore services firm, revealing a large network of schemes involving Russian officials and close associates of President Vladimir Putin.
Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, has also been named in the papers. Reuters reports:
According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, Poroshenko set up an offshore company to move his confectionery business, Roshen, to the British Virgin Islands in August 2014 during a peak in fighting between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists.
France 24 reports that Poroshenko may indeed have broken laws:
None of the three accounts associated with Poroshenko’s offshore firm held more than 2,000 euros ($2,270). But the report said they may have been used as a haven by the president to avoid taxes on his candy empire.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) said “Poroshenko’s action might be illegal on two counts: he started a new company while president and he did not report the company on his disclosure statements.”
The Guardian adds that Poroshenko set up one of these shell corporations in the British Virgin Islands during the same time that his military forces were suffering a tremendous defeat in Ilovaisk, making the optics around this even more damaging:
Leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca show that Poroshenko registered the company, Prime Asset Partners Ltd, on 21 August 2014. Records in Cyprus list him as the firm’s only shareholder. They give his official address in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev – apartment 39, Hrushevskoho Street.
The registration coincided with one of the most notorious fights in the war in Ukraine, between the Ukrainian army and Kremlin-supplied insurgents. On 20 August 2014, government troops found themselves surrounded in the eastern city of Ilovaisk. As many as 1,000 soldiers were killed as they tried to retreat under rebel and Russian fire. Several hundred more were wounded or captured.
Poroshenko has been slammed by some of his opponents and his shakiest allies in the parliament, but members of his own party are calling for an investigation in the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Reuters continues:
“I think it will have an impact in terms of further erosion of confidence in Poroshenko,” Serhiy Leshchenko, a lawmaker in Poroshenko’s faction, told Reuters.
Leshchenko and a fellow reformist lawmaker – Mustafa Nayyem – said Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, should launch a special investigation into the allegations.
“The only way out of this situation is with complete openness and transparency at all stages of the unravelling of this scandal,” Nayyem said on Facebook.
RFE/RL reports that Oleh Lyashko, the head of the populist Radical Party, has called on the Anticorruption Bureau (AKB) to investigate the charges.
Before Poroshenko was president he was sometimes called “The Chocolate King” as he was the head of the Roshen group, a large confectionery company. Poroshenko vowed to shed his assets in Roshen and several other companies he owned, but progress in doing so has been slow. When questioned about this in the past, Poroshenko has argued that it is hard to unload assets like this during an economic crisis and he is focused on running his country, not his company, during a time of war.
Various media outlets have reported that Poroshenko initially did not give comment on the new report over this weekend, but now he has taken to Twitter to defend his behavior:
As some have also pointed out, most of the people named in these papers, from any country, have yet to give any official comment.
Poroshenko has several problems he has to contend with at the same time. The first is that he and his party have been locked in a power struggle with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk for months. The second is that the fighting in eastern Ukraine is heating up, which could apply even more political pressure on the Poroshenko administration which may soon have to respond.
But arguably Poroshenko’s biggest problem is perhaps the least dramatic. Last fall, after the new ceasefire was taking hold in the Donbass, international leaders began to express their frustration at the lack of reforms and endemic corruption within the Ukrainian government. In February, after months of growing criticism of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, a small flood of Ukrainian officials resigned out of frustration, sparking international backlash against the Ukrainian government’s failure to fight this most obviously corrupt official.
Only yesterday did Poroshenko close the chapter on Shokin by signing a measure, passed by the Verkhovna Rada last week, that removes Shokin:
On April 1, The New York Times ran an opinion piece written by their editorial board which slammed the Poroshenko administration for failing to tackle the Shokin problem and for tolerating systemic corruption:
In a speech in Odessa last September, the United States ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, said corruption was as dangerous for Ukraine as was the Russian support for a military insurgency in eastern Ukraine. And on a visit last December, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said corruption was eating Ukraine “like a cancer.” Among the examples Mr. Pyatt cited was the seizure in Britain of $23 million in illicit assets from the former Ukrainian ecology minister, Mykola Zlochevsky; Mr. Shokin’s office, however, declared that there was no case against the minister, and the money was released.
In his last hours in office, Mr. Shokin dismissed the deputy prosecutor general, David Sakvarelidze, a former prosecutor in Georgia brought in by President Poroshenko to fight corruption. And before that, Mr. Shokin had systematically cleansed his office of reform-minded prosecutors. The acting prosecutor general now is Yuriy Sevruk, a crony who can be trusted to continue Mr. Shokin’s practices.
In these circumstances, Mr. Poroshenko seems to have accepted continuing corruption as the price to pay for a modicum of maneuvering room. 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.
Ukraine's Unyielding Corruption
The Ukrainian Parliament finally voted to oust Ukraine's odious prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, on Tuesday. The United States and European countries that have provided aid to Ukraine had long pressed for his dismissal; in his year in office, Mr. Shokin became a symbol of Ukraine's deeply ingrained culture of corruption, failing to prosecute a single member of the deposed Yanukovych regime or of the current government while blocking the efforts of reform-minded deputies.
It’s worth noting that The New York Times does not appear to have had access to the Panama Papers before they were published, suggesting that they had no idea that these newest allegations would be coming.
So far, international response to the allegations against Poroshenko have been fairly muted. For instance, Geoffrey Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, has retweeted this comment from Carl Bildt, who was Prime Minister of Sweden from 1991 to 1994 and was Sweden’s Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2014. Bildt is making a clear distinction between Ukraine, where these allegations are already being hotly debated, and Russia where they will not be.
Pyatt’s tweet, and Lozhkin’s words which were probably written months ago, have a strange connotation today in light of Shokin’s removal and new allegations levied against Poroshenko. Is Pyatt inferring that Poroshenko failed to fight corruption, or that it is an incredibly difficult task?
— James Miller