Who’s Oiling the Propaganda Machine?
The propaganda preparations behind the refusal to release Tymoshenko and rejection of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement began months ago, gaining momentum through November. While Russian pressure and strangulation of the economy were undoubtedly real, the calls from industrialists and others to not sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement were suspiciously closely coordinated with mounting intransigence over Yulia Tymoshenko. The following looks only at the active role played by Viktor Pshonka, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General and a Swiss-based NGO in concentrated moves to associate the imprisoned former Prime Minister with Ukraine’s economic woes and justify her continued imprisonment.
Pshonka’s claims at a press briefing on Nov. 19 that Tymoshenko has more than $500 million in Swiss bank accounts were drearily familiar. The attempts to create a “new Tymoshenko case” began in early November over disputed funds in bank accounts opened by Pavlo Lazarenko. There is, however, one added nuance. Pshonka announced that his office was cooperating with a Swiss human rights organization on measures to “return this money to Ukraine”. The absurdity of the suggestion that an NGO could assist in retrieving money allegedly held in Swiss bank accounts is only one of the many aspects of the recent allegations which don’t bear scrutiny. What does warrant the closest attention is the role actually played by the said NGO.
An interim report produced by the Organized Crime Observatory (OCO), the outfit which Pshonka was referring to, prompted a recent call by anti-corruption lawyer Halyna Senyk for western NGOs to do their homework on Ukraine. While sharing that author’s bemusement over the shoddy quality of the report and highly selective presentation of corruption in Ukraine, I would draw issue on one point. Performance is judged by the homework task assigned and there are grounds for questioning what task the OCO and its president, Nicolas Giannakopoulos have undertaken, and who is behind it.
The first announcement of OCO interest in Ukraine (and, for most of us, of the NGO’s existence) came in September this year. State-run Ukrinform announced that the Geneva-based NGO had “started a research and assessment on compliance regarding organized crime and public sector corruption in Ukraine”. This was supposedly “part of the EU initiatives to study the inclusion of former USSR countries in the EU” and was to engage all kinds of “international partners, universities and research centers from Europe and the United States”.
On Nov 13, just two months later and on the day that the call from industrialists to delay the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was made, the OCO felt the need to hold a press conference and issue an interim report. Its press release has the interesting title “OCO President says crime must not go unpunished” and some truly startling conclusions. Its president, Nicolas Giannakopoulos was asked “whether OCO felt it appropriate, based on its review of legal documents from the United States and Switzerland, that Tymoshenko should be freed ahead of the EU summit at Vilnius.” Giannakopoulos responded as follows: “Ukraine should be ashamed if it releases Tymoshenko as democracies should not bow to pressure in relation to crime. Evidence from the United States points to a clear link with Pavlo Lazarenko and the laundering of money from the pockets of Ukrainians. Crime is crime and must not go unpunished.”
The super-fast track interim report itself has a lot to say about Lazarenko and Tymoshenko including the following: “the former PM Lazarenko faced two trials, one in Switzerland and one in the United States and served years of prison, being considered as the paradigm of the political corruption. The other, the former PM Tymoshenko, was sentenced in Ukraine for the same facts and seems still to be considered as a political victim”.
Even OCO’s zealous haste cannot explain the astounding inaccuracy of this assertion. Any statement from the EU, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, US State Department, etc would have told these “researchers” that Tymoshenko was convicted over alleged “abuse of office” in connection with the 2009 gas accords with Russia. It was her 7-year sentence after a flawed trial for an essentially political decision which prompted international condemnation for what was universally viewed as the politically motivated prosecution of Yanukovych’s main rival. The rest of the report can be downloaded from the OCO website, should the reader feel the urge. The above-mentioned article by Halyna Senyk is a useful guide to some of the especially noticeable omissions, such as the mega wealth amassed by Viktor Yanukovych’s sons, his controversial residence at Mezhyhirya, the role of the courts in raiders’ attacks and others.
Since these topics are regularly reported both in the Ukrainian and western media, failure to mention them is particularly telling. If, as claimed, the OCO “study” due to be completed in September 2014 really does have European Commission funding, one must seriously ask why. Attempts to find a grant on the EC’s Financial Transparency System were not fruitful. The interim report itself states that “this research is funded by private donors who all have interests in the development of the European Union… We would like to express our gratitude to our donors who at this stage wish to remain anonymous.”
The specialists and institutes given in the credits to this opus may or may not know about their alleged input. The contribution of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, who receives special thanks “for the information and documentation his offices provided”, is certainly not in doubt.
Nor is it difficult to imagine why “the donors” behind this study would wish to remain anonymous. Ukraine’s current leaders have rejected an opportunity for growing integration with the EU which was supported by an absolute majority of the Ukrainian population and which may not be repeated. They have done so following secret negotiations with Russia. The attempts to present the debacle as based on Ukraine’s economic or “national security” needs are entirely unconvincing. Added proof of the questionable motivation behind Yanukovych and Co’s latest move comes from squalid attempts to manipulate public opinion against Ukraine’s most prominent political prisoner.