Events in Ukraine find that country’s government at a moment of truth. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has an opportunity to emerge as the leader of a government that holds the rule of law and due process sacrosanct for its people. If he does, his government can make great strides toward taking its rightful place on the world stage as a truly free and independent nation.
To that end, Ukraine’s ability to overcome her past issues with human rights violations and political persecution is of concern. Also of concern is whether Poroshenko can overcome the allure of opportunistically manipulating current events to further his own political aspirations of longevity; a situation to which the Ukrainian people have become all too accustomed.
Poroshenko’s defining moment comes in the trial of his predecessor, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych, in self-exile in Russia after a violent uprising in protest of his decision to pull back from a European Union association agreement, is currently on trial in absentia on charges of high treason, corruption and “mass murder.” Yanukovych’s physician has stated that the former President’s health is in such a state that he cannot currently stand trial.
In question is whether Yanukovych is standing trial for his alleged crimes or whether he is on trial because he has now been characterized as a political enemy of the state by his successor and his government.
Mr. Poroshenko is facing pressure from Ukrainian activists who see his administration mired in troubling issues. From the Azov sea crisis that saw the Russian navy firing on and seizing Ukrainian vessels, to the ongoing conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine (commonly collectively called the “Donbass”), to suspicions in some quarters over what really happened to drive Yanukovych from power, Poroshenko is in dire need to shift the scrutiny on his government to a subject matter that benefits him.
So, the crossroads facing Mr. Poroshenko are stark. On the one hand he can manipulate the information sphere and take up the well-worn reigns of political opportunism, thus recreating an all too familiar status quo in Ukraine that sees the continuation of instability. On the other, Poroshenko can embrace a fierce dedication to the rule of law, due process, and transparency in judicial process, enshrining into the body politick that his is a nation of laws and not of men.
US President Donald Trump and those in his administration has made it clear, both publicly and through official channels, that there is great concern in Washington, DC, about the state of affairs in Ukraine regarding human rights abuses as well as its dedication to blind justice; and even playing field for all in the Ukrainian judicial system. These concerns are shared by an overwhelming majority of the leaders in the European Union.
Ukraine’s history exhibits a penchant for legal nihilism as it pertains to the rule of law, not to mention its troubled past with human rights. And Mr. Poroshenko appears to be ignoring the bigger issues of war, corruption and revolution, even as his administration feeds from the trough of opportunistic familiarity in pursuing political prosecutions.
Unless Mr. Poroshenko finds an above board solution to the war, strives to curtail corruption, and dedicates his administration and policies to true human rights reforms, he is likely going to lose Western support and will dramatically darken his chances for a second term. In fact, Ukraine seriously risks falling into the heavy-handed Russian orbit and or the devolution of the country as a whole should the Pororshenko government not seize the moment for good. I, for one, am rooting for them.
Christian Josi is a veteran of international center-right/libertarian politics, and a frequent columnist for a variety of publications. He is the Founder and Managing Director of C. Josi & Company, a global communications resource firm based in Virginia Beach and Washington.