Zelensky's fall to grace in the West
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky went from a criticized leader in the West to a beloved hero in a matter of months, and all it took was a war breaking out in his country.
Ukraine is a corrupt nation, plain and simple. And that was being championed all over the West for years - ever since the country's independence from the Soviet Union after its collapse - but all of that seemed to be forgotten in light of Russia's special military operation and the Ukrainian presidency, after spending decades being criticized by the collective West as corrupt, unjust, and a violator of human rights. Ukraine was now put on a pedestal as this savior of peace and the final buffer between this "Russian beast" that wants to ravage Europe.
One of the greatest beacons of corruption in the world, and the second most corrupt nation in Europe, Ukraine, has long been rapped for being a money pit where the rich and the political elite lined their pockets with the money that was supposed to go to the people. Transparency International ranked Ukraine 120th out of 182 countries in terms of corruption, landing it in the second spot in Europe in 2018. The ranking did not improve in 2021, with Ukraine ranking 122nd. Even after the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, who was used by the West as a scapegoat for the corruption in Ukraine, the corruption levels barely dropped since he was replaced, which shows a very clear trend in the eastern European country.
The United States itself has acknowledged Ukraine's corruption on various occasions. During a visit to Kiev on May 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeatedly called corruption the main enemy of the Ukrainian economy. Former US President Donald Trump also underlined Ukraine's corruption, telling G7 leaders in 2018 that "Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world."
Incumbent Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, upon assuming the presidency, called on his nation to shoot down corruption, saying: "Let's build a country of other opportunities. Where everybody is equal before the law and where the rules of the game are honest and transparent, that are the same for everyone." The Ukrainian leader did not stick to his words, nor was Ukraine this utopia that saw everyone being treated equally. As a matter of fact, the complete opposite happened, with various ethnic minorities, mainly the Russian-speaking ones, getting discriminated against.
Fighting corruption in bed with one oligarch at a time!
With the President's promises to rid Ukraine of corruption, one would think that the status of oligarchy - the same social category that Russia is criticized for - would come to an end in the country, but that could not be further from what happened, and what Zelensky did.
The whole thing started during Zelensky's run for president. His campaign was highly supported by Igor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine's most notorious oligarchs, with a hold over various key industries in the country, such as the heavy industry, oil and gas, media, ferrous metals and chemicals, agriculture, and air transport. Actually, it goes further back - to 2012; before Zelensky even considered running for office.
With a media empire in his pocket, Kolomoisky supported Zelensky throughout his presidential campaign from Switzerland and occupied Palestine, where he had been living due to concerns over prosecution back home. But even back in 2012, 1+1, one of the largest media conglomerates in Ukraine, signed a contract with Zelensky's Kvartal 95, a media company owned by the then-comedian. The contract focused on the production of sitcoms and films, and this document kicked off a relationship like no other.
With a billion dollars to his name, Kolomoisky was residing in exile back before Zelensky continued his career in comedy at the Mariinskyi Palace, with a slew of cases against him and a major fear of facing heavy fines or even years in prison if he were to return to Ukraine.
Those fears were still there - and rightfully so - before Zelensky made it to office, even just days before the presidential election, then-candidate Zelensky pledged not to show mercy to the billionaire, stressing that he would not give him any special treatment if he were to become president, boldly saying: "If Kolomoisky breaks the law, he will go to jail."
Long story short, Kolomoisky was either innocent or just happened to strike gold because he returned home and faced no prosecution, conducting business deals as usual.
After Zelensky's election, Kolomoisky conveniently returned home and started winning court battle after court battle related to the nationalization of PrivatBank, the biggest Ukrainian retail banking corporation, which he owned up until Kiev decided to pass it into state ownership. The bank was nationalized under former President Petro Poroshenko after it was found that Privat Bank had been funneling money into the pockets of its shareholders through corporate loans, 97% of which had been given to Kolomoisky and his partner Gennadiy Bogolyubov.
After Kolomoisky met with Zelensky in September 2019 for the first time since the latter's inauguration, the President's press office declared that the meeting was about "doing business in Ukraine" and the country's energy sector. Days later, the billionaire told reporters that he had not discussed the future of his former bank, though he hinted that the issue could be resolved easier under Zelensky. "[Privat Bank's former owners] do not agree with the nationalization. This dispute is easier to resolve today than under the previous president,” he said.
Following various issues surrounding the Israeli oligarch, which led to relations souring between the president and the billionaire that helped him become the nation's leader, and saw the United States sanctioning him, and in light of cases raised against him in the US, the United Kingdom, the Israeli occupation, and Switzerland, Zelensky had to give in to the pressure and ended up taking away his Ukrainian citizenship.
Zelensky was also forced by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pass a bill preventing former bank owners from challenging the nationalization of their banks, as well as receiving compensation - because Kolomoisky was demanding $2 billion from the state as compensation - if Kiev wished to receive funds from the IMF in exchange.
However, Zelensky dragged his feet on the legislation before crumbling under pressure. Eventually, he started getting into bed with various other oligarchs. "Zelensky sold himself as a fighter of oligarchs. He only had to take on one oligarch, but he had to align himself with others," said Tim Ash, a London-based emerging markets strategist from BlueBay Asset Management, according to Eurasianet.
The oligarchs that Zelensky ended up clinking glasses with included his predecessor, highly corrupt President Petro Poroshenko, as well as Rinat Akhmetov, the world's 607th richest person and Ukraine's richest man with $11.54 billion to his name.
At the end of the day, Zelensky's ally was simply dealt a bad hand of cards, but it so happened that the President had a royal flush and came out with his pockets more lined than he had come in.
Having promised to end corruption in Ukraine, Zelensky could not possibly have more ties to corruption. Right? The Pandora Papers that leaked five months before the Ukraine war kicked off would beg to differ.
Pandora and her friends
In October 2021, about five months before Russia declared that it was going to carry out a special military operation in Ukraine, the infamous Pandora Papers were leaked, revealing many things that put Zelensky in quite an unfavorable position. The papers, obtained by various major news corporations after they were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, revealed that the Ukrainian President (and his inner circle), before becoming President, was one of many world leaders who had hidden their assets offshore in shell companies.
The documents showed that Zelensky and his friends (several oligarchs, alongside his chief aide, Serhiy Shefir, and the head of the Ukrainian Security Service) owned a network of offshore companies related to businesses they had that were based in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus, and Belize.
Apparently, Zelensky's close allies used the offshore companies they had to purchase real estate in London with a sizeable price tag. Meanwhile, weeks before he was elected, Zelensky handed over his shares in one of the most significant offshore companies owned by the group to this chief aide, though it was stipulated that Zelensky's family would continue receiving money from the offshore company.
It is worth noting that before becoming his top presidential aide, Shefir was a close business partner of Zelensky's - nepotism at its finest, especially given that his other biggest partner, Bakanov, is currently the chief of the Security Service of Ukraine. Currently, the offshore company is paying dividends to a company that belongs to Olena Zelenska, Ukraine's first lady.
Going back to Kolomoisky, a political ally of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko published on Facebook, in light of the campaign that culminated in Zelensky's win, a chart allegedly showing that Zelensky and his partners in Kvartal 95 were the beneficiaries of a network of offshore companies that had received $41 million in funds from Privat Bank. Though these allegations were not substantiated, the Pandora Papers proved that some of the details in the chart were factual, as they revealed information about 10 firms that matched what had been claimed in the Facebook post.
A Cypriot branch of Kolomoisky's Privat Bank was also found to have given $750,000 to Gimentiano Holdings Ltd, a company owned by a close friend of Zelensky's, Andriy Iakovlev, back in 2015 under the guise of "payment of interim dividends."
Also coincidentally, the Pandora Papers revealed that there was a company that was part of the aforementioned network that was used to acquire real estate in London - in one of the most expensive parts of the English capital. The three-bedroom apartment was bought for $2.28 million in 2016 by a Belize shell company owned by Shefir, SHSN Ltd. Additionally, a two-bedroom apartment was bought by Shefir for $3.5 million in 2014 before it was transferred to the same company in 2018.
Another major Kvartal 95 shareholder, Andrii Iakovlev, also bought a pricey apartment in London. Worth $2.3 million, the apartment was acquired in 2015 after the company he owned in the British Virgin Islands bought another company in the offshore British territory that owned the property.
Riding a tide of anti-oligarchy and anti-corruption during his campaign, Zelensky sure failed to deliver on his promises and rid the country of the oligarchy and its corruption, and this definitely harmed his reputation in the West, with various mainstream media companies criticizing the President and his practices, such as The Guardian, with their piece entitled Revealed: ‘anti-oligarch’ Ukrainian president’s offshore connection, Brookings with their piece entitled Ukraine's Zelenskiy ran on a reform platform — Is he delivering?, the Atlantic Council's piece entitled Independent Ukraine’s free speech gains are under threat, and GIS's piece entitled Ukraine remains firmly in its oligarch's grip.
This all came crashing down, however, when the war broke out. All of the corruption was forgotten, and everyone began calling for Europe and the United States to start pumping money into Ukraine, dubbed a corrupt nation months earlier.
Selling a nation's misery
Running on a populist platform and making campaign promises that he knew the people would want to hear, such as making reforms and fighting corruption and the Ukrainian oligarchy, Zelensky was expected to fight tooth and nail for his country and his people, but quite the opposite took place when it came to the Ukraine war and with all the Western aid received by Kiev to fight against Russia.
From tanks and armored vehicles to HIMARS and MLRSs, Ukraine has received a lot of weaponry from the West throughout the past nearly 11 months, but many reports came out about where all of these weapons have been going, and a lot of them have been going out of the country to be sold and give the Ukrainian authorities more money as their people struggle with basic necessities such as electricity and water.
Since the start of the war and through September, the US had given Ukraine $15.8 billion in "security assistance". Additionally, the White House asked Congress for $13.7 billion for "security and economic assistance" for Ukraine. Meanwhile, the United States has sent 5,500 Javelins and 1,400 Stingers to Ukraine as of May, with the current number definitely being a lot higher due to several aid packages approved since then. Kiev has received billions and billions of dollars in donated arms from the United States and its allies such as the United Kingdom and other NATO states.
The opposition to aid to Ukraine is growing; not because the continuous flow of arms would only prolong the war, but because Republican members of Congress cannot justify spending so much money overseas when their country is grappling with various economic and financial crises, most notably a soaring inflation.
In addition to burdening the US with requests for aid, Ukraine is selling weapons it acquired from its allies on the black market due to the Kiev forces' limited ability to use them because of their lack of training, logistical challenges, and the diminishing size of the Ukrainian armed forces, as revealed former senior Pentagon advisor Karen Kwiatkowski.
Similarly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had pointed out that Stingers and Javelin missiles, supplied by the West to Kiev, were already being sold at a discount on the black market and have surfaced in Albania and Kosovo, which Russia has for long warned of.
Last month, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari warned that weapons supplied to Ukraine from Western countries were "starting to flow" into the Lake Chad basin region. "Regrettably, the situation in the Sahel and the raging war in Ukraine serve as major sources of weapons and fighters that bolster the ranks of the terrorists in the region," he told the heads of state from neighboring countries.
In August, an American news outlet unmasked that a shockingly large amount of weaponry heading for Ukraine was untraceable. "Like 30% of it reaches its final destination," said a tweet that was later deleted after a swarm of online trolls attacked it.
Months later, Politico reported, citing a State Department cable they got their hands on, that the Biden administration has been running into major obstacles tracking the aid sent from Washington to Kiev, resorting to blockchain technology and Ukrainian personnel to help them track the aid flowing into their country. This pushed the Biden administration to mull utilizing an unnamed US firm by February to implement a three-year initiative that would help with oversight regarding the aid arriving in Ukraine.
The cable, sent out from the US embassy in Kiev back in September, details what the United States is going through in terms of oversight as it tries to monitor where its money is going, as they abide by the restrictions and limits on the number of officials they can have in the field, as well as the security measures prohibiting them from moving flexibly.
The aforementioned cable also talked about how crises such as the one in Ukraine can turn into a fiasco that Washington just throws money at until it becomes an over-expensive hassle that the cash allocated to cannot be tracked precisely due to the ensuing chaos and the corruption that the governments taking the money are notorious for, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
From Hrushevskyi Street to Wall Street
Back in September, Zelensky rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, boldly declaring his country, which is currently engulfed in war, "open for business". The ringing of the bell was almost like a ceremony calling on any foreign corporation that so wishes to come and "invest" in Ukraine as its economy is undergoing skyrocketing inflation, which would grant the "investor" access to Ukraine's resources and very cheap labor - the capitalist dream!
Zelensky, in what might sound like a joke, urged capitalists to invest in Ukraine because of all the money it would make them, saying his country was "The greatest opportunity in Europe since World War II."
The Ukrainian President inaugurated "Advantage Ukraine", a potential hotbed for capitalists who will try and exploit the Ukrainian people and society as much as they can well after Zelensky is out of office. Zelensky sold his country to Wall Street amid an ongoing war, plain and simple. Meanwhile, liberal media will definitely keep calling him a hero.
"As the largest exchange globally, we stand for freedom, investor protection, and unfettered access to capital. We are pleased to welcome President Zelensky virtually to the NYSE bell podium, a symbol of the freedom and opportunity our US capital markets have enabled around the globe. We are honored the President has chosen the NYSE to mark the kickoff of Advantage Ukraine and engage with the world’s business community," said Lynn Martin, the president of NYSE Group.
A mix between capitalism and subservience to the West, Reuters reported that Advantage Ukraine was being run by the WPP advertising group, a British public relations firm.
Meanwhile, in a bid to sell bigger chunks of Ukraine to the West, Western governments and corporations met in Switzerland in July. The meeting saw them, according to Multipolarista, "plan[ing] harsh neoliberal economic policies to impose on Ukraine." Reportedly, the participants in the meeting sought to call on Kiev to undermine its labor laws, open Ukraine's markets, lower tariffs, and sell nationalized enterprises to private investors while deregulating industries.
A harsh reality for Ukraine
Despite various revelations regarding Ukraine's current leadership, the West will continue to pump money, aid, and arms into Ukraine, all acts to spite Russia and prohibit it from forcing the West to lose its grip on the world order, and this brings a grim reality for Ukraine: its interests will not be fulfilled so long as the West has a hand in the country and so long as it is using the country as a tool to stoke security concerns in neighboring nations, namely Russia.
The West will back Zelensky until the very end; for he is now their proclaimed hero and champion whom they must defend at all costs - up until he is no longer of use just like various other leaders all over the world.
The comedian-turned-head-of-state will continue serving the West's interests over his country's. This will lead to many problems in Ukraine, and will definitely lead to unrest in the eastern European nation. Though it is unknown what the repercussions of Zelensky's actions will be exactly, it is indisputable that he will go down in history as a corrupt politician that puts his interests and those of the collective West - whose only aim is not to lose the battle over unipolarity - over those of the Ukrainian people.