In a famous scene from the second chapter of the saga “Servant of the people”, a young Ukrainian President meets with delegates from the International Monetary Fund for a round of talks about the next line of credit for his country. The loans, however, comes with heavy conditions, like opening up the country for shale gas, and the IMF envoy makes clear these conditions are necessary. In the end the Ukrainian President proudly tears up the contract with the IMF, throwing its pieces in the air and refuses to sell out his country: “Go f**k yourselves. We are a normal, strong, beautiful and rich country!”
In the presidential election in April last year, the vast majority of voters voted for the young politician, the popular comic actor Vladimir Zelensky. His popularity was due to his role in the comedy series “Servant of the people”. Many citizens were impressed by how the film hero Zelensky — a simple teacher called Goloborodko — defended the interests of ordinary citizens, fought with the oligarchs, for the interests of his country, and stoop up to Europe and the IMF. Reality turned out to be different from the film.
A survey conducted in April this year by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) showed that the majority of Ukrainians are against Ukraine’s continued “cooperation” with the IMF. One of the IMF requirements for obtaining new loans was the opening of the land market. A December 2019 survey commissioned by the Friedrich Ebert Institute, however, showed that 86% of Ukrainians are against freeing up the land market. Most Ukrainians fear that the land will be bought up by Western corporations —Ukrainian farmers simply do not have enough money to buy it. A year ago, the presidential candidate Vladimir Zelensky promised to hold referendums on the most important issues, including the sale of land and peace in the Donbass.
Nevertheless, throughout a year of his presidency, in spite of the mood and expectations of the voters, Vladimir Zelensky continued to cooperate with the IMF, signed a law opening up the land market and the other day the Ukrainian government issued a request for a new tranche to the IMF. Not a single referendum was held.
In addition, the head of the IMF mission, Ron Van Roden, recently set new requirements for Kiev. He stated that Ukraine should not amend the legislation on the work of the NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau), – otherwise Ukraine will not be given any more loans. The current head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnik was officially convicted for corruption. For this reason, Ukrainian authorities are trying to remove him from office – after all, a corrupt official cannot head the anti-corruption bureau. But his appointment took place directly at the advice of the US Embassy. Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich personally demanded not to touch Sytnik already under Poroshenko. Now the IMF requires Ukraine to do the same. In other words, the IMF forbids Ukraine to dismiss the head of the NABU, even if he was convicted of corruption.
Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Tkachev explains the IMF’s demand in the following way: “The point is not that the IMF cares about Ukrainian corrupt officials. The point is in principle: Aborigines do not have the right to dismiss an official of the colonial (occupation) administration, and NABU is the body of this administration. There should not even be an illusion that the head of the NABU is somehow dependent on the Ukrainian authorities or justice. This is a matter of principle”. A year ago, Ukrainian society was outraged by a series of corruption scandals, including corruption in the Ukroboronprom state concern. The investigation showed that the management of the state enterprise purchased spare parts for the Ukrainian army, including in Russia, at inflated prices, bypassing Ukrainian sanctions.
During his election campaign, Vladimir Zelensky promised to bring to justice corrupted officials, including ex-president Petro Poroshenko. “Spring has come, and we will make arrests” read one of Zelensky’s electoral posters. “I am your condemnation” said the defiant candidate in a debate with Petro Poroshenko. To some extent, the support for Zelensky, a candidate without any kind of experience in politics, was a protest vote. Many Ukrainians voted according to the principle “anyone but Poroshenko”. The people only expected the new government to investigate crimes and punish those responsible.
The new government, however, turned out to be rather tame. All criminal cases brought against businessmen from Poroshenko’s entourage and against the ex-president himself, have been dragging at a very slow pace at the stage of the investigation, and the new authorities are hesitant to take into custody even some people who have officially been charged with murder. For example, the former leader of the Odessa Right Sector, Sergei Sternenko, stabbed a man — a Ukrainian soldier — on camera. Nevertheless, no one dares to take him into custody.
In April last year, Zelensky, following the expectations of the majority of the electorate, promised to end the war in the Donbass. It should be recalled that in 2014, the candidate Petro Poroshenko too promised to end the war in a matter of days. In both cases, as it turned out, the promises were empty. Even after the arrangements for the separation of forces at several points of the front line, nationalist armed groups refused to carry out the orders of the official commander in chief of the Ukrainian armed forces. This is clearly seen in the video of Zelensky’s trip to the front line, where he tries to convince the armed nationalists to agree to a withdrawal of forces, speak respectfully with the president and remove the weapons. “Listen, I’m the president of that country. I am 42 years old. I’m not dumb. I came and said – take away your weapons”, the president said at the meeting. However, the separation of forces was disrupted.
In April 2019, Vladimir Zelensky criticized the medical reform that US citizen Ulyana Suprun, who was appointed Minister of Health under Poroshenko, began to carry out. “Regarding the reform, please tell me, if there are no high-quality medicines, there are no affordable prices for drugs, if there are no normal conditions in hospitals, if doctors have no normal salaries, what kind of reform is this? ” – Zelensky told voters. A survey of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in December 2019 showed that only 9% of Ukrainians consider this reform successful.
Nevertheless, in April 2020, the country began the second stage of this medical reform. It involves the closure of most clinics for patients with neuropsychiatric disorders and people affected by tuberculosis Most of their patients, often dangerous to others, are simply thrown into the streets. “They will close the tuberculosis clinics – there will be an outbreak of tuberculosis. I talk with the head doctors. They are terrified because they are not sadists, they are normal people, and their situation forces them to push 30-50% of patients into the streets from April 1, because Madame Suprun decided that clinics are not needed”, said the head of the Ukrainian Association of Psychiatrists Semen Gluzman.
In March 2020, in an interview with Bloomberg, Zelensky promised to continue this medical reform, despite the spread of Covid-19. Ukrainian authorities are traditionally prone to give conflicting promises – one promise to their voters, a completely different promise to Western politicians and media. The demands of ordinary Ukrainians and Western financial institutions often radically diverge.
Ukrainian political expert Kirill Sazonov, evaluating the operate of Zelensky in his first of year of presidency, regrets that Ukraine has lost a good comedian, but hasn’t found a decent president. “In one year, I would like to see Vladimir Alexandrovich as an actor of the Kvartal 95 (Zelensky’s former tv show), where he was in his element and created a good alternative to Russian tv products. Zelensky-actor was loved by many – both in the west and in the east of the country. But as president, he immediately caused rejection in some, while in others disappointment came over time”, said Sazonov.