Michael Carpenter: ‘Ukraine is moving backward on its fight against corruption’

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LVIV, Ukraine — Michael Carpenter, a former key aide to ex-US. Vice President Joseph Biden and ex-U.S. deputy assistant defense secretary, keeps a keen eye on Ukraine.

And he doesn’t like what he’s seeing — in Ukraine’s fight against corruption and with U.S. policy towards Ukraine in the administration of U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

The Trump administration should be pressing Ukraine’s top leaders, who are obstructing the fight against corruption, Carpenter told the Kyiv Post on Nov. 30, on the sidelines of the Lviv Security Forum. On the foreign policy side, the U.S. should be taking a stronger stand against Russia and in support of Ukraine to prevail in the Kremlin’s four-year war — including sending lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s military.

Carpenter made his remarks before a scandal broke out over parliament’s attempts to attack the independence of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, or NABU; the Dec. 7 dismissal of opposition member of parliament Yegor Soboliev as head of the anti-corruption committee; and the two botched attempts on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 to arrest ex-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on what appear to be trumped-up criminal charges since he became a fierce critic of President Petro Poroshenko.

Amid the latest developments, Carpenter tweeted: “If the Rada votes to dismiss the head of the Anticorruption Committee (Soboliev) and the head of the NABU, I will recommend cutting all U.S. government assistance to Ukraine, including security assistance,” he tweeted on Dec. 6. “This is a disgrace.”

Carpenter struck the same note with the Kyiv Post last week.

“My sense right now is that Ukraine is moving backward on its fight against corruption,” Carpenter said. “Ukraine has stood up, with the support of the United States and other countries, a number of institutions that are valuable institutions that could potentially attack the issue of corruption if they were empowered to do their jobs.”

However, Carpenter said, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption and Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office are “being attacked from all quarters, especially from the top of the political system. That is unacceptable. All of these attacks are designed to undermine the effectiveness of these core anti-corruption institutions.”

Moreover, Carpenter noted, Ukraine’s top political leaders have thwarted the creation of an independent anti-corruption court, a key reason why nobody of any consequence has been convicted of corruption since Yanukovych fled power.

“The reports I get from Western businesspeople and Ukrainians in the business sector here is that corruption is increasing. It’s getting back to the levels of when Yanukovych was in power. It’s a betrayal of the Revolution of Dignity (another name for the EuroMaidan Revolution. It’s very sad to watch from the outside.”

At least during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, Carpenter said that U.S. officials — including Vice President Joseph Biden, who made six trips to Ukraine — “were pushing back when we saw any sign of relapse.”

Trump is not doing so.

“Clearly Trump doesn’t care one lick about democratic values or human rights. He has made that painfully clear. His past suggests he’s involved in any number of deals that are murky, to say the least. His campaign manager was just indicted on a number of charges including tax evasion and money laundering, Paul Manafort. Trump surrounds himself by individuals with shady reputations. It sends a green light. The message that this will be tolerated; we aren’t sticking our fingers into this.”

Carpenter said that if the United States doesn’t lead in pressing Poroshenko and other Ukrainian leaders for better results in the corruption fight, “I sure don’t see the Europeans playing a role.” The International Monetary Fund, Ukraine’s biggest lender, “is the only institution focused on corruption in Ukraine and it’s not enough.”

Carpenter said: “It’s unacceptable that four years after the revolution, Ukraine still hasn’t prosecuted high-level officials” for corruption.

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