LAURENCE Olivier’s Henry V, released in 1944, deliberately left out the more vicious aspects of Henry’s personality from the Shakespearean original to maximise its wartime morale-boosting potential.
Amid today’s conflict in Ukraine, as Ted Galen Carpenter points out in the American Conservative, there has been a concerted effort to portray the country not only as a victim of brutal Russian aggression but also as a plucky bulwark of freedom and democracy, and its President, Volodymyr Zelensky, as ‘a leader worthy of nothing less than Winston Churchill’s legacy’.
In the UK James Delingpole has condemned the MSM’s outrageous misreporting on Ukraine.
No wonder, like Olivier’s Henry as he upholds the virtues of ‘God for King and Country’, every decent citizen is now ‘standing with Ukraine’.
But this is no Agincourt, no Spanish Civil War, no battle between brave little David against a savage Russian Goliath. Carpenter shows that Ukraine is not a symbol of freedom and liberal democracy. Such pontificating is pure myth, useful for those in the West who seek to piggy-back off an Eastern European stand-off in the interests of their own expansionism and vast opportunities for profiteering.
The reality is that Ukraine has long been one of the world’s most corrupt countries, way ahead of anywhere else in Europe. In January 2022, Transparency International’s Corruption Index ranked Ukraine 123rd out of 180 countries with a score of 32 out of 100, the second-most corrupt in Europe, notorious Russia only slightly worse at 139th with a score of 29.
This corruption thrives in key areas of Ukraine society, with bribery rife in both public and private sectors which in 2022 becomes harder to blame exclusively on the country’s ‘Russian’ traditions. The highest levels are found in the police, health care, the courts and education; the OECD states that corruption is a significant barrier to doing business there. The main causes, according to USAID, are a weak justice system, a weak civil society, with an over-controlling government combined with business-political ties, some of which are detailed here. Bribery goes hand in hand with money-laundering. The US Money Laundering Assessment finds the problem in Ukraine significant. The World Governance Indicator – Control of Corruption has given Ukraine a score of 24 out of 100. There are laws against such misconduct, but the country’s weak judicial system limits any enforcement.
Mark Armstrong, detailing the role of the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, who funded Zelensky and put him in a position to be President, asks: When will the West wake up?
Kolomoisky is not the only oligarch in a country that boasts more than its fair share. Timothy Ash, a strategist for Bluebay Asset Management, says: ‘Nowhere in Emerging Europe, where countries have adopted the Westernising approach, are oligarchs as dominant as in Ukraine.’ At their richest point in 2008, their combined wealth was equal to 84 per cent of national GDP. This has fallen significantly since the war with Russia, but even the President seems not entirely immune from such temptations. The October 2021 Pandora Papers revealed that Zelensky and his chief aide and head of security Ivan Bakanov operated a network of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands, Cyprus and Belize, though the President has denied any involvement in money laundering.
Large foreign loans have enabled the corrupt extraction of funds out of the country. Victoria Nuland, the controversial US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, who has a reputation for interfering in Ukraine’s affairs, not least in 2014, has previously argued for the prosecution of corrupt officials.
This has done little to deter Western states from pledging vast sums to war-torn Ukraine. The EU Commission is planning to raise 15billion euros for Ukraine debt relief by borrowing on the back of guarantees from EU countries. Washington has approved $40billion ($7bn higher than Biden requested) in military and economic aid to Ukraine. Tyler Durden writes in ZeroHedge: ‘Billions upon billions is set to flow through its coffers from the West, and as shown in Afghanistan and Iraq, such huge sums of “aid” have a habit of going unaccountable and disappearing.’
Ted Galen Carpenter suggests that Ukraine’s record on democracy is little better than its performance on corruption. After the 2014 Maidan revolution, domestic critics and political dissidents were harassed, foreign journalists were banned and censorship introduced. The neo-Nazi Azov Battalion has been retained within the state’s military and security apparatus under Zelensky. As early as 2021, the government had closed several independent media outlets, and Zelensky has used the war as an excuse for outlawing 11 opposition parties.
Carpenter says Ukraine is at best ‘a corrupt, quasi-democratic entity with troubling repressive policies’ that Zelensky, despite his promises to root this out, has increased.
Nor have his appeals for help worked their magic outside the West. Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Dzhaparova’s claims that ‘this war is about the survival of the international rules-based order’ at the Doha forum last month failed to connect with many countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. In their eyes, that order hasn’t been rules-based but has allowed the US to violate international law with impunity. ‘Standing with Ukraine’ is perceived as flagrant hypocrisy.
In addition to Ukraine’s history of corruption is the question of ‘secret US-funded biolabs’, allegedly ‘funding the development of deadly pathogens’. When Tucker Carlson reported on this story, he was attacked for spreading fake news and conspiracy theories. Victoria Nuland has however admitted that the US has indeed been working with Ukrainians in biological research facilities, claiming this was defensive to prevent any materials from falling into Russian hands.
Allegations have been made that US-funded biomedical research in Ukraine involves major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Moderna, Merck and the US military-affiliated company Gilead, working ‘to test new medicines that circumvent international safety standards’.
So much for defending the ‘plucky and noble bulwark of freedom and democracy’ that is Ukraine. The rest of the world is sceptical, as might the West have stayed if Donald Trump been re-elected as US President.