Recently, Ukrainian authorities announced former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko under formal investigation for high treason, the same charge his predecessor was convicted of just two years ago.
Does this sound like a kind of democracy worth shedding American blood to save?
The treasonous activity, according to Ukrainian officials, is his alleged material support of pro-Russia separatist forces in the Donbas. The investigation into the Ukrainian former President emerged from similar charges brought against Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian lawmaker in the For Life Party with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, for allegedly working with officials in Poroshenko’s administration to buy coal mines in the Donbas to finance separatist efforts. The For Life Party has denied any wrongdoing by Medvedchuk, who has spent the past six months under house arrest.
Poroshenko’s European Solidarity Party has also stood behind the former President. A statement from European Solidarity Party’s Oleksander Turchynov claimed that the allegations against Poroshenko were a fabrication from current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and would “turn into a farce just like all the previous ones.”
The allegations against Poroshenko are shocking, much less because he staked the precipice of his political career on taking back the Crimean Peninsula from Russia and quashing the separatists, whom he called terrorists and likened to Somali pirates, in the Donbas. During his tenure, Poroshenko ratcheted up Ukraine’s war in the Donbas to put the screws on Russia-backed separatists.
Poroshenko is now the second consecutive Ukrainian president to face accusations of high treason after leaving power. His predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was convicted of high treason, among other crimes, in January of 2019 for his actions against the Euromaidan demonstrators and his capitulation to the Russian military that wanted to intervene to support him. His sentence, handed down in absentia because he still resides in exile in Russia, was 13 years in prison.
Yanukovych was ousted from power in February 2014 after violent clashes between Euromaidan demonstrators and Ukrainian police forces, which resulted in the deaths of well over 100 protestors and 18 police officers. The Euromaidan demonstrations broke out in the wake of Yanukovych’s decision to back away from the Association Agreement with the European Union after Russia gave the Ukrainians an economic ultimatum and Brussels refused to acknowledge the reality of the destabilizing unrest.
It’s easy to write off Yanukovych, an ethnic Russian, as another Putin puppet, as the western media and political establishment has since his ousting. But Yanukovych’s tenure is much more complex than his opponents would have you believe. An ethnic Russian himself, Yanukovych was elected in 2010 by getting just over one-third of the country’s vote, primarily from ethnically-Russian regions. Instantly, Yanukovych found himself between a rock and a hard place. His constituents from ethnically Russian areas were not as keen on furthering European integration as western Ukrainians were, and neither the Association Agreement nor a customs union deal with Russia had the support of a majority of Ukrainians. Yanukovych was expected to continue down the path of European integration, and did for quite some time before the aforementioned ultimatum given to him by Putin.
Rather than recognizing the bind that Ukraine found itself in and that Yanukovych had successfully enacted a number of hotly-contested liberal reforms Brussels demanded with two-thirds majority support in the Verkhovna Rada, the E.U. continued to make big asks of Ukraine. One such demand was dialing back the criminal prosecution brought against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abusing her power during a negotiation of a gas deal with Russia in 2009, which resulted in a seven-year prison sentence in 2011. The U.S. and a number of European countries, even Russia, suggested it was a political prosecution. Brussels claimed Ukraine jeopardized a trade agreement with the E.U. if it failed to release Tymoshenko from prison to receive medical treatment abroad. However, the Rada failed to pass a motion for Tymoshenko’s release.
The negotiations now laid in shambles, and though Yanukovych called for a trilateral negotiation between Ukraine, the E.U, and Russia, but Brussels refused. Thus, the Euromaidan protests, openly egged on by the United States and other western nations, continued to gain momentum, causing Yanukovych to turn to Russia in a last ditch effort to prevent further destabilization. The effort obviously failed.
Certainly, the western liberal establishment bears responsibility for Ukrainian democracy’s current shortcomings, where former leaders are summarily charged with high treason. The truth is that Ukraine is just another country our foreign policy blob destabilized so they could say they saved it sometime in the future. Now, the foreign policy establishment thinks that time has come, and wants us believe that protecting this democracy is worth risking a war with Russia, in which an untold number of American soldiers will die.