Why Going After Former President Petro Poroshenko Is a Bad Idea

By Lisa May, Alumna of The Fletcher School at Tufts University

On June 10, the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine informed former President Petro Poroshenko that he is suspected of abuse of office. According to the State Investigation Bureau (DBR), in 2018 and 2019 President Poroshenko issued two illegal decrees – one on the appointment of Serhiy Semochko as the First Deputy Chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service and another on the appointment of two new members of the Supreme Council of Justice.

The court was supposed to choose a form of pre-trial restrictions for Poroshenko during the hearing that took place on June 18. The Prosecutor General’s Office initially requested a pre-trial restriction in the form of detention with an alternative of a cash bail of UAH 10 million (or about USD 374 thousand). Later Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova requested personal recognizance instead. The court subsequently rescheduled the hearing to July 1.

Poroshenko is currently implicated in 19 other cases, ranging from treason to illegal transfer of artwork across the border. He denies all charges arguing that the cases against him are politically motivated. After all, Poroshenko is not just the former President but also the current leader of the political opposition and hence Volodymyr Zelensky’s most prominent political rival.

When it comes to the charges against Poroshenko, former Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka commented that the accusations were groundless, and that there was no reason to believe that the former President was guilty. Ryaboshapka was removed from his position on March 5 and was subsequently replaced by Iryna Venediktova. He claimed that his refusal to sign off on charges against Poroshenko was one of the main reasons for his removal from office. At this point, cases against the former President look like a personal and political vendetta orchestrated by Zelensky and his inner circle. One can certainly find similarities between the current charges against Poroshenko and the 2011 case against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who following the orders of then-President Viktor Yanukovych was found guilty of abuse of office and subsequently incarcerated over a 2009 gas deal with Russia.

Ukraine’s Western partners have promptly voiced their concerns over politically motivated persecutions and selective justice in Ukraine. On June 17, Donald Tusk, the president of the European People’s Party (EPP), wrote that the EPP is alarmed by the political cases against Poroshenko. A day later, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine wrote that “the justice system should not be used for the purpose of settling political scores.” The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) also released a statement whereby it condemned the Ukrainian government’s attempts to pursue politically motivated cases against former President Poroshenko and members of Ukrainian civil society. “Instead of destroying Ukraine’s credibility among its global partners, Ukraine’s leadership should refrain from any attempts to politicize the rule of law,” the document reads.

Despite the shortcomings in domestic policy, former President Poroshenko was highly respected by his Western counterparts for his foreign policy achievements. Ukraine’s former leader acquired delivery of defensive weapons from the U.S., negotiated a visa-free regime with the EU, and secured a IMF loan programme that staved off default – all while fighting the war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Therefore, going after a main political opponent who is well-respected abroad is hardly a good idea, especially given that Ukraine still needs Western support. Not to mention, Zelensky has been on shaky ground with the Trump administration ever since last year’s campaign by President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukrainian authorities into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden.

Ukraine faces economic crisis, continuing COVID-19 pandemic, and an ongoing war in the Donbas region. The last thing the country needs is more pressure and scrutiny of Ukrainian domestic politics from the West.

This piece was republished from Era Institute.

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