International Affairs, Politics, World

Political repression in regime-changed Ukraine: The case of Natalia Vitrenko’s Progressive Socialist Party

by Rachel Douglas

17 Jan.— One of the departing Obama Administration’s last acts of hostility towards Russia was Vice-President Joe Biden’s 16 January visit to Kiev, where he declared that “the international community must continue to stand as one against Russian coercion and aggression.” Biden has been an active booster of the Ukrainian regime, which was installed in a U.S.-supported February 2014 coup against elected President Victor Yanukovych, in which fascist radicals played a decisive part. Summing up, on this occasion, Biden stated that on his and President Barack Obama’s watch the United States had given $600 million to Ukraine for its military.
At the end of 2016 there was a surge of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine—the Donbass region, where groups opposed to the coup in Kiev declared the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in 2014 and the new regime sent its armed forces to try and crush them. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine confirmed renewal of the fighting, which has taken 10,000 lives in the country, according even to the conservative estimates of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Kiev blames Ukraine’s internal conflict squarely on Russia. But President Petro Poroshenko is presiding over a disastrous economic situation in the country and ongoing political turmoil, brought about by his own allegiance to the collapsing and criminalized Western financial world. Polls taken in 2016 by the Institute of Sociology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences found that 38 percent of Ukrainians think the political situation in the country is “critical and explosive,” while another 52 percent consider it “tense”—90 percent, combined. Most of the foreign officials Poroshenko had recruited to provide corruption-free staffing of the government quit last year, including former American Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, former Lithuanian Minister of Economics Aivaras Abromavicius, and Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili, the ex-President of Georgia during its own Color Revolution in 2003.
Now, according to a 14 January Strategic Culture Foundation (Russia) report, Poroshenko has hired the Bush family-connected BGR Group as consultants on ingratiating himself with incoming U.S. President Donald Trump, who seeks improved relations with Moscow. Yet Poroshenko intoned during the Biden visit, “Everyone who shares democratic values is Russia’s adversary.”

Natalia Vitrenko

“Democratic values” trampled

To measure the size of Poroshenko’s hypocrisy, let’s check in on the case of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, led by economist Dr. Natalia Vitrenko. Throughout 2016, the PSPU and its allies warned of government actions to hinder their political activity. They pointed to the Justice Ministry’s refusal to register amendments to the charter documents of the PSPU and other parties; the amendments are required under new Ukrainian laws, and without them a party cannot run candidates for office. In March 2016, Vitrenko and her associates were physically attacked by black-shirted thugs of the fascist Azov Battalion, while holding a peaceful rally.
On 15 September 2016, a PSPU resolution held the Kiev regime responsible for “the tragedy of Ukraine”—both the suppression of human rights and opposition political activity, and the suffering of the population from war and economic collapse. Little more than a month later, on Friday, 28 October, after the end of business hours, the PSPU’s rented office in Kiev was raided and occupied by paramilitary forces. These were nominally acting on behalf of one Andrei Shatilin, who disputes the current landlord’s court-upheld ownership of the building, but the contents of the office—property of the PSPU, its newspaper, associated organizations, and individual members—were carted off that weekend and sequestered by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).
Three months later, neither the premises nor the seized property have been returned, Vitrenko told me on 29 December. What was removed on 29-30 October and is in the hands of the SBU—two minivan loads, as the PSPU was informed by the raiders themselves—includes 33 hard disks containing records of the 20 years of the party’s activity; archives and photo files of its newspaper Dosvitni Ogni (Light before Dawn); documents of record for the other organizations that shared the space; Vitrenko’s personal scientific and family archives; and such items as personal laptops, clothing, shoes, and fishing tackle!
Vitrenko reports that Ukrainian courts function in fits and starts. Legally mandated procedural deadlines are not respected. In a 25 November video she said that the Kiev court assigned to adjudicate the property dispute is not moving to take testimony.
There are many cases of “raiderism” in Ukraine, in which businesses are taken over or people forced out of their apartments, because somebody uses a combination of paramilitary intimidation and compliant courts to obtain false title to the real estate. It was reported in December, for example, that the Ukrainian distributor for the Redmond Industrial Group, a U.S.-based seller of kitchen appliances, was taken over by raiders.
In the PSPU office case, however, the political subtext is obvious. Vitrenko reports that, quite by accident, her associates discovered online a 3 November ruling that their confiscated property could be held by the SBU for possible use as evidence in a criminal case. She suspects that this does not refer to the ownership dispute over the office building, but that the SBU will scour the PSPU databases, looking for a pretext to revive a 2014 investigation of the Gift of Life women’s organization, and Vitrenko personally as its head, on false charges of “infringing the territorial integrity of Ukraine” by “fomenting separatism.” This is Article 110 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, which carries a penalty of 10 years in prison.
In a 15 November video, Vitrenko reported that Shatilin’s son Nikita, who took part in the raid, boasts that he is a veteran of the Anti-Terrorist Operation—the war in the Donbass—and worked in the intelligence service of Azov.

Moral support for Vitrenko

Dr. Vitrenko and the PSPU are grateful for the support received from current and former members of regional councils in Italy, who had hosted her and Marchenko in February-March 2014, when they toured Europe at the time of the Kiev coup. Letters from Member of the Lombardy Regional Council Antonio Saggese and Honorary (former) Member of the Tuscany Regional Council Gabriele Chiurli were posted on the PSPU website, as were articles about the raid appearing in publications of the LaRouche movement in several countries. The Norwegian blog Steigan and Sweden’s Nyhetsbanken, both influential leftist websites, publicized the PSPU raid as a sign that the Kiev regime is corrupt and “continues on the road to overt fascism,” as the latter wrote.
Of special importance was the formal Parliamentary Inquiry, submitted to Vice President of the European Commission and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini at the end of November by Member of the European Parliament Marco Zanni, also from Italy. He demanded whether Mogherini were aware of the illegal seizure of the PSPU’s offices, and asked if it didn’t represent “a serious attack against the freedom of thought and of political expression?”
Vitrenko reports two rays of hope within Ukraine, as well. On 11 November, she and Marchenko were received by Valeria Lutkovska, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, in response to their appeal of 2 November, addressed to Poroshenko and 15 other Ukrainian and foreign officials, for support in fighting the attempt to shut down the PSPU. On 18 November, Lutkovska officially notified Vitrenko that she had sent inquiries to the SBU and the Kiev city prosecutor, thus formally taking the case under her purview as human rights ombudsman. The PSPU press service wrote, also 18 November, “N. Vitrenko thanks Valeria Lutkovska for her attention to the problems of the opposition Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine and hopes that, within the scope of her authority, the ombudsman will be able to stop the political repression of the PSPU, which operates in accordance with the law.”
Lutkovska’s taking official notice is especially relevant, because Ukraine has ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 11 of which guarantees freedom of assembly and association—precisely what has been violated in the case of the PSPU.
The second positive development was a Kiev court decision on 13 December that the PSPU, its newspaper, and the several other organizations headquartered in their rented offices, as well as Vitrenko and Marchenko personally, had the status of aggrieved parties in the criminal case brought on 29 October 2016 by the owner of the building (Siver Ukraina LLC) against the raider, Shatilin, who claims to own the same building. This gives them access to court documents and the right to participate in court proceedings.

Ukraine and Europe

Adding to Poroshenko’s anxiety about changes in the USA is the utter failure of Ukraine’s Association Agreement deal with the European Union, the trigger issue for the 2013-14 coup. It is not formally in effect, because in an April 2016 referendum, Dutch voters rejected its ratification. The EU has not acted on such provisions as granting visa-free travel to Ukrainians. “To delay further would be flagrantly unfair as Ukraine has paid a high price,” Poroshenko wailed in a 16 January meeting with foreign ambassadors to Ukraine. He warned that “more unreasonable delays would undermine Ukrainians’ faith in Europe.”
But the EU has nothing to offer Ukraine. In each of her Internet video addresses, Vitrenko combines political updates on the PSPU’s fight to organize, with her own analysis of the country’s economic situation.
On 15 November, she documented that signing of the AA EU has brought no expansion of trade with the EU. Of EU member countries, only Poland is among the top five buyers of Ukrainian exports (the others are Russia, Egypt, Turkey, and China), while only Germany and Poland are in the top five sources of Ukraine’s imports. Total exports have declined by more than 37 percent in the past two years.
In that same time period, Ukrainian businesses and the population have experienced an overall doubling of prices, but rate hikes for key utilities have jumped much more: natural gas 9.5 times, heating 6-fold, hot water 4-fold, and electricity 3.5-fold. In her 25 November video Vitrenko reported that Ukraine’s GDP has fallen by 16 percent since the coup and is at only one-third of its 1990 level. Unemployment is at one-third of the working-age population. In 2013, the minimum wage was equivalent to $143, now it is $66 (per month). The 2017 government budget increases spending only for the military and for road construction, she said, while pensions are not being indexed for inflation. People cannot get health care, and are dying. Formerly middle-class people cannot afford to go to the hairdresser or to concerts. Parliament has offloaded the operating costs of schools and hospitals from the federal budget to regions, which are unable to handle them.
An article posted 22 December on the PSPU site noted that demands to cut spending on schools and health care have persisted in Ukraine’s negotiations for credits from the IMF, as well as over the AA EU. Fear of a revolt if wages are cut has led to a different solution: layoffs of teachers and doctors. Schools and clinics will be consolidated, with those in smaller towns or villages to be shut down. The article cited one economist’s estimate that 200,000 education and health-care workers will be laid off in 2017.
In a 28 November blog post, Dr. Gordon Hahn of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago, USA) evaluated the potential of a new “Maidan” uprising in Ukraine, this time over economic grievances. He pointed to raucous demonstrations in Kiev during November, by depositors who lost everything in bank collapses, as a sign of trouble to come.
Natalia Vitrenko was a major Presidential candidate in 1999. The PSPU formerly held seats in the national Parliament. Addressing Ukrainians by video 25 November and exposing the SBU’s evident plan to accuse her of “anti-Ukrainian activity” and “shut my mouth,” she said, “I understand that I annoy them, because I am a doctor of economics, an academician and a professor. … The ones conducting anti-Ukrainian activity are the puppets of the West and hirelings of the IMF. … What we are doing is pro-Ukrainian activity! Because we want Ukraine to prosper, and we know precisely how to resuscitate industry and create millions of jobs.” Once again, she explained how a better future for Ukraine lies in cooperation with the nations of Eurasia in real economic development.


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