Ian Bateson on Ukraine: overstating his case?

“Ukraine Declares War on Journalism, ” proclaims Ian Bateson in an NYT op-ed: “Now Ukraine has labeled me an accomplice in terrorism.”

One would think that the journalist has been placed on a list of terrorists wanted by Ukraine’s law enforcement. Not really – or not yet. Here’s the gist of Bateson’s complaint:

In July 2014, I went to Donetsk… to cover the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17…

Before I went to the crash site, I obtained accreditation from the separatists…

On May 7, the website Mirotvorets (“Peacemaker”), courtesy of anonymous hackers, published part of the separatists’ accreditation records. My name, email address and phone number were among those of more than 4,000 journalists… We were collectively labeled “terrorist collaborators” for gaining accreditation from the separatists.

So labeled by the editors of the website: deplorable but not a big deal after all. However, some government officials, including interior minister Arsen Avakov, have voiced their support for the site and its actions:

Emboldened by the support, the website is now back online and has posted additional journalists’ contact information.

That’s disturbing. Bateson’s op-ed has no proof that Ukraine’s president or prime minister bear any responsibility for the leak, but the facts he lays out make an experienced observer suspect that some government officials or departments – such as Avakov’s interior ministry – helped to channel the information to the site.

I would have wound up at that point, leaving the interested reader to connect the dots. Bateson, regrettably, goes on to make more general and less well founded claims.

Few reforms have gone fully into effect and the country has recently taken a hard turn back toward cronyism. President Petro O. Poroshenko installed a close ally as prime minister, breaking the division of legislative and executive power established after the Maidan Square protests in 2014 that led to the ouster of his predecessor.

It is worth asking why so few reforms have so far been completed, and whether the previous PM bears any responsibility for the stalemate. Arseny Yatsenyuk had been a prominent member of Ukraine’s pre-Maidan political elite, not exactly known for its arm’s-length principles; he just happened to lead a different parliamentary faction than president Poroshenko.

It’s unclear (to me) how the appointment of a prime minister can break the division or separation of powers, since the PM is a member of the executive branch as well as the president; besides, it requires the Rada’s approval. The new PM, Vladimir Groysman, was twice elected mayor of Vinnitsa – first at the age of 28 – and served about eight years, which is comparable with Yatsenyuk’s experience in public office.

I imagine that becoming a young Jewish mayor of a central Ukrainian city of 400,000 people, with a Jewish population of less than 1%, was an achievement that took at least some charisma and understanding of issues important to the voters. Does Groysman have the motivation, the stamina, and a plausible roadmap for reforming the whole of Ukraine? No idea. I would not rule it out.

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