On February 10, 2006, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a meeting entitled “Establishing the Rule of Law and Fighting Corruption,” with Yurii Lutsenko, Minister of Interior of Ukraine. Carnegie Senior Associate Andrew Kuchins chaired the session. Lutsenko’s remarks are summarized below.

Declaring, “My aim is to be Lutsenko, not Derzhinsky [the famously brutal founder of the organization that became the Soviet KGB],” Lutsenko stressed the need to observe the law in investigating and prosecuting corruption. “Many people want to see Kuchma, Yanukovich, and Medvedchuk in court…but throwing ‘enemies’ in jail would not have been consistent with the Orange Revolution,” he said.

Lutsenko outlined the legal and practical obstacles confronting his anti-corruption efforts. While Lutsenko has broad authority over the police, corruption involving high level civilians is the responsibility of the Prosecutor General’s office, held until recently by Kuchma-aligned Svyatoslav Piskun. Lutsenko also bemoaned Ukraine’s outdated Soviet anti-corruption legislation. In response to a question about the Melnichenko tapes (which established the involvement of former President Kuchma in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze), Lutsenko noted they are not admissible in court and Melnichenko has sought to avoid testifying.

Lutsenko said the government’s biggest mistake in the fight against corruption was allowing the passage of a law granting immunity to deputies in regional legislatures. According to Lutsenko this has attracted criminals to politics.

Despite these difficulties, Lutsenko insisted he has made progress against corruption, citing the 3500 police who failed an examination and the 600 corruption cases launched against police. Lutsenko called the Orange Revolution an “anti-criminal revolution” and said the new government needed to change people’s idea of the authorities.

He also commented on the political situation in the country ahead of the parliamentary elections in March, trying to put a bold face on the diminished prospects of President Yushchenko’s “Our Ukraine” coalition. Lutsenko avoided criticizing ousted Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and instead accented her adherence to the “Orange” principles of democracy and independence. He said Tymoshenko would realize that people “want to be asked to be united.” With this remark Lutsenko seemed to hint that “Our Ukraine” still hopes to form an alliance with Tymoshenko to prevent Yanukovich from forming the next government.

Under recent changes to the Ukrainian constitution the President has the power to dissolve the parliament if the contending parties fail to form a government. Citing this power and Tymoshenko’s “reasonableness,” Lutsenko confidently declared there will be no revanche.

According to Lutsenko the March elections will be very different from others Ukraine has seen since independence.  He said 5500 election fraud cases have been brought since the Orange coalition took power and 1.3 million “dead souls” (names of deceased or invented people) have been purged from voter lists, mostly in the Russian-speaking Donetsk region.

Q&A

Q: People are concerned about the gas deal and its lack of transparency. Will your ministry examine these agreements?
Lutsenko: This is a matter for the security services and the Prosecutor General. But as a cabinet member, I can say the gas pipeline is the keystone of the Ukrainian economy. … We didn’t give up one meter of pipe, as our neighbors did, and we still have the cheapest price for gas. Ukraine was thought to be addicted to cheap gas and the price of the drug was the independence of our country. It is hard to raise the price slowly, but this is the right process. Nobody will develop coal and oil if gas remains so cheap. I know nothing about the founders of RosUkrEnergo [the shady intermediary involved in the recent Russian-Ukrainian deal].

Q: Would you comment on the Socialist campaign pledge to nationalize the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant? What is your view on nationalization and privatization?
Lutsenko: Tymoshenko’s call to nationalize thousands of enterprises damaged the economy. [Head of the State Property Fund Valentina] Semenyuk acts under the law. There will be no nationalization, only legal procedures against criminal privatization. There are criminal cases against Viktor Pinchuk, who used his connections to Kuchma to buy enterprises cheaply. The auction price of Krivoryzhstal [a steel works recently bought by Lakshmi Mittal in a transparent privatization process] was twenty times higher than the aggregate of all previous privatizations.

Summary prepared by Matthew Gibson, Junior Fellow with the Russian and Eurasian Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.