As we have seen in the United States in vibrant real time over the last several years, the media have become a battleground for the powerful to fight it out with the goal of altering public opinion and, therefore, influencing policy — in other words, to gain power.
However, Ukraine with its rampant corruption has been ground zero for this type of modern, non-lethal war, as oligarchs who own media outlets attempt to shape reality on the ground in Kyiv.
The movie “The Oligarchs” prepared by the Investigating Unit of Al Jazeera aired earlier this year, and it was credited with highlighting the attempts by those possibly connected with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to recover much of the funds frozen by authorities after he fled the country in 2014.
The Al Jazeera film crew exposes the viewer to the global corruption schemes emanating from Ukraine. Undeniable data is presented — real facts, and well-supported conclusions. Nobody doubts that fugitive president of Ukraine was involved in corrupt machinations. The movie lays out the schemes plotted to recover the financial assets of the fugitive president, which were long-frozen in Ukraine. The journalists explain that rogue businessman Sergei Kurchenko (aka the “Yanukovych wallet”) tried to resell these assets to the deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament, fugitive Aleksandr Onishchenko and Russian businessman with established criminal ties, Pavel Fuks (aka Fuchs). Both, in turn, tried to “unfreeze” the assets using their purported influence on Mr. Poroshenko. This film is truly compelling.
But there is so much more to the Ukrainian oligarch corruption story. For example, according to the Daily Beast, the Central Bank of Ukraine, led by Valeriya Gontareva and supported by Mr. Poroshenko nationalized the country’s biggest commercial bank PrivatBank. At that time, oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky had full control over the bank, where more than $5 billion went missing.
According to the Financial Times, the High Court of London froze more than $2.5 billion belonging to Mr. Kolomoisky in connection to the Privat Bank case. There seems to be plenty of material for a new documentary here, as it is a story that has yet been fully told in public.
Valeriya Gontareva prides herself on cleaning up many of the “oligarch-controlled” financial institutions where the ownership literally used the commercial deposits of millions of Ukrainian citizens and businesses as their own personal piggy bank, investing the money in their own enterprises and moving much of it abroad to shell companies in offshore financial jurisdictions for personal use.
Months before the Al Jazeera film premiere, a website released an article which discussed the main subjects of the film, a website actively supported by the Ukrainian journalist Alexander Dubinski – the presenter of the TV channel 1+1, which belongs to Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. This is an example of how oligarch-owned media outlets can try and influence opinion on the ground.
“The manipulation of mass media, albeit an unfortunate norm in Ukraine, is a ‘foreign’ practice now widespread throughout the U.S. and the world. Mr. Kolomoisky has undertaken this, has jeopardized Ukrainian foreign policy by undermining the credibility of our Central Bank, our government, our collective future,” declared Ms. Gontareva, former chairwoman of the National Bank of Ukraine.
ICU, one of the largest financial institution in Ukraine, with Ms. Gontareva as its former head, has been targeted as well for negative publicity. As with all corruption, the question should be asked, who is interested in discrediting the Ukrainian president and Ms. Gontareva? According to her, most likely, Igor Kolomoisky who is trying to get back the allegedly embezzled $5 billion not mentioned in Al Jazeera’s film.
Ukraine’s oligarchs are skilled at fabricating stories, forging documents and even staging criminal investigations because in Ukraine everything is for sale. As an old Ukrainian folk wisdom says, “money cuts steel.”
As with any controlled press, one should look to the beneficiaries of the journalistic efforts. The disputed documents used to implicate ICU were alleged by the company to have been provided by former Ukrainian Parliament Deputy Yuriy Karmazin.
We’ve spoken to ICU representatives who vehemently deny they worked with disgraced American lobbyist Elliott Broidy, who allegedly pitched access to Eastern Europe and Africa to President Trump.
According to ICU’s managing partner Konstantin Stetsenko, the political struggle in the pre-election year is the main reason behind various attacks ICU faces in Ukraine and in the international press. Although some of the ICU’s ex-employees were key figures of the recent Ukrainian reforms, he says, the company is neither connected with them nor involved in politics.
Our mission, Mr. Stetsenko says, is to bring investments into the Ukrainian economy, but we are suffering from collateral damage of political processes in the country and implemented reforms, declared the firm’s leadership.
There are two sides to every story, and this story needs to be investigated more.
One thing is for sure, Ukraine looks to continue to provide plenty of subject material for anyone looking to make a good documentary. With the March 2019 presidential elections approaching, the media wars show no sign of calming down any time soon, in Ukraine or in the United States.