Paul Niland, founder of Lifeline Ukraine, unpicks what Boris Johnson and Donald Trump might be looking to hide – and how this fits within Vladimir Putin’s broader vision to takeover the West.
To many, corruption is about illegal enrichment. It drains public purses and its financial burden is ultimately a cost to taxpayers. But the underlying and often overlooked problems it brings are much worse than that.
Corrupt acts are a tool of control. And control is everything.
From the perspective of those who get dragged into such schemes, the choice is to make a lot of cash (or receive some other kind of unearned benefit) while compromising on basic morality and risk involvement in potentially illegal acts. There’s a risk-reward trade off. Is it worth it? From the perspective of those who run these schemes, this is not merely transactional, it is strategic.
The ultimate objective of corrupt behaviour, of luring the greedy and immoral into trading their souls for the devil, is what can potentially come from this in the future – once those subjects have compromised themselves.
If Donald Trump is to be believed, he has recently become concerned about corruption in Ukraine. In his telling of the story of why essential military assistance to Ukraine was held up, it was because he was worried about the still existing problem of corruption in the country – though no record exists of him ever being remotely interested in this topic in the past. So, apparently, he had looked into it and then, on learning that corruption is indeed being addressed, he released the aid. It is easy to see why the President’s claims don’t stack up. They are simply not true.
That’s why a discussion of the true nature of corruption in the former Soviet states is necessary at this point in time. Once one has entered the circle of the corrupt, it owns a person. Today, we are seeing the after-effects of this truth playing out in countries across the world, including the US and the United Kingdom.
The KGB Candidate
In Ukraine, a country where millions of people took to the streets in recent memory demanding an end to corruption in their country, everyone in political circles has what is called kompromat – a term meaning “compromising material” – on everyone else.
That is why its former President Petro Poroshenko – a billionaire with a record of two decades on the political scene – failed to reform the judiciary on his watch. Judges must be controlled because only in that way can justice and accountability be avoided. This is also why he, like his predecessors, kept the office of the Prosecutor General as part of their fiefdoms.
To demonstrate the power of this corruption, we can look back to the days of President Boris Yeltsin in Russia and how he came to cede power to the KGB/FSB in the embodiment of Vladimir Putin.
In the late 1990s, Russia was an unruly place. All kinds of opportunities for personal enrichment came along and they were grabbed at by those who were in, or close to, power. One such example related to the awarding of a contract for renovation works at the Kremlin to a Swiss firm called Mabetex. The price of the contract was padded to allow for a slush fund to pay backhanders to those whose palms needed to be greased, and one of those palms belonged to the daughter of Yeltsin, Tatyana Dyachenko.
When the FSB (the successor to the KGB security service in name only as it had the same people operating to the same rules from the same building) decided that it was time for it to seize control of the state apparatus, it selected its former head, Vladimir Putin, to be the public front for this. The blackmail of the Yeltsin family was easy. They had been compromised through corruption and now control would be exercised over them.
On New Years Eve 1999, the frail and ailing Yeltsin stood aside and appointed Putin as his successor. He is still there, 20 years later. The first decree Putin signed as Acting President of Russia was an amnesty for Boris Yeltsin “and all members of his family”.
What are Johnson and Trump Hiding?
With a General Election in just four weeks time in the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has personally held up the release of a parliamentary report by the Intelligence and Security Committee looking into Russian interference in UK politics – including any potential involvement of Russian actors in the 2016 EU Referendum.
While members of the committee have not leaked any of the contents of the report – most likely because they are bound by the Official Secrets Act – some of those who provided testimony during its investigation have stated that there are multiple instances of Russian financial donations to Johnson’s Conservative Party. It is likely that links could also be found to the Labour Party as the Russians like to hedge their bets.
Similarly, the kompromat Russia has on Donald Trump is also leading to all manner of acts that are decidedly against the US national interest. The reasons why Russia has clearly got such leverage over White House policy is that Trump is, most likely, compromised on multiple fronts. The mere existence of compromising information is enough to gain control of a person, it doesn’t necessarily have to become public.
Real estate has long been a perfect vehicle for money laundering – so too are casinos – and Trump has been the recipient of Russian largesse in each of these areas. The likelihood that there are secretly-recorded tapes of a personal nature of Trump is roughly, close or near to, 100%. Because that’s what Russia does. But the biggest tool of leverage that Russia has over him is that, he knows and they know, that Russia helped install him into his current position.
All of this – from Putin to Trump to Brexit – is to cover-up the reality that some have eaten the forbidden fruit and taken the Rubles that were dangled in front of them, with the greedy recipients having compromised the fate of their countries. Where will this end up?
Paul Niland is an Irish writer and political commentator based in Kyiv, Ukraine.