It was the dead of night sometime between February 21st and 22nd when then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych slipped out the Palace back door in Kiev and tiptoed in his bedroom slippers all the way back to the safety of Mother Russia.
It’s an all too familiar tactic of a corrupt dictator; line your pockets with as much loot as possible, live an extravagant lifestyle, and when the angry villagers start to close in -- make a run for it.
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And line his pockets he did. When Mr. Yanukovych disappeared he left behind an enormous paper trail, including copious documents at the Palace and expense records thrown into a reservoir but retrieved and dried in the former leader’s sauna. What they reveal is both staggering and sickening. Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Mr. Yanukovych apparently fiddled the accounts while Kiev suffered.
The former President’s annual salary was $100,000, but documents show millions of dollars being funneled into local and offshore bank accounts. Exactly how much money was hijacked may never be known, but both Switzerland and Austria have frozen the accounts belonging to Mr. Yanukovych and launched criminal investigations.
It’s a cruel reality for a country that had won its independence from the heavy-handed rule of the former Soviet Union in 1991 and had dreamed of better and brighter times ahead. But old habits die hard, and Yanukovych is a stark reminder of the old-school Soviet method of dictatorship.
History and more than 1,400 miles of border mean Ukraine will always have ties with Russia; the question is whether it can emerge out of that shadow and be allowed to pursue interests that lie in the West and not the East. Russia has already used the supply of natural gas and suspension of bailout payments to keep Ukraine firmly in its grip, not to mention its menacing military exercises on the border.
But thanks to Viktor Yanukovych’s brazen exploits, the desire for something better could propel Ukrainians even more toward the European Union.