Accusations flying as police head resigns, leaving contentious deputy in charge
Khatia Dekonoidze has resigned from her post as Head of National Police just one year after her appointment, seemingly in frustration at the limited powers she had to carry out real reform and political interference. She also said that Vadim Troyan, who takes over as Acting Head, is not politically independent and therefore unsuited to the post. Doubts about the former Azov Battalion commander’s suitability for high police posts were first expressed after his appointment as head of the Kyiv regional police and they remain of concern.
There are markedly different views as to Dekonoidze’s departure. Automaidan, part of the Euromaidan movement, reacted angrily to Dekonoidze’s resignation, which they said marked the end of the last hope of reform of the National Police. Their official statement posted on Facebook demands the dismissal of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, and says a person must be chosen to replace him who is not from the old corrupt system. The activists consider that Avakov has not only failed to eradicate corruption, but has done everything to block reform and retain the corrupt system. They accuse him of having used his leverage through control of the police budget to install his preferred candidates in key posts, with people chosen for their loyalty, not their competence. This, they assert, is leading to a reinstatement of the old corrupt system. They maintain also that the attestation program is being corrupted by the creation of puppet commissions which are pushing out representatives from civic organizations. Rather than bringing in new blood, many corrupt traffic police and former Berkut riot police officers are simply being transferred to new posts. Through control over the budget, the activists assert, further reform of the National Police is being blocked.
While Dekonoidze was considerably more upbeat in her statement, which cites many real achievements, she acknowledged failure to eradicate corruption within the police force. The lack of real powers had been a hindrance, as, clearly, had the meddling by officials and politicians in police work. She also believes that proper changes to the police are dependent on effective reform of both the prosecutor’s office and the judiciary.
It is ironical considering the accusations of political interference that her resignation is widely reported, together with that of Yulya Marushevska, as following close on that of Mikhail Saakashvili. Both the position of the former Georgian President as Governor of Odesa and his reasons for stepping down were somewhat more controversial.
Many other Georgians appointed as reformers have already resigned, including Eka Zguladze, who was First Deputy Interior Minister until her resignation in May this year. She too was upbeat about the achievements, but warned that “these little islands of success will drown in an ocean of corruption, nihilism, bureaucracy, if we don’t build bridges between them, creating a continent.”
Avakov has withstood many demands for his resignation, and may well hold out here also. There are also others, such as KHPG Director Yevhen Zakharov, who believe the Automaidan activists’ criticism to be unfair. He is more measured in his assessment of the situation and considers that the reasons for slower reforms lie elsewhere, including in banal and unacceptable problems linked with the lack of funding.
The need for a new experienced person to replace Dekonoidze is undisputed.
It was Avakov who first appointed Vadim Troyan as Kyiv Regional Police at the end of October 2014.
The likely criteria for this appointment, as well as certain details in Troyan’s past, aroused concern from the outset, as did the lack of consultation with civic groups.
Then 35, Troyan was best known as the Deputy Commander of the Azov Battalion. This began as a volunteer battalion and is recognized for its role in defending Ukraine on the battlefield in Donbas. It has, however, also aroused controversy because of the neo-Nazi views of at least its leaders and the related symbols, including the wolf’s hook, which its members wear. The Battalion was founded and led by Andriy Biletsky who had never concealed his neo-Nazi views.
Many soldiers stood for parliament in October 2014 with all the political parties eager to welcome such candidates who had wide public support. Most were elected, including Biletsky who was, however, forced to stand as an independent candidate after the scandal over his views led the newly formed People’s Front (which Avakov was a member of) to drop him as candidate. Troyan certainly appeared to be on the People’s Front candidate list, though it is possible that his name did not end up on the final list and he did not enter parliament.
It was soon after those elections that Avakov announced Troyan’s police appointment as supposedly linked to “the spirit and meaning of the police reform”.
This it was not, and not merely because there had been no public consultation. The concerns about the appointment were not connected with Azov, as much as with ‘Patriot of Ukraine’, a Kharkiv-based organization which Biletsky had led and Troyan had been a member of.
‘Patriot of Ukraine’ appeared in 2005 as a paramilitary organization espousing xenophobic and neo-Nazi views. It was involved in violent attacks against migrants, foreign students in Kharkiv and others.
While Biletsky’s role in this highly suspect organization is undisputed, Troyan’s is harder to pinpoint. It was, however, mentioned on the ‘People’s Front’ website, making denial later by both Avakov and Troyan disturbing.
There was alarm in January 2016 after a video appeared to indicate extremely dodgy collaboration between at very least one Kyiv regional police officer and activists from the Azov Civic Corps.
The video posted on Jan 25 (here also) claimed to be “a raid to uncover illegal individuals” in Bila Tskerkva [Kyiv oblast]. It called this a joint project between the Kyiv Oblast National Police and the Azov Civic Corps to identify foreign nationals infringing legislation on being in Ukraine.
Troyan was appointed the first Deputy Head of the National Police, and therefore Dekonoidze’s immediate deputy on March 6, 2016. He is now Acting Head.
It is not clear what Dekonoidze was specifically referring to when she spoke of Troyan’s political engagement, but he does often seem to speak the same language as Avakov. In September this year, the Interior Minister angered civic activists by some ill-considered remarks unfairly blaming people forced to flee their homes because of Russia’s invasion of Crimea and military conflict in Donbas for the current increase in crime. That theme was then taken up in a long article for Dzherkalo Tyzhnya by Troyan. Avakov has since backed down and publicly acknowledged that his remarks could be misconstrued. Troyan’s text remains.