Friday

17th Aug 2018

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

  • Lancinskas (l): EU scored "quick wins" on police reform (Photo: euam-ukraine.eu)

Visa-free travel is unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave in Europe because its gangsters found ways to get in long ago, an EU police expert has said.

Kestutis Lancinskas, a former Lithuanian police chief who heads an EU rule-of-law mission, EUAM, in Kiev, told EUobserver that Ukraine is these days seeing a spike in “all types of crime”.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Lithuanian expert was chief of Vilnius county police prior to his EU post (Photo: euam-ukraine.eu)

The recent killings of a Russian dissident, Denis Voronenkov, and of a journalist, Pavel Sheremet, brought back memories of the lawlessness in Ukraine when it split from the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Lancinskas said those cases appeared to be political. “I don’t think they were related to organised crime”, he said.

But he said Ukraine suffered from a “very high crime rate” with “all types of reported crime on the increase”.

The streets feel safe, but he listed corporate raiding, racketeering, prostitution, human trafficking, and thefts of luxury cars among the problems.

He said that, despite the phalanx of Western advisers in Ukraine, this was to be expected due to its post-revolutionary political turmoil, its economic crisis, and its conflict with Russia.

He said the conflict meant illegal firearms were readily available.

He also said it meant a rise in violence, especially domestic violence, because fighters were coming home from the front with “psychological problems”.

EU doors open

Lancinskas spoke as the EU, on 11 June, began to let in Ukrainian nationals for short trips without a visa, but he said the waiver was unlikely to increase crime in Europe.

“There will be no effect … Why? Because visa-free doesn’t influence criminality”, he said.

“Organised crime always had a lot of possibilities to get into European countries even when the visa regime was in place. These people find ways to get in,” he added.

“Even with the strongest controls, they find ways,” he said.

Lancinskas took over the EU rule-of-law mission in Kiev last February, replacing a Hungarian diplomat, Kalman Mizsei, who set it up in July 2014.

Unlike the EU mission in Kosovo, which conducts investigations, the Kiev mission, of some 250 experts, merely advises Ukraine on how to improve law enforcement.

It is working with rank-and-file police, prosecutors, courts, and the SBU - Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service, which, unlike many Western intelligence services, also has crime-fighting powers.

The EU mission began work after Ukrainians overthrew former leader Viktor Yanukovych in what was, in part, an “anti-corruption revolution”, Lancinskas said.

“There was a critical mass of people who were no longer willing to live under the old-fashioned Soviet system … We saw doctors and lawyers who came to Kiev to throw stones [at the authorities]”, he said.

Quick win

Back in 2014, public trust in the police was just 5 percent, according to Ukraine’s interior ministry.

Policemen, who earned little more than the minimum wage of €100 a month, used to extort money via spot fines and took hours to respond to emergency calls.

Prosecutors raided companies on behalf of rival oligarchs and sold protection to corrupt MPs and officials.

Many judges were in on the racket - when Ukraine introduced a law, last year, forcing them to make online declarations of their assets one quarter of judges resigned to hide what they had.

Bureaucracy compounded the problems. Some policemen who sat in the same room, for instance, used to communicate with each other by mailing letters.

Lancinskas said there had been “huge changes” in the past three years.

He said “many of our quick wins have been in the police”, which has hired thousands of fresh faces, doubled wages, and cut response times to 20 minutes or less.

Public trust now stands at 42 percent, the interior ministry and an independent pollster, the Razumkov Centre, have said.

Slow-down

Change higher up the hierarchy is slower, however.

Lancinskas said the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, a political ally of president Petro Poroshenko, was more interested in hunting down members of the old regime than in modernising his service.

“He’s focusing on investigations of Yanukovych activity, but we’d be happy to get him more interested in reform”, he said.

Despite his focus, Lutsenko has yet to catch any big fish or to prove who ordered the sniper fire that killed dozens of protesters in 2014.

The prosecution service is meant to cut flab by reducing staff from 18,000 to 10,000 people by the end of 2017, but Lancinskas said “it’s still unclear how this objective will be reached”.

Instead, Lutsenko has dissolved his Reform Department, leaving EU experts “still waiting for an explanation” on who they are meant to talk to in future.

The mass resignations of judges has also seen “cases piling up that are not being heard, which undermines people’s faith that justice is being served”, Lancinskas said

Reverse gear

Meanwhile, the SBU, which, under Yanukovych, used its crime-fighting powers to harass NGOs, is said to be reverting to old ways.

“The SBU is trying to clamp down … on civil society, particularly anti-corruption activists”, an EU diplomat, who asked not to be named, told EUobserver.

Lancinskas said he was “aware” of the allegations, but had “no way of establishing their veracity”.

He said his office and Nato's office in Kiev had sent a “draft concept” on SBU reform to Poroshenko which said it should cede its crime-fighting powers to focus on intelligence, counter-intelligence, and counter-terrorism.

“The reforms are designed among other things to reduce scope for abuses”, he said.

“If the SBU is to achieve its objective of integrating within euro-atlantic security structures, it will have to transfer law enforcement and investigative competences to other bodies”, he said.

Poroshenko got the EU-Nato proposal last November, but Lancinskas said “we’re still waiting for an answer”.

The EU diplomat who asked not to be named said there was a threat of going “back to norm in a country that has seriously backtracked from the reforms that civil society is demanding”.

He also said there was a risk of playing “the usual international game whereby the locals pretend they do reforms to our liking and we pretend we don't see they don't do it”.

Netherlands ratifies EU-Ukraine treaty

Dutch senate approves ratification, despite a majority of referendum voters expressing opposition last year. The Netherlands should show 'reliability', one senator said.

EU visa waiver looms for Russia-annexed Crimeans

Visa liberalisation for Ukrainians entering the EU will also apply to inhabitants of the peninsula taken over by Moscow in 2014. But the issue poses administrative as well as political problems.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs blast UK 'alphabetical approach' on citizens rights
  2. EU hits back over Salvini's blame for bridge collapse
  3. Poll: Sweden's social democrat-led government set to win again
  4. Genoa in state of emergency following bridge collapse
  5. EU summertime survey closes Thursday
  6. Putin to attend Austrian foreign minister's wedding
  7. Salvini questions EU 'constraints' after bridge collapse
  8. Bosnian Serbs to rewrite 1995 Srebrenica genocide report

Opinion

The systemic risk that Europe has to face

One of the biggest systemic risks across Europe, illustrated by Hungary and Poland, is the dominance of the executive power over the judiciary and informal channels of political dependency.

Schengen at stake in Austria-Germany talks

German interior minister Horst Seehofer is in Vienna on Thursday - as his plan to reject some asylum seekers was met by an Austrian threat to close its borders too.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  2. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  3. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  4. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  5. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  6. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  8. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  10. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  12. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma

Latest News

  1. Brexit talks resume as chance of 'no deal' put at 50:50
  2. US trial sheds light on murky Cyprus-Russia links
  3. Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate
  4. EU court to hear citizens' climate case against EU
  5. How long can Bulgaria keep facing both East and West?
  6. EU commission steps up legal case against Poland
  7. Separation of powers instead of 'Spitzenkandidat' process
  8. Revealed: ExxonMobil's private dinner with Cyprus' top EU brass

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  4. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  6. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  8. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  9. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  11. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  12. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  2. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  4. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual Report celebrates organization’s tenth anniversary
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cooperation Needed on Green Exports and Funding
  7. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li Confirms China Will Continue to Open Up
  8. European Jewish CongressCalls on Brussels University to Revoke Decision to Honour Ken Loach
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  10. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  11. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  12. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us