The Ukrainian president has upped the ante in a stalemate with the country’s Constitutional Court by ousting two of its judges for threats to national security, a potentially unconstitutional measure aimed at breaking a deadlock lasting several months.
Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday overturned presidential decrees issued by his predecessor in 2013, which had appointed judges Oleksander Tupytsky, currently head of the court, and Oleksander Kasminin.
Analysts said the move was aimed at shifting the balance of power in a court that had sparked a constitutional crisis. last fall with decisions that threatened to dismantle critical anti-corruption institutions. The decisions, in turn, jeopardized reforms and Western donor support, including funding a $ 5 billion IMF lifeline.
The two ousted judges were appointed under the chairmanship of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in 2014 after being ousted by the pro-democratic Revolution of Dignity.
“These people can go on a well-deserved vacation,” Zelensky said in a statement explaining that the decision is part of an audit of “all of President Yanukovych’s decrees.”
Yanukovych was condemned in 2019 by a Ukrainian court of treason for contributing to “a war of aggression” by Russia which occupied the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and orchestrated a still-burning separatist conflict in the eastern regions.
Citing “the usurpation of power by Yanukovych in 2010-2014”, Zelensky’s decree declared that the judges appointed by the former president “constitute a threat to state independence and national security”.
There was no immediate comment from the judges or the court.
The move comes months after Zelensky – in another dubious constitutional decree – hanging Tupytsky of his position as head of the tribunal, citing corruption investigations, including non-declaration of ownership in Russia-occupied Crimea.
Government guards have since refused to allow Tupytsky to enter the court. Its 18-seat panel of judges struggled to systematically achieve a quorum.
Last October, Zelensky called parliament dissolves all the judges of the Court after a majority of them – following appeals from pro-Russian and allied MPs to the oligarch – handed down rulings that threatened to neutralize the independence of the National Struggle Office Against Corruption of Ukraine (NABU) and to end mandatory declarations of public property by the public. servants.
Anti-corruption reforms are a prime condition of Ukraine’s Western backing for continued support.
Zelensky’s call for parliament to dissolve the entire court was never passed. MPs have since passed legislation reinstating the reporting system and are considering laws to clarify whether the president or the government should appoint the director of NABU.
The Constitution of Ukraine provides that judges of the Constitutional Court appointed for a nine-year term are to be removed by a two-thirds vote of the judges of the Court in specific cases, including health problems or after being convicted of a crime. It does not authorize the president to cancel the appointment of a judge.
Ihor Koliushko, head of the Kiev Center for Politics and Legal Reform, said Zelensky’s decree “has nothing to do with the constitution.”
“This is a revolutionary step that can be understood,” Koliushko said citing Tupytsky’s reputation, the corruption allegations against him and the controversial court rulings.
“He is certainly not worthy of being a judge and the increasingly anti-state activities of these judges linked to well-defined pro-Russian interests must be combated in one way or another,” added Koliushko.
In a Voice of America interview this week, George Kent, US Assistant Under Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said: “How the Ukrainian authorities are emerging from the constitutional crisis created by the Constitutional Court. . . is a real challenge.
He urged the authorities to speed up reforms and warned that “any legislation that nullifies the independence” of NABU “will make it very difficult for international partners” to continue to support.