Azarov, Mykola

Azarov, Mykola [Азаров, Микола], b 17 December 1947 in Kaluga, RSFSR. Politician and geologist; former leader of the Party of Regions and head of the State Taxation Administration. Educated at Moscow State University (1971), he holds a doctorate in geology. Until 1976 he was employed with a coal mining institute in Tula, RSFSR. From 1976 to 1984 he worked at a coal mining institute in the Moscow region, becoming a department head. Thereafter, until 1995, he directed the Ukrainian geological research institute in Donetsk.

Azarov became involved in politics in 1993, when he joined the governing board of the Party of Labor. He was elected to the Supreme Council of Ukraine in 1994, representing a constituency in Donetsk. Within parliament he headed the budget committee (1995–7) and belonged to the Interregional Deputies’ Group caucus. On 1 October 1996 he was appointed by President Leonid Kuchma as head of the State Taxation Administration (STA), which included the country’s tax police. In that capacity, he became the principal state adviser on taxation, a member of the president’s coordinating committee for the struggle against corruption and organized crime, as well as member of numerous other advisory and regulatory bodies.

As the inaugural head of the STA, he built the agency into a formidable structure with 70,000 inspectors who extracted taxes arbitrarily according to a plan with targets of amounts to be collected by region. It operated as a political weapon inflicting injury on the president’s opponents while rewarding his supporters, harassing businesses, and engaging in extortion matched only by the interior ministry (police) and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). This discouraged trust among the public and encouraged tax evasion. Azarov was implicated in the Melnychenko tapes as having blackmailed collective farm chairmen into supporting President Leonid Kuchma’s 1999 re-election by threatening to collect unpaid taxes. He was thought to have protected Kuchma’s innermost circle from being prosecuted for theft and fraud.

On 3 March 2001 Azarov was elected leader of the pro-presidential Party of Regions. After Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s ouster the following month, Azarov was considered a candidate for prime minister, but was passed over in favor of Anatolii Kinakh. Azarov’s Party of Regions then created a pro-presidential electoral bloc for the 2002 elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine, For a United Ukraine. Following these elections, Azarov was again mooted as prime minister, but was sidelined by Donetsk governor Viktor Yanukovych. On 26 November 2002 he was named first vice-prime minister and finance minister in Yanukovych’s cabinet and released from his position as chief of the tax administration. His main activities were to draw up for parliamentary approval an economic action plan for the government, and to negotiate with the United States Ukraine’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). He also succeeded in obtaining the Supreme Council’s approval for a flat 13 percent income tax on individuals, effective from 1 January 2004. In foreign economic relations, Azarov was a leading advocate for Ukraine’s participation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) single economic zone. In April 2003, in preparation for his run at the presidency the following year, a congress of the Party of Regions selected Yanukovych as leader, while Azarov became head of the party’s political council.

In 2006 Azarov again stood for election to the Supreme Council of Ukraine as no. 12 on the Party of Regions list, returned to chair the budget committee, and served as deputy leader of the Party of Regions caucus (fraction). In September 2006, he resigned his parliamentary seat to resume being first vice-premier and minister of finance under Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. He used his powers blatantly to coerce oligarchs into the Party of Regions fold and to continue to harass Ukrainian business.

Having successfully managed his patron’s presidential election campaign, Azarov in 2010 was appointed prime minister by President Viktor Yanukovych. His tenure was notable for its short-lived pursuit of reforms at the insistence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Reforms were successfully launched in regard to the tax code, procurement, administration, and the gas market, but otherwise the momentum stalled early in 2011 with the consequence that IMF support was halted. As to the choice between the EU and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Azarov held that Ukraine needed to have good relations with both blocs. He claimed that closer ties to the EU would require the latter to pay Ukraine more than a hundred billion euros as compensation for loss of trade with the Russian Federation. In November 2013, after conferring in Saint Petersburg with Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, Azarov announced the Ukrainian cabinet’s decision to halt the signing of the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (AA and DCFTA) between Ukraine and the EU. This launched the Euromaidan Revolution with calls for the Azarov government’s ouster and the impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych. Azarov resigned on 28 January 2014, fled to the Russian Federation, and was subsequently sought by Ukrainian authorities on charges of embezzlement, state betrayal, and disseminating hostile propaganda. In Moscow, he published two books Ukraina na pereput'e: zapiski prem'er-ministra (Ukraine at the Crossroads: A Prime Minister’s Notes; 2015) and Ukraina: ot perevorota do vyborov (Ukraine: From the Coup to the Elections; 2019).

In April 2021 economic sanctions of indefinite duration were imposed on Azarov by the Ukrainian government. In June, at the invitation of the Russian Federation, Azarov appeared online at the United Nations in an informal session denouncing the Euromaidan Revolution as a plot coordinated by the European Union and the United States. In October, Azarov was arrested in absentia by a Kyiv court on a charge of treason. Specifically, the matter dealt with his involvement in the Kharkiv Accords of 2010 whereby the Russian Federation obtained a 25-year extension of its lease of the Black Sea Fleet naval base at Sevastopol. Azarov appealed against the sanctions imposed on him.

Immediately after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, Azarov was quoted in the Russian media as defending Vladimir Putin’s ‘special military operation’ on the grounds that NATO had been preparing for a nuclear war. There was speculation that the Russian Federation might install Azarov as replacement for Volodymyr Zelensky if their invasion were successful. In Ukraine itself, he along with Viktor Yanukovych were indicted for treason insofar as the Kharkiv Accords had, according to the State Bureau of Investigation (DBR), facilitated the Russian Federation’s invasion and annexation of the Crimea as well as the ensuing war of aggression against Ukraine. Throughout the war Azarov engaged in disseminating anti-Ukrainian propaganda through TV interviews, until his accomplices in Kyiv were arrested by the Security Service of Ukraine.

Berenson, M. ‘Less Fear, Little Trust: Deciphering the Whys of Ukrainian Tax Compliance,’ in Orange Revolution and Aftermath: Mobilization, Apathy, and the State in Ukraine, ed P. D’Anieri (Washington, DC, and Baltimore 2010)

Bohdan Harasymiw

[This article was written in 2023.]

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