Ukraine’s government corruption shake-up, briefly explained

A corruption scandal has rocked Ukraine’s government, with top officials stepping aside as Kyiv tries to convince its Western partners to responsibly manage billions in military and economic aid.

Notables include Kirylo Tymoshenko, deputy chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, and Vyacheslav Shapovalov, deputy head of the Ministry of Defense in charge of military supply and food supply. The Deputy Prosecutor General, a handful of regional governors and a number of other ministers were dismissed.

The exact details of what prompted the move are a bit murky, and all the resignations and ousters appear to be unrelated, but it follows at least one report in Ukrainian media that the Ministry of Defense bought food for the troops. excessively high prices. The Defense Ministry said the allegations were a deliberate attempt to mislead, but said it would conduct an internal audit. Additional media outlets last week questioned officials, including Tymoshenko.

It represents the most high-profile personnel changes since last year’s Russian invasion. More details about the alleged bribery may emerge, but it seems clear that Zelensky’s government has moved quickly to curb any allegations of widespread corruption, particularly from international backers who have been providing tens of billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine’s fight against it. Against Russia. Some critics also believe that the change is a political move rather than a fight against corruption.

In an address to the Telegram page on Tuesday evening, Zelensky acknowledged the personnel shifts and said that “all internal problems that hinder the state are being cleared and will be cleared. It’s fair, it’s necessary for our defense and it helps us get closer to European institutions.”

Despite Zelensky’s 2019 election pledge, Ukraine has already struggled to root out high-level corruption and strengthen the rule of law. Ukraine’s supporters in the US and Europe have long pressured Kyiv to resolve these issues. Especially as a condition for inviting Ukraine to join Western institutions, including one day the European Union. Last year’s massive Russian offensive put some of those corruption concerns aside as Western governments backed Ukraine and Ukraine itself became a global symbol of democratic resistance.

Within Ukraine, some civil society groups and anti-corruption forces that have long been critical of the Ukrainian government and Zelensky have suspended some of their activism as Ukrainian society has fully mobilized for the war effort. According to a report on war and corruption in Ukraine published last summer, about 84 percent of anti-corruption experts left their jobs because of the conflict.

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However, concerns about Ukraine’s approach to corruption have never fully dissipated. The chaos of conflict—many quick purchases, the flow of money and goods through many hands—is fertile ground for potential transplants and can exacerbate existing problems. This is regardless of where the war is or who is fighting it. Ukraine is no exception.

What we know about Ukraine’s government shake-up

The latest changes seem to be due to several different scandals. This claim, which was first reported by the Ukrainian media outlet ZN.UA, is the most resonant, as the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine signed an agreement to pay two to three times more than the retail price of food in Kiev. Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov denied the claims, calling it a “technical error” and saying it was linked to a meeting of Western donors to undermine Ukraine’s position. “Information about the content of food service providers occupying public space is being spread with signs of deliberate distortion and misrepresentation,” the ministry said in a statement. The ministry said it was conducting an investigation into the “deliberate spread of false information,” but an internal audit was also underway.

In response to the procurement allegations, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) made public its investigation. On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov asked to be fired “so as not to threaten the stable supply of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as a result of the accusation campaign related to the purchase of food services.”

But Ukraine’s government shake-up involves much more than that. Tymoshenko on Tuesday, A close aide of Zelenskyi announced his resignation, stating that it was his “volition”. Tymoshenko played a prominent role in the public eye during the war, and Ukrainian media reported last year that she drove a humanitarian SUV for personal use (a report she denied). Another investigation in December suggested that Tymoshenko drove an expensive sports car and rented a mansion owned by a well-known businessman, the glitzy accessories for a wartime government official. Tymoshenko said she rented the house because it was located in an area targeted by airstrikes.

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Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Simonenko was also fired last month after Ukrainian media reported that he had gone on a 10-day vacation to Spain during the war. On Monday, Zelensky banned all government officials from leaving the country for anything other than official business.

In addition to these high-profile oustings, several deputy ministers and regional governors were dismissed, including those in Kyiv and Kherson regions. According to the Kyiv Independent newspaper, some of these officials are involved in bribery, while others seem to have just been involved in personnel turnover.

The turmoil comes days after Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, Vasyl Lozinsky, was sacked after he was accused of stealing $400,000 (£320,000) worth of winter aid for Ukrainians, including generators. Russian attacks have severely damaged energy infrastructure. He has not commented on the allegations.

Corruption in Ukraine turned into a year of war again

A few firings and resignations will not solve Ukraine’s corruption or rule of law problems, nor will Ukraine’s resistance to Moscow eliminate all the weaknesses of its governance. The big question is how widespread these recent cases of corruption are, and whether removals and resignations are now a real and sustained effort aimed at repression or political reform and an open show to convince Western partners and the Ukrainian public.

Support for Zelensky wrote on Twitter that these steps show that the government will not change anything “blind eye” to bad deeds. However, some critics see it as political manipulation, and other politicians accused of corruption remain in office.

In 2021, Transparency International ranked Ukraine 122nd out of 180 countries in terms of corruption, making it one of the worst offenders. Even before the Russian invasion, the US and European partners continued to press Zelensky for anti-corruption and rule-of-law reforms. These calls did not stop after the start of the war, but for good reason, aimed at supporting Ukraine’s resistance to Russia and providing military, humanitarian and economic aid to Kyiv.

Even within Ukraine, some of the government’s biggest critics have channeled their energy into a major war effort, according to a survey of 169 anti-corruption experts. Answered in April 2022. About 47 percent said they felt threatened if they continued to fight corruption during the conflict.

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Of course, this is why war and conflict deepen corruption. Ukraine is fighting for its survival as a state, so of course this comes first. Government resources, attention and funding are diverted to mobilizing all of this, so anti-corruption efforts and rule-of-law reforms fall by the wayside. Moreover, war creates more opportunities for corruption, and less time and attention is given to accountability and control.

With the latest accusations almost a year into the war, the West is once again preparing to send large tranches of weapons to Ukraine, including advanced US tanks. The United States alone contributed about 100 billion dollars to Ukraine including military, security and economic aid. According to the Kiel Institute of World Economics, by November, European countries and EU institutions have pledged more than 51 billion euros in aid to Ukraine. As the war drags on, some Western lawmakers are questioning the amount of aid coming to Ukraine and calling for greater accountability for where it all goes. That includes most of the newly sworn-in Republicans in the US House. Kyiv relies on foreign support in its fight against Russia, and the repeated hint of abuse could threaten that, so it is not surprising that Kyiv is quick to retaliate.

This is perhaps one of the big questions: how much of this is about optics, and how much does it reflect a deeper commitment to corrupt promises? The US has praised Ukraine for taking such steps, but much depends on how the investigation progresses and what they uncover. Still, Ukraine’s efforts to signal to the world and domestic audiences that it has sacrificed so much for the war still serve as a warning to other officials.


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