Ukraine has previously struggled to root out high-level corruption and bolster the rule of law, despite Zelenskyy promising to do so when he was elected in 2019. Ukraine’s backers in the United States and Europe to deal with these issues, especially as a condition for Ukraine’s invitation into Western institutions, including perhaps one day joining the . Russia’s full-scale attack last year shunted some of those corruption concerns aside, as Western governments rushed to back up Ukraine and as Ukraine itself became a global symbol for democratic resistance.Within Ukraine, some civil society groups and anti-corruption forces who’d long been critical of the Ukrainian government and Zelenskyy put some of their activism on hold as Ukrainian society fully mobilized in the war effort. released last summer, about 84 percent of anti-corruption experts abandoned their activities because of the conflict. Still, concerns about Ukraine’s approach to corruption . The chaos of conflict — lots of rapid procurements, an influx of funds and supplies moving through many hands — tends to create fertile areas for potential graft and can exacerbate existing problems. . Ukraine is no exception.
What we know about the Ukrainian government shake-upsThe recent reshuffle appears to be connected to a few different scandals. Perhaps the most high-profile is this allegation, , that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense had signed a contract paying . Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov rejected the claims, saying it was a “technical error” and suggesting the leak was , in an effort to undermine Ukraine. “Information about the content of food service shoppers who have taken up public space is spreading with signs of deliberate manipulation and mislead,” the . The ministry said it was opening an investigation into the “spread of intentionally false information,” though it was also conducting an internal audit. In response to the procurement allegations, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) publicly announced its own investigation. On Tuesday, Deputy Defense Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov reportedly , so as “not to pose a threat to the stable supply of the Armed Forces of Ukraine as a result of a campaign of accusations related to the purchase of food services.”
But Ukraine’s government shake-up extends beyond that. On Tuesday, Tymoshenko, a close aide to Zelenskyy, announced his resignation, saying it was of his “own volition.” , and Ukrainian media had reported last year that he had driven an SUV donated for humanitarian purposes for his personal use (he denied that report). In December, another investigation suggested Tymoshenko had been driving an expensive sports car, and had rented a mansion belonging to a prominent businessman — flashy accessories for a government official in wartime. Tymoshenko has he rents the house because his own is in an area targeted by airstrikes.Oleksiy Symonenko, , was also ousted, following reports last month in Ukrainian media that . On Monday, Zelenskyy all government officials from leaving the country for anything other than official business. In addition to these high-profile ousters, a few other deputy ministers and regional governors — — were also fired. , some of these officials have been implicated in graft, while others appear to have just been caught up in the reshuffle.
This turmoil also comes days after Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, Vasyl Lozinskyi, was fired following that he stole $400,000 (£320,000) that was intended to go to the purchase of aid, including generators, to help Ukrainians withstand the winter after Russian attacks badly damaged energy infrastructure. He has on the allegations.
Ukraine corruption is a focus again, a year into warA few firings and resignations will not fix endemic corruption or rule of law problems in Ukraine, just as Ukraine’s resistance against Moscow will not erase all of its underlying governance weaknesses. A bigger question is how widespread these latest instances of corruption are, and whether the ousters and resignations now represent a real and sustained effort to crack down or are more a political reshuffle and a public show to reassure Western partners and the Ukrainian public. An aid to Zelenskyy tweeted that the moves show the government won’t turn any to misdeeds. Yet some critics have suggested this is more of a political shake-up, and . In 2021, Transparency International had Ukraine 122 among 180 countries for corruption, making it one of the worst offenders. Even on the eve of Russia’s invasion, the and partners had continued to put pressure on Zelenskyy to implement anti-corruption and rule of law reforms. Those calls didn’t , but the focus, with legitimate reason, was on supporting Ukraine’s resistance to Russia and providing military, humanitarian, and economic aid to Kyiv.
Within Ukraine, too, some of the government’s biggest critics redirected their energies to the larger war effort, according to a survey of 169 anti-corruption experts who responded in April 2022. reported feeling endangered if they continued to fight corruption during the conflict.This, of course, is why war and conflict can deepen corruption. Ukraine is fighting for its existence as a state, so, naturally, that’s the priority above all else. Government resources, attention, and funding all go to mobilizing for that, which means anti-corruption efforts and rule of law reforms fall by the wayside. On top of that, war creates plenty of opportunities for graft, with less time and attention on accountability and oversight.
The recent allegations come nearly one year into the war as the West once again gears up to send Ukraine massive tranches of weapons — including now, , advanced US tanks. , including military, security, and economic assistance. As of November, European countries and EU institutions have pledged , according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. As the war drags on, some Western lawmakers are questioning the amount of aid flowing to Ukraine — and are calling for more accountability on where everything is going. . Kyiv relies on foreign support in its fight against Russia, and repeated hints of misuse may jeopardize that, so it’s not surprising Kyiv is moving quickly to respond.And that is perhaps one of the big questions: How much of this is for optics, and how much does this reflect a deeper commitment on those corruption promises? The Ukraine for making these moves, but a lot will depend on how the investigations play out and what they uncover. Still, Ukraine’s efforts to signal a corruption crackdown to the world — and to a domestic audience who’s sacrificed a lot for the war — still carry a warning to other officials.