Corruption Shadows Ukraine’s Defense Amid War: New York Times

Originally published September 4, 2023 4:00 pm PDT

Amidst the backdrop of the ongoing war, Ukraine faces increasing scrutiny over alleged corruption within its defense sector.

The latest development involves the removal of Oleksii Reznikov, the defense minister, after a spate of allegations concerning financial mismanagement and graft.

This move casts a shadow on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s purported efforts to combat endemic corruption, according to a report from The New York Times.

Daria Kaleniuk, Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine, highlighted the severity of the issue by stating, “The question here is, ‘Where is the money?’”

She further emphasized the life-and-death implications, noting, “Corruption can kill. Depending on how effective we are in guarding the public funds, the soldier will either have a weapon or not have a weapon.”

This comes at a time when the nation has been waging a counteroffensive in the south and east, relying heavily on military assistance from Western allies.

Concerns have been raised about the billions of dollars in aid being siphoned off, with recent meetings between the U.S. national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Ukrainian officials addressing these concerns.

Some U.S. lawmakers have cited these corruption issues as reasons to limit military aid to the nation.

While Reznikov has stepped down, he has not been directly implicated in the graft allegations.

However, his department has faced growing scrutiny.

Reports suggest around $980 million worth of weapon contracts have been delayed, and some payments for these contracts have disappeared, possibly due to inadequate vetting processes or unscrupulous weapon dealers.

Mismanagement allegations extend beyond weapons, The Times notes.

Ukrainian media has reported excessive payments for basic army supplies, from overpriced eggs to winter coats that fail to provide sufficient insulation.

Such revelations are slowly eroding the once-unwavering public support for the government in light of Russia’s invasion.

In response to these allegations, two defense officials have been arrested, and heads of recruitment have been dismissed over bribery concerns.

In an attempt to further address the issue, Zelensky proposed treating corruption as treason, a move that has drawn criticism and fears of potential abuse of martial law powers.

Oleksii Goncharenko, an opposition MP, remarked on Zelensky’s record, stating, “I cannot praise his efforts in fighting corruption during the war period.”

The corruption issue has shifted in nature since the onset of the war.

Prior to the invasion, the main corruption source was embezzlement through mismanaged state companies.

Now, with almost half of the national budget dedicated to military spending, the focus has turned towards defense contracts.

This has drawn the attention of Western donors, especially in light of Zelensky’s proposal that could potentially weaken established anti-corruption agencies set up with assistance from international allies.

Chairwoman of the Ukrainian Parliament’s anticorruption committee, Anastasia Radina, expressed Western concerns, saying that if the proposal advances, “most likely they will object.”

However, she also defended the government’s dedication to combating graft.

The recent arrest of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, once an ally of Zelensky, signifies an attempt to curb undue influence.

High-profile cases, including those against the chief of Ukraine’s Supreme Court and a deputy economy minister, reflect the country’s commitment to transparency.

Despite the challenges, Andrii Borovyk, director of Transparency International in Ukraine, views the exposure of corruption positively, asserting, “Scandals are good.”

He emphasized the need for continued efforts, concluding that “The war cannot be an excuse to stop fighting corruption.”