WORLDVIEW: The stink of corruption in Ukraine

Volodmyr Yelensky

1,878Views 0Comments Posted 04/02/2023

No one could say that Ukraine was some kind of ideal state before Russia launched its invasion last year, said Reinhard Vese in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. On the contrary, it was seen as one of Europe’s most corrupt countries, ruled by oligarchs and riddled with graft and corruption.No surprise then that war with Russia seems to have thrown up glorious business opportunities for several politicians and civil servants. Yet the sheer scale of the graft scandal now engulfing the Ukrainian government is still pretty staggering, said Alisa Orlova in the Kyiv Post.

At least 12 senior officials have resigned or been sacked by President Zelenskyy in a sweeping shake-up of Ukraine’s wartime leadership, among them the deputy defense minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, who quit over allegations that he’d overseen the purchase of food for the army at inflated prices; and Zelenskyy’s deputy, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, who, at a time of extreme austerity, was seen driving around Kyiv in a luxury Porsche.

Then there’s deputy infrastructure minister Vasyl Lozynskiy, who has been sacked after being arrested for allegedly taking a $400,000 kickback from a procurement tender for winter aid. Who said dodgy dealings were a thing of the past in Kyiv?

Some view this crackdown as a welcome effort by Zelenskyy to “clean house” and show that the “ostentatious lifestyle” enjoyed by corrupt officials won’t be tolerated in wartime Ukraine, said Oleg Sukhov in The Kyiv Independent. Others, however, are of the view that his reshuffle is more a product of political infighting than a genuine anti-corruption drive.

Why, for example, wasn’t Zelenskyy’s “notorious” deputy chief of staff, Oleh Tatarov, on the list of departing officials? After all, he was charged with bribery in 2020 – a case only dropped when prosecutors loyal to the president effectively nixed the investigation.

Clearly, corruption is still a systemic problem in Ukraine, said Yulia Klymenko in Ukrainska Pravda (Kyiv). Procurement contracts seem deliberately confusing, and accounting trails opaque. Until these faults are corrected, there’ll always be a gang of people with their noses in the trough.

There’s some good news in all this, said Yulia Lavryshyn on Zn.Ua (Kyiv). The war may have provided cover for crooks, but the slew of media revelations that have brought about the ousting of these officials shows that Ukraine’s free press is well capable of “keeping officials under a magnifying glass” even in the present dire circumstances.

Ordinary Ukrainians are understandably furious that graft remains so prevalent in their country, said Stefan Wolff and Tatyana Malyarenko on The Conversation (Melbourne). Ukraine’s economy is being battered by the war, and while these people are feasting on public funds most people are struggling to survive.

But few hold Zelenskyy responsible for the ongoing scandals: his approval ratings remain sky-high and most people back him to make good on his prewar promises to root out wrongdoing. It’s imperative he does so. Last week’s welcome news that both Germany and the US will send tanks to Ukraine was “clearly linked” to Zelenskyy’s new anti-graft initiative. How well he manages to solve the corruption problems will determine the shape of Ukraine’s postwar future.