A corruption scandal shakes up the Ukrainian governmentwith top officials stepping aside as Kiev appears keen to reassure Western partners of their responsible stewardship billions in military and economic aid.
Among the high-profile exits are Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy chief in the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a deputy in the defense ministry, Viacheslav Shapovalovwho was responsible for overseeing supplies and food for troops. A Deputy Attorney General was also fired, as were a handful regional governors and some other ministers.
The actual details of what caused the uproar are a bit murky, and not all of the firings and evictions seem to be related, but it comes after at least one notification in Ukrainian media that the Ministry of Defense had bought food for troops at extra high prices. The Ministry of Defence had said the allegations were a deliberate attempt to mislead, but said it would conduct an internal audit. Supplementary media reports had questioned officials over the past week, including Tymoshenko, who seemed to enjoy a lavish lifestyle.
This is the most high-profile reshuffle since last year’s invasion of Russia. More details about the alleged bribery are likely to emerge, but it seems clear that Zelensky’s government moved swiftly to quash allegations of widespread corruption, especially from international lenders who provide tens of billions of dollars in aid on which Ukraine depends. is in his fight against Russia. Some critics have also suggested that the shake-up is more of a political move than a genuine anti-corruption effort.
In his speech on Tuesday night posted on TelegramZelenskyy acknowledged the personnel shifts and said that all internal problems “that hamper the state are being cleaned up and will be cleaned up. It is fair, it is necessary for our defense and it helps our rapprochement with the European institutions.”
Ukraine has previously struggled to stamp out high-level corruption and strengthen the rule of law, despite Zelenskyy’s pledge to do so when elected in 2019. Ukraine’s lenders in the United States and Europe had long pressured Kiev to address these issues, especially as a condition of Ukraine’s invitation to Western institutions, which may one day include accession to the European Union. Last year’s large-scale attack by Russia set aside some of those concerns about corruption, as Western governments rushed to support Ukraine and Ukraine itself became a global symbol of democratic resistance.
In Ukraine, some civil society groups and anti-corruption forces that had long been critical of the Ukrainian government and Zelenskyy put some of their activism on hold while Ukrainian society fully mobilized for the war effort. This is evident from a report on war and corruption in Ukraine that was released last summerabout 84 percent of anti-corruption experts ceased their activities because of the conflict.
Still, there are concerns about Ukraine’s approach to corruption never completely extinct. The chaos of conflict—many fast-paced tenders, an influx of funds and supplies passing through many hands—are often fertile areas for potential grafting and can exacerbate existing problems. This is true no matter where the war is or who is fighting. Ukraine is no exception.
What we know about the turmoil of the Ukrainian government
The recent reshuffling appears to be related to a few different scandals. Perhaps the most talked about is this claim, first reported in Ukrainian media outlet ZN.UAthat the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense had signed a payment contract two to three times more for food than retail prices in Kiev. Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov dismissed the claims, saying it was a “technical error” and suggesting the leak was timed for a meeting of Western donors, in an attempt to undermine Ukraine. “Information about the contents of food service customers who have taken over public space is spreading with signs of deliberate manipulation and deception,” the statement said. the ministry said in a statement. The ministry said it was launching an investigation into the “dissemination of deliberately false information”, although it also conducted an internal audit.
In response to the procurement allegations, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) has publicly announced its own investigation. Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov reported this on Tuesday asked to be firedto “not 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 the shake-up of the Ukrainian government goes further than that. Tymoshenko, Tuesday, a close associate of Zelenskyy, announced his resignation, saying it was “of his own volition”. Tymoshenko had a fairly public role during the war, and Ukrainian media had reported last year that he had been driving for personal use in an SUV donated for humanitarian purposes (he denied that report). In December, another investigation suggested that Tymoshenko had driven an expensive sports car and rented a mansion that belonged to a prominent businessman – flashy accessories for a wartime government official. Tymoshenko has said he rents the house because his is located in an area targeted by air raids.
Oleksi Symonenko, a deputy prosecutorwas also expelled, following reports in the Ukrainian media last month that he had been on holiday in Spain for 10 days during the war. On Monday, Zelensky forbidden all government officials do not leave the country on anything other than official business.
In addition to these high-profile expulsions, a few other deputy ministers and regional governors – including those in Kiev and Kherson Oblasts – were also fired. This is reported by the Kiev Independentsome of these officials are involved in transplantation, while others just seem to be involved in the rearrangement.
This turmoil also comes days after Ukraine’s Deputy Infrastructure Minister Vasyl Lozinskyi was fired after allegations of Ukrainian prosecutors that he stole $400,000 (£320,000) intended for the purchase of aid, including generators, to help Ukrainians get through the winter following Russian attacks that severely damaged energy infrastructure. He has uncommented on the allegations.
Corruption in Ukraine takes center stage again, a year after war
A few firings and resignations will not solve Ukraine’s endemic corruption or rule of law problems, just as Ukraine’s defiance of Moscow will not erase all underlying administrative weaknesses. A bigger question is how widespread these latest instances of corruption are, and whether the impeachments and resignations are a genuine and sustained attempt to crack down or are more of a political realignment and public show to reassure Western partners and the Ukrainian public. set.
An aide to Zelenskyy tweeted that the moves show the government won’t change one “blind eyes” to misdeeds. Still, some critics have suggested this is more of a political shake-up, and that other politicians accused of corruption remain in their posts.
In 2021, Transparency International arranged Ukraine 122 out of 180 countries for corruption, making it one of the worst offenders. Even on the eve of the invasion of Russia, the United States and European partners continued to press Zelenskyy to implement anti-corruption and rule of law reforms. Those calls didn’t stop once the war has startedbut the focus was, rightly so, on supporting Ukraine’s resistance to Russia and providing military, humanitarian and economic aid to Kiev.
Within Ukraine, some of the government’s strongest critics have turned their energies to the larger war effort, according to a survey of 169 anti-corruption experts who responded in April 2022. About 47 percent reported feeling threatened 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 of course that is the priority above all else. Government resources, attention and funding all go into mobilizing for it, meaning anti-corruption and rule of law reform efforts fall by the wayside. Moreover, war creates plenty of opportunities for grafting, with less time and attention for accountability and supervision.
The recent accusations come nearly a year into the war as the West once again gears up to send Ukrainian massive tranches of weapons — now reportedly including advanced US tanks. The US alone has contributed about $100 billion to Ukraine, including military, security and economic aid. As of November, European countries and EU institutions have pledged more than €51 billion in aid to Ukraine, according to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. As the war rages on, some Western lawmakers are questioning the amount of aid flowing to Ukraine — and calling for more accountability about where everything goes. So is part of the newly sworn-in Republican majority in the US House. Kiev relies on foreign support in its fight against Russia, and repeated hints of abuse could jeopardize that, so it is not surprising that Kiev reacts quickly.
And that’s perhaps one of the big questions: How much of this is for optics, and how much does this reflect a deeper commitment to those corruption pledges? The US praised Ukraine for taking these steps, but much will depend on how the investigations go and what they reveal. Yet Ukraine’s efforts to send a signal to the world — and a domestic audience that has sacrificed much for the war — still serve as a warning to other officials.