Ukraine & Corruption: A Major, Mostly Unmentioned Issue


New York Times: Ukraine Is Weakened by Corruption, So How Is It Stymying the Russians?
Oct. 10, 2022

By Peter Coy, Opinion Writer

Corruption undermines society as surely as termites undermine houses. Ukraine suffers from corruption. So how has Ukrainian society nonetheless managed to stymie a Russian invasion, and even turn the tables on its invaders?

I asked experts inside and outside Ukraine for their answers to this pivotal question and heard several interesting theories. The most intriguing is that it’s possible in certain situations to be simultaneously corrupt and patriotic.

Here are some of the explanations:

Ukraine is corrupt, but the enemy is even more corrupt. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Ukraine was 122nd of 180 countries last year (higher numbers are worse). Pretty bad, but Russia was ranked even worse, at 136th.
[NOTE: This Index is useful, but hardly perfect. The USA was rated as #27, which in my view is much too favorable, as it neglects entire categories of vast corruption, in domestic U. S. politics and foreign/military operations, which are technically “legal” but as rotten as can be.]
In  May the U.S. State Department said, “While it may be too early to draw definitive conclusions, we have seen open-source reporting about expired rations, lack of fuel and outdated and poorly maintained equipment that point to the waste, misuse and abuse of ‘public’ resources designated for Russia’s military.”

Ukraine has become a little less corrupt. It has shown “statistically significant” improvement since 2012, Transparency International said in releasing its 2021 ranking. Ukraine has been told it needs to clean up its act to get into the European Union. To meet the requirements of the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and others, Ukraine has created two anti-corruption agencies, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

ProZorro. A study by Christopher Yukins of George Washington University Law School and Steven Kelman of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government credits an online procurement system called ProZorro (related to the Ukrainian word for transparency) in combination with a watchdog group called Dozorro (Ukrainian for watchdog). Once bidding on a contract is complete, all data about it is posted on ProZorro, so it’s hard to cheat. The U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption credits the system with saving almost $6 billion in public funds since 2017.

Corruption is worse than ever; we just don’t know about it. With rivers of aid pouring into Ukraine from the United States and Western Europe, it would be easy for high- and low-level crooks to skim and not be caught. By this theory, corruption is badly sapping the war effort but fortunately is being more than offset by the volume of foreign aid and the heroism of individual Ukrainians on the front lines.

Certainly weird things keep happening. In July President Volodymyr Zelensky fired the prosecutor general and the leader of the domestic intelligence agency. Last week The Financial Times reported that the recently resigned central bank governor was said to have fled the country as anti-corruption investigators served “a notice of suspicion” for a senior official matching his professional description. My colleague Thomas Friedman wrote in August that “there is deep mistrust” between the White House and Zelensky, “considerably more than has been reported.”

Ukrainians are rallying around their flag. “Corruption is less because the survival of the nation is at stake,” said Brian Bonner, who was chief editor of The Kyiv Post from 2008 to 2021 and is now an editor at Geopolitical Intelligence Services. “We’re at a higher level of unity and selflessness than I’ve seen since I’ve lived here.” Prince Michael of Liechtenstein, who founded Geopolitical Intelligence Services, agreed: “People stuck together. There was a strike from outside and they came together.”

War has interrupted the oligarchs. Low-level corruption was never the problem. The problem was, and is, the oligarchs in Ukraine and Russia who operate international networks of large-scale theft and money laundering. Now that the nations are at war, it’s harder for them to move money seamlessly between Kyiv, Moscow, London, New York and offshore tax havens.

Bribe-takers don’t want to lose the war. Some people who have carved out comfortable niches in government and business worry that if the Russians take over, they’ll be booted out of office, speculated Andrii Borovyk, the chief executive officer of Transparency International Ukraine. In such a situation it would be prudent to forgo opportunities for short-term self-enrichment to make sure Ukraine wins the war. “If the Russians come, who knows what those rules are?” Borovyk said. “I’m sure there were some people among the civil servants who were thinking through this process.”

Ukraine is corrupt and patriotic. “Who said the corrupted crook cannot be a patriot?” Borovyk told me. He said his countrymen who are corrupt don’t necessarily perceive themselves as bad people. They don’t dwell on the fact that the bribes they take represent money that’s not going to, say, hospitals, he said. When the Russians invaded their country, their patriotism kicked in.

Mostly likely, Ukraine’s surprising success can be chalked up to several of those explanations. If Ukraine does manage to rid itself of the Russians, the next step after the war will be to rid itself of the kleptocrats.

4 thoughts on “Ukraine & Corruption: A Major, Mostly Unmentioned Issue”

  1. For want of a nail.

    Ukraine was so corrupt that the country was literally bankrupt. The government saught loans from the EU, the IMF, and from Russia. Russia was pretty desperate to keep Ukraine in their orbit, and offered a sweetheart deal with fewest strings attached, (no one likes austerity measures) and they also threw in their natural gas at cost.

    Ukraine’s president went with the Russian offer. Everyone who hated Russia protested, the US interfered, orchestrated a coup, which caused an 8 year civil war that became an international one when the US refused to back down (ultimatums were delivered to Biden on 17th Feb 2022 a week before the war started).

    Ukraine found a solution to its insolvancy. Get somebody to sending monthy cheques. And Biden got his proxy war. The losers in all of this are Ukraine, Russia, the US and the larger world.

    If this ends up going intercontinental, blame it on Ukrainian corruption. Countries that become insolvant are ripe for take overs.

    1. this “coup” that the US is alleged to have orchestrated, where is that story documented? I hear it spoken about as if it is common knowledge, but I never see any sources to dig further into the details. and as far as corruption goes, can we get much more corrupt than for the US to interfere so heavily in the governments of other countries?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.