What you should know about the corruption scandals rocking the Ukrainian government

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (speaks at a joint press conference with the President of the European Council after talks in Kiev on January 19. Credit – SERGEI SUPINSKY/Contributor/AFP via Getty Images

The Ukrainian Government this week announced a major change in governance in what appears to be an attempt to remove corruption at the highest levels.

Following several high-profile corruption scandals, including two major embezzlement investigations, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced “personnel decisions” in several ministries and within law enforcement agencies. -law of Ukraine, which he said will last until Wednesday. Zelensky also announced that state officials would be banned from international travel for non-state purposes after a former top prosecutor left for Spain despite martial law banning Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leave the country without permission.

While the effort appears to be in response to recent reports of abuse – including allegations of stolen money meant for troops – the fight against corruption has been a major focus of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s presidency. Corruption had plagued Ukrainian society long before the war; According to a 2016 report by the monitoring group Transparency International, between 38% and 42% of Ukrainian households said they paid bribes to gain access to basic public services.

Here’s what you should know:

What are the main implications for Ukraine?

Amidst the Russian invasion, the fight against corruption – and the appearance of corruption – has taken on a new meaning for Ukraine. As the country encourages its allies to provide money and equipment to support its defense, the government must prove that the funds will not be wasted.

Tackling corruption is also crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to build an alliance with Europe as it seeks EU membership. In June, the European Commission recommended that Ukraine “continue to step up the fight against corruption, particularly at high levels, through proactive and efficient investigations and a credible record of prosecutions and convictions”.

Who has resigned so far?

Anti-corruption officials said on January 22 that an investigation found that an “organized criminal group” had embezzled funds meant to “restore critical infrastructure and provide light, heat and water to the population during the winter by providing” by arranging contracts with excessive price. Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov announced on the same day that Deputy Minister Vasyl Lozynsky had been fired from his post and arrested after receiving a $400,000 bribe. Kubrakov said he ordered his team to audit the ministry’s projects.

Zelensky did not name Lozynsky but acknowledged that a cabinet minister had been fired in a January 22 statement. “I want this to be our sign for anyone whose actions or behavior violate the principle of justice,” he said. “Of course, the focus now is on defence, foreign policy and war. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see or hear what is being said at different levels in society.”

Separately, the Ministry of Defense announced on January 24 that it had accepted the resignation of Deputy Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov, following a report in Ukraine’s Weekly Mirror that accused the Ministry of Defense of overpaying for the food for the soldiers. The ministry said in a statement that the allegations were “unfounded,” but called Shapovalov’s decision to resign “a dignified act in the traditions of European and democratic politics.”

Additionally, on January 24, Zelenskyi’s deputy chief of staff, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, announced his resignation following reports that he had misused an SUV donated to humanitarian missions.

What is the history of corruption in Ukraine?

Ukraine inherited widespread corruption after the collapse of the Soviet Union, including in its judiciary, healthcare and education systems. Since independence 30 years ago, corruption has posed a major threat to the country’s efforts to rid itself of the influence of the Russian oligarchs and build a democratic political system.

In recent years, the Ukrainian government has implemented a number of reform efforts, particularly following the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, in which large-scale protests led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych , whose extravagant mansion has become a symbol of abuse as Ukraine’s highest power. . These reforms included the establishment of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which investigates corruption cases and prepares them for prosecution.

Zelenskyy cited “defeating corruption” as the cornerstone of his presidency in the 2019 election and implemented reforms before the Russian invasion. However, political analysts say his efforts have had mixed results, with some questioning Zelensky’s commitment to reform.

Zelensky’s efforts have seen highs, such as passing a law stripping lawmakers of immunity from prosecution, and lows, including a battle with Ukraine’s Constitutional Court over the validity of NABU. The existence of corruption in Ukraine was used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify the war by making a speech on television three days before the invasion, where he accused the government of undermining the interests of the Ukrainian people.

Controversy over Zelenskyy’s approach to corruption has continued over the past year. In late 2022, for example, Ukraine’s parliament won praise for liquidating a notoriously corrupt district court, while on the same day it was criticized for implementing a reform that could allow political interference in its constitutional court.

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