Lining pockets

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky (file photo)

While high-profile arrests and the occasional edict from the country’s President, the most recent of which was on Tuesday night, may be aimed at convincing the world, mainly the West, that Ukraine is serious about cracking down on corruption, it is only a matter of time before donors will start to wonder if a substantial portion of the near endless contributions they have been making is not finding its way into the pockets of those in power. That is if they have not already reached this conclusion, but find themselves bound by commitments made as part of strategic imperatives.

The latest warning from President Volodymyr Zelenskky came even as a military recruitment official was arrested for mass embezzlement and a parliamentarian for collaborating with Moscow. These arrests fly in the face of a carefully-constructed narrative that patriotic Ukrainians who are fighting to keep the Russian bear away from Western shores need the support of Washington and European capitals in order to stay afloat. They come just weeks after Vszevolod Kniaziev, the president of the country’s Supreme Court, no less, was arrested for taking nearly $3 million in bribes from a mining tycoon in return for a favourable judgment.

The charge against the judge is that not only did he choose to get influenced, but ensured that a part of the bribe money reached other judges so that they would go along with him. Any suggestion that it is older members of the judiciary who are inclined to be corrupt is rubbished by the fact that Judge Kniaziev is just 43, and was considered a blue-eyed boy of the establishment. Over the years of its existence, Ukraine has acquired the reputation of being one of the most corrupt countries in the world.


While Western benefactors have attempted time and again to turn the screws on those in power, their efforts have largely been ineffectual. Then Vice-President Joe Biden had said in 2015, “The corruption is so endemic and so deep and so consequential, it’s really, really, really, really hard to get it out of the system.” He had once admitted to having arm-twisted former Ukrainian prime minister Petro Poroshenko into sacking the country’s prosecutor general immediately as a condition for the United States to hand over a $1 billion loan guarantee. In short, the West was clearly aware of the cesspool it had stepped into while backing the Ukrainians in the years leading up to the Russian invasion.

Recent events, including high-profile arrests, suggest that notwithstanding President Zelenskky’s occasional protestations not much has changed in the country. It will take a huge effort by Western donor countries to convince their electorates that donations to the Ukrainian war effort now, and for a reconstruction of the country when hostilities cease, will not find their way into the pockets of the country’s grubby elite. With judges, officials and parliamentarians available for purchase, and willing to even collaborate with the enemy, the West must ask why it is allowing itself to be fooled.