Corruption in Ukraine as a supporting element of power

11:19 24.10.2023 • Denis Baturin , political scientist

Ukrainian corruption came along concurrently with the establishment of the Ukrainian state and existed both on an international level - gas transportation, arms trade, etc., and within, serving as a supporting element of both government and society, a necessary condition for the social contract.

The Ukrainians have first-hand knowledge and understanding of what Ukrainian corruption is all about. According to the editor-in-chief of the ZN.UA portal, Yulia Mostovaya, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, demanded (off the record, of course) that journalists not raise the topic of corruption while hostilities continue. [i] Mostovaya reported that Zelensky had made this demand amid a scandal over inflated prices for Ukrainian Army food supplies. What Zelensky did not tell the journalists, however, was that they should inform the authorities about facts of corruption so they can take necessary action, but simply asked them to hush up such incidents.

“He said: ‘Keep silent until victory. If we don’t keep silent, there will be no victory,” Mostovaya emphasized.

An interesting request, isn’t it? The President of Ukraine defends Ukrainian corruption. I am sure that in any of his incarnations - actor, showman, and president – Zelensky knew full well what corruption is all about. Taking up the country’s top job, he finally and clearly realized that corruption had evolved into a supporting element of the entire structure of Ukrainian statehood.

This is why Ukraine has been so attractive to “partners” like individual states and their representatives. The case of the Biden family is a striking illustration of selfless love for Ukraine. Joe Biden was then Vice President of the United States and a frequent visitor to Ukraine, and his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of directors of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings, earning a hefty remuneration totaling $1 million. [ii] True, such lucrative deals may create some problems and be toxic, but political expediency supersedes everything else, and this is exactly what happened during Biden’s fight for the presidency against Trump. [iii] The Ukrainian trace in the Bidens’ corruption dealings, just like the Chinese one, and Biden Jr.’s shady financial and immoral deals on US soil simply did not stick.

All this is history though. A new phase of Ukrainian corruption at an international level was ushered in a few months after the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Already in July 2022, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine and the Prosecutor General resigned amid a scandal over the resale of Western weapons supplied to the Ukrainian armed forces. [iv] That new exposé soon faded out, but the flow of weapons kept growing year after year, with no one asking any questions about corruption. It was only after domestic political problems in the United States led to a legal pause in arms supplies, and the crisis in the Middle East that the issue of corruption returned to the US and then the Ukrainian agenda. Why? The answer is simple:

- Washington needs to support Israel with weapons and ammunition - which means redistributing arms supplies between Ukraine and Israel;

- As a result, Kyiv needs to fill the pause in supplies with information, while waiting for the resolution of the political crisis and the appointment of the Congressional speaker in the US.

The pause is being filled with the “fight against corruption.” Especially now that the political struggle in the United States has led to the decapitation of Congress, a delay in the adoption of the budget and disruptions in the supply of weapons. The Israeli crisis has also played a role here. With no signs of Ukrainian progress on the battlefield, the flow of weapons will mainly be rerouted to Israel, and the Americans will focus on “fighting corruption” in Kyiv.

Against this background, the statement by the famous American philosopher Francis Fukuyama that he is “amazed by the level of national unity that has been observed since the beginning of the war” looks strange and hard to explain: “I believe that the government is functioning much more efficiently. Civil society came together in support of national goals. At the same time, the issue of corruption, which was so important before the war, is still on the agenda, but it is being contained in some ways, and there is some progress in creating institutions to combat corruption in the long term. So I think that in the current very tense environment we are seeing an impressive level of reform. I don’t think this is an accident, because sometimes it takes an external threat to get people to take change seriously and fix their institutions.”[v]

It looks like some kind of whim or naivety unbecoming a world-renowned scholar. However, this duality in the information field that the United States is broadcasting is also a method of manipulation. Two parallel scenarios for the future have already been drawn - one is Fukuyama’s, (“impressive reforms against the backdrop of an external threat”), and the second is “anti-corruption.” Thrown into the information field, they already exist simultaneously, and will then either continue to coexist, or one will be determined - the most advantageous situation in the “rules-based world.”

Some experts, notably Senator Alexey Pushkov, believe that Washington’s anti-corruption activity in Ukraine is a bad sign for Kyiv. “Has support for Ukraine passed its peak?” – inquires the leading US newspaper The New York Times and answers: “Some people think so.” Indeed, many people already think so. Over the past two or three months, the Americans’ views on support for Ukraine have changed beyond recognition. When articles like this start to appear, one should expect shifts in policy. Not instantaneous, but inevitable. I remember that six months before the US fled Afghanistan an article appeared in the same newspaper explaining why the US needed to leave that country. It will be the same again. It's a question of time. And by all criteria, the Middle East is much more important for the United States.” [vi]

I believe that Washington understands that the Israeli-Palestinian crisis has no prospects of being resolved any time soon. The confrontation with Russia through a proxy country has also dragged on with no prospects of victory, and requires significant resources with unclear prospects. Moreover, if it is confirmed that some of the arms supplied to Ukraine have popped up in the Gaza Strip, this would come as a blow to Washington, which is already losing ground in the Middle East, a blow to the Democrats; Congress will remain without a speaker while the presidential elections are just around the corner now. Judging by the US jitters, the weapons may surface, so it is right time to find a scapegoat in the person of corrupt Ukrainian military officials.

By the way, with next year’s presidential elections looming high, Zelensky understands full well that corruption and the fight to stamp it out are one of the most effective tools of political struggle, especially during election campaigns. Therefore, he is trying to spearhead the fight against it.

Previously, US investigations into corruption in arms supplies were perfunctory and did not lead to anything. Now the situation is different, so as of October 18, Pentagon Inspector General Robert Storch led a team that will check how Ukraine uses military aid. However, the Americans now say that “it is difficult to control the US assistance provided to Ukraine, in particular, due to the level of corruption and the scale of cash flows.” For example, a review by the US Department of State Inspector General states that the corruption of the Ukrainian authorities threatens the effectiveness of US assistance in the long term and dictates the need to introduce strict control mechanisms.”[vii]

There is also a problem that was outlined by the head of the famous CIA grant giver - the American Agency for International Development (USAID) - Samantha Power, who stated that it is difficult to track the cash flows that the United States sends to Kyiv as support, and the reason is the sheer scale of the money. In other words, Washington has problems with tracking the use of American money in Ukraine, because they give a lot of money. That is, there is no point in giving less, and since they give a lot, they cannot control it. An important detail is that a significant part of the funds for Ukraine goes to US companies to provide military supplies, i.e. a significant share of the arms supply is carried out logistically not only by the Ukrainians, but also by the Americans. It’s better not to even think about it though. Therefore, I assume that the result of the investigations will boil down to this: corrupt Ukrainians stole, some will be punished, but we allocate money and continue to supply weapons, because otherwise we won’t be able to restrain Russia.

There will be those to blame and those who will be punished as the topic of corruption in connection with aid to Ukraine can no longer be talked down. Notably, a new big corruption story is already unfolding, and this is the restoration of Ukraine. On September 15, Penny Pritzker, who represents the American financial and political circles known as the “deep state,” was appointed Special Representative for the Economic Recovery of Ukraine. In her first interview in her new position, Pritzker announced the conditions that any further US assistance to Ukraine would depend on: “There will be conditions to the money from the United States. That shouldn't be surprising to anyone in Ukraine, because our government wants to see Ukraine making progress in various areas. We want to see an environment conducive to private investment. First, there will be conditions that will ensure that you manage the money properly. And secondly, we are talking about implementing the reforms necessary for Ukraine to become a member of the EU and the Western trading bloc, which Ukraine itself strives for.” [viii] Sounds pretty democratic and streamlined...

But the plans for rebuilding Ukraine seem to be quite grand - according to a World Bank estimate carried out in March of this year, “the restoration of Ukraine will require $411 billion.” [ix] At the same time, Zelensky quite expectedly estimated the restoration to be twice as much - $600–800 billion. He mentioned this figure at the international conference on the restoration of Ukraine held in London in June, where they promised to allocate €60 billion to Kiev in the coming years. [x] At the same time, more than 400 foreign companies, including Citigroup, Philips, Google, Siemens, Uber, etc., announced their readiness to participate in the restoration of Ukraine. Small wonder that the Americans were quick to volunteer to oversee the “restoration of Ukraine.”

Penny Pritzker arrived in Kyiv on October 16, which means that the process of deploying projects to oversee military supplies to Ukraine and its restoration unfolded after the outbreak of the Israeli crisis, and this is hardly coincidental. Adding to the Democrats’ problems with Congress, which resulted in a budget crisis and a pause in funding for Ukraine, was the Israeli crisis, which reflected on budget and weapons-related matters relating to Ukraine. During a meeting with Pritzker, Zelensky said, “We discussed, first of all, the protection of our energy infrastructure and the need for the restoration of Ukraine, as well as macro-financial support for our country and fair use of frozen Russian assets.” [xi] Well, the theft of Russian assets is now called justice. Orwellian justice indeed.

At the same time, everyone understands that there will be no “restoration” until the fighting is over. Otherwise, this is just an imitation of restoration, simply patching up critical holes, such as restoring energy supply. However, genuine restoration implies an end to the military phase of the Ukrainian crisis, but to make this happen Kyiv needs to cancel the decree on the self-prohibition of negotiations with Russia. And this is again a taboo topic...


In the case of Ukraine, corruption is a supporting element of governance. They understand that having corrupted one US president, they will not be able to corrupt the next (at least right away), because he will build his campaign on his rival’s corrupt affairs. Therefore, in any of the US scenarios, Zelensky, who is heading towards his new presidential term, which has not yet been agreed upon with Washington, is forced to engage in the “fight against corruption.” This tactic will benefit either presidential hopeful in Washington, and Zelensky too.















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