The most recent discoveries regarding bribery in Ukraine paint a nuanced picture. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, which paid for 100,000 mortar shells for about US$ 40 million but not delivered them, is embroiled in a controversy. But just a few days after this story surfaced, Ukraine ranked highest ever in the Transparency International ( TI ) annual corruption perceptions index.
Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, has made some progress in his efforts to combat corruption, including within his inner circle, as evidenced by his increased position in the TI index.
The ammunition incident, on the other hand, is a glaring example of how widespread and routineized corruption has become when older defense officials and managers of an arms supplier conspire to deny their nation of essential military supplies while the nation is going through an existential crisis.
In Ukraine, fraud has long been a concern. However, since monthly corruption perceptions results have been compiled over the past ten centuries, the nation has gradually gotten better. Ukraine is regarded as the most crooked nation in Europe, with the exception of Russia and Azerbaijan.
Despite this widespread fraud, Ukraine has endured two years of bitter issue and has displayed remarkable fortitude in the face of Russian aggression. However, at a time when Ukraine’s survival has largely become dependent on the ongoing provision of American military and financial aid, these high-profile scandals and the common perception that Ukraine also fights daily corruption have become more ontological threats.
Obvious corruption has been used as one argument by EU skeptics against further assistance for Ukraine, including Hungary and Slovakia as well as powerful right-wing populists presently in opposition like Germany’s AfD. Similar to this, Republicans in the US have claimed that a lack of monitoring may allow corrupt officials to use US help to further their own financial interests.
Any reported evidence of the use of funds makes it more difficult for Kiev’s foreign supporters to win the case for continuing support as this debate heats up and becomes more complicated due to election campaigns for the US presidency and the European Parliament. Additionally, it loses its appeal to actually make the case.
This is likely to increase the feel of pessimism that has pervaded open discussions about Ukraine ever since Ukraine’s performance on the battlefield in 2023 fell short of expectations for both Kiev and the West.
The weaknesses of Zelensky
In addition to the precarious nature of maintaining Western help, Zelensky has also grown more vulnerable internally. One of his important election promises from 2019 that he would core out bone is undermined by numerous high-profile corruption scandals.
The Ukrainian president’s ongoing onslaught can now be seen as being politically motivated by his private detractors, despite the fact that he has strengthened anti-corruption organizations and been opened about the issues Ukraine still faces.
This will only serve to exacerbate Ukraine’s social divisions. Zelensky does n’t need that at this point because there is already a heated argument over the best course of action for war and because disagreements between the nation’s political and military leaders are becoming more widely known.
On that front, it is still unclear whether Zelensky may succeed General Valeriy Zaluzhny as commander-in-chief, as has been frequently reported, or if he lacks the authority to do so.
According to reports, the Ukrainian leader offered Zaluzhny a new position as the defense chief’s director, which he is said to have declined. Relationships between the two have deteriorated recently, in part as a result of Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive failing to achieve any notable victories on the field.
In November 2023, the president reprimanded his major standard for declaring that the battle was in a” stalemate.” Additionally, there have been rumors that Zaluzhny will run for office and challenge Zelensky for the president. According to a December poll, 88 % of Ukrainians believed Zaluzhny, while 62 % believed Zelensky.
When taken as a whole, the corruption scandal and the alleged rift at the top of Ukraine’s power structure wo n’t do anything to regain or maintain Western confidence in Ukrainians ‘ ability to avoid defeat, much less win. More assistance appears exceedingly improbable in the absence of quite assurance.
Without significant progress being made in the fight against fraud, the overwhelmingly pro-Western and Pro-European district from which Zelensky receives the majority of his support is even possible to dwindle. People who view Western support as merely supporting a crooked elite may find the European future to be less appealing.
Zelensky does no longer be regarded as the only or most likely champion of European and transatlantic integration, even if support for it continues to be strong, which is good.
So, the existential crisis in Ukraine continues to be centered on corruption. It’s not the only issue the nation is dealing with, and in all honesty, it might not even be the biggest. Because problem and the belief of corruption exacerbate other issues and weaken crucial regional and Western support, it is essential for Ukraine to combat corruption more efficiently and to be seen to do so.
Therefore, problem is unlikely to destroy Ukraine on its own. However, due to the knock-on results at home and abroad, it may be the last straw that breaks the nation in the midst of a battle.
Tetyana Malyarenko, professor of international relationships, Jean Monnet Professor of European Security, National University Odesa Law Academy, and Stefan Wolff, global surveillance professor at the University of Birmingham
Under a Creative Commons license, this essay has been republished from The Conversation. read the article in its entirety.