Ukraine’s minefield of corruption

8 September, 05:50 PM
Jake Sullivan (Photo:REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

Jake Sullivan (Photo:REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

We are at risk of being compared to instances of U.S. policy failures: Afghanistan and Iraq.

The perception in the West is that there is corruption in Ukraine, and it is getting worse. I looked through a couple of dozen publications about the change of the Minister of Defense. Some of them talk about personal matters, some about non-personal matters. But in every single one of them, and I've probably looked at 50, it's only about corruption in the Defense Ministry. In many of them, they say eggs for 17 UAH a piece, winter jackets, summer jackets. When this shows up and when people read it, I, for one, feel quite sad.

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We are thus walking into a minefield. I deliberately make such comparisons, realizing that our soldiers are now walking through minefields. But we have a political minefield. We recognize that there is an inevitable fatigue in many societies. We see signs of fatigue in polls; we see it in personal communication. When we have the topic of corruption, which is superimposed on fatigue, it is a political minefield among our friends. When we are discussing the strategy for the winter, for the next year, the strategy of financial, military, whatever kind of assistance, we are, of course, creating problems for ourselves, but also for those who are helping us very sincerely, not only from the mind, but from the heart. Therefore, finding the right solution and walking on the edge is a public demand and, in fact, a demand from our friends. We have to pay attention to the requests of our friends, even though this is our story, because we are fighting together with them and with the help of what they give us in assistance. True, not as much as we would have liked, or on time, but it is still critical for us. That is why the story is very serious.

In the West, they sometimes see us in a very simplistic way, according to some kind of mold.

That is, our enemies will use all these stories.

For example, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken came to Kyiv. I have known him for many years. He is definitely a friend of Ukraine. I'll say maybe more than I need to: even in the American administration, he is one of our most consistent and best friends. I don't want to show who is better or not better there. Friends are always friends. I'm absolutely sure that he will talk about strategy; he will speak about Volodymyr Zelenskyy's upcoming visit to the United States, about weapons, and financial assistance. He will talk about the upcoming election campaign in the United States – how it will affect the discussion on weapons or financing. He will talk about what we are doing inside the country. Any of these perceptions and emotional outbursts around corruption or whatever will affect the administration's efforts. The Republicans in Congress, and we know that many say, "Let's put some conditions on it; let's talk first," they will say, "We already need to control all this aid; it's billions that could go to Americans." But here, we don't see 100% that it's concrete. This is, of course, manipulation, pure manipulation. Nevertheless, we are opening a window for these manipulations without clear communication.

American journalists have been pestering us for the last few days, asking us how the fight against corruption will affect our campaign. They have now come up with a story that Mr. Kolomoisky, who has been indicted, may somehow be connected to the stories around the Republicans. And how this, in turn, can come out during the campaign. I would really like us to avoid such talk. If we are a controversial issue during the presidential campaign, it will affect how Americans will work with us. Here, we have to be not just excellent students but get a grade that doesn't exist. Of course, we can argue or whine about this, but we have to be perfect here. Perfect, because Russia and those who want to leave will deliberately promote this whole internal story. In Europe, I already see people who want to go and say, "Well, you know, you have corruption here, and it's complicated here, but let's talk some more." That is, our enemies will use all these stories.

The President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, also said that Ukraine's corruption greatly influences Western countries when they make decisions about supplying weapons to Kyiv. He said this quite deliberately. What he said (and he is a true friend of Ukraine) should be seen as a signal that is very clear to all of us. I don't know how this perception of these conversations will directly affect the supply of weapons. I don't see how it will affect, for example, the discussion in Ramstein in a week. But politically, we know these discussions are taking place.

Look at the situation in Germany. There, the right-wing party, which is being pulled by the collar by the Russians, is at 20%. In some federal states, the latest polls say 29%. That is the first batch. Not just the second place, but the first in some federal states. They will certainly raise these issues in the Bundestag. In other countries, as well. This is not the actual scale of corruption in Ukraine; it is a deliberate manipulation that will take place during elections in other countries. We always talk about the United States. But next year, we have tough elections to the European Parliament, where the right-wing will try to jump, regardless of their ratings. By the way, this month, on the 30th, we have elections in Slovakia, where those much more friendly to Russia may come to power. We have Polish elections. We have a lot going on. We must not give our enemies any reason to spin these issues.

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Again, we will end up in a political minefield where psychological fatigue is absolutely normal. There may be psychological fatigue, and we can talk to our friends, to the people. But if it is superimposed on the fact that "why are we helping these Ukrainians? They are still corrupt. They are like everyone else. Of course, they need help, but not in the same way we have been helping for the past year and a half."

Such conversations will begin this fall, first more quietly, then more loudly. We have to be ready for them. The high-level visits and Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to the United States are also crucial in this sense. We should not give any reason to suspect us of being non-transparent, dishonest, hiding something, beating around the bush, or manipulating. Every moment will be used for sure. That is, a different political reality will begin this fall. In this political reality, we have to show that we are the best; we are more remarkable than the most excellent students. I don't even know how else to say it.

I will return to the thesis about the Lithuanian president, and this is a crucial point. We also face the threat that we will be compared to the stories of defeat for the United States: Afghanistan, Iraq. They are considered stories where, yes, the Americans lost a lot of money. Then, look, these are all corrupt, corrupt projects that failed. From the Taliban, it came in a matter of weeks. Part of the reason is that the Taliban is considered incorruptible by the people of Afghanistan. This whole story, which the Americans supported, is also true in Iraq. Ukraine has to be different here. This is the key to ensuring that we will be sympathized with, inspire, and be helped. The West will help us only when we become a success story. It will be challenging to become a success story when there are doubts. This is our chance to say that we are entirely different. Helping us means helping yourself and helping those who share your values. If we share values, we have to be almost perfect. More perfect than they are, if you will. No matter how we perceive it.

Given the mentality of the West, it will be difficult for us to get security guarantees during the war today. A significant number of Western countries are, unfortunately, very skeptical. They say that providing security guarantees in times of war leads them to direct conflict with Russia as a nuclear power. Commitments, or whatever you want to call it, in the area of military and financial assistance are fundamental. The critical story is that, first of all, they should be based on clear criteria. Ideally, it's not what we want, but we don't get that. However, it should not be something the West can give and wants to provide at a particular time. Based on clear criteria and our commitment to a common strategy of deterring and weakening Russia, there should be a clearly agreed logic of what and when. Just as in the case of Israel, there are clear indicators of what it means to have a qualitative military advantage over those around Israel. So, in our case, this should be agreed upon and spelled out with our key allies.

The second point is the certainty that some other American administration may see things differently. Therefore, it is difficult to get legal approval. There are challenging discussions around this now; spears are being broken. But then the obligations have to be guaranteed in some other way, in a different way.

The third point is that this should be done in such a way that it is part of our path to NATO, even while we do not have membership. I have my own ideas about security guarantees. They are not easy, first of all, for our allies, but so far, we are discussing the commitment of military and financial assistance. These are different from the classic security guarantees that Japan and South Korea, for example, have, that other countries have, including the United States.

Suppose NATO does not want to show that it is not a party to the conflict with Russia, even if it is not explicitly or indirectly. In that case, guarantees can be made with the help of several countries united in a group. I recall that once upon a time, West Berlin was protected and given security guarantees by the Americans, the British, and the French without the involvement of NATO. That is, there is a legal and political example. I could give you several more examples of this. For me, this is our main story. This is the number one priority. This is a security model for Ukraine.

I have talked to many Western companies and potential investors. They say a straightforward thing: Until there is security, there will be no systematic investment in Ukraine. This guarantees our future – that private investors will come to us and see our potential. This is a shared story – ours and theirs.

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