The World Today for February 15, 2023

NEED TO KNOW

The Other Front

UKRAINE

As their fellow citizens battle the Russian army on the eastern front, Ukrainian authorities recently displayed the mounds of cash, luxury watches and cars that a corrupt chief tax collector in the capital of Kyiv acquired as he overlooked $1.2 billion in taxes, CNN reported.

The number of such raids has spiked in recent weeks as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has cracked down on graft in Ukraine, both to curb criminality – a good thing in its own right – but also to prove to foreign leaders that he is in control of the vital aid and assistance they are contributing to the war effort, Newsweek explained. As he tours Europe’s capitals with cap in hand for military and economic assistance as well as seeking European Union membership, wrote Foreign Policy, Zelenskyy can hardly tolerate the embezzlement of those vital resources.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, for example, recently said he would have zero tolerance for corruption and announced that more than 620 officials in his ministry had been fined or reprimanded for unspecified violations, Reuters reported.

Many observers have wondered whether Reznikov should keep his job or face prosecution given the scale of the graft that appears to have been occurring under his nose, Politico noted. Addressing this criticism, he claimed that he has been too preoccupied with moving soldiers, equipment and supplies to the front.

Corruption was rampant in Ukraine in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union and continued up to Russia’s invasion in early 2022. Most just shrugged it off in resignation.

Now, there’s a growing intolerance for it.

For example, outrage erupted in the country after it was reported that Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, repeatedly drove a Porsche worth $100,000 on the streets of Kyiv. He was also caught driving a new Chevrolet Tahoe SUV that had been donated for humanitarian aid.

“Can the representatives of power in this country, (where) a quarter territory lies already in ruins, live luxuriously?” wrote Ukrainska Pravda journalist Mykhailo Tkach, who broke the Porsche story.

Meanwhile, American officials, who have funneled billions in aid, weapons, and other materials to Ukrainian forces, have been pleased with the progress of the country’s anti-corruption efforts, according to the New York Times, though they have experienced “anxiety” at the prospect of so much taxpayer money disappearing into an East European warzone. Still, Daniel Twining, the president of the International Republican Institute, an affiliate of the Republican Party in the US, said that Zelenskyy was making progress.

Zelenskyy now has a chance to wipe the slate clean and rebuild a new, less corrupt political system, argued analyst David Dalton, of the British geopolitical and security consultancy Dragonfly Intelligence. “In the past, these (reports of corruption) would probably have been ignored,” Dalton told Radio Free Europe. “It is the onset of a potentially profound and potentially very beneficial accelerated evolution of the governance regime, driven by war.”

A poll recently found that Ukrainians consider eliminating graft to be as important as restoring the territorial integrity of their war-torn country, wrote the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Meanwhile, there’s another significant war dividend, Ukrainian and US officials told the Washington Post, namely the diminishment of the dominant power of Ukraine’s oligarchs over society and life. That’s due to the vast losses from the war, growing government pressure, and a newly energized population no longer willing to tolerate the politics of the past. That could mean a postwar Ukrainian society that is more democratic, less corrupt and more economically diversified.

Based on the war effort, anything is possible.

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