The United States pledged to strictly monitor how Ukraine spends billions of dollars in aid on Tuesday, in the wake of a devastating corruption scandal that led to a series of resignations in Kyiv.
While Washington said it had no evidence of misuse of Western funds, US State Department spokesman Ned Price vowed there would be “strict monitoring” to ensure US aid was not diverted.
Several senior Ukrainian officials were sacked on Tuesday in the wake of a corruption scandal involving illegal payments to deputy ministers and inflated military contracts.
A total of five provincial governors, four deputy ministers and two government agency heads left their posts, along with the deputy head of the presidential administration and deputy attorney general.
In his evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the purge was “essential” to preserving a “strong country”, while Price hailed it as “rapid” and “essential”.
However, the scandal comes at a sensitive time for Kiev, as it demands increasing amounts of support from the West and counters Russian advances in the east.
Corruption could dampen Western enthusiasm for Ukraine’s government, which has a long history of shaky governance.
Over the weekend, the deputy infrastructure minister was arrested by anti-corruption police on suspicion of taking a €367,000 bribe to buy expensive generators, an allegation he denies.
This comes at a time when Ukrainian civilians are suffering from prolonged power outages, amid crippling Russian strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure.
Meanwhile, an investigation by a Ukrainian newspaper accused the Ministry of Defense of signing contracts to supply food to front-line soldiers at “two to three times” the usual price.
According to analysts, the high-profile resignations show that corruption bears not only criminal responsibility, but also political responsibility.
“It is a good example of how institutions, anti-corruption mechanisms and checks and balances are yet to be created [2014 Maidan] Kateryna Ryzenko of Transparency International Ukraine, an anti-corruption NGO, told Euronews that the Dignity Revolution is working despite an all-out war.
“But the final part of these events must be played by the prosecution, the investigative body and the court when these cases are decided to the fullest extent of the law,” she added.
Ukraine’s defense ministry, which was said to have signed inflated contracts worth 320 million euros, said the resignations would help “maintain the trust of the community and international partners”.
On Sunday, she denied the allegations, calling them “misinformation” and warning that they harm “the interests of the defense during a special period.”
In January, the leader of Russia’s Chechen Republic criticized Western aid to Ukraine as a “money laundering scheme”.
“I see that some are concerned about foreign aid to Ukraine. Don’t worry! This is an effective money laundering scheme. This money will be embezzled by Western and Ukrainian officials, and no more than 15% of the total aid will reach the trenches,” Ramzan Kadyrov wrote in his Telegram.
There is no evidence for this claim from a staunch Putin ally.
Zelensky was elected in 2019 on the promise of sweeping reforms to fight corruption and improve the economy.
During his time in office, the Ukrainian president has sacked several ministers and officials while struggling to combat the malign influence of the country’s powerful people.