Ukraine’s War on Two Fronts
Fighting Corruption Amidst Russia’s Continued Attacks
📅 February 20, 2024
As the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale war of aggression in Ukraine approaches, winning on the battlefield remains the top mission objective for the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, and Ukraine’s international partners. While the full-scale invasion began two years ago, addressing systemic governmental and economic corruption has been an enduring battle for Ukraine since it gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Beyond winning on the battlefield, strengthening civil society, and implementing anticorruption reforms to root out systemic issues that have hampered Ukrainian economic development are critical for Ukraine’s hopes of further integration with Western institutions and eventual EU membership.
Corruption has affected all facets of Ukrainian society, and the historical roots of pervasive corruption in Ukraine run deep. Upon becoming a sovereign nation, not only did Ukraine inherit the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world overnight, but like many of its formerly Soviet peer nation states, it became heir to aspects of a Soviet system of corruption that has evolved and metastasized in the post-Soviet era.
The Orange Revolution protests in 2004-2005 and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, however, signaled the Ukrainian people’s desire to root out widespread government corruption and oligarch influence. In the immediate aftermath of the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, adopted legislation to establish various agencies specifically geared toward combatting corruption, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAPC), and the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP). Additionally, in November 2014, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Ukrainian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to launch a country-specific project to support Ukraine in its anticorruption agenda.
Despite ongoing reforms and creation of a robust anticorruption infrastructure, Transparency International in 2017 still ranked Ukraine 130th out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)—the lowest-scoring country in Europe at the time after the Russian Federation.
In 2019, Ukrainians overwhelmingly supported political neophyte Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his campaign for president, hoping that “a new generation of younger, untainted politicians [may] replace a corrupt establishment.” Although allegations of fraud and graft persist, since Zelenskyy’s ascendance to the presidency, Ukraine has made significant progress in addressing deep-seated corruption, even amid Russia’s full-scale invasion, to lay the groundwork for a prosperous, independent, and democratic future.
Despite Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the ensuing resistance against all odds by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the populace writ large has not ceased anticorruption efforts. Even in the face of a grinding war that has gone on since 2014, according to a fall 2022 US Agency for International Development (USAID) report, Ukraine has managed to institute “revolutionary transparency tools” including “the world’s first public beneficial ownership registry, the world’s most transparent public procurement system, the world’s first public database of politically exposed persons, and the world’s most comprehensive and well-enforced asset declaration system.”
Transparency International recently released its annual CPI Index for 2023, ranking Ukraine 104th out of 180 countries – a significant move in the right direction, with room for further improvement.
The desire for a more transparent, democratic government has anchored Ukrainian politics for the post-Soviet generations, and, at its root, is the motivating factor for Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion, because defeating corruption results in a more democratic and transparent government that will almost certainly turn further away from Russia and its kleptocratic system. As essential foreign cooperation in support of Ukraine’s defense continues in various forms, including sanctions against Russia and military aid for Ukraine, and political momentum builds to further integrate Ukraine into Western political and security apparatuses, concerted anticorruption work in Ukraine will remain an essential element for Ukraine’s desired membership in NATO and the EU. In a larger context, Ukraine’s anticorruption efforts are also helping shape the modern geopolitical environment and defend and maintain a rules-based international order in the face of a growing Russian authoritarian threat that employs corruption as one of its primary tools to challenge that rules-based order.
Join the Institute for Financial Integrity on February 29th as we explore the progress global powers have made in limiting Russia’s ability to wage war. IFI’s Nicki Kenyon and Pavel Verkhniatsky, Managing Partner of Ukrainian due diligence and corporate intelligence firm COSA, will discuss two years of sanctions, restrictions, and other measures countries around the world have implemented after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Topics up for discussion will include: