Skip to content


Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

The White House (and everyone else) grows jittery about corruption in Ukraine

On September 1, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with the three heads of Ukraine’s government anti-corruption institutions. The backdrop of the meeting was growing calls in the United States and elsewhere to limit military aid to Ukraine because of the wartime graft problem.

Sullivan “underscored the vital importance to any democratic society of independent, impartial law enforcement and judicial institutions capable of investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating corruption cases no matter where they lead,” according to the White House readout of the meeting.

There are billions of good reasons for the growing anxiety about Ukraine’s corruption.

Since the war began, the United States has poured nearly $77 billion in assistance into Ukraine. About a third is military aid and another third is direct financial support. The rest is humanitarian aid, training, and other programs.

Aid to Ukraine dwarfs U.S. giving to other countries. The next biggest recipient of U.S. aid is Afghanistan ($4 billion), then Israel ($3.3 billion), Jordan ($2.6 billion), and Egypt ($1.5 billion).

Ukraine is also receiving support from 46 other donors, with aid from the EU reaching $30 billion and about $12 billion from the UK as of May 31, 2023.

That means Ukraine, with a population of about 44 million and a total national budget in 2021 of about $39 billion, has now received more than $120 billion in wartime aid.

Before the Russian invasion in February 2022, Ukraine was Europe’s most corrupt country on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. After the invasion, President Volodymyr Zelensky suspended anti-corruption reforms, like public wealth declarations for government officials and a huge national PEP database, choosing instead to focus all efforts on fighting the Russians.

Concerns about the impact of Ukraine’s corruption on its military effectiveness and eventual reconstruction are rooted in recent painful lessons.

The United States spent about $143 billion in Afghanistan during a 20-year military and nation-building campaign that ended in spectacular failure.

In 2021, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, said “corruption substantially undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan from the very beginning.”

Before Sopko’s assessment, various military and civilian sources said pervasive corruption degraded the battlefield capability of Afghan government forces. The U.S. Department of Defense said in 2019 that corruption was “the top strategic threat to the legitimacy and success of the Afghan government.”

Last week, President Zelensky — who won the presidency before the Russian invasion on an anti-corruption platform — replaced defense minister Oleksii Reznikov. As the New York Times put it, Reznikov had been “the subject of increasing speculation in Ukraine as financial improprieties in the ministry came to light and the government started several investigations into official corruption.”

Zelensky recently fired all of Ukraine’s military recruitment officers following bribery scandals.

The head of Ukraine’s supreme court was detained in May during a bribery investigation, and the former deputy minister of economy was arrested for allegedly embezzling humanitarian aid.

Earlier this year, Zelensky “dismissed the director of his domestic intelligence agency and prosecutor general, also in the wake of allegations of corruption and mismanagement,” the NYT said.

Poll results published in July by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that Ukrainians consider corruption the most serious problem for Ukraine after the full-scale war.

“Despite the noticeable improvement in public perception of the prevalence of corruption, 94 percent of respondents still believe that corruption is widespread throughout Ukraine,”  the release about the poll said.

Following Jake Sullivan’s recent meeting with Ukraine’s anti-corruption officials, the White House said he had “reiterated steadfast U.S. support for anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine and for Ukraine’s brave defense of its democracy against Russian aggression.”

Share this post


Comments are closed for this article!