Indications that corruption in Ukraine is beginning to trouble the West more and more have recently begun to emerge. Earlier this month, Politico obtained access to a US government strategy document that threatened Western allies to leave Kiev if it was not consistent in its fight against corruption. Reservations were also voiced from the European Union.
Analyst Orysia Lutsevych believes that Ukraine has already come a long way in this direction “It’s a tough fight, but Ukrainian society remains very vigilant,” says a Ukrainian expert who works at the prestigious British think tank Chatham House. “Ukraine now has a vision of membership in the European Union and will do whatever it takes to deal with corruption,” he adds.
In an interview for Nauzal, she described the progress Kyiv has already made, but also talks about what kind of country Ukrainians dream of after the war.
In the article you wrote in January for The Guardian, you mention that Ukraine is fighting two main enemies – Putin and corruption. Does it still apply?
Yes, sure. Ukraine inherited a Soviet system with incomplete checks and balances. It takes time to root it out and replace it with new institutions.
Ukraine fully embarked on this path after the Revolution of Dignity (the Ukrainian revolution of 2014, note red.). It introduced a number of changes, established new anti-corruption institutions, and took steps leading to greater transparency.
It all exists now, but it needs to work very efficiently. All the more so in times of war, when the share of state spending within the Ukrainian economy increases and large-scale aid flows into the economy. We have witnessed the revelation of malpractice within the Department of Defense. Fortunately, it was successfully stopped in the procurement of state contracts thanks to the investigative media.
It is an uphill battle, but Ukrainian society remains very vigilant. Ukrainian soldiers fighting on the front say: “When we come home, we want this country to be clean. We’ll put an end to Russia, while you put an end to corruption.”
Orysia Lutsevych works at the prestigious British think tank Chatham House as deputy head of the Russian and Eurasian section and head of the Ukrainian Forum.
She is the author of several publications published under the Chatham House banner, including a book entitled Resilient Ukraine: Protecting Society from Russian Aggression. In the past, she collaborated with a number of important foreign media, such as the British BBC station, The Guardian newspaper, the American newspaper The New York Times, or the CNN station.
In his research, he mainly focuses on the role of civil society in democratic processes in Eastern Europe and the resistance of democracy to interventions by other states.
Former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker recently stated that Ukraine is corrupt at all levels of society and therefore not ready to become part of the European Union. What do you think about it?
I think that is not true. Ukraine is not corrupt at all levels of society. Ukraine has managed to save a lot of public funds by reducing the scope for corruption in the field of public procurement. It has built one of the most advanced systems called Prozzoro, which means transparent. Thus, government contracts now work in a much better way.
Ukraine’s weakness lies in the judiciary, we have to admit that. Courts do not yet fully protect the interests of law and private property. They can be manipulated through financial bribes to serve the interests of certain oligarchs.
However, we can note that during the war, when a lot of aid is flowing into the country, there have been no major corruption revelations. Ukraine now has a vision of membership in the European Union and will do whatever it takes to deal with corruption.
What specific steps will it take?
The European Union has presented seven steps to start membership negotiations. Ukraine has made progress in this regard. For example, it opened registers of electronic declarations.
But Ukraine must complete the purification of the judiciary and the reform of the Constitutional Court. At the same time, they must pay attention to ensure that the new anti-corruption organizations are properly financed and truly independent. They also need time to start functioning properly, like all new institutions.
About the Russian opposition in exile:
More than a year and a half after the start of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russian opposition has not been able to unite on a more significant statement or goal. It probably won’t happen in the near future either.
But we have to be careful because Russia is spreading the narrative that Ukraine is a country that is at the bottom economically, that it is corrupt, that it is not worth Western aid, to undermine that very aid.
Ukraine knows that it has this image, which I think is somewhat undeserved, given the many new, great things it is doing to show that it deserves to be a member of the European Union. Ukraine is trying to prove that it is honest. For example, by making all military contracts available in the digital system. Even NATO can look into them.
If we are talking about the money that is supposed to go to the reconstruction of Ukraine, it is billions, there is a new system called Sen, which will track all the projects, all the money online. You will be able to see who is funding the project, if it has been completed for full transparency.
Corruption hates the light. Therefore, this is the best way to deal with it.
Recently, we often hear that the war in Ukraine has basically reached a stalemate. How should Kyiv proceed under these circumstances? Do you think it is appropriate to start negotiations on a ceasefire?
This is an important question. I don’t think we are in a stalemate. The front line is not static, it moves. He is moving in the north, where Russian troops are trying to attack. We forget that the Russians are trying to get more Ukrainian territory because Putin ordered them to get control of all of Donbass. They haven’t succeeded yet.
Fighting is taking place near Avdijivka and in the south, where Ukrainians are trying to cut off a land bridge from Crimea to Zaporozhye to gain access to ports and the Black Sea.
Of course, we are entering a longer war than the Ukrainian population hoped for. But the Ukrainians see the ceasefire as a very dangerous proposition.
What’s happening on the Ukrainian battlefield:
In the last week, Moscow carried out unexpectedly strong attacks in the Donetsk region, deploying hundreds of pieces of equipment. However, the results were similar to the past: in some places the Russians advanced by hundreds of meters, in others by not even an inch.
Here at Chatham House, we published a report on how to end the war with Russia. It is not based on the Ukrainian perspective, but on the perspective of European security. We believe that the frozen conflict phase is only delaying a larger war. Russia would use the time gained to restore its forces, recalibrate its economy and acquire additional resources.
We want to avoid that if possible. It’s in everyone’s interest. If the Ukrainians continue to fight, they will get the right weapons, they will be able to destroy the Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine, push them to the Russian borders. This is a suitable solution.
It is not good to get stuck in a frozen conflict. Look what happened between Armenia and Azerbaijan, look what happened in Israel and Palestine. Do we want this kind of endless war in Europe? I do not think.
According to a recently published poll, the number of Ukrainians who believe pro-Russian narratives – that Ukrainian political and military leaders are at odds with each other, that the West is tired of sending Ukraine military aid and that the Ukrainian government is ready to make concessions to Russia – is growing. Why do you think this is so?
People are tired because they are doing a lot, so it is natural that we witness these expressions. It is exhausting, the whole society is mobilized in one way or another. It’s not just the professional army that fights.
However, another poll released by Ukraine’s election monitoring network shows that only 15% of people want Ukraine’s leadership to negotiate with Russia because of the high price it is paying for the war. I think Ukrainians understand that if they want the war to avoid their children, they have to end it now.
But the Russians will do everything through social networks to tear Ukraine apart and create cracks. We know that Russia can operate very skillfully in the information space. For him, information and military strategy are linked. Of course, Russia wants Ukraine to say: we are tired of war, let’s come to an agreement, give up some territory in exchange for peace.
I don’t think he will succeed. It can only succeed if Western aid begins to wither and people begin to feel abandoned. In this case, Russian narratives could serve as fertilizer to strengthen these feelings. They would tell them: “The West has left you, nobody wants you, you will never be in the European Union and NATO.” This is very dangerous. We must be careful not to give that impression.
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Is it time to talk about the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine or is it still too early?
I think the recovery of Ukraine has already started, so it is not too early to talk about it. The restoration essentially means support for the Ukrainian home front. Ukraine is a large country and it is important to note that most Ukrainians have relocated within the country. Of course, a large number of people went to the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany, but the majority remained inside Ukraine. These people need new housing, schools and other facilities. Ukraine must also rebuild the territories it liberated.
Last year alone, the European Union through the European Investment Bank spent more than 30 million on various projects for the reconstruction of the country. Ukraine has established a new organization for reconstruction. The Ministry of Infrastructure is building new roads and bridges. New schools are also being built, more than 3 thousand of them were bombed. In order for Ukrainians to stay in Ukraine, it is necessary to build new schools for their children.
Restoring the country, I believe, is part of the path to victory. If Ukraine can keep its economy at a good level, it can win the war. If Ukraine collapses economically, it will not be able to win at the front.
Is there a consensus among Ukrainians about what the country should look like after the war?
Ukraine has a dream. About how the restoration should take place, and how she wants to perceive herself.
Ukrainians have always seen themselves as part of the European family. Long before Russia invaded Ukraine, as early as 2014, they were building a life based on rules, respect for human rights and private market forces.
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It’s not like Russia. Ukraine is a decentralized country with private business, with substantial potential in the economy, agriculture, energy and IT.
Ukraine has always essentially lagged behind in its economic development. Its GDP is four times lower than that of Poland. The Ukrainians want to put an end to it. They know that their country is rich and can represent a very good market for Europe and contribute to production. They want their country to be prosperous. This means that it should be in NATO and the European Union and overhaul the judiciary, which is associated with the Soviet past.
In March 2024, Ukraine was to hold another presidential election. Do you think they will take place on the original date despite the ongoing fighting?
I find it unlikely. Martial law is unlikely to be lifted by then. And even if he was, and the war ended in the meantime, you need time to prepare for the elections. You have to create new voter registers, you have to provide a safe environment for running a political campaign.
Ukraine has a very good level of elections. And no one, including President Zelensky, wants to compromise the elections. According to Zelensky, it is not so much about organizing elections, but about ensuring that they are legitimate. That is the main challenge.
Zelenskyy now enjoys enormous support, people have a relatively high level of trust in him, support his war efforts, believe that this is the right strategy. I don’t think elections are on the agenda right now.