U.S. official overseeing aid says Ukrainian leaders are fighting corruption

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials have watched with some anxiety the billions of dollars flowing into Ukraine since the war broke out, well aware of Kyiv’s history of political corruption and concerned that the aid could be diverted for personal gain.

Several senior officials in the Ukrainian government were removed this week over allegations of government corruption, renewing questions about how Ukrainian officials are addressing those concerns. While U.S. and European officials say there is no evidence that aid to Ukraine has been stolen, even the perception of fraud threatens political support for continued wartime aid and postwar reconstruction efforts as envisioned by Western officials.

The allegations include reports that the Ukrainian military agreed to pay high prices for food for its troops. A deputy attorney general was reportedly fired for taking a vacation to Spain in an oligarch’s Mercedes, and a presidential aide accused of commandeering a Chevrolet Tahoe donated to aid evacuations was forced out of office.

Far from panicking, however, U.S. officials insisted the drama showed President Zelensky’s commitment to fighting corruption.

Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, testified at a hearing Thursday that the changes in Kyiv “send a very strong signal to others who are trying to deprive this war effort of Future Matters” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on Ukraine.

“We’ve become very clear that if they prosecute this war, we need to see anti-corruption measures, including good corporate governance and judicial measures, move forward,” she added.

Mrs. Nuland was responding to a question from Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who said he was concerned that corruption in Ukraine’s government could be “a cancer that eats away at the support they need from everyone in the world.”

On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink release She was pictured standing outside the embassy in Kyiv with visiting inspectors general from the State and Defense Departments and USAID, all of whom are monitoring aid to Ukraine.

The U.S. visitors were in Kyiv “to develop a robust schedule of meetings to advance their independent monitoring of U.S. aid to Ukraine,” The Verge wrote. “We are committed to the highest standards of accountability and comprehensive oversight of U.S. aid.”

In an episode whose details are still murky, Mr. Zelensky fired his top prosecutor, intelligence chief and other top officials in July for reasons he said had to do with treasonous ties to Russia. But to the relief of Western and Ukrainian leaders, corruption is not a big factor in the war, despite Russian propaganda claiming the contrary and aimed at undermining his government.

gentlemen. A former comedian, Zelensky is campaigning as a political outsider able to root out the culture of corruption that has plagued his country since Soviet independence. In his inaugural address in May 2019, he said Ukrainian politicians had created “a nation of opportunity – opportunities to bribe, steal and plunder resources”.

The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, published by watchdog organization Transparency International, ranks 180 countries on perceived corruption in the public sector, with Ukraine ranked first as the least corrupt country. 122. Corruption concerns were second only to the Russian threat in the Biden administration’s prewar policy toward Kyiv. In 2015, when President Biden was vice president, he implored the Ukrainian parliament to root out the “pervasive poison of cronyism, corruption and kleptocracy.”

While attention is focused on the potential theft or diversion of U.S. weapons, U.S. officials have taken comfort in the fact that Ukraine has a compelling incentive to throw all available weapons on the invading Russians.

In addition, a senior defense official said last fall that the U.S. requires Ukrainian officials to document all military equipment they receive, track progress on the front lines and report ammunition expenditures and any damage or destruction of weapons. Defense Department officials have trained Ukrainian troops to help them track U.S. weapons, and U.S. personnel conduct inspections at home when security conditions allow.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Celeste Wallander said at Thursday’s hearing that the administration “has seen no credible evidence that U.S.-supplied weapons were diverted outside of Ukraine.” She added that the Pentagon is using “mechanisms that go beyond our standard practice” for oversight.

But U.S. officials worry that humanitarian aid, especially direct financial aid, is more likely to be diverted or stolen.

The largest cash injection by the United States into the Ukrainian government — $13 billion so far — is known as direct budget support. It is approved by Congress, administered by USAID, and issued by the World Bank. Ukrainian officials ultimately decide how to distribute the money.

The budget aid funds essential government services such as hospitals and schools, as well as first responders and firefighters, and supports programs for those in need, the disabled and internally displaced, U.S. agencies said. It also helps house and subsidize utilities should Russia attack the country’s infrastructure and energy grid.

Erin McKee, assistant administrator of USAID, told the Senate panel the agency used “extraordinary measures” to track the funding.

The agency contracted accounting firm Deloitte to set up a team with the Ukrainian government in Kyiv to monitor and audit aid funds. Mrs. The team is in Ukraine this week, McKee said.

Last fall, Deloitte completed an audit of the flow of funds from the Ukrainian government budget from the World Bank to treasury accounts and found no “significant issues,” USAID said. The agency said Deloitte had begun an audit of the flow of funds from treasury accounts to recipients.

The agency also said it continued to provide aid to anti-corruption and rule of law programs in Ukraine during the war, and has done so for years. This includes support for independent media organizations and civil society groups.

Ukrainian officials said they were aware of the need for spending transparency, and U.S. lawmakers said the statements appeared to be sincere.

For now, the Ukrainian leader appears to have the confidence of key U.S. officials and lawmakers from both parties. On Thursday, Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate committee, praised Mr. Zelensky and his cabinet have “planned for careful monitoring of U.S. and international aid” and said anti-corruption measures put in place before Russia’s invasion last February were effective.

“It shows what President Zelensky is telling us: There is zero risk for fraud or waste,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told a news conference in Washington on Tuesday shortly after returning from a visit to Kyiv. tolerate.”

“All reviews and oversight so far have not uncovered any fraud or waste, nor has there been any misappropriation of any military or humanitarian aid provided to date,” he said. Blumenthal added.

Yet even before being sacked by the Ukrainian government this week, some prominent Republicans had raised concerns about the possible misuse of U.S. aid.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News in November that the United States must ensure that resources “are not used to fund the corrupt Ukrainian government.”However, he has also said that the United States should give Ukraine the weapon it needs end the war.

As other Republicans grow suspicious of Ukraine’s aid, their congressional leaders say they will place greater emphasis on oversight and accountability.

Last year, some congressional Republicans pushed unsuccessfully to create a special inspector general, whose office has pursued harsh prosecutions for wasting U.S. reconstruction aid in Afghanistan.

Sarah Chayes, a corruption expert who studies wartime aid misappropriation, said it was important that aid package budget funds be used for evaluation and monitoring. She also suggested letting intelligence agencies gather information about the personal networks of Ukrainian officials.

The United States should work with civil society groups experienced in fighting corruption to strengthen the role of “citizen watchdogs.”

“It’s risky to rely entirely on the government to police its own corruption,” she said.

Former U.S. ambassador to Kyiv William Taylor said fighting corruption during war was very difficult. But he believed in mr. Zelensky pushed for effective reforms before the Russian invasion.

gentlemen. Mr Taylor said. Zelensky has strong incentives to rein in corruption. At stake are not only his own public standing in Ukraine and Western aid to Russia, but also Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union. Joining the EU is a high priority for Mr. Zelensky’s government will demand that the country meet the EU’s high anti-corruption standards.

Even a day after the war ends, Ukraine will still be desperate for funds to rebuild its shattered state. G7 officials have begun to outline the post-war reconstruction effort that could cost hundreds of billions of dollars.

Some Western officials said their biggest concern was the possibility of misuse of such vast sums of money, especially now that the immediate threat from Russia has receded.

“Anti-corruption will be a condition for successful reconstruction,” he said. Taylor said.

gentlemen. Taylor was optimistic, saying the latest scandal showed Ukraine was more capable than ever of self-regulation. He pointed to some of the allegations of misconduct coming from journalists, an example of a free press, and from the special watchdog agency Mr. Trump created. Zelensky’s predecessor and Ukrainian leader mandated.

“The institutions work,” Mr. Taylor said.

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