The United States vowed to tightly monitor how Ukraine spends billions of dollars of aid on Tuesday, following a damaging corruption scandal that led to a string of resignations in Kyiv.
While Washington said it had no evidence western funds were being misused, US State Department Spokesman Ned Price promised there would be “rigorous monitoring” to ensure American assistance was not diverted.
Several senior Ukrainian officials were dismissed on Tuesday, in the wake of a corruption scandal surrounding illicit payments to deputy ministers and over-inflated military contracts.
A total of five regional governors, four deputy ministers and two heads of a government agency left their posts, alongside the deputy head of the presidential administration and the deputy attorney general.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the purge was “necessary” to maintain “a strong state”, while Price hailed it as “quick” and “essential”.
Still, the scandal comes at a sensitive time for Kyiv, as it asks for ever-increasing amounts of support from the West and faces down Russian advances in the east.
Corruption could dampen Western enthusiasm for the Ukrainian government, which has a long history of shaky governance.
Over the weekend, anti-corruption police arrested the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a 367,000 euro bribe to buy overpriced generators, an allegation he denies.
This comes at a time when Ukrainian civilians are enduring prolonged power cuts, amid crippling Russian strikes on the country’s energy infrastructure.
Meanwhile, a Ukrainian newspaper investigation accused the Defence Ministry of signing off contracts to supply food to frontline troops at “two to three” times the regular price.
According to analysts, the high-profile resignations show that corruption bears not only a criminal but also political responsibility.
“It is a good example of how institutions and anti-corruption and checks and balances mechanisms established after the [2014 Maidan] Revolution of Dignity are working despite a full-blown war going on,” Kateryna Ryzhenko from Transparency International Ukraine, an anti-corruption NGO, told Euronews.
“But the final part of these events should be played by the prosecution, investigative body, and the court when these cases are adjudicated to the full extent of the law,” she added.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry, which allegedly signed off on overpriced contracts worth €320 million, said the resignations would help “preserve the confidence of society and international partners.”
On Sunday, it dismissed the allegations as “misinformation”, warning they harmed the “interests of defence during a special period”.
In January, the leader of Russia’s Chechen Republic blasted Western aid to Ukraine as a “scheme for laundering money”.
“I see that some are worried about the foreign aid to Ukraine. Do not worry! This is a working money laundering scheme. Western and Ukrainian officials will embezzle these funds, and no more than 15% of the entire aid will reach the trenches,” Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on Telegram.
There is no evidence for this claim from the staunch Putin ally.
Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on the promise of wide-reaching reforms to battle corruption and improve the economy.
During his time in office, the Ukrainian president sacked numerous ministers and officials as he battled to fight the malign influence of powerful people in the country.