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The Fight Against Corruption in Ukraine: Myths and realities, - Ihor Petrenko

Recently, Ukraine has come a long way on the path of reforms than in the decades since its independence. This was stated by Ihor Petrenko, an expert at the United Ukraine think tank, in an article for EL PAÍS. The text of the article can be found below.

The issue of corruption remains extremely acute and painful for Ukrainian society, as evidenced by public opinion polls. For example, 94% of respondents say corruption is one of the main problems in Ukraine. This problem is particularly acute against the backdrop of the war, when Ukrainians are sacrificing everything for the army and the defense of their homeland from Russian aggression. In this context, 61.7% of Ukrainians believe that corruption in procurement for the army is the most harmful to Ukraine's ability to resist and defeat Russia.

At the same time, corruption remains a topic that is actively used in the domestic political struggle, which continues despite martial law and foreign aggression. The politicization of corruption and its thoughtless use in political accusations negatively affects the stability of society, which already receives daily painful blows from the aggressor. Similarly, the topic of corruption is used by Ukraine's enemies to promote among the public of civilized states that support Ukraine the narrative that "Ukraine should not be helped" because it is "corrupt."

At the same time, while not denying the existence of serious corruption problems in Ukraine, it would be quite wrong not to note the significant progress of our country in the fight against corruption, which is reflected in the large-scale exposés of corrupt officials that have been going on in Ukraine recently, as well as in the assessments of authoritative international institutions dealing with anti-corruption issues.

In particular, the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has published an interim report of the 4th round of assessment of Ukraine's achievements in preventing corruption in relation to MPs, judges and prosecutors. The GRECO interim report states that Ukraine has demonstrated its readiness to fight corruption despite the full-scale Russian invasion. GRECO concluded that Ukraine's current level of compliance with the recommendations is no longer "unsatisfactory" and thus Ukraine is removed from the anti-corruption watch list.

Ukrainians often tend to downplay the successes of our country, and sometimes even claim that we have no achievements at all, only problems. That is why the assessments of independent Western monitoring institutions are of particular importance. In addition, the conclusions of authoritative European structures are extremely important in the context of Ukraine's fulfillment of the requirements for starting negotiations on joining the European Union. Therefore, we have every reason to talk about a real anti-corruption breakthrough for Ukraine.

Ukraine continues to suffer from Russian aggression, terrorist attacks on civilians, and destruction of infrastructure, and the Armed Forces continue to repel the Russian invasion at great cost. Against this backdrop, GRECO's new conclusions became a sensation. The European body decided that Ukraine had completed more reforms in the year of the great war than in the previous few years. As a result, we were removed from the blacklist. It is also worth noting that the situation with anti-corruption is important not only for the EU. Negotiations with donors for recovery funds, dialogue with the IMF, macro-financial assistance from the United States - all these international dialogues between Ukraine and its partners are in one way or another tied to the issue of fighting corruption.

The assessment approved at the session shows that Ukraine has "satisfactorily implemented or is implementing to a satisfactory degree" 15 out of 31 recommendations (a year ago, there were 9). Another 9 are in the process of being implemented, and 7 remain unimplemented according to the European assessment (in last year's report, there were 14 and 8, respectively).

GRECO especially noted Ukraine's strong commitment to change in an extremely difficult time for this country. No one expected Ukraine to be serious about anti-corruption activities at a time when the very existence of the state is under threat, but the reality turned out to be different at the time of the greatest challenges, and Ukraine is proving this not only in words but also in deeds.

In addition, the current Ukrainian government has the political will to fight corruption. This is evidenced by recent events in the country. Here we can mention the case of Yevhen Borysov, the former head of the Odesa Regional Center for Recruitment and Social Support, who is accused of illegal enrichment worth 188 million hryvnias. He is currently in custody and awaiting trial. In addition, given the scale of possible abuses, President Zelensky dismissed all regional military commissars and appointed people from the frontline to replace them. Also, the changes in the Ministry of Defense should be seen in the context of a number of corruption scandals in which former Minister Reznikov was not directly involved, but still failed to organize normal communication with both society and MPs.

Therefore, the decision to replace Reznikov with Umerov is quite logical and justified. Firstly, Umerov has never been involved in any scandals and has a good reputation both domestically and internationally. It is worth noting here that during his year as head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine, neither he nor his team had any scandals, although the SPFU has always been perceived as an extremely risky body in terms of corruption. Second, Umerov has been a member of the Ukrainian negotiating team since February 2022. He leads all the closed negotiations on the release of prisoners of war, most of the closed negotiations on the grain deal with the Turkish side last year were conducted by Umerov, and he also leads a very closed track on the supply of heavy weapons from countries that do not publicly emphasize this. In other words, he is absolutely in the process of fulfilling the tasks that the head of the Ministry of Defense faces, and he can definitely strengthen the Ministry's international cooperation. Third, Umerov has very close personal contact with Erdogan. He is the only Ukrainian politician, apart from Zelenskyy and Yermak, with whom the Turkish president personally communicates. This is important for the Defense Ministry, as Turkey is NATO's second army and has a serious geopolitical influence on Russia. Also, it is Umerov who closes all issues with the Middle East and can strengthen defense support for Ukraine from these countries. Of course, this is still an assessment of Umerov's previous work and expectations, and we will be able to evaluate the real results later.

A separate track that indicates significant progress in the fight against corruption is the case of Kolomoisky, who has long been perceived as almost a "partner" of the government. In reality, however, this was a significant exaggeration generated by the 2019 elections, when the opposition tried in every way to tie Kolomoisky to Zelenskyy. Until recently, Kolomoisky was one of the richest and most influential oligarchs in Ukraine. He began to face serious problems in 2021, when the United States imposed sanctions on him and his immediate family. And after the start of the full-scale invasion, he lost control of billions of dollars in assets. In particular, we are talking about the largest oil company Ukrnafta, the second largest private gas producer Ukrnaftoburinnya, the Kremenchuk refinery, more than 500 gas stations and oil depots. Today, he has been suspected of committing a crime under articles on fraud and money laundering and is in the SBU pre-trial detention center. And this is hardly the end of the story, as NABU may soon charge Kolomoisky in the case of withdrawing funds from Privatbank. The investigation into the misappropriation of tens of billions of hryvnias from Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta is also ongoing, with searches of Kolomoisky's home in February. And all this against the backdrop of the fact that many in Ukraine believed that Kolomoisky was not in danger, but Zelenskyy clearly showed that no one would receive any indulgences and everyone would be held accountable for crimes and damages to the state. In general, this case will be indicative of the seriousness of the authorities' intentions to fight corruption. Both Ukrainian society and international partners will be watching this case closely, expecting fair conclusions from Themis.

Of course, the anti-corruption fight will continue, as will the struggle in other areas to build an independent, secure, prosperous European Ukraine. But we should not ignore the fact that Ukraine has recently come a long way on the path of reforms than it did in the decades after its independence. This applies to all areas of Ukrainian politics and public life. Ukraine has proved to be much stronger than some "experts" in the West predicted, predicting that Kyiv would fall to the Russian threat in a matter of days. But this did not happen. Ukraine has survived, and not just survived, but is developing, changing, and moving at an accelerated pace toward its European future. It is impossible not to notice and designate this.

Source: "EL PAÍS"

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