The US demands anti-corruption measures from Ukraine in exchange for economic aid

A draft of a letter from Washington includes calls for reforms to the judiciary, the Ministry of Defense and the agencies that regulate public enterprises

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy during his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on Thursday.JULIA NIKHINSON / POOL (EFE)

The U.S. government wants Ukraine to undertake a series of very specific strict anti-corruption measures in exchange for aid to help the Eastern European country fight the Russian invasion. According to the Ukrainian newspaper Pravda, which leaked U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Mike Pyle’s missive to the Donor Coordination Platform, the White House is demanding specific reforms to the courts, the Ministry of Defense and the agencies that regulate state-owned enterprises, among other demands. These actions are to be carried out within various timeframes that range from three months (for the most urgent concerns) to a year and a half for the most complicated issues.

According to Pravda, the draft of the letter—which is still subject to changes and revisions—has come to light after a series of corruption scandals in Ukraine. In addition, the missive has appeared amid increasing reluctance among the Republican base and legislators from the party’s far-right wing to continue supporting Ukraine indefinitely, when the war has been going on for over a year and a half and has no end in sight. Among other things, these hardline legislators demand greater transparency and accountability in the use of these funds. The United States has given Kyiv over $75 billion (€70 billion) in military, economic and humanitarian aid.

The document, entitled “Reforms Linked to Conditions on U.S. Aid,” comes as the U.S. Congress must approve a budget measure, which includes a $24 billion (€22.7 billion) appropriation for Ukraine, by September 30. On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy met with Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill to ask the members of Congress to continue to support assistance for his country. Otherwise, the Ukrainian leader warned, Western democracy and its values will be at risk.

During that visit, Zelenskiy also met with U.S. President Joe Biden, who announced a new military assistance package of $325 million.

Led by the White House, Democrats and the Republican Party’s more moderate wing insist on the need to continue support for Ukraine “with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.” But the U.S. government also points out that it wants to “make sure there is accountability” for how that aid is spent, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Tuesday at his daily press briefing.

Supporters of such assistance argue that abandoning Ukraine would leave the field open to Russia at Europe’s doorstep, and no country would be safe. They also note that China is watching what is happening in Ukraine with great interest and could interpret the withdrawal of U.S. support for Kiev as a preview of what could happen with Taiwan in the event of a conflict in the Pacific.

Disclosure of public officials’ assets

The publicized conditions that the White House has imposed are more precise than the ones that the European Commission has set for opening negotiations about Ukraine’s accession to the EU. For example, the U.S. government demands that the law be reformed within three months to require public officials to disclose their assets. This requirement accords with Zelinskiy’s September 12 veto of a law to postpone the deputies’ obligation to declare their assets.

The Ukrainian leader has hastened to make improvements in the judicial system and in the fight against corruption. He wants to have already done his homework by the time he arrives at next December’s European Council summit, when talks to incorporate Ukraine into the EU officially begin.

Despite the rush, there is still a long way to go. According to Transparency International, Ukraine ranks 116th (out of 180 countries) in terms of perceived corruption. Of the seven commitments that Kyiv must fulfill to start EU accession negotiations, currently it only meets two of them. Two of the conditions with which the country does not comply are reforms to reduce corruption rates and to ensure the independence of the judiciary, although Brussels has acknowledged that Ukraine has made improvements.

In Ukraine, corruption scandals are a common occurrence, as are Zelenskiy’s dismissals of persons accused of malfeasance. The U.S. letter demanding that corruption be addressed specifically mentions some of those cases: the White House insists that, within one year, the Ministry of Defense must adapt to NATO standards for transparency and accountability. This September, Oleksii Reznikov was dismissed from his position as minister of defense following two episodes of alleged corruption in procuring food and clothing for troops at prices well above market rates.

Zelenskiy has also dismissed numerous high-ranking officials from the State Border Service amid repeated accusations of corruption. The letter from Washington emphasizes the need for reforms to this agency, which reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The Ukrainian president has gone as far as proposing a legal reform that would equate wartime crimes of corruption with treason.

Western financial and military support keeps the Ukrainian state afloat. In addition, the country’s economy is growing again this quarter, after it collapsed by 30% GDP in 2022, the first year of the war. Europe and the United States are Ukraine’s primary donors of aid. According to the Kiev Institute for Global Economy’s estimates, the EU has committed about €140 billion ($148,029,000,000) in assistance—including military aid—while the US has given $70 billion. Delegations from the European Commission, the governments of EU member countries and the U.S. regularly make official visits to supervise the disbursement of the aid they provide. In addition to these trips, representatives from these governments also monitor the use of economic and military aid from the field, away from the Ukrainian authorities, as EL PAÍS has confirmed.

In its letter to the Ukrainian president, Washington demands greater controls over the disbursement of these funds, especially the monies intended for the country’s future reconstruction. Like the EU, the U.S. also calls for more pluralistic supervisory bodies for state enterprises and tougher rules to end the oligarchs’ monopolies, the large fortunes acquired following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Donor Coordination Platform was launched in January this year to support Ukraine’s reconstruction. It involves representatives of Kiev, the U.S., the EU, G-7 countries and international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS