Ukraine Is A Mess - The West Should Press It Harder To Fight Graft

KIEV, Ukraine -- After the Maidan revolution and the start of the Russian war against Ukraine in 2014, Western policy had two aims: to halt and punish Russian aggression and to help Ukraine become a democratic state governed by the rule of law.


Drama in the streets is a sign of worsening corruption. Ukraine must not be allowed to fail.

America imposed sanctions on Russia, ordered the president, Petro Poroshenko, to establish an anti-corruption force and sent Joe Biden, then vice-president, on repeated visits to insist on fighting graft.

The EU imposed sanctions on Russia, and made support for civil-society and the rule of law a linchpin of the association agreement it signed with Ukraine in 2014.

In that light, the news out of Ukraine over the past few weeks has been dire.

The country’s prosecutor-general has disrupted investigations by its National Anti-corruption Bureau, with the apparent consent of Mr Poroshenko.

The interior minister has intervened to protect his son from similar scrutiny.

Officers in the security service, the SBU, have tried to arrest Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president turned Ukrainian corruption-fighter, only to be driven back by protesters.

Prosecutors are targeting anti-corruption activists; the army, interior-ministry troops and private militias work at cross-purposes, answering to different politicians or oligarchs.

Mr Poroshenko’s government has been seriously weakened.

To some Europeans and Americans, this picture suggests that their efforts to persuade Ukraine to turn over a new leaf were always doomed to fail.

That is a misreading.

In fact, the recent chaos in Ukraine comes in part because in the past year, especially since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, Europe and America have eased the pressure.

If they do not restore their commitment to defending anti-corruption reforms, Ukraine risks sinking back into the morass from which it tried to extricate itself with Maidan.

Ukraine’s grubby [crooked] politicians and oligarchs have tried to frustrate Western aims without openly defying them.

Partly as a result, policy under Mr Trump has lost its focus on fighting graft.

Kurt Volker, the American envoy to Ukraine, works on external security; America may soon sell the country lethal weapons for the first time.

But when the State Department complains about corruption, it is ignored—because (unlike Mr Biden) the White House offers it no support.

As for the EU, few believe it would jeopardise its association agreement with Ukraine for the sake of the rule of law.

So, the country’s elite no longer fears attacking investigators and activists.

Lay off the pay-offs 

If they succeed in ending the attempts to fight graft, it will be a disaster for Ukraine—and a step back for Europe and America, too.

The country is the focal point of the West’s conflict with Russia.

Weak and divided, it is vulnerable to Russian encroachment, especially if Vladimir Putin decides he needs to fire up patriotic Russian voters.

Chaos would also buttress Mr Putin’s claim that the West’s aims in Ukraine are purely anti-Russian and have nothing to do with democracy or the rule of law.

All this would undermine the rules-based global order, with consequences in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

Now that Ukraine is defying complaints by America’s State Department and the EU’s foreign-policy arm, it is vital that America and Europe use every tool at their disposal to support corruption-fighters in Kiev.

The EU should make plain that the benefits of the association pact depend on progress against graft; America should attach the same conditions to arms sales.

Prosecutors in Western capitals should investigate the laundering of ill-gotten Ukrainian wealth.

Support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity should not involve tolerance for the lack of integrity among its politicians.

Source: The Economist

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