How U.S. can get tough on Ukraine corruption
Ukraine’s Western allies may finally have run out of patience with Kiev’s unwillingness to fight the country’s endemic corruption. The United States, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have all criticized the recent undermining of an independent corruption investigation by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office – an organization itself accused of rampant fraud.
“Recent events – including the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files – raise concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to fighting corruption,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Dec. 4. NABU was established with American support, and Washington has assigned FBI agents to NABU to help train its agents. To see the PGO undermine the FBI by leaking the names of NABU undercover agents represents nothing less than Kiev sticking an ungrateful finger in America’s eye.
The war on NABU is simply the latest step by Ukraine’s corrupt old guard to destroy reformers’ anti-corruption accomplishments.
But the situation is worse than just a crackdown on institutions. Law enforcement agencies also use fabricated criminal charges and petty harassment to single out Kiev’s anti-corruption activists and organizations.
The United States has much at stake in Ukraine. Washington is trying to establish a democratic, pro-Western Ukraine by guaranteeing billions in loans to Kiev – meaning American taxpayers would foot the bill if Ukraine can’t repay these loans. The United States has also supplied the country with $750 million in non-lethal equipment like body armor.
Washington and its allies need to protect their investment in Ukraine and support Ukrainian anti-corruption measures by pushing Kiev’s officials back on the right path.
First, the West should use its financial leverage against Kiev. This means at a minimum that the IMF needs to enforce its demand that an independent anti-corruption court be established. The U.S. and EU must also jointly make clear to Kiev that until the war on NABU and anti-corruption activists ends all aid – with the exception of humanitarian assistance – will be frozen.
Second, the West must face the fact that it backed the wrong leader in Ukraine. President Petro Poroshenko has largely failed in his promise to wipe the country clean” of corruption. America and its allies should be prepared to work around him when necessary.
This means no more diplomatic red carpets like invitations for Poroshenko to address joint sessions of Congress. Support to anti-corruption NGOs should also be increased. These steps would convey a clear message to Poroshenko and the rest of Kiev’s political class: the West is committed to Ukraine’s people, not to the personal political fortunes of its leaders.
The West should also hit corrupt politicians and their cronies where it really hurts – their wallets. Billions of dollars of dirty Ukrainian money leaves the country each year – and much of it gets parked in the West. U.S. and European officials should prioritize freezing the Western assets of corrupt Ukrainian officials’ and their oligarch friends under the 2016 global Magnitsky Act, which allows the Trump administration to impose visa bans and sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world guilty of human rights violations or gross corruption. Senior leadership from the PGO and SBU should come in for particular scrutiny. Ukrainian officials found to be complicit in the violent attacks on anti-corruption activists should also be targeted under the law.
Ukraine is not the failed state that some analysts have claimed. Indeed, given its well-educated population and proximity to Europe, the country’s long-term prospects are bright. But as Tillerson has warned, Ukraine could “lose its soul to corruption” if it continues on its current course. It’s up to Ukraine’s reformers and their Western friends to make sure this doesn’t happen.
*This abridged article is taken from Reuters