Ukraine’s defence ministry corruption reshuffle marks a painful moment in an agonising war

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 7, 2023
Ukraine. Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

Anyone who wishes Ukraine well will be dismayed by news that its defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, is to be replaced following a corruption scandal.

There is no suggestion that Mr Reznikov himself is directly implicated in any wrongdoing, but the mere fact that Ukraine is set to reassign the highest ranking official in its government is concerning. It sounds bizarre for a country forced to engage in an unprovoked war for its life, to decide it will replace its defence minister 12 months into that bloody conflict.

Unless…unless, it’s not bizarre and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s administration is merely trying to keep things going and to keep the faith…with its western allies.

With money and resources pouring into Ukraine, probity has become a greatly prized word in the Ukrainian context. Particularly for Ukraine’s allies, which are spending huge sums to help it bravely fight savage aggression from a neighbour.

Over the years, much before Mr Zelensky was elected to the highest office of state, reports of Ukrainian corruption were as routine and familiar as sparrows in the garden. Transparency International has ranked Ukraine at 122 out of 180 countries — not much better than Russia.

When he was elected by a landslide in 2019, Mr Zelensky boldly vowed to change the way Ukraine was governed. That he has struggled to achieve wholesale reform is hardly surprising – systems are stubbornly resistant to change and self-perpetuating. And then came the unprovoked Russian invasion of his country. Mr Zelensky could hardly be expected to serve as commander-in-chief of a country at war and wage a different, equally brutal war at home.

That said, it looks bad for Ukraine when there are reports that its military  allegedly secured food at highly inflated prices. The defence ministry has denied this, describing the reports as false. Even so, such accounts do not add to confidence in promised Ukraine’s clean-slate policy.

It could hardly come at a worse time for Ukraine. In 48 hours, European Union (EU) leaders gather for a summit, with Ukraine painfully high on the agenda. Unlike the last EU leaders’ summit in December, the mood will not be nervous exhilaration. This time, it will be just nervous.

Nearly a year into Russia’s brutal war, an imminent Russian offensive is on everyone’s minds. Promised deliveries to Ukraine of German (and American) tanks are yet to arrive.

And then, to add to the nervousness, there is news that Ukraine’s defence minister will be given a new portfolio, while there is sotto voce talk of corruption in the outfit he leads.

It’s not much cause for cheer. War hardly ever is, but this moment in this war is particularly agonising.

A few other pieces from my Ukraine archive you might want to read (the two at the bottom are from Volodymyr Zelensky’s election) :

The visible effects of Ukraine’s powerful currency – soft power

UN’s impotence on Ukraine underlines the need for real decolonisation – of the international architecture 

What borscht means to Ukraine at this moment

Perils and positives of the proxy war in Ukraine

Zelensky’s ‘camouflage chic’, unrehearsed Churchillian oratory and what victory looks like for Ukraine

Return of the international brigades

Will Ukraine’s president-elect see the funny side of Giuliani’s visit on Trump’s behalf?

Indians once voted for a TV Sita. So, Ukrainians pick a TV president