Ukraine has experienced some progress in fighting corruption.
Robert Barrington is a Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex. He was formerly the head of Transparency International (TI) in the UK, the world’s leading anti-corruption NGO.
Could you please briefly describe the critical message for Ukraine from a recently released book you co-authored called “Understanding Corruption: How Corruption Works in Practice”?
The overall message from the book is positive. While we look in detail at difficult subjects like state capture, bribery, political corruption, and the use of global financial centers as a destination for the proceeds of corruption, there are eighteen detailed case studies that illustrate what can be done to tackle corruption successfully. For example, strong independent media and impartial law enforcement have often been important. It is easy to become depressed when analyzing corruption or living under a corrupt government, but our book also presents a more optimistic view that in the right circumstances, corruption can be tackled successfully, and it is possible for governments and their citizens to create those circumstances.
What is your view on the current state of corruption in Ukraine? Has Ukraine moved in a positive direction since 2014?
Ukraine has faced two distinct problems: it has suffered from corruption in several different forms that have affected most post-Soviet transition countries and also suffered from the deployment of 'strategic corruption' by Russia. This term is used to describe how as a matter of strategy, one country uses corruption to undermine another - for example, in helping to rig elections, undermining those who are operating with integrity, or deliberately supporting corrupt individuals.
To measure progress, we usually rely on a few well-known indices, such as Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. On that index, perceptions of Ukraine's public sector corruption have improved in a statistically significant manner since 2014. There have been some notable advances, such as introducing the Prozorro system to create a transparent and accountable healthcare procurement system. There has been good progress, and the momentum has looked positive and in the right direction. At the same time, some proposals have been knocked back, reforms have stalled in certain areas, and progress has not been as fast as might have been hoped after the optimism of the 2019 election.
One area of apparent improvement has been corruption in the military. In 2014, there was clearly a bad situation, but a big effort was made to address areas like the misappropriation and re-sale of equipment. Many corruption analysts have pointed out the difference in 2022 and noted that the Russian armed forces now seemed to be hampered by the kind of corruption that undermined Ukraine in 2014, while Ukraine has spent those years trying to address the problem.
Do you think the situation with corruption has deteriorated in Ukraine since the Russian invasion?
It is impossible to tell whether the situation has deteriorated since the Russian invasion, and we probably will not know what has been happening beneath the surface for a few years. Sadly, conflicts are often an opportunity for people to make money, and corruption can thrive in conditions of chaos when normal governance and transparency mechanisms are suspended because all the effort is towards resolving a national crisis. For example, many countries - including the UK - set aside their standard public procurement safeguards during Covid, and there was an outbreak of fraud and corruption in which certain business people, often close to the government, became very rich. So we can assume that there will be corrupt individuals exploiting the 'opportunities' created by the conflict, alongside some deliberate attempts by Russia to foster it.
On a more positive note, if there is a non-corrupt leadership and a sense that corruption is unpatriotic because it undermines the war and recovery efforts, then the conditions can also be favorable for preventing corruption. The critical point is that the leadership should take the threat of corruption seriously and act accordingly.
We should also be alert to disinformation campaigns claiming Ukraine was highly corrupt and that Russia is saving the nation from itself. This is nonsense, just like the idea that Russia is saving Ukraine from the Nazis. Apart from the absurdity that the Putin government might somehow be motivated to tackle corruption despite its track record as a kleptocracy in Russia, the disinformation campaigns are deliberately ignoring Ukraine's successes such as Prozorro and the emergence of very effective civil society organizations such as Transparency International Ukraine.