Ukraine’s Own Worst Enemy

Why Corruption Is More Dangerous than Putin

Banknotes of Ukrainian hryvnia are seen Kiev, May 23, 2012.
Banknotes of Ukrainian hryvnia are seen Kiev, May 23, 2012. (Gleb Garanich / Courtesy Reuters)

From the outside, the state of affairs in Ukraine seem easy to summarize. Peaceful protests for closer ties with the EU in Kiev’s Maidan Square provoked a brutal crackdown, which in turn, led to the ousting of incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych. After that, Russia annexed Crimea. There have since been violent tremors in cities such as Odessa, and Russian-backed separatists in the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics continue waging brutal insurrections.

An end to all this death and destruction would bring some measure of respite to the new government of Ukraine, led by President Petro Poroshenko. However, upon a closer examination, it is clear that this alone will not be enough to place the country on a truly new path. To do that, Ukraine must overcome its self-inflicted problems, in particular rampant and pervasive corruption.

CORRUPT TO THE CORE

Traveling through Kiev and Odessa, it is hard to believe that some 500 miles to the east, a war is raging. A few tents remain in the Maidan, and civilians collect money for volunteer units created to support the under-equipped Ukrainian army. The receptionists at Kiev’s Ukraine Hotel break down when asked to recall what they witnessed as their hotel’s lobby was turned into a makeshift field hospital for protestors wounded by gunfire. Memorials surround Odessa’s Trade Union House, where 48 people died in a tragic conflagration. Everywhere in Kiev and Odessa, Ukrainians want the unseen war to end.

Beyond that, two themes prevail. The first is a feeling of disappointment and, for some, betrayal at Europe’s lack of support for Ukraine. For a people who ousted their president and shed blood in pursuit of the European ideal, the delay on the part of EU leaders in backing their strong words and threats against the Kremlin with any sort of meaningful sanctions is inexplicable. The second is a longing for the new president to address the issue of corruption. According to a poll conducted by the International Foundation of Electoral Systems in late 2013, 47 percent of Ukrainian citizens identified corruption as a serious issue facing the country.

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