Can Ukraine Win Its War on Corruption?

What's Ahead for the Country's Reform Movement

Supporters of Ukrainian opposition figure and Georgian former President Mikheil Saakashvili take part in a procession during a rally against Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, February 2018.  Gleb Garanich / REUTERS

“We are sliding back,” the Ukrainian journalist turned parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko warned a year ago about the arc of political reform in his country. At the time, his assessment sounded alarmist, but it rings true today. Since the 2014 Euromaidan revolution, reformers in and out of Ukraine’s government have tried to remake a fiscally troubled and deeply corrupt country into a Western-oriented, rules-based one, but have only partially succeeded.

Ukraine’s future as an independent and sovereign state will depend as much on winning its internal war on corruption and fixing its broken government as on keeping Russia contained in the east. If Kiev emerges as a reformist success story, its example will send shock waves through the post-Soviet space and signal that the Kremlin’s neoimperial and rule-breaking project of maintaining control over its former colonial satellites is not sustainable. If it fails, however, the EU-border state may collapse, creating a major security threat for Europe and beyond.


Last year saw mixed gains for Ukraine’s reformers. Parliament passed health, education, and pension reform, but those with vested interests in preserving the status quo, including President Petro Poroshenko’s party, known as Petro Poroshenko Bloc, tried to undo progress on anticorruption reform. In December, the Bloc-managed parliament attempted to sack Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and removed Maidan leader and parliamentarian Yegor Soboliev from chairing its anticorruption committee. Parliament only backed down on NABU after Kiev received dozens of angry phone calls and threats from international donors and embassies, threatening to pull aid. Throughout all of last year, the Security Services of Ukraine or its proxies harassed anticorruption activists, prosecutors opened trumped-up cases against crusading nongovernmental organizations, and the presidential administration threw its resources behind a campaign to undermine the mayor of the historic city of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, a reformist rival with a national profile and a sterling reputation up to that point. Yet in spite of all this, Poroshenko

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