While Ukraine has dominated headlines since Russia's invasion in February 2022, the country, which most people still can't place on an unmarked map, has been in the minds of power players in Western capitals for years prior. And not for good reasons, either.
Ukraine ranks 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The ranking is a marked improvement over 2021, when Ukraine placed 122, giving it the dubious distinction of being the second-most corrupt nation in Europe. Russia, at #136, fared worse. Last week, the head of the country's Supreme Court was detained for allegedly taking bribes. The BBC reported that the arrest came a day after specialist investigators said they had "exposed large-scale corruption" at the court.
For nearly ten years, Ukraine has been gripped by two conflicting forces. The younger elite wants the country to align itself with the West. An established middle-older generation of citizens accustomed to the corrupt practices of the erstwhile Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the regime of the oligarchs post-Cold War, continues to look eastward toward Moscow.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's endemic corruption continues, even as America and her Western allies have poured nearly $200 billion in military and humanitarian aid in just 15 months. The amount is more money spent on a single country than any other nation in history. In last week's G7 meeting in Hiroshima, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy addressed the G-7 leaders for even more aid and support. With the recent fall of Bakhmut, the conflict is far from over. Reconstruction costs could amount to nearly $1 trillion, all of which will again come from the West.
A recap of major events during the last ten years is shocking and invites a simple question: Why should Ukraine dominate our public discourse? Of the 196 countries in the United Nations, why is Washington so interminably connected with a country ranked 56 in GDP that is of little consequence to America? The nation is not in the E.U.; it does not have technical expertise that America covets, and its geography is not crucial to America's global interests, like that of the State of Israel.
Two words come to mind: Joe Biden. Former Vice President Joe Biden has ensured that Ukraine became a familiar country in American living rooms.
Biden was the Obama administration's point man in Ukraine. Published reports show that the CIA had a significant hand in the so-called Maidan revolution in Kyiv when deadly clashes between protesters and state forces in February 2014 ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian sympathizer. The official American policy goal was to help Ukraine transition to a more democratic, more Western-friendly governing authority that addresses endemic corruption.
But Biden's son, Hunter, wanted to cash in on his father's good offices. He assumed a board position in the Ukrainian energy company Burisma to enforce "governance and transparency," although he had no experience in this technical area, had never worked in Ukraine, and had little knowledge of the energy industry. Burisma was owned by a corrupt Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky, whose assets, to the tune of $23 million, had been seized in London by British authorities just a few weeks before Hunter assumed his role. To most observers, it was clear that Ukraine was trying to buy influence all the way to the White House.
According to a United States Senate report, George Kent, the former Acting Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, raised concerns to officials in Vice President Joe Biden's office in early 2015 about the perception of a conflict of interest with respect to Hunter Biden's role on Burisma's board. In September 2016, he emphasized in an email to his colleagues, "Furthermore, the presence of Hunter Biden on the Burisma board was very awkward for all U.S. officials pushing an anticorruption agenda in Ukraine." Biden and his inner circle ignored all requests.
Even under President Trump, the National Security Council was concerned about Ukraine's corrupt ways. The NSC provided talking points to Trump to mention corruption in his congratulatory call with President Zelenskyy, who was elected in May 2019. Trump did not use those talking points, but in a more consequential call in July, asked Zelenskyy for help to investigate Hunter. A partisan House impeached Trump for using his presidential power to influence a future election.
We noted last July that corruption severely undermines public confidence in institutions, but senior Ukrainian officials continue to give and take bribes willingly. President Zelenskyy fired Ivan Bakanov, the leader of Ukraine's Security Service, and Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general, for suspected treasonous activities. More than 650 criminal investigations have been opened into employees of law enforcement agencies. Over 60 Ukrainian officials in the newly occupied Russian territories in the country's south and east were also charged for directly working for Russia.
American taxpayers, forced by the Biden White House to continue to fund Ukraine as Washington enters a standoff over raising America's $31 trillion debt, should not be on the hook to subsidize such criminal Ukrainian conduct. But no one in the West seems to care as each politician one-ups another to offer support to Ukraine, with no accountability in sight.
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