Ukraine’s commitment to a raft of anti-corruption measures must not go unnoticed as Russia continues to sow exaggerated narratives to destabilize Western support.
Russian bot farms now routinely instruct their employees to drown Ukraine in reports about corruption. According to Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security, before that, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration gave instructions to plant the narrative about Ukraine as “the most corrupt country in the world” in Western media.
This narrative embeds itself among foreign audiences and within Ukrainian society. It gains further traction given that Russia, in its own information operations, mostly uses real reports from Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and materials from journalistic investigations.
However, the Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security explains why Russia invests in continuing to support the myth of Ukraine as “totally corrupt.”
Are the accusations of corruption against Ukraine fair?
Certainly, there is corruption in Ukraine, as well as problems of mismanagement at various levels, incomplete judicial reform, overregulation of certain procedures, complicated tax administration, etc. However, Ukraine recognizes the existence of these problems and has been implementing reforms to solve them.
Reports about the exposure of corruption schemes is not proof of total corruption in Ukraine. On the contrary, they testify that Ukrainian society and the state are not tolerant of corruption.
Deregulation, de-oligarchization, the adoption of anti-corruption legislation, the formation of anti-corruption bodies, the liquidation of discredited institutions (such as the State Automobile Inspectorate or the State Architectural and Construction Inspectorate) are several examples of concrete steps aimed at reducing Ukraine’s level of corruption.
Ukraine’s anti-corruption measures span a number of activities, which can be grouped as follows:
1. Specialized law enforcement agencies that investigate corruption offenses: The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) were established in 2015. The High Anti-Corruption Court was established in 2019. The Prosecutor General’s Office, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Security Service of Ukraine and the National Police are also involved in the fight against corruption. Their activities are actively covered in the media and are evidence that Ukraine does not tolerate corruption but fights against it.
2. System of mandatory electronic declaration of wealth, introduced for civil servants, MPs and local deputies, judges, law enforcers and other officials: The National Agency on Corruption Prevention, created in 2015, monitors the declarations and lifestyle of officials and detects conflicts of interest. Criminal liability has been introduced for false declarations, non-submission of declarations and illegal enrichment (acquisition of assets whose value significantly exceeds legitimately received income). Although mandatory e-declaration was suspended upon the full-scale Russian invasion, on July 27 the Ukrainian parliament at first reading supported a bill on its restoration even during martial law.
3. Information on budget expenditure that is open and available to everyone: Public procurement in Ukraine is carried out through the ProZorro electronic system.
4. Democratic statehood and political competition: This is also a safeguard against monopolization of power, which entails corruption and degradation of the state apparatus. Since 2016, and in order to carry out regulation of the role of money in politics in compliance with democratic standards, budget financing of political parties and analysis of their financial statements was introduced. This was a big step towards increasing the level of transparency of political finances.
5. No caste of untouchables in Ukraine: MPs, mayors of large cities, heads of regional administrations, deputy ministers and judges are brought to criminal responsibility. In May 2023, the Chairman of the Supreme Court was detained on suspicion of receiving a bribe.
6. Policy of de-oligarchization: In 2021, a law was passed to limit the influence of oligarchs on political parties, the government and the media in Ukraine.
7. Freedom of speech and free media work, even under martial law: Journalists can investigate the lifestyle of politicians and top officials and inform citizens about the discovered facts. Journalistic materials often become the basis for opening proceedings by law enforcement agencies and can lead to political consequences. In particular, several MPs have given up power based on such cases arising.
8. A powerful civil society: Anti-corruption public organizations monitor public procurement, analyze budget spending, report questionable expenditure and corruption risk. They actively cooperate with Ukrainian media, capture public trust, and are listened to by the authorities.
9. Zero tolerance of corruption among Ukrainian citizens: The Orange Revolution of 2004-2005 and the Revolution of Dignity of 2013-2014 were, among other things, a protest against government corruption. This is a constant demand of society, which will not change in the years to come. According to the sociological research of the Razumkov Center, published in May, 84 percent of Ukrainians see corruption as a threat to the unity of society and the support of partners and are in favor of the disclosure of the discovered facts.
10. Widely implemented policy of deregulation, which reduces potential abuses by regulatory authorities: The Ukrainian parliament and the government are canceling outdated regulations, simplifying conditions for doing business and providing administrative services for citizens. The number of automated services that do not depend on the will of the official is constantly increasing. Hundreds of services (for example, registering a business or obtaining documents) can be obtained online, in particular, through the Diia mobile application or in the centers for the provision of administrative services.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Digital Transformation plans to launch 63 digital products over the next three years (14 innovative solutions are to be implemented by the end of this year). The next step is an electronic court, digital registers and systems.
Our foreign partners also see Ukraine’s success. U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, welcomed the adoption of the law on improving the activities of the Antimonopoly Committee of Ukraine. She stated that, despite the war, Ukraine has continued to fight against corruption and taken decisive action to strengthen accountability, transparency and corporate governance.
According to Transparency International, following the Revolution of Dignity, Ukraine demonstrated progress in the fight against corruption. For 10 years – from 2013 to 2022 – the country earned eight points in the Corruption Perceptions Index rating, showing its best result in 2022 – 33 points out of 100.
In accordance with the indicator, Ukraine is lagging behind Turkey, Serbia and Albania, which have 36 points each, but ahead of Russia (29 points). The most corrupt states in the world are the Kremlin’s friends: Syria (13), Venezuela (14), North Korea (17), Nicaragua (19), Sudan (22), and Eritrea (22).
According to an Info Sapiens study conducted at the request of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention in 2022, some 81 percent of citizens and 63 percent of businesses called corruption “widespread” in Ukraine. At the same time, significantly fewer respondents were directly involved in corruption: 17 percent of citizens and 7 percent of businesses. Such discrepancies between the level of corruption perception and its actual level can be explained by active coverage of the problem in the media and a lack of understanding.
Why does Russia use the “most corrupt country” narrative?
Speculating on the topic of corruption, exaggerating its scale and demonizing Ukrainian society, the Kremlin regime seeks to achieve the following goals:
1. To undermine the unity of partners providing Ukraine with military and macro-financial assistance
2. To convince the citizens of these countries that the aid provided will be stolen, Western weapons will end up on the “black market” and will fall into the hands of terrorists
3. To promote narratives about Ukrainians as ungrateful and villainous people
4. To convince Ukrainian citizens that “the real enemy is not in Moscow, but in Kyiv.” This is aimed at socio-political destabilization, undermining trust in the military-political leadership, generating hatred for civil servants, MPs, etc.
Despite the Russian invasion, Ukraine has demonstrated that overcoming corruption is a constant trend that persists even in the most difficult of times.
Russia’s speculation about corruption in Ukraine is aimed at undermining trust in Ukraine on the part of foreign partners, weakening support, provoking artificial conflicts in Ukrainian society, reduce Ukraine’s ability to resist external aggression and defend its own state.
Ihor Solovey heads the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security