Newly-inaugurated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky set the standard when he called for “a strong, powerful, free Ukraine, which is not the younger sister of Russia, which is not a corrupt partner of Europe, but our independent Ukraine.” This pledge and a unique background led Mr. Zelensky to an election victory over then-incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.
Mr. Zelensky has dire situations to resolve. Crimea has already been lost to the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Parts of the country are still in a civil war, also testifying to the ambitions of Mr. Putin.
Mr. Zelensky has correctly assessed the Crimean situation in publicly stating the peninsula will not be returned to Ukraine until there is a change in Russian leadership. Concerning the civil war, he has acknowledged the need to deal directly with the Moscow instigators and not their puppets on the Ukrainian battlefields.
The out-of-control corruption of all three branches of government has long since created a lack of faith by foreign investors and massive migration of productive citizens out of Ukraine. Mr. Zelensky is one of the intellectuals that has not left his country in what is being referred to as the brain drain. He is staying for the fight. But the problem is far more severe than loss of intellectuals, as this migration includes hard-working Ukrainian citizens who want to raise their families in a stable environment.
The United States needs to help Ukraine get back on its feet through oversight of the anti-corruption organizations that were created. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which was supposed to fight corruption, was co-opted by Mr. Poroshenko to attack his political enemies. To stop an issue like this arising we cannot trust the government to regulate itself. Instead, there needs to be foreign oversight to ensure something like this does not happen again.
NABU, a Western-created agency, was considered trustworthy and above suspicion, but it became involved in the biggest scandal of the Poroshenko presidency. In 2016 it removed several companies which had connections to Ukrainian officials from a list of suspicious entities involved in military procurement. According to investigations by Ukrainian journalists, Ihor Hladkovskiy, the son of the deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleh Hladkovskiy, was a direct participant in “schemes in the millions” that stole money from Ukraine’s defense industry complex and illegally profited from the war. They organized contraband imports of Russian parts for Ukrainian military hardware, and then sold them at highly inflated prices to the armed forces.
In the words of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, the army was robbed by Mr. Poroshenko. Volunteer battalions fighting on the frontline against the separatists were forced to buy equipment — including Kalashnikovs and armored personnel carriers — from shadowy private firms like Techimpex, which had evident connections to Ukrainian officials. The Poroshenko government was profiteering through inflating the price of arms. Without foreign oversight, corruption cannot be stopped as the rich and powerful in Ukraine will always put their interests ahead of the nation’s.
Mr. Zelensky is looking to bring Ukraine into the European Union and NATO. This will not be possible until the nation’s many internal problems are fixed. He is on the right track, but he needs help. The citizens are overwhelmingly behind him; corruption fighter and former governor of Odessa, Mikheil Saakashvili, is returning to Ukraine to assist Mr. Zelensky.
Also returning is Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a current and hopefully future member of the Ukrainian Parliament, whistleblower, and author of the book “Peter the Fifth,” which is a personal account of the corrupt dealings within the Poroshenko administration. A prominent businessman in Ukraine, Oleksandr Onyshchenko was forced to leave Ukraine after accusing President Petro Poroshenko of pervasive corruption and making his mark as a staunch opposition supporter. Charges and arrest warrants were issued as a result of Mr. Onyshchenko revealing audiotapes that exposed high level corruption in Mr. Poroshenko’s inner circle. NABU agents demanded a bribe in the form of a stake in his company worth $150 million in return for dropping the charges. Mr. Onyshchenko’s recent comment “We cannot fail this time” is on target. This may be Ukraine’s last chance to get it right.
For years the Poroshenko administration looted Ukraine of its financial resources. On the low side, Transparency International UK ranks Ukraine 120th out of 180 countries for corruption. Backing up his words, during the 2019 Ukrainian election, Mr. Onyshchenko posted a one-million Ukrainian hryvnia (approximately $37,000 U.S.) prize to the journalistic investigation that would bring the Poroshenko administration to justice.
Ukraine’s population and reformist leaders are taking a stand to fix their country. They need the help of the European Union and the United States, starting with investigative support concerning how much money was laundered and where it is hidden now. This will be the first step in recovering as much of the embezzled money as possible and bringing the criminals to trial.
Establishing financial stability, reforming a corrupt government, applying the rule of law and national security can be achieved. The Zelensky administration, the Ukrainian people, the European Union and the United States all have a stake in Mr. Onyshchenko’s assessment: “We cannot fail this time.”
• Wes Martin, a retired U.S. Army colonel, served in the Army Military Police and in law enforcement positions around the world.