War and Corruption

War means destruction. But war means money as well.Military contractors play a huge role in all wars. And contractors corrupt the system while bribing the persons who matter in defence deals. Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. Very recently Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired his defence minister Reznikov amid graft scandal. Rustem Umerov is the new man in charge of defence. He is from the Muslim Tatar community in Crimea that largely resisted Russia’s 2014 annexation. Reznikov’s ministry allegedly spent $20m on the windbreakers and paid way over the market price. Nearer home once there was furore over supply of body bags in the Kargil war involving persons in authority.

The Reznikov episode fuelled yet another scandal in the Ukrainian military, where corruption has been endemic, especially in non-transparent procurement contracts–and where new forms of corruption emerged after the war started in February 2022.

Reznikov, a 57-year-old ex-lawyer, said on August 25 that he would provide proof of purchase “to make sure that the [bet’s] winner is obvious to the Ukrainian public”.

But before any documents were made public, he lost his job.

Reznikov, whose negotiating skills and fluent English helped him convince dozens of Western diplomats and military officials to boost their aid to Ukraine, does not appear to be implicated in the scandals.

Ukrainian media suggested he may become Kyiv’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Zelenskyy, a comedian who came to power on anti-corruption slogans, appointed Reznikov in November 2021, three months before the full-scale war with Russia began.

Rustem Umerov served as a member of parliament and authored a bill to dam a Soviet-era canal that supplied most of the water to the arid peninsula causing the “annihilation of agriculture” and severe water shortages.

He also helped facilitate the release of political prisoners jailed by Crimea’s Moscow-installed “authorities” before becoming the chairman of the Ukrainian State Property Fund in 2022.

In March 2023, Umerov was part of a team that tried to negotiate a truce with Moscow. After the talks failed, Kremlin-controlled media declared him a “US spy.”

Umerov’s appointment may serve as Zelenskyy’s signal to Moscow that Kyiv would not trade the peninsula for a peace deal and that its de-occupation remains a priority.

Reznikov’s dismissal coincided with another major development.

Immediately after Reznikov’s dismissal a court in Kyiv arrested Ihor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch and media mogul, on fraud and money laundering charges.

“Between 2013 and 2020, Ihor Kolomoisky legalised more than half a billion hryvnias [$14m] by transferring them abroad and using the infrastructure of banks under his control,” the SBU, Ukraine’s main intelligence agency, said in a statement last month..

Analysts say the arrest of Kolomoisky along with Reznikov’s dismissal is part of Zelenskyy’s push to mend ties with Ukraine’s Western backers, especially the US, who have been unhappy about the mishandling of multibillion-dollar military contracts.

War breeds grassroots corruption. Corruption has been plaguing Ukraine’s military and arms producers for long.

Petro Poroshenko, Zelenskyy’s predecessor and rival in the 2019 elections, had his approval ratings tank largely due to his failure to tackle it.

He was also involved in one of Ukraine’s largest and loudest corruption scandals when the company of his childhood friend’s son smuggled used spare parts for weapons and military equipment from Russia and resold them to Ukraine’s defence ministry at extortionate prices.

Meanwhile, the war spawned new forms of grassroots corruption in the Ukrainian military.

Oleksander, a 32-year-old trooper, was demobilised in May after stepping on a landmine and losing his right leg on the front line of the southern Kherson region. The military reportedly owes him one million hryvnia ($27,000) as compensation, but his commanding officer allegedly did not sign the papers, demanding half of the money.

This is the bizarre world of ‘war and military’, rather ‘war and corruption’. Perhaps this is the scenario in every military establishment.


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Vol 56, No. 13, Sep 24 - 30, 2023