Ukraine's hopes of NATO entry dashed over its persistent corruption



Ukraine has been jockeying for a spot in NATO since it gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 and has good reason to believe it has a shot. After all, NATO allies agreed at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that the country would one day become a member of the military alliance.

Despite early eagerness, Ukraine pursued a non-alignment policy from 2010 to 2014; however, it jettisoned this approach around the time of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. In 2017, the Ukrainian parliament — which has not had elections since 2019 — adopted legislation recommitting the pursuit of membership in NATO.

A senior official in the U.S. State Department recently told the Telegraph that NATO will soon inform Ukraine ahead of the alliance’s annual summit next week that it remains too corrupt to enter the alliance.

“We have to step back and applaud everything that Ukraine has done in the name of reforms over the last two-plus years,” the official told the British paper. “As they continue to make those reforms, we want to commend them, we want to talk about additional steps that need to be taken, particularly in the area of anti-corruption. It is a priority for many of us around the table.”

This is hardly the first time the alliance has thrown cold water on Ukraine’s dreams of membership over its struggles with corruption.

The NATO heads of state issued a statement at the outset of the 2023 Vilnius summit indicating that “Ukraine’s future is in NATO” but that the country still had to make progress on “interoperability” as well as on democratic reforms.

President Joe Biden said at the time that it was “premature” to begin onboarding Ukraine into the alliance. Biden noted not only that its entry would put the U.S. into a direct conflict with Russia, but that there were still “other qualifications that need to be met, including democratization.”

While a catch-all term, “democratization” is frequently used as a euphemism for corruption reform.

In 2012, Ernst & Young ranked Ukraine in the top three of the most corrupt countries in its 12th Global Fraud Survey. Transparency International rated it the most corrupt country in Europe after Russia and ranked it 130th among 180 countries in its 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index.

‘Ukraine’s defenses against corruption have to be just as strong as its military defenses.’

The country has, however, showed some signs of improvement, such that it now ranks 104th on the Corruption Perceptions Index, with a score of 36. By way of comparison, America’s score is 69, with 100 signaling perfection.

Nevertheless, high-profile corruption cases keep making the news.

For example, earlier this year, employees from a Ukrainian weapons firm were outed for conspiring with defense ministry officials to embezzle roughly $40 million that was supposed to buy 100,000 mortar shells for the war effort, reported the Associated Press.

In May, the BBC reported that a member of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party was charged with embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Such incidents are hardly exceptional and, according to Ukrainians, are commonplace.

The United States Agency for International Development conducted a nationwide poll in Ukraine last year and found that 94% of respondents still considered corruption to be pervasive, with a plurality suggesting that corruption has actually worsened since the beginning of the war.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently painted a clear picture for Ukraine, underscoring its need to take the “difficult steps” to strengthen and consolidate its democracy.

“That means not just passing reforms, but making sure they are implemented. It means rooting out the scourge of corruption — once and for all,” said Blinken. “Ukraine’s defenses against corruption have to be just as strong as its military defenses. An independent judiciary; a free press; a vibrant, inclusive civil society; free and fair elections; independent, empowered anti-corruption investigators, prosecutors, and judges.”

The White House has detailed the specific reforms it wants to see executed in Kiev.

Despite the Biden administration’s encouragement and recommendations, the Telegraph indicated the U.S. government has been fighting British and European efforts to formalize an “irreversible” path toward NATO membership for Ukraine.

This would be consistent in light of Biden’s suggestion to Time magazine in an interview published last month that he was “not prepared to support the NATOization of Ukraine.”

Rather than an irreversible path, the State Department official told the Telegraph Zelenskyy is going to promised a “well-lit bridge” to NATO membership.



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