Ukraine fires top military brass in ongoing anti-corruption push as Zelenskyy arrives in US

Updated Sep 19, 2023, 7:53am EDT
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) arrives for a press conference during the opening session of Crimea Platform conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, 23 August 2023. The Crimea Platform – is an international consultation and coordination format initiated by Ukraine. OLEG PETRASYUK/Pool via REUTERS
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired all six of his deputy defense ministers on Monday, part of an ongoing crackdown on corruption in government that comes two weeks after the country’s defence minister was dismissed in a procurement scandal.

The sackings come as Zelenskky is in New York to address the U.N. General Assembly where he will ask the West for more support. He is also set to meet U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the meeting, as Congress readies to debate Biden’s request for up to $24 billion more in backing for Ukraine. A firm stance from Kyiv against graft could help that case.

Zelenskyy has cleaned house before: In August, he fired all regional recruitment heads amid corruption allegations.1 The crackdown on graft, which has been ongoing since allegations started swirling at the beginning of this year, is an attempt by Zelenskyy to prove to Western allies that Ukraine is committed to moving on from past norms. Ukraine ranked 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index. More than three quarters of Ukrainians consider corruption to be one of the country’s largest problems.2

Experts believe that Ukraine's corruption crackdown amounts to more than just lip service. A January "personnel decision" by Zelenskyy and the announcement of several investigations showed "institutions that were created in the last eight years [are] slowly getting into gear and working," McGill University Associate Professor Maria Popova told Time magazine.3

Ukraine's defense ministry lags behind others in the nation's push to weed out corruption, one expert said. The ministry "is not able to cope with the challenges of war," Daria Kalenyuk, of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, told The New York Times in a recent interview. Monday's round of firings was a "positive step" towards finding a solution to the corruption in that department, she said, and sends a signal to Washington and beyond that the country is committed to removing it.4