Things do not seem to be going well with Ukraine. Subdued criticism, sarcastic remarks, indirect aspersions, etc., have become the undertone of statements from responsible politicians.
In July last, President Volodymyr Zelensky sacked Vadym Prystaiko, his country’s ambassador to the UK, because of a row over gratitude for British military aid.
He had called Zelensky’s thanking the UK defense minister and his defense minister every morning somewhat like “unhealthy sarcasm.”
Earlier, Ben Wallace had warned Ukraine that its allies were “not Amazon,” saying Kyiv needed to show gratitude for weapons it received to persuade Western politicians to give more. He spoke at the NATO summit after President Zelensky criticized the military alliance for delaying making Ukraine a member.
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “sad to say goodbye” to Prystaiko, calling him “a great Ukrainian ambassador and friend to this country.”
This “sarcasm” apart, a new situation has recently arisen that puts Ukraine in a dark spot.
The large-scale flow of funds from Western supporters and the venom of anti-Russia brigades to fight their inveterate enemy has led the Ukrainian proxy regime to its logical conclusion: rampant corruption in the rank and file and impending polarization of Ukrainian civil society.
Parliamentarians in the opposition and sections of media with vested interests had been subtly hinting at improper financial and other practices creeping into the Ukrainian polity. However, due to war strategy constraints, the malaise would not receive media hype.
When things overflowed to the brim, Ukrainian President Zelensky was forced to take a corrective course.
The defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was the first head to roll down. New York Times reporter Kramer wrote on September 3 that “replacing Reznikov was the biggest shake-up in the leadership of Ukraine’s war effort.”
In a statement, President Zelensky accused conscription officials of taking bribes and smuggling people out of the country to escape conscription. Declaring bribery during the war a “high treason,” Zelensky confirmed that at least 30 state functionaries had been dismissed.
The dismissed functionaries are to be replaced by those who have battlefield experience and have been vetted by the intelligence service, a statement from the President’s office said. Which intelligence services will vouchsafe for the fidelity of the replacing cadres?
In a video posted on social media, President Zelensky said that officials taking cash and cryptocurrency bribes or helping people eligible to be called up to fight to leave Ukraine are among the charges of “high treason.”
Ukraine’s general mobilization rules mean all men under 18 capable of fighting are eligible to be conscripted, and most adult men under 60 are prohibited from leaving the country.
Zelensky said 112 criminal proceedings against suspects had been launched against regional officials and that abuse had been found across the country.
Several factors necessitated the shake-up. Zelensky feels there is a need for new leadership as the war drags on indefinitely. The civil society in Ukraine has been raising voices over the contracting scandals at a time when the war administration claims it is gaining ground in liberating areas from Russian control.
Millions of Ukrainians have fled the country, and thousands are preparing to leave and find shelter wherever they can to escape conscription and the ravages of war.
Enforcing the draft in Ukraine can be difficult, and corruption is recognized as a major problem. Reliable sources in western Ukraine speak of the existence of a “monthly rate” — a payment made to keep someone out of the army.
The Ukrainian Border Police recently reported detaining up to 20 men a day. The BBC claims it has approached the Armed Forces of Ukraine for comment on desertion rates and draft dodging.
According to the Romanian immigration authority, 6200 Ukrainian men of military age have illegally crossed the 600 km (373 miles) border into Romania since the war began.
The NYT made contradictory statements about the ousted Defense Minister. In one breath, it said that the decision to replace Reznikov comes as Ukraine is amid a major counter-offensive. Then, a little later, the paper says Reznikov had volunteered to step down.
Rustem Umerov, a former investment banker, is a Crimean Tartar, and his induction as new Defense Minister has much to do with the Crimean narrative of the ongoing war. Interestingly, Zelensky has avoided bringing any serious corruption charge to the doorsteps of the replaced Defense Minister. He has rather adulations for his contribution to the war against Russia.
In the final analysis, the consequences of a massive flow of funds and arms from Western sources meant to bring about the decimation of Russia have opened the floodgates of corruption in Ukraine. The civil society is feeling the heat of corrupting the polity and refuses to remain silent on this situation.
The Ukrainians, conscious of how they are dragged to the brink of destruction in a proxy war, want to leave their native land and accept living the ignominious life of refugees. The negative impact of a proxy war is deepening with each day of fighting. Ukraine’s supporters in the West are on the horns of a dilemma.
- KN Pandita (Padma Shri) is the former Director of the Center of Central Asian Studies at Kashmir University. Views expressed here are of the author’s.
- Mail EurAsian Times at etdesk(at)eurasiantimes.com