Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been fighting to clean up corruption in the country since being elected in 2019. But with a string of senior officials resigning amid a damaging corruption scandal, time may be running out for him to enact the changes he promised.
The scandal broke over the weekend, when reports of illicit payments to deputy ministers and over-inflated military contracts emerged. It has since forced the resignations of Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko and Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Simonenko.
Separately, the anti-corruption police have arrested the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a 367,000 euro bribe to buy overpriced generators last September. The supplier has said this was a mistake and no money changed hands.
The scandal brings into question the Western enthusiasm for the Kyiv government, especially with Ukraine seeking more military support. Reports of the Defence Ministry signing off contracts to supply food to frontline troops at “two to three” times the regular price have further damaged the country’s reputation.
David Arakhamia, head of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, has called for officials to “focus on the war, help victims, cut bureaucracy and stop dubious business”. He has also warned that if a humane approach does not work, then jailing those responsible will be pursued in line with martial law.
Zelenskyy was elected on the promise of wide-reaching reforms to battle corruption and improve the economy. However, the ongoing scandal, coupled with the power cuts experienced in the country during biting winter weather, is making it increasingly difficult for him to make progress.
It remains to be seen whether Zelenskyy will be able to reform the country before time runs out. If he cannot, the consequences could be devastating for Ukraine, as well as for his own political career.