14 June 2024

To win the peace, Ukraine must defeat corruption


All wars come to an end – even Putin’s barbaric and insane assault on Ukraine. Of course, the war could have ended quickly and tragically in a Russian victory. But the heroism of Ukraine’s soldiers, the inspirational leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky and the swift deployment of Western weaponry soon halted Putin’s mad dash for Kyiv.

Now, more than two years after Russia broke with all forms of civilised behaviour and launched its unprovoked assault on its freedom-loving neighbour, the conflict has come to resemble the brutal stalemate of the Great War. Neither side is able to make much headway in this war of attrition, a deadlock made even more ghastly by Russia’s missile and drone attacks on apartment blocks and civil infrastructure.

Only this week we learned that Russia has captured or knocked out more than half of Ukraine’s power generation, threatening its people with the harshest of winters.

But the war will end. We just don’t know when and how. One thing we can be sure of – it will not end in a Russian victory. The Ukrainian people and their leaders won’t allow Putin to prevail. And nor, for all their faults, will the countries that make up the Nato alliance. Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Warsaw know that were Putin to take Kyiv, the West would be finished.

And so, minds will turn to the reconstruction of Ukraine – rebuilding its national infrastructure, as well as restoring the physical and mental health of a people subjected to terrifying bombardment year after year.

Roads, bridges, dams, railways, factories, ports, homes, schools and hospitals will all need to be rebuilt or repaired. The scale of the task is enormous. At least two million homes have been reduced to rubble and over 5,000 miles of road are unusable.

Much like the Marshall Plan after the Second World War, the United States and Europe will have to pour in aid to get Ukraine back on its feet. Depending on how it is calculated, the Marshall Plan, paid for by the US, amounted to around $172 billion in today’s money. The latest estimates from the World Bank put the cost of rebuilding Ukraine at nearly $500 billion – more than two and half times the cost of the entire Marshall Plan.

The bill is colossal, even before we assist Kyiv in the equally vital task of renewing its military strength and ensuring that Russia never again dares to try to destroy one of its neighbours.

But bricks and mortar will not be enough. The political and business culture of the country will also need renewal. Truth may be the first casualty of war, but it is not the only one. Understandably, Ukraine has been placed under martial law since the Russian invasion. Elections have been suspended, free media and political debate have been greatly curtailed, and the liberties we take for granted in the West have been gravely reduced.

We are also witnessing alarming moves to ban Ukraine’s oldest and most popular Christian church – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – on the spurious grounds that it is a Russian puppet. The UOC has condemned the invasion, severed its historic ties with Moscow and engaged in vital refugee work in Ukraine and across Europe.

Yet this has not stopped the seizure of 1,500 UOC churches, brutal attacks on its priests, and the imprisonment of some of its leaders. Of course, the record of the Russian invaders is far worse. Religious freedom for Ukraine cannot be secured without defeating Putin. Zelensky should, however, take action now to secure the freedoms of the UOC.

More generally, corruption in public and business life was a major problem in Ukraine well before hostilities and all the evidence suggests that it has worsened since the Russian assault. Property rights and the rule of law in the commercial sector have all been weakened and previously successful firms have seen their assets arbitrarily seized and their operations halted.

Only last month, Zelensky’s agriculture minister was dismissed following accusations of corruption, which he denies. The Defence Ministry recently underwent a radical shakeup after accusations of corruption against senior figures. An MP in Zelensky’s party was also charged with embezzlement last month, although he has not publicly responded to the allegations. We must therefore be assured that Western funds for reconstruction will reach their intended targets.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was right when he said that Kyiv must make ‘sure that the fight against corruption continues at home just as the fight against Russia’s aggression continues on the front lines’. The worst thing to befall Ukraine would be for it to fall prey to the kleptocracy and cynicism that characterises Putin’s gangster state.

With Western support, the bravery of the Ukrainian people will triumph over the cruelty and wickedness of the Russian invaders. But for us to secure a lasting peace in the region, we need to think long and hard about the many aspects of the challenge and to prepare the way for happier times to come.

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David Jones is a former Cabinet Minister.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.