A confidential strategy document obtained by POLITICO suggests that officials in the Biden administration have greater concerns about corruption in Ukraine than they publicly reveal.
The unclassified version of the long-term plan for the United States emphasizes various measures being taken to assist Kyiv in addressing corruption and implementing reforms in multiple sectors. It highlights the potential consequences of corruption on Western support for Ukraine’s battle against Russia’s invasion, and urges Kyiv to prioritize anti-corruption efforts.
The confidential version of the document cautions that the perception of high-level corruption could negatively affect the trust of the Ukrainian public and foreign leaders in the government during a time of war.
This is more severe than the information provided in the less prominent public release of the 22-page report, which seems to have been quietly published on the State Department’s website approximately a month ago.
The private edition of the “Integrated Country Strategy” is approximately three times longer and includes a plethora of information regarding the U.S. goals in Ukraine, such as the privatization of banks, increasing English education in schools, and promoting the adoption of NATO protocols in the military. Numerous objectives are aimed at mitigating the rampant corruption in the country.
The subtle launch of the plan and the decision to keep the most difficult language confidential highlights the communication difficulties that the Biden team is currently facing.
The government aims to urge Ukraine to decrease corruption, especially since American currency is involved. However, speaking out too strongly on the matter may empower those who oppose U.S. aid to Ukraine, particularly Republican politicians who are attempting to obstruct such funding. Additionally, any notion of diminished American backing for Kyiv could lead other European nations to reconsider their involvement.
According to a U.S. official familiar with Ukraine policy, there are confidential discussions taking place among Ukrainians. This person, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The issue of corruption in Ukraine has been a significant worry for American leaders, including President Joe Biden. However, this concern was downplayed following Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, which Biden has described as a clash between democracy and autocracy.
In the past few months, Biden’s team consistently mentioned corruption but kept it brief. This was to demonstrate support for Kyiv and prevent providing ammunition to a few Republican politicians who have expressed concerns about the U.S.’s assistance to Ukraine in terms of military and economic aid.
After more than a year of ongoing conflict, American authorities are placing greater emphasis on addressing the issue both publicly and behind closed doors. Specifically, national security advisor Jake Sullivan held a meeting in early September with representatives from Ukrainian organizations focused on combating corruption.
Another American government representative who is knowledgeable about the talks has also verified to POLITICO that the Biden administration is in discussions with Ukrainian officials regarding the possibility of linking future economic assistance to efforts to address corruption and improve conditions for private investment in Ukraine.
The official stated that military assistance will not be granted under these circumstances.
A representative from the foreign ministry of Ukraine did not reply to inquiries for a statement. However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has dismissed multiple high-ranking defense officials in a recent effort to combat accusations of corruption – a sign to the United States and Europe that he is paying attention.
The Integrated Country Strategy, created by the State Department, incorporates inputs from various government entities such as the Defense Department. It outlines specific objectives, projected timelines, and key milestones that U.S. officials aim to achieve. These strategies are produced by the State Department for numerous countries every few years.
A representative from the State Department declined to disclose if the longer version of the strategy has been shared with the Ukrainian government or if a classified version exists.
Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, stated that the strategy is likely to be well received by ordinary Ukrainians as they are also exhausted by the widespread corruption in their nation.
He stated that everything is acceptable, as long as it does not hinder the support we offer in helping them win the war.
The report states that meeting American goals for Ukraine involves following through on promises made by the U.S. to provide equipment and training for the country’s military in order to defend against attacks from the Kremlin.
The private edition also outlines the objectives of the United States, including aiding in the improvement of certain aspects of Ukraine’s national security system to enable a more decentralized and risk-tolerant approach to carrying out tasks, and minimizing opportunities for corruption.
The NATO military alliance has not yet approved Ukraine’s membership, but the American strategy frequently mentions a goal of having Ukraine’s military conform to NATO standards.
One desired achievement mentioned in the private edition is for the Defense Ministry of Ukraine to create a skilled junior officer and non-commissioned officer group that follows NATO’s standard doctrine and principles.
According to a confidential section of the strategy, Ukrainian defense documents must adhere to “NATO terminology” in both format and content.
A goal is to establish a “resistance plan” on a national scale. This could potentially involve average citizens of Ukraine defending against further territorial gains by Russia. (The State Department representative did not provide clarification on this matter.)
According to a confidential section, the US is also interested in Ukraine developing its own military equipment through the creation of a domestic defense industry that can fulfill essential requirements. Additionally, the US desires a supportive environment for defense information technology start-ups.
American authorities are showing a particular worry about the influence of a small group in the economic landscape of Ukraine.
The strategy outlines the importance of reducing the influence of oligarchs in Ukraine, especially in the energy and mining industries, in order to improve the country. The confidential version states that a key measure of success is the government implementing reforms that give more control of the energy sector to local authorities.
The US seems enthusiastic about aiding Ukrainian institutions in enhancing their ability to oversee operations. The objectives outlined range from assisting local authorities in identifying potential corruption to implementing changes in human resources departments.
For instance, the plan states that the United States is aiding the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine in improving its auditing and related tasks, in order to monitor the direct budget support provided by the United States.
The plan outlines methods in which the US is assisting Ukraine’s healthcare industry, cybersecurity defenses, and organizations combating misinformation. It advocates for backing Ukrainian efforts to combat monopolies and implementing measures to generate more tax income for the country.
The private section requires Ukraine’s financial systems to boost lending in order to promote business growth, and to decrease the government’s involvement in the banking industry.
A goal for that portion is the transparent return of Alfa Bank to private ownership. This seems to be mentioning an entity currently called Sense Bank, which was previously owned by Russia but taken over by Ukraine.
The United States’ plan seems to focus on guaranteeing Ukraine maintains its alignment with the Western world and forms unique connections with America.
Washington’s plan to achieve this goal involves promoting the use of the English language. The approach involves providing assistance to Ukraine’s education ministry in order to enhance the quality of English instruction. It is believed that by offering English lessons, it can aid in the reintegration of Ukrainians who have been released from Russian control.
American authorities are also aiding Ukraine in developing its ability to bring war criminals to justice within its own legal system. The objectives to be achieved include the appointment of over 2,000 new judges and addressing a backlog of more than 9,000 complaints of judicial misconduct.
The plan also includes the goal of reconstructing the American diplomatic representation in Ukraine, extending beyond the capital of Kyiv to other cities like Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv, and Dnipro.
As a result of previous reductions in staff caused by the extensive Russian invasion, the embassy is still operating in a state of crisis, according to one public statement. (The State Department representative declined to disclose the current staffing levels at the Embassy.)
According to previous reports from POLITICO, American officials are finding creative solutions to oversee aid to Ukraine, despite facing constraints due to the ongoing war. One such effort involves utilizing an app called SEALR to monitor the aid.