The top prosecutor of Ukraine informed POLITICO that the country is hastening its efforts to improve its political system and will fulfill all of the EU’s anti-corruption criteria in a matter of months. This would greatly strengthen Ukraine’s chances of becoming a member of the 27-country bloc.
“I have complete confidence that all the necessary anti-corruption and law enforcement reforms mandated by the EU will be accomplished in the upcoming months,” stated Andrii Kostyn during an interview at Ukraine’s embassy to the EU in Brussels. “I am completely certain.”
However, the prosecutor cautioned that notable cases, such as the arrest of Ukraine’s former Supreme Court leader, were being manipulated by certain individuals who oppose the country’s entry into the EU.
In a recent interview, Jean-Claude Juncker, the former president of the European Commission, stated that Ukraine is plagued by widespread corruption.
Besides Juncker’s remarks, a confidential document from the U.S. Department of State, acquired by POLITICO, revealed that the United States has greater fears about corruption in Ukraine than what officials publicly acknowledge.
According to Kostyn, the increase in visible outcomes of our anti-corruption efforts does not necessarily indicate a rise in corruption. However, some individuals may attempt to exploit this visibility to discredit our efforts.
He accused Russian interference as the cause of some of the negative reaction. He stated, “As we approach the Commission’s report on enlargement in early November, Russia and its 5th column and influential agents are intensifying their efforts to discredit Ukraine’s advancements, particularly in regards to anti-corruption measures.”
“Curbing corruption is a crucial requirement from the European Union, which has identified seven specific areas that Ukraine must improve upon before it can commence formal discussions about joining the group.”
Kyiv’s anti-corruption drive, which includes naming a special prosecutor and enforcing a new law that equates corruption with treason, is a key aspect of its EU accession bid.
The European Union’s governing body is in the process of completing a report on the advancements of reforms in Ukraine and other potential member countries. The report is expected to be released in November, with the possibility of beginning formal discussions as soon as December.
In one of the most prominent cases in the country, Ukraine ousted Vsevolod Knyazev, the former leader of its Supreme Court, due to allegations of receiving $2.7 million in bribes. Similarly, Oleksii Reznikov, a former Defense Minister, stepped down amidst a string of corruption scandals involving high-ranking officials in his department.
In July 2022, Kostyn became Ukraine’s prosecutor general and acknowledged the presence of corruption in the country, which has a GDP per capita comparable to that of Algeria and Vietnam.
“We acknowledge the importance of intensifying efforts to combat corruption at all levels – addressing not only prominent corruption but also minor forms of corruption,” stated the speaker. “Furthermore, we are purging the prosecution system of corrupt practices: In the previous month, two prosecutors were uncovered for accepting bribes.”
However, he disagreed with portrayals of Ukraine as completely corrupt and also defended the country’s new anti-corruption legislation, which gives the security services the responsibility of overseeing the efforts to eliminate corruption.
The decision sparked concerns that Ukraine’s fight against corruption could be influenced by politics, as the security services answer to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Kostyn disregarded this objection and instead referenced former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in advocating for strict measures.
According to him, President Zelenskyy is not the sole leader to suggest that corruption should be considered equivalent to treason. Golda Meir also famously stated, “If you want a nation where its citizens will come back, treat corruption as treason and those who engage in it as traitors for generations to come.”
As pressure increases on Kyiv to implement change, the focus on anti-corruption measures has taken attention away from Kostyn’s primary duty – which is to record, prosecute, and ultimately punish individuals responsible for war crimes in Ukraine. According to Kostyn, his office is currently investigating over 100,000 suspected war crimes perpetrated by invading Russian forces, including recently identified “environmental offenses.”
Kostyn traveled to Brussels to meet with high-ranking officials from the European Union, including Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders. The purpose of the meeting was to announce the establishment of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, which is funded by the EU, U.S., and U.K. and assists Kyiv’s investigations into war crimes by providing financial support and expert resources.
“He stated that this is not just for citizens of Ukraine, but also for promoting global efforts to establish justice and order on an international scale.”