KYIV, Ukraine — Several senior Ukrainian officials were fired on Tuesday amid a swelling corruption scandal, the biggest upheaval in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government since Russia’s invasion 11 months ago .
The Ukrainian cabinet ministry that announced the dismissal of the Telegram social messaging app did not provide detailed reasons, but they focused on a series of allegations of government corruption — including reports that the Ukrainian military agreed to pay exorbitant prices for troops’ food — and general bad behavior.
A deputy defense minister was sacked and a deputy attorney general sparked a scandal over a wartime vacation to Spain. A senior official in Zelensky’s office resigned after being heavily criticized for driving around in an SUV donated by General Motors Co. to humanitarian missions.
There is no indication that the military procurement scandal involving misappropriation of Western military aid will affect Ukraine’s ability to counter Russian aggression. But at a time when Ukraine is pleading for more Western support on an almost daily basis, the removal of the officials shows that Mr Zelensky is trying to clean up his house and is trying to reassure Ukraine’s allies that his government will show zero tolerance for graft .
As the war approaches a year, few issues are more important to Ukraine’s continued survival than the billions of dollars and advanced weapons provided by Western allies. Russia is gearing up for a new offensive in the spring or sooner, and the Ukrainians are counting on the UK’s promised Challenger 2 tanks and the US’s promised Bradley fighting vehicles to counter Moscow and launch an offensive of their own.
But even a glimmer of malfeasance is enough to slow the largely open aid spigot. Few people are more sensitive to this than Mr. Zelensky, who appears on almost daily video calls with foreign leaders and legislatures in an earth green military shirt, always demanding the same thing: more weapons.
In recent days, Zelenskiy has mentioned corruption investigations and an impending government reshuffle. In his Sunday evening address, he said he hoped punishment would be seen as “a signal to all who act or behave contrary to the principles of justice,” adding: “The past will be gone forever. The past of.”
Corruption allegations are also troubling to many Ukrainians, for whom any suggestion that senior officials could undermine the country’s collective struggle against Russia for their own interests is irritating, especially when the corruption involves the military .
Over the weekend, a Ukrainian newspaper reported that the Defense Ministry had bought food, including eggs, at three times its cost. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov called the allegations “complete nonsense” and the product of “distorted information”.
But on Tuesday, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Deputy Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov had “demanded to be fired” after the report. The ministry said in a statement that while the allegations were “baseless,” removing Shapovalov would “maintain the trust” of Ukrainians and the country’s international partners.
Still, Vitaly Shabnin, director of operations at the Kyiv-based NGO Anti-Corruption Action Center, said it took three days for Mr. Shapovalov to step down, sparking concerns about rooting out corruption at the Ministry of Defense. serious doubts about promises.
“A new social contract has emerged during the war between civil society, journalists and the government: we will not criticize you as we did before the war, but your response to any scandal and ineffectiveness must be as strong as possible,” Mr Shabnin said. Said. “The Secretary of Defense’s position breaks this agreement.”
Also removed on Tuesday were five governors from regions such as Kherson and Zaporozhye, which have seen heavy fighting at various times. The governor of Kyiv was also removed from office but was then reassigned to a post within the presidential palace.
Kirillo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential administration of Zelensky, resigned amid criticism for using a donated GM SUV. Mr. Tymoshenko is well-known nationally and internationally and is often tasked with providing updates on the war. But Ukrainian journalists have raised questions about his lavish lifestyle and use of government resources.
The restructuring began over the weekend when Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Service detained a deputy infrastructure minister who was found to have accepted $400,000 in bribes from a company seeking government contracts to supply generators and other equipment.