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Should the U.S. worry that assistance to Ukraine could end up in the wrong hands?


There were anti-corruption raids in Kyiv ahead of a summit with European Union leaders there tomorrow. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired several government officials as part of the crackdown. And endemic corruption is one of the issues the EU said Ukraine needs to address before it can join the union, which Ukraine wants. The raids have also raised questions about how outside help, which Ukraine relies on for war efforts, might be impacted by the corruption that's plagued Ukraine for decades. To discuss, we've got Conor Savoy, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He focuses on the intersection of foreign policy and international development. And he joins us now. Good morning, Conor.

CONOR SAVOY: Good morning. Nice to be here.

FADEL: Thanks for being here. So let's start with these crackdowns. They came just before this EU summit in Kyiv. Were they intended to show European leaders and donors that Ukraine is actually doing something about corruption?

SAVOY: Yeah, I think it absolutely shows that Ukraine remains committed to this fight around anti-corruption. I think, you know, timing is probably somewhat coincidental, as this is, I think, part of a much broader investigation that's been ongoing for some time. But of course, the optics of it play quite well with EU folks arriving today. And the U.S. inspector generals from DOD, USAID and State were just there the other day as well. So I think it really underscores that this government, that Zelenskyy's government, remains committed to fighting corruption.

FADEL: Now, Ukraine has a troubled history with corruption. And there are questions. Ukraine has gotten billions of dollars of needed assistance, weapons and otherwise from the U.S. Should the U.S. government and other allies be worried that this kind of aid could end up in the wrong hands and pockets?

SAVOY: I think it's clear that there's - you know, Ukraine has had a long history with corruption since independence.

FADEL: Yeah.

SAVOY: However, I think that we should have a high level of confidence that the assistance we're providing - both weapons, humanitarian, economic aid - is safe. There's been nothing to suggest, certainly since 2014, since the revolution of dignity, the Maidan revolution, that there's been any corruption associated with the significant volumes of aid that we've provided. We have a lot of safeguards in place. The Europeans have a lot of safeguards in place.

I think, you know, what we do want to underscore is, to the Ukrainian government, that we do need to have a full accounting of where all this money is going. And that's, you know, the IGs - the inspector generals - were there, I think, really, to deliver that message. And I think the Ukrainian government understands that. They get it. This is their lifeline. And it's keeping them in the fight against Russia right now.

FADEL: Now, it sounds like what you're saying is this is a really good step in the right direction when it comes to fighting corruption in Ukraine. But I'm assuming this isn't solving it. Where do you think most significant reforms are needed?

SAVOY: Yeah. No. This is a - I mean, I think this is a positive. You're absolutely right. But there's still a lot that needs to be done. Look; I think you sort of have two systems in Ukraine right now. You have a legacy system from the immediate post-war years that is dominated by oligarchs, vested interest, corruption. You have another sort of emergent system that's more Western-leaning, that's young, that's innovative, that's, you know, tech-focused. Those people want to see action on corruption. The former, you know, they continue, though, to hold a lot of the levers of power.

And we need to see more action in the judicial sector. We need to see more action sort of with transparency and accountability across the government. And again, they've taken a lot of good steps. But, you know, the judicial sector in particular remains very prone to corruption, to elite capture. Independent media still remains a challenge in the country. There are some great sources right now. But, you know, in the runup to the war, you still saw a lot of oligarchs execute influence through their - through media holdings and things like that. So there is still much to be done in Ukraine.

FADEL: Conor Savoy, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Thank you so much for your time.

SAVOY: Thank you. It's been great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.