Many years from now, in a different Ukraine, the current decade will be remembered for brazen and cynical corruption.
Sure, the 1990s and the early 2000s were plagued by corruption, too. But it is one thing to rig the privatization of a factory. It’s a different one to steal defense money from a nation at war with a much stronger enemy, when the very existence of the nation is at stake.
And yet that is exactly what has been happening over the past four years, ever since Russia started its war against Ukraine.
Every week there is a report about a shady deal, in which some defense item is bought at an inflated price or sold for a ridiculously low price. Offshore intermediaries, suspicious firms and kickbacks are invariably part of the story.
But investigations into these deals go nowhere, for a simple reason — they are shrouded by secrecy under the name of "national security."
While the rest of state procurement can be monitored by the public, most defense purchases cannot. The government decides which defense purchases are secret.
The absurdity was highlighted again this week when a top news weekly, Novoye Vremya, came under fire for publishing a story accusing Ukraine’s officials of buying old armored vehicles at inflated prices. The magazine learned about the deal from documents it received from a source involved in the sale. The state defense holding behind the purchase, UkrOboronProm, slammed the story as a lie, citing inaccuracies.
The problem is there is no way this can be checked, and they know it. The contracts are secret. UkrOboronProm can say whatever it wants.
Meanwhile, the country keeps increasing its defense budget: In 2018, it will be 6 percent of GDP or $6 billion. Taxpayers have no way to know how the state spends their money. Absurd? Yes. But wait for it: it may become even worse. Serhiy Pashinskiy, head of parliament’s defense and security committee, whom Novoye Vremya named as a benefactor of the contract and who has been linked to other suspicious deals, wants to make it a crime to publish incorrect information about the country’s defense sector. It’s blatant censorship with a single purpose: allow even more secrecy that allows corruption to flourish.
He will fail. We remember then-lawmaker Vitaly Zhuravskiy's push for a draconian libel law back in 2012. Ukraine’s top media united against it. The Kyiv Post and others published a blank cover in protest. We won.
But the fact that Pashinskiy wants to stop journalists from writing about defense corruption tells us something very wrong is going on. This must stop. Excessive secrecy harms, not helps, the nation's defense.