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Leonid Bershidsky

Ukraine’s Wave of Graft Scandals Is a Healthy Sign

Despite harrowing circumstances, its independent-minded press is still doing its best to keep officials under a magnifying glass. That’s not happening in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

As long as the press also keeps digging, don’t worry. 

As long as the press also keeps digging, don’t worry. 

Photographer: Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP via Getty Images

The sudden proliferation of corruption scandals in war-torn Ukraine is not unexpected after almost a year at war. It must, however, be viewed in context — namely the complete absence of any such revelations in Ukraine’s would-be conqueror, Russia. Against this background, the scandals are actually a sign of remarkable robustness in a country that only survives thanks to a heroic military and Western life support.

Last weekend, the well-known investigative journalist Yury Nikolov published a Defense Ministry procurement contract for purchasing food for the military at prices 50% and more above retail levels. The Defense Ministry denied wrongdoing but didn’t really dispute the specifics of Nikolov’s reporting. Since Russia invaded last February, the ministry’s procurement has been classified and thus not visible in Ukraine’s cutting edge Prozorro public tender system; ministry officials have refused to respond to legislators’ questions about contracts until the war is over. Nikolov’s demand for a return to prewar transparency likely will fall on deaf ears because of the difficult tradeoff between keeping civil society informed and giving the enemy too much information. But President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won election on anti-corruption promises, cannot be accused of ignoring wartime corruption and profiteering.