Corruption in Afghanistan offers lessons for billions going to Ukraine (2024)

WASHINGTON — Just last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired all two dozen regional military recruiters. Investigators found they were coming up with bogus documents to show a potential recruit was unfit for military duty. The price? $10,000 each.

And a few days later, the New York Times reported that a Ukrainian weapons dealer was inflating prices. This follows the dismissal of the chair of Ukraine's Supreme Court in May after being accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes. And before that Zelenskyy removed six deputy ministers and five regional administrators on charges of – you guessed it – corruption.

That's not all. Last fall, the U.S. Agency for International Development's Dekleptification Guide reported that costs for large-scale state construction projects in Ukraine are inflated by 30 percent, including 10 percent kickbacks for government officials and their friends.

None of this comes as a surprise to Transparency International, which tracks corruption in government. It lists Ukraine as the second most corrupt state in Europe — after Russia.

Battling corruption

Zelenskyy and his aides say they are trying to turn things around, and point to their swift action against corrupt officials. But now there are calls in Congress to appoint a U.S. special inspector general for Ukraine, much like it did for Afghanistan.

Lawmakers point to both corruption and the scale of U.S. military, financial and humanitarian aid – which now stands at some $113 billion. And the Biden Administration has asked Congress for another $20 billion. The House-passed defense authorization bill calls for the creation of a inspector general for Ukraine; the Senate measure does not. That means the issue will be worked out in a conference committee.

NPR sat down with the current Inspector General for Afghanistan, John Sopko who just published his 60th quarterly report that includes lessons learned – for Ukraine.

One problem, he says, is the volume of money.

"Well, we tend to throw a lot of money at a problem and we ignore the fact that you overwhelm a country," Sopko says. "Now, in this case, in Ukraine, we're spending a lot of money on weaponry. And this isn't a bad thing. It needs to be done. But the warning bell is if you if you send too much money too fast and you don't have enough oversight, you're going to have wastage and other problems."

And of course another lesson for Ukraine, he says, is well known.

"The other issue is the corruption issue. That was something that was endemic in Afghanistan and it is endemic in Ukraine," he says. "Now, the good news is that the president of Ukraine and a number of people around him are trying to do something about the corruption. But it is problematic. We had warlords and oligarchs in Afghanistan. You got oligarchs in Ukraine right now. And so that's a big problem."

Sopko says besides the huge flow of money and the history of corruption, there are large numbers of people trying to help.

"The other big lesson to be learned is we approach these problems with what we call a whole of government approach," Sopko says. "That means we have multiple agencies. I think we have over 17 different agencies currently U.S. alone, currently operating in Ukraine. There are like 30 some countries operating in Ukraine. A number of international organizations. So you got the EU, you got all the EU countries. That is overwhelmingly confusing and it needs to be coordinated."

Sopko says it's not only important to coordinate, keep an eye on the money and how it's spent. But you can't do it from Washington, or London or Berlin or even Poland next door.

"We need people on the ground," Sopko says. "You cannot do oversight remotely. I don't care what people tell you. You cannot do it. Trust me. I've been doing this for almost 50 years."

Still, that could pose problems for investigators in a war zone where there are no U.S. military "boots on ground," like the American forces who assisted Sopko and his investigators as they traveled around Afghanistan. Ukraine, with its vast front-line, Russian air and missile strikes is far more hazardous.

A question of oversight

Sopko says there are now three U.S. inspectors general in Ukraine. One for the Pentagon, another for the State Department and still another for USAID. Each is looking at their own department.

That's why the White House opposes a special inspector general for Ukraine, saying in a statement last month there are "multiple investigations regarding every aspect of (U.S.) assistance."

"I mean, my experience is the more the merrier," Sopko says. "A special IG has jurisdiction to look at the whole of the government in the whole of governments. That's how they set up when special IGs are created. They can look at all agencies, any U.S. government agency operating in the country or the area of authority."

Looking back on Afghanistan and his work since 2012, was it successful?

"Well, those people we indicted got convicted," he said. "Those people who committed fraud that we could find, we punished them. Did it fail? Well, I didn't do the war fighting. We gave them the facts of what the problems were. You know, I can't do anything more than that. And no IG can do that. Our job is to present the facts and make recommendations on how to improve things."

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Corruption in Afghanistan offers lessons for billions going to Ukraine (2024)


What is Afghanistan ranked in corruption? ›

Transparency International's 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks the country in 162nd place out of 180 countries. The 180 countries of the Index are scored on a scale from 0 ("highly corrupt") to 100 ("very clean") according to the perceived corruption in the public sector, and then ranked by their score.

Why does Ukraine have a reputation for corruption? ›

The modern period of Ukrainian corruption can be traced back to the integration of individuals linked to Soviet organised crime into the nomenklatura (Soviet, including Ukrainian, ruling elite) in the 1980s. After achieving independence, Ukraine faced a period of rather violent corruption in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Where does Ukraine rank in corruption? ›

Scoring 180 countries around the world, the Corruption Perceptions Index is the leading global indicator of public sector corruption. Ukraine has a score of 36 this year, with a change of 3 since last year, meaning it ranks 104 out of 180 countries.

Who is the special inspector general for Ukraine reconstruction? ›

The Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General announced on Saturday that Robert Storch would be the Lead IG overseeing aid to Ukraine.

Which country has most corruption in the world? ›

According to U.S. News' 2023 Best Countries rankings, Russia is perceived as the world's most corrupt country. The overall Best Countries analysis is based on a survey of more than 17,000 people across the globe, and assessed perceptions of 87 countries using 73 different attributes.

Why Afghanistan is the poorest country in the world? ›

Decades of conflicts and climate change have not only shattered infrastructure but also forced millions to flee their homes. The relentless cycle of droughts and natural disasters is further exacerbated by soaring food prices and a significant lack of income opportunities for countless people who cannot access work.

What are the least corrupt countries in the world? ›

Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Sweden are perceived as the least corrupt nations in the world, ranking consistently high among international financial transparency, while the most apparently corrupt are Syria, South Sudan, and Venezuela (scoring 13), as well as Somalia (scoring 11).

What is the corruption scandal in Ukraine? ›

Ukraine says corrupt officials stole $40 million meant to buy arms for the war with Russia. Authorities say five people have been charged, with one person detained while trying to cross the border. If found guilty, they face up to 12 years in prison.

How much money has the US sent to Ukraine? ›

A3: With the latest supplemental, the United States has committed $175 billion in economic, humanitarian, and military aid as a result of the war. Most of the funding for Ukraine has come from five emergency supplemental bills passed, though the regular appropriations have included some money.

What is the US ranked in corruption? ›

When ranked by score, the United States ranked 24th among the 180 countries in the Index in both years. For comparison with worldwide scores, the best score on the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index was 90 (ranked 1), the average score was 43, and the worst score was 11 (ranked 180).

How deep does corruption run in Ukraine? ›

According to the most widely cited source—the annual ranking of corruption by Transparency International (TI)—Ukraine has scored poorly for decades. As late as 2016, amid major anti-corruption reforms, TI's survey still judged Ukraine to be as corrupt as Russia.

What is the corruption index in Israel? ›

Transparency International's 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index, which scored 180 countries on a scale from 0 ("highly corrupt") to 100 ("very clean"), gave Israel a score of 62.

Who trained Ukrainian special forces? ›

Following Russia's 2014 invasion, the US military created the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, which brought conventional and special-operations troops from across NATO to train Ukraine's military in modern war-fighting methods.

What was the CIA operation in Ukraine? ›

Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drones and communications gear so that C.I.A. technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow's encryption systems.

What is the name of the Ukrainian Secret Service? ›

The Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) (Sluzhba Bespeky Ukrayiny (SBU)), which encompasses law enforcement and intelligence functions, is the authority responsible for ensuring the state security of Ukraine.

What is the rank of Afghanistan in the world economy? ›

The economy of Afghanistan is listed as the 147th largest in the world in terms of nominal gross domestic product (GDP), and 127th largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP).

What is Afghanistan ranked by area in the world? ›

Afghanistan is a landlocked mountainous country located on the Iranian Plateau, at the crossroads of Central Asia and South Asia. The country is the 40th largest in the world in size.

What is the money ranking of Afghanistan? ›

While the Afghani has experienced a substantial 14 per cent increase in value over the year, it ranks third on the global list, trailing behind the currencies of Colombia and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan is largely isolated from the global financial system due to international sanctions.

Is Afghanistan poorer than Somalia? ›

The country remains among the poorest in the world. The latest World Bank data suggests that only six countries worldwide - among them Burundi, Somalia, and Sierra Leone - have a lower GDP per head (roughly speaking the value of a country's economy divided by its population) than Afghanistan.


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