Ukraine’s recovery will require billions of dollars – so leaders pledging reconstruction funds need to ensure Ukraine’s anti-corruption defences are up to the task.

Gretta Fenner, Managing Director, Basel Institute on Governance and Andrii Borovyk, Executive Director, TI Ukraine

The ongoing Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is causing unspeakable human tragedy. In addition, it is destroying the country’s economy and essential infrastructure. Rebuilding these won’t bring back those who died under Russian bombardments, but it will be critical for Ukraine’s recovery. And it is critical for Europe and the world; the war has only too dramatically illustrated how vulnerable and inter-dependent we all are.

On July 4 and 5 in Lugano, Switzerland, the Ukraine Recovery Conference will see leaders from around the world pledge hopefully billions to finance this recovery. It is estimated that up to USD 1 trillion will be needed, a sum likely to increase as the war wages on.

We applaud this and hope that these will not remain pledges, but that the urgently needed funds will be made available swiftly and generously. But in our recommendations to those leaders, we stress that where there is money, there is temptation. We highlight the need to prioritise the leadership selection process of Ukraine’s formidable anti-corruption institutions, including courts, use transparent procurement systems for reconstruction efforts, and strengthen the asset recovery systems so that they can help fuel the reconstruction efforts.

Andrii and Gretta on the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano

Every reconstruction effort brings with it massive corruption potential. In this regard, Ukraine will be no different from any other country which has seen a massive influx of funds as a result of natural disaster or war. Think Afghanistan, think Iraq, think the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Anti-corruption has been high on Ukraine’s political agenda before the war. But even with significant reforms since 2014, the country is far from ready to withstand the inevitable attack by kleptocrats, organised criminal groups and corrupt officials at all levels who see a golden opportunity in Ukraine’s tragedy.

Long before the Kremlin decided to invade Ukraine, it had been waging another war in Ukraine. This war pits the rule of law against the kleptocratic Soviet past which the Kremlin today wholeheartedly embraces as a vision for its present and future. Well aware that its legitimacy quickly crumbles when other countries with similar history make moves in the opposite direction, it has invented the Kremlin playbook to stop any such attempt in its tracks.

With the help of willing local enablers, it exports corruption to infiltrate the target countries’ governance, to deprive them of their resources and to destabilise their social fabric. Ultimately it destroys their statehood to the extent that in some of them, it is today those Russian sponsored kleptocratic enablers who are in charge; elected governments are kept around for a thin veneer of legitimacy.

Ukraine needs military support to fight back the Russian aggression, save its people and regain its territorial integrity. But Ukraine also needs anti-corruption weapons so that it can fight the kleptocratic Kremlin in this parallel war. If corruption is allowed to go unchecked, Ukraine’s reconstruction would hand a massive victory to those who benefit from this subversive kleptocratic war.

Talking about corruption is never pleasant. Admitting that a country has corruption risks makes many squirm. But if we want to truly honour the heroic Ukrainian people and their sacrifices, corruption must be squarely at the centre of planning and implementation of recovery.

We urge world leaders to keep in mind these recommendations. Because if we don’t, then we allow the Kremlin to destroy Ukraine not once, but twice. And because nothing would undermine the Kleptocratic Kremlin more than a Ukraine that is able to rise from the ashes with integrity.

If corruption is allowed to go unchecked, Ukraine’s reconstruction would hand a massive victory to those who benefit from this subversive kleptocratic war.