Canadian foreign minister praises Ukrainian government’s anti-corruption drive

OTTAWA – Canada’s foreign affairs minister ended a two-day visit to Ukraine on Thursday with praise for President Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent crackdown on government corruption alongside a promise of money to help strengthen accountability in the country.

Zelenskyy’s government is grappling with a corruption scandal that has claimed the jobs of several senior government officials, including inside the country’s defence ministry.

Corruption is not a new phenomenon to Ukraine, with Zelenskyy having come to power in 2019 under a promise to root it out. But this scandal has emerged as Canada and its allies channel billions of dollars aid into the country to help fight Russia’s invasion.

Exactly how far the scandal will reach remains unknown. There had been reports this week that Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov would be fired. While he wasn’t, several of his deputies were sacked.

The allegations are wide-ranging, including kickbacks for the purchase of food for Ukraine’s armed forces, the personal use of luxury cars and the embezzlement of more than $7 million U.S. in humanitarian aid.

Joly did not immediately mention the corruption scandal as she announced Canada’s plans to provide funding for a range of seemingly unrelated accountability mechanisms, but which could help in the grand scheme of things.

The money included millions to help Ukrainian police investigate and prosecute victims of sexual crimes, including those perpetrated by Russian forces during their yearlong invasion.

The minister also pledged money to strengthen local media outlets and NGOs, with a particular focus on reporting from the frontlines of the war, which will mark its one-year anniversary next week.

But Joly later emphasized the importance of fighting corruption in Ukraine at the same time as the country’s military is fighting Russian forces, before praising the Zelenskyy government’s “swift action” on the issue.

“We are also very pleased with the fact that while they are focused on defending their sovereignty and territorial integrity, that they’re able to continue these democratic reforms and do this crackdown on corruption,” she said in a call from Poland.

“Because it is in line with what they’re fighting for on the battlefield, and what Western countries including Canada are also asking for.”

The minister said she expressed that position in meetings with Zelenskyy and senior officials, including Ukraine’s prosecutor general and Internal Affairs Minister Ihor Klymenko, who oversees the country’s police forces.

As Ukrainians fight Russia on the battlefield for the right to live in a free democracy, it is important “that the values underpinning democracy are protected,” she said.

Ukrainians and Canadians aren’t the only ones watching closely. In Washington, the House Armed Services Committee is planning to hold monthly classified briefings for lawmakers to detail, dollar by dollar, how the U.S. security aid is being allocated.

Even as Ukraine faces the prospects of added oversight, Joly said Canada is pushing other allies on providing more battle tanks and other heavy weaponry to help Ukrainian forces beat their Russian adversaries.

Canada pledged four German-made Leopard 2 tanks last month, all of which have since been flown to Europe. But while the U.S. and some European allies have followed suit, the overall commitment from European countries has not been as expected.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorious was quoted on the sidelines of a NATO summit this week as expressing frustration about the pace of the commitments, after his government approved the provision of Leopard 2s by countries that own them.

“We’re very proud to be the first country to have sent tanks because we believe that they will have an impact on the battlefield,” Joly said. “And I hope that many other European countries will be able to send their own heavy artillery very soon.”

Ottawa tried to keep Joly’s visit under wraps for security reasons, but Zelenskyy posted a video Tuesday of his meeting with the Canadian foreign minister. The visit is her second since Russia’s invasion nearly one year ago.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2023.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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