Skip to main content

How the West Is Helping Ukraine with Anti-Corruption Reforms

Image: Mark Temnycky

Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s ongoing war is running in parallel with another struggle at home, the fight against corruption.

Since the initial Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian authorities have been busy reforming their government to meet Western standards. The official process began when former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko signed an Association Agreement with the European Union according to which the Eastern European state would “pursue economic, judicial, and financial reforms.” Ukraine even rewrote its constitution to specify a westward orientation for the country and a desire to join Western institutions and organizations.

Ukrainians have seen many successes since this dramatic shift in their government. In 2017, in acknowledgment of Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts, the European Commission granted Ukrainians visa-free travel to the EU. Continued reforms implemented during the Poroshenko administration and then during the administration of the current Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, saw Ukraine granted EU candidate status in 2022. Most recently, the EU opened accession talks with Ukraine in December 2023. 

The reform efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2013, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranked Ukraine 144 out of 175 places. A decade later, in 2023, Ukraine had jumped to 104 out of 180 places. There is still much to be done, such as addressing corruption in Ukraine’s judiciary, improving law enforcement, and promoting transparency within the government. But recent developments show that there has been significant progress. In fact, Ukrainian and European authorities recently announced that they will be addressing official EU membership talks this June.

Ukraine has made great strides in its reform efforts. It has been helped on this journey in different ways by the EU and the United States.

How the EU Has Helped

After Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity of November 2013–February 2014, which saw Ukrainian society commit to a future unification with the West, the EU established an Advisory Mission in Ukraine. At the time, the Ukrainian government requested that EU authorities and dignitaries help assist with anti-corruption reforms. This European body was then tasked with advising the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ukraine’s national police force.

Throughout this process, the EU’s Advisory Mission in Ukraine worked closely with the European Commission and the EU’s delegation to Ukraine to harmonize “Ukrainian practices with European standards.” For example, the organization has advised the Ukrainian government on how to strengthen the security sector. This was most noticeable during the development of Ukraine’s Law on National Security in 2018, which established an oversight committee for special-purpose law enforcement.

The EU’s Advisory Mission in Ukraine also created training programs for law enforcement. This initiative helps policemen and women become more knowledgeable in strategic communication and the investigation of crimes, and promotes psychological support for law enforcement personnel.

In addition to security reforms and improvements to Ukraine’s law enforcement, the EU has worked with Ukrainian authorities to improve their institutions. Through the U-LEAD program, EU officials have helped increase the capacity of local and regional governments. These efforts have allowed elected officials to provide quality services to Ukrainian citizens by providing them with political and financial support.

How the United States Has Helped

The United States has also assisted Ukraine with its anti-corruption efforts. One example is through e-governance. In an effort to promote transparency in the government, the Ukrainian government, in collaboration with the United States, introduced a platform, known as Diia, that allows Ukrainian citizens to access numerous government programs online. Ukrainians can use the Diia portal for everything “from applying for benefits and government programs to paying taxes, accessing important documents, registering and running businesses, and providing identification and digital signatures.” These capabilities are especially important for displaced citizens and those in conflict-affected territories.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) stated that this platform had become a “gold standard in e-governance.” The Ukrainian government posts its activities, decisions, and certain documents on Diia, and this allows Ukrainians to easily track their government’s activities in the system. In this way, the platform encourages engagement between the government and the people through a transparent and easy-to-use program. 

Another area where the United States is assisting Ukraine is in public sector reform. For example, USAID is promoting integrity in Ukraine’s public sector by reducing “corruption incidence and risks.” This has helped strengthen Ukraine’s anti-corruption institutions at the national level and improve compliance in government at the local level, and has promoted transparency and accountability through resilience, recovery, and reconstruction efforts. In addition, USAID is working on an initiative with the U.S. Government Accountability Office to assist the Accounting Chamber of Ukraine conduct state budgetary audits according to international standards.

Ukraine’s Ongoing Efforts

These are just some of the efforts the EU and the United States are pursuing to help the Ukrainian government reach Western standards. The anti-corruption efforts have not been easy, and it has taken time for Ukraine to put in place significant institutional changes. Nonetheless, Ukrainian officials have worked hard to ensure that state and local agencies have implemented the necessary reforms so that one day, Ukraine can become a full member of the EU. Ukraine’s progress in fighting corruption has been recognized by both Transparency International and EU officials.

Now, as Ukrainian authorities prepare for their meeting with EU dignitaries this June to continue the discussion about EU accession, they will know that their country is on the right track to becoming part of this organization. EU membership should improve the standard of living throughout Ukraine, provide greater economic and job opportunities for Ukrainians, and enhance their well-being.

Ukrainians know they still have much work to do to ensure that their institutions meet the standards set by the EU and the United States. Continued cooperation and a desire to improve and change will ensure that the country meets these requirements.

The opinions expressed in this article are those solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute.

About the Author

Image: Mark Temnycky

Mark Temnycky

Freelance Journalist
Read More

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more