Ukraine’s President Denounces ‘Abuse’ at Military Recruitment Centres

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Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, decried “revolting” practices exposed during an audit of the country’s military recruitment centers on Thursday and pledged to fix the system by placing people who understood the meaning of war in charge. The satirist and actor came to power in 2019 as the winner of a highly unconventional election, defeating the incumbent pro-EU and NATO politician Petro Poroshenko in a sign that voters were fed up with the country’s oligarchic economy and sluggish political establishment. Voters entrusted him to achieve three goals: peace in the Donetsk region, economic betterment for Ukrainians, and a noncorrupt government.

Many in Ukraine’s Western-leaning elites viewed the election of Zelensky with distrust and skepticism. They thought his program was too vague and that he lacked the experience to implement it. They were also unsure what he would do in practice once he had control of the executive branch and parliament. Zelensky is a businessman and showman rather than a professional politician, having never held office. But the brave response of Ukrainians to Russia’s invasion in February 2022 galvanized support for Zelensky and his anti-establishment platform.

Zelensky has clarified that he intends to tackle corruption in Ukraine’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including the prosecutor general’s office and the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine). The president has already fired several high-level officials and pledged to reform these institutions, which have long been plagued by graft, political interference, and underperforming personnel.

One way to help depoliticize the SBU, which is responsible for fighting smuggling and human trafficking, would be to limit the president’s authority to appoint senior officers and regional directors and make it more transparent by creating an independent commission that oversees their nominations. This could include a more rigorous set of requirements for qualifications and expertise and a more stringent and formal process for internal performance assessment and promotion.

It’s also essential to remove the perception of personal gain from high-level SBU appointments. While it’s not easy to do, reducing the influence of directors and commanders who have a personal interest in procuring wartime supplies or other favors from the president should help improve the service’s efficiency and morale. This should be written into a new law on the SBU and reflected in the appointment of its chief, who currently has broad discretion to select candidates and is not bound by any commission or disciplinary process. A centralized database of officials’ assets and holdings should also be created to help prevent them from moving between offices, which has been a primary source of corruption in the service.

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