Ukrainian Double-Dealing Made Clear as U.S. Considers Billions More in Aid
“It really is disgusting,” Rep. Eli Crane told TAC. “That money would have gone a long way here at home to provide for the American people.”
As President Joe Biden and Senate leadership from both parties scramble to find a compromise that will enable Congress to pass tens of billions more in aid to Ukraine, officials of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry are being charged in a conspiracy to embezzle war funds.
The SBU, Ukraine’s security service, announced that the officials were conspiring with employees from a Ukrainian weapons company in an attempt to pocket nearly $40 million earmarked to purchase 100,000 mortar shells as Ukraine struggles to carry on its war with Russia.
Five people have been charged and could each face up to twelve years in prison, the SBU claimed on Saturday. Another individual was detained while apparently trying to flee the country. The investigation is connected to events that began only a few months after the war’s outbreak.
“It really is disgusting,” Rep. Eli Crane of Arizona told TAC in a written statement about America’s willingness to turn a blind eye to Ukrainian corruption. “That money would have gone a long way here at home to provide for the American people–who those funds really belong to. When the Uniparty shipped $113 billion American tax dollars over to a country whose leader dissolved rival political parties and aims to suspend national elections, did they really expect a full and clean accounting?”
In August 2022, defense ministry officials signed a contract with Lviv Arsenal for $39.6 million worth of artillery shells. Once the Ukrainian government paid Lviv Arsenal, company employees were supposed to transfer the funds to another business, registered abroad, that would deliver Ukraine the ordered artillery shells. But the money never made it to the foreign firm. Instead, the funds wound up in several bank accounts scattered across Ukraine and the Balkans.
The embezzled funds were seized by investigators and have been returned to Ukraine’s defense ministry, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
In a phone interview with The American Conservative, Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana sarcastically said he was “shocked” by the reports. “Just a few years ago, the only thing that we knew about Ukraine was that it was the most corrupt country that anyone had ever heard of. Ukraine was a laundromat to clean dirty money for dirty politicians, beginning with Hunter Biden for Pete’s sake,” Rosendale continued. “To even try to believe and hope that maybe the funding is being managed better now than it was previously is laughable.”
“I’m not sure which is worse: U.S. tax dollars being embezzled in one of the world’s most corrupt countries, or that those funds were supposed to be spent furthering a potential nuclear conflict with no end in sight,” Crane said.
“Clearly, the money designated for Ukraine isn’t going where it was supposed to and America has no real oversight of the over $100 billion that has gone out the door,” Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said in a written statement to TAC. “That is why my Freedom [Caucus] colleagues and I have been calling for a full audit of funds for Ukraine and I don’t support providing them with another penny. Instead, we should worry about securing our own borders. America first.”
“Sadly, this one instance of fraud is likely just the tip of the iceberg,” Crane wrote.
The Arizona Congressman would be correct. This case of embezzlement is just the latest blow to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who wooed voters in 2019 with his anti-corruption platform but has struggled to tamp down on Ukraine’s historic and rampant corruption—especially since the outbreak of the war.
Contract embezzlement, the likes of which defense ministry officials and Lviv Arsenal employees were caught engaging in, is one of the chief sources of corruption in wartime Ukraine. At one point in 2023, the New York Times reported approximately $980 million worth of weapons contracts had missed their delivery dates. The Ukrainian Parliament noted that some of the cash to pay for the weapons had simply vanished—often into accounts of troublesome weapons dealers.
Furthermore, Ukrainian outlets have reported that the Ukrainian military has regularly overpaid for basic goods and supplies. In one case, two Defense Ministry officials—a deputy minister and the chief of procurement—were arrested for purchasing overpriced eggs.
In August 2023, Zelensky fired all 24 of the Ukrainian military’s regional recruitment chiefs because of rampant bribery and corruption. “The system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery during war is treason,” Zelensky said in a video posted to social media explaining his decision.
From February 2022 to August 2023, Ukrainian government prosecutors had opened up more than 100 cases against nearly three dozen recruitment officials. Several have been found guilty of accepting bribes to let Ukrainian men avoid being drafted and sent to the front. In one case, two recruitment officers were accused of falsifying documents that labeled men unfit for military service in exchange for cash—as much as $10,000.
In June 2023, Ukrainska Pravda reported that Yehor Smirnov, a military enlistment officer from southern Odessa, blew millions on real estate in a coastal region of Spain and luxury cars. Smirnov was sent to the front for his crimes.
Nevertheless, the Senate side of the Capitol complex continues to go round and round on an immigration deal (that’s likely dead on arrival in the House) that aims to free up over $100 billion in supplemental funding for a number of causes. The bulk of that supplemental funding, about $60 billion, is intended to aid Ukraine.
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“Trying to tie our southern border security funding to Ukraine funding to Israel funding to disaster relief funding in Hawaii through a supplemental is an enormous mistake,” Rosendale told TAC. Rosendale has introduced legislation in the House that would prevent further funding for Ukraine until the U.S. regains operational control over its southern border.
Congress must “use the power of the purse strings,” Rosendale said. “Do not send that money to Ukraine. Let’s start having conversations or encouraging [Ukraine] to have conversations with Russia to come to some kind of a peace accord.”
That is part of the reason Rosendale has endorsed former President Donald Trump and believes Trump will win a second term. “When he gets into office, we’re going to stop funding these wars, we’re going to stop sending American weapons there, and we’re going to force the parties to the table to have the very conversations that I was talking about.”