Likely Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives poses a potential obstacle for support to Ukraine. Key members of the potential incoming House caucus and outside influencers have suggested resistance to further aid. That is not only a challenge but also an opportunity. As much help as possible should be secured for Ukraine in the coming lame duck session. And from the president on down, all who support Ukraine should use the moment to do something that is difficult but necessary for many reasons, including to sway skeptics in the long-term – that is, Ukraine’s advocates should insist it prioritize anti-corruption.
The need to back Ukraine in its war against Russia – in order to uphold a rules-based world order that delivers freedom, peace, and prosperity rather than rivalry, war, and subjugation by Moscow and Beijing – is well-understood by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Mike Pence, and still about half of Republican survey respondents. But support for Ukraine among Republicans has fallen over the past eight months, likely for partisan reasons, as President Joe Biden’s success in rallying the world to help defend Ukraine is increasingly seen as his top foreign policy accomplishment.
In May, 57 House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package to Ukraine, and many others said this was the last time they would vote in favor. While Democratic support should help ensure that a majority of votes on the House floor continue to favor assistance, Republicans will probably be led by Kevin McCarthy. He recently warned that House Republicans are “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.” Influential outside GOP voices such as the Fox commentator Tucker Carlson have been even more hostile.
That means that the lame duck congressional session coming up will be a crucial time for Biden and the Democratic majority to secure significant long-term funding for Ukraine. Some in Congress are already considering including some $50 billion for Ukraine in an omnibus spending bill, which is enough to ensure Ukraine can get through the next year with funding levels in the same order of magnitude as the $65 billion Congress has allocated since February. In our view, Congress should double this contemplated amount, giving Ukraine $100 billion to survive on through the entire two-year House term.
Security aid should not have strings attached in the form of policy conditions to be undertaken by the Ukrainian government. But such an enormous appropriation of taxpayer resources should come with the designation of an inspector general, potentially modeled after the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Senator Rand Paul tried and failed to attach that requirement to the $40 billion package in May, but he shared his views on Ukraine oversight in a closed-door meeting with House lawmakers, presenting the likelihood that this will become an important initiative under Republican House control. The Republican lawmaker expected to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul of Texas, supports Ukraine, but also says he will lead the effort for “more oversight and accountability in terms of the funding and where the money is going.” If Biden and Democrats create the inspector general now, that should reduce the chance of the security aid being mischaracterized by House Republicans as fueling corruption and the risk of spoiling the well for future bipartisan support for Ukraine’s other needs, such as money for reconstruction.
Post-War Reconstruction Aid
When it comes to funding the post-war reconstruction of Ukraine, attaching policy conditions will be essential, starting with anti-corruption reforms. Just one or two major corruption scandals in Ukraine could harm bipartisan U.S. support for Ukraine. And beyond the need to protect Western taxpayers, anti-corruption is key to protecting the national sovereignty that Ukrainians are sacrificing so much to maintain. That’s because, for as long as Putin has ruled Russia, he has tried to subvert Ukrainian democracy by bankrolling pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine and controlling media outlets there through his favored oligarchs.
Ukrainian anti-corruption reforms since 2014 have been making that harder, according to a case study published by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Ukraine has built the most transparent political-economic system anywhere, featuring the world’s first public beneficial ownership registry, most transparent public procurement system, most well-enforced and comprehensive asset declarations, first public database of politically exposed persons, and other innovative digital disclosure systems. Cases of grand corruption fall under the jurisdiction of a set of specialized anti-corruption bodies dedicated to investigation, prosecution, high court, and asset recovery. However, three of these new specialized institutions, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), currently lack permanent leadership. Other important areas of the state remain unreformed, such as the ordinary judicial system all the way up to the constitutional court.
While reform momentum generally made lackluster progress under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, his administration took a particularly useful anti-corruption step just a couple of weeks after Biden was inaugurated, when it sanctioned the close associates of Putin’s top oligarch in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, as well as forcing his pro-Russian news channels off the air, and seizing assets owned by his family. It may be no coincidence that, two days later, the Russian Defense Ministry began a massive deployment of soldiers to Ukraine’s borders as an alternative means to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty now that Kyiv was blocking strategic corruption.
Ironically, the Russian forces that ultimately waged the full-scale invasion in February have become bogged down in large part because of corruption that hollowed out their supply chains, undercut intelligence activity, and sapped morale. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, fight with confidence that they are defending the modern democracy they have been building over the past eight years. That social cohesion will be key to using post-war recovery as an opportunity to rebuild a European Ukraine free of its corrupt Soviet legacy.
A `Reverse’ Marshall Plan?
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Ukraine requires a modern Marshall Plan, like the program of U.S. assistance for the reconstruction of western Europe after World War II. We agree, except that it should be a reverse Marshall Plan that calls for broad international coordination: Instead of one country paying to rebuild many, the need now is for many to help one. Furthermore, whereas new aid agencies had to be built from the ground up for the original Marshall Plan, support for Ukraine should be channeled through existing international financial institutions, ranging from bilateral aid agencies to multilateral development banks. And rather than being run by governments and companies, civil society must be empowered to help shape and oversee the process from day one. Instead of countering communism and laying the foundation for the European Union, the current political need is to counter corruption and shore up Ukraine’s institutions to prepare it for EU membership.
As this year’s rotating leader of the Group of 7 industrialized nations (G7), Scholz hosted an international conference in Berlin on Oct. 25 on the topic of how to fund Ukraine’s recovery and reconstruction. He and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed on the need to create a coordination platform to align donors on matters such as how much funding is needed, which sectors to prioritize (agriculture, infrastructure, housing, energy, etc.), what Ukrainian policy reforms to require as conditions of funding, and how to provide effective governance oversight. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal asked for any coordination mechanism to be co-chaired by the United States, the EU, and Ukraine. Similar to a recommendation we made prior to the Berlin conference, Von der Leyen offered EU staff to convene the secretariat, which would help make recovery a pathway toward Ukraine’s EU accession. Von der Leyen said the platform “needs to get off the ground as soon as possible, preferably before the end of the year or early next year.” Scholz said he wants to launch it under the German G7 presidency, which ends on Dec. 31.
The end of 2022 is also the time by which Ukraine wants to implement seven preconditions for EU accession, so that it can negotiate its EU accession with Sweden, which takes over the rotating presidency of the European Council in January. The ripe timing for donors to push Ukraine to meet policy conditions also lines up with Ukraine’s hope to start a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) lending program by the first quarter of 2023.
Biden is an old pro at insisting Ukraine will not get billions in financial aid – separate from security assistance – unless its leaders take anti-corruption seriously. He famously once held up a $1 billion loan guarantee until the Ukrainian president fired the government’s top prosecutor for failure to pursue corruption cases. And that was just one ask in an extended process of offering, announcing, and completing a U.S. loan guarantee, often with additional conditions being required every step of the way. Biden should now advise Zelenskyy that the United States will not support either the launch of a recovery coordination platform or new IMF loans until the Ukrainian government satisfies the top three of the seven EU preconditions, all three of which relate to the rule of law: constitutional court reform, judicial governance reform, and leadership selection for NABU. Those are tough conditions, so if that means waiting a few months, so be it.
When the G7 does unveil a donor coordination platform, it should include an independent inspector general (IG) empowered to investigate international aid programs and share information among multilateral and national IGs. Each G7 country should also announce plans to establish independent IG, like our SIGAR-like recommendation for the United States to enact in the lame duck session. SIGAR warned about corruption in Afghanistan for years, but nobody listened, so the donor coordination platform must ensure that the work of these IGs is coordinated, heard, and used to inform conditionality.
With those strong steps, Kyiv and its international partners could go into a Republican-controlled House with positive momentum to ensure Ukraine has the military assistance it needs, even as it advances its anti-corruption reforms and moves toward EU accession.