Anti-corruption activist on recent government resignations — interview

Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Andriy Yermak
Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Andriy Yermak

Daria Kaleniuk, executive director at Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) NGO, spoke in an interview with NV Radio on June 10 about the resignation of Mustafa Nayyem, head of the State Agency for Infrastructure Restoration and Development, and the dismissal of Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Notably, both officials were gone by the time the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Berlin was about to open—Nayyem resigned on June 10, while Kubrakov was fired in early May. They were responsible for government bodies that would normally play a key role at the event in Berlin.

NV: How do you view the events that precipitated Nayyem’s resignation? It seems that after Kubrakov’s dismissal, Nayyem initially thought he could survive in this system?

Kaleniuk: There was no chance to survive in this system because Mustafa is considered an ally of Kubrakov’s. And now there’s some resentment by the president [Volodymyr Zelenskyy] and the so-called vice president [head of the President’s Office Andriy] Yermak against Kubrakov.

And one of the reasons why Kubrakov was really [dismissed] is the minister’s cooperation with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). In fact, Nayyem was also involved in this cooperation. The lawmakers approached both, offering a bribe related to a reconstruction project. They refused, documented the incident, quite rightly, together with the NABU. The latter initiated criminal proceedings against an MP.

But this incident was taken not as an example of how civil servants ought to fight corruption—turning to law enforcement whenever they are offered a bribe. No. This was taken as a betrayal of their own. That’s why I think Mustafa had no chance [to stay in office].

But our authorities could at least have enough foresight and statesmanship to send the head of the Restoration Agency, while he’s not yet fired, to the conference in Berlin, which the Agency itself has been preparing together with the German government for about a year. Our partners, in particular the Germans, had and still have great trust in the Restoration Agency, as well as in Kubrakov’s team in general.

The first blow for them came three weeks before the conference: the minister responsible was dismissed, without explanation, without grounds, without reasons. They expected a new minister to be appointed—a key person with whom the Germans and, in general, everyone who wants to invest in Ukraine’s reconstruction should interface. We still don’t have a new Infrastructure Minister; the bench in the President’s Office is empty.

And on the eve of the conference, the head [Nayyem] of the relevant Agency isn’t allowed to go on an official business trip to attend the event. In general, this is a kind of suicide of state administration in Ukraine, which will affect our foreign policy and undermine trust in Ukraine as a state that is able to implement complex projects, keep promises, guarantee transparency and accountability in the using donor funds. That is, we can no longer provide some very basic things in terms of governance that our partners expect.

Read also: Berlin conference behind Nayyem’s resignation

NV: Telegram channels close to the President’s Office are quite open about it all. They refer to Kubrakov and Nayyem as “rats.” What kind of new communication style is this, when those who try to fight corruption are fired, while Telegram channels close to the government say they are “surrendering their own”?

Kaleniuk: We can assume, from these anonymous Telegram channels, that unofficial, internal communication in the President’s Office is done using this kind of language. After all these anonymous Telegram channels are associated with the PO. According to our information, these Telegram channels are coordinated by Daria Zarivna, Yermak’s special adviser. And these Telegram channels use the kind of vocabulary that is apparently used in communication between our top officials, coordinated by Yermak.

But the people of Ukraine, your audience, must clearly understand the price of such unprofessionalism, rudeness, and short-sightedness in the administration, the price of Yermak and Zelenskyy’s personnel decisions. This is the ability of our state to generate billions of foreign funds for reconstruction. This is an opportunity to rebuild schools, hospitals, major infrastructure projects, as well as the ability to rebuild our power grid in the near future.

But now we have no clear path forward because we’ll be entering the winter without hope and without critical heating infrastructure. That is, there’s no guarantee that apartment buildings in major cities will have central heating, water, or sewage. Because Russia has bombed most of our flexible electricity generation capacity.

Plan B is to rebuild. This is a plan that should be developed by the Energy Ministry, and I have many questions about it. For example, where’s the ministry’s report? If the PM [Denys Shmyhal] wrote to Mustafa that “you must provide a report on the reconstruction project, and then you may go on a business trip.” This was presented as the official reason not to let Mustafa go to Berlin. In that case, I have a question: where’s the report from Energy Minister [Herman] Halushchenko? Where’s the plan to ensure Ukraine’s critical infrastructure is operational by winter? How will we get through the year? Not much is being done there at all.

The Restoration Agency has covered tasks neglected by the Energy Ministry for a long time. In other words, the administration and their Telegram channels, which are coordinated, most likely, by Zarivna, have no questions to the Energy Ministry, but they call those who tried to give results and build trust with the West “rats.”

To put it bluntly, money for major projects won’t be given to someone who isn’t trusted.

Read also: Energy crisis in Ukraine: Zelenskyy appeals for European support amid Russian devastation

NV: Back in July 2022, the total cost to restore Ukraine’s infrastructure was estimated at $750 billion. How much would it take to do that now?

Kaleniuk: We’ve definitely crossed the trillion [dollar] threshold. It will cost hundreds of billions to rebuild our critical infrastructure alone.

But the fact is that there’s no secret charitable bank in the world that we can take a few trillion from and pay for all our rebuilding needs. The only way to raise money, apart from compensation via [frozen] Russian assets—which we can discuss later—is private investment. This is an area where foreign businesses are ready to engage with Ukraine on reconstruction projects.

But any business will tell you, first of all, about security guarantees, physical security in general and Russia’s ability to strike ongoing construction at any moment. They need insurance from their governments: if they invest here, they’ll be paid back if their assets are destroyed. Additionally, they need guarantees that they won’t be hounded by local law enforcement agencies, that no one will solicit bribes, that everything will be transparent and accountable. These conditions used to be embodied by sensible officials, civil servants, professionals with a Western way of thinking in the Reconstruction Ministry and the Restoration Agency. That is no longer the case.

Deputy PM Yulia Svyrydenko will attend this conference. [Deputy Head of the President’s Office Rostyslav] Shurma will probably go, since he is a major figure from the administration supervising the economy and energy. What will they bring [to the conference], how will they be met? Unfortunately, no one will take Ukraine seriously at the conference now. There will be beautiful photos of Zelenskyy with [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz and Ursula [von der Leyen, President of the European Commission]. But everyone understands there’s no one to implement practical projects now. Trust in our state is now significantly diminished.

Read also: The ousters of top reconstruction officials undermine the West's trust in Zelenskyy - Anti-corruption CEO

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