‘Extraordinary times require extraordinary leadership,’ said Daria Kaleniuk, head of the Anticorruption Action Centre in Kyiv (AntAC), last Monday. Having just returned from Washington, she noticed that US support for Ukraine is increasingly politicized. That is why she calls on Europe to take a leading role in supporting Ukraine, and think of its end goal in the war. In her October Lecture for Raam op Rusland, she stressed that instead of supporting Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’, Europe should aim for a quick victory.
October Lecture 2023 by Daria Kaleniuk in Rode Hoed, Amsterdam: 'The future of Ukraine starts now: how civil society is reforming Ukraine and what the West can do'
By Daria Kaleniuk
Ukraine’s main anticorruption activist Daria Kaleniuk gave Raam op Rusland’s seventh October Lecture in the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam on Monday, October 30. Kaleniuk is co-founder and executive director of the Anticorruption Action Centre in Kyiv (AntAC) and co-founder of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory. As one of the driving forces behind Ukrainian civil society, she has been mobilizing the world for a quick Ukrainian victory for almost two years now.
Ukrainians no longer accept corruption
‘In the past decade, Ukrainian civil society has matured at great pace. The people of Ukraine no longer tolerate corruption. 34% of Ukrainians believe that corruption in governmental institutions is a national security threat, while only 24% believe that a nuclear attack by Russia poses such a threat. Ukrainians understand that corruption kills. Every family has a member who is fighting at the frontlines or who was wounded or killed in action. We know that every penny that ends up in corrupt hands could have been used to support our armed forces in their fight against the Russian occupiers.
Ukrainian society demands more than the European Commission requires
Ukrainians want to join the European Union, but 77% believe that the EU should impose clear conditions that the government has to meet. There is a huge demand in society for anticorruption and rule of law reforms that the Ukrainian government cannot ignore. The EU accession track is doing miracles for Ukrainian society: it helps us push our government to implement complex, unpopular reforms. With its historical decision in June 2022 to grant Ukraine candidate status, the European Commission laid down seven conditionalities, five of which are related to the rule of law and anticorruption. A week ago, Ukraine completed all five.
But Ukrainian society demands even more. When the EU and IMF required Ukraine to reinstate the asset declaration register, they did not demand to make the register available to the public. Last September, Parliament voted for a law that would reinstate the register and make asset declarations publicly available in a year from now. But Ukrainians did not want to wait for a year. In a petition, they asked President Zelensky to veto the law, so the register would be made publicly available straight away. Within 24 hours, the petition was signed 84,000 times. As a result, Zelensky vetoed the law and Parliament amended it: asset declarations were made publicly available immediately.
Every corruption scandal in Ukraine that reaches the news in the West is a good thing: a sign that Ukraine is fighting corruption
It is an example of how Ukrainian society works, even under martial law and despite an existential war. Every corruption scandal in Ukraine that reaches the news in the West is a good thing: a sign that Ukraine is fighting corruption. Another example is the recent case of food procurement for inflated prices at the Ministry of Defence. First, we tried to address the issue non-publicly, understanding that it could harm Ukraine’s image abroad. When both Minister Reznikov and President Zelensky did not respond to our findings, investigative journalists published the report. Society and the armed forces in particular were outraged, leading ultimately to the dismissal of Reznikov and his team. Again, society forced Zelensky to react. The team of Rustem Umierov, who replaced Reznikov, is now cleaning up the security and defense sector. Unfortunately, this was one of the most unreformed sectors precisely because it was not linked to conditionalities from our foreign partners.
Europe can no longer hide behind the US
Let’s talk about how the West can help Ukraine win the war. Our Western partners often say that it is up to us, Ukrainians, to decide what we consider victory. Let us be clear: by victory, we mean the liberation of all Ukrainian territories, the return of all our people, reparation payments by Russia for all the damage it has inflicted on Ukraine, and holding Russia accountable for all its war crimes. But it also means preventing Russia from being able to strike again. That is why EU and NATO membership are crucial. Inviting Ukraine to NATO is also an investment in the alliance itself. Imagine what it can learn from Ukraine’s experience in modern-day conventional combat. By now the West has done so much to make the Ukrainian army the strongest in Europe. The question is: after this war, does the West want this army to be inside or outside NATO?
Q&A with moderator Kysia Hekster (NOS) and the audience
Meanwhile, the strategy of the collective West is less clear. “We stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes”, is what we often hear from our allies, such as President Biden. I would like to ask: what does “as long as it takes” mean? As long as it takes for all our soldiers to die? As long as it takes for all our critical infrastructure to be destroyed? As long as it takes for all our allies’ weapon and ammunition stockpiles to be depleted? What is the West’s end goal for Ukraine? The only option is to help Ukraine win fast. Because time is on Russia’s side, on Iran’s side, on China’s and on North Korea’s side: global players who are working together to fight the free world. Russia has more people than Ukraine. We do not have an unlimited supply of soldiers, and we are making this sacrifice so that the next generation of Ukrainians – like my 11-year old son – will not have to fight this war. Remember that the boys and girls who are now fighting at the frontlines were 10 years old when it all started in 2014.
I just came back from Washington, D.C., where I noticed that attention has shifted from Ukraine to Gaza and that President Biden is primarily concerned with winning next year’s presidential elections. Support for Ukraine is increasingly politicized, because Ukraine is far away. But it is not far away for Europe. And Russia is not just fighting Ukraine; it is fighting the collective West, including Europe, including the Netherlands. It is fighting freedom. Therefore it is crucial that Europe stops hiding behind the US and demonstrates leadership in formulating a plan to end this war. The US does not have such a plan.
Confiscation of Russian state assets is a political decision that should have been taken yesterday
Make Russia pay
Making Ukraine win fast costs money, and we understand that Dutch citizens are quite tired of paying taxes to fund Ukraine’s defense. The good news is that we do not want them to pay. We want Russia to pay. $350 billion worth of Russian state assets has been frozen in Western banks. This money belongs to the Russian state, the head of which is wanted by the International Criminal Court for kidnapping thousands of Ukrainian children. The West has to demonstrate the political will to confiscate these assets and use them to arm Ukraine. With this money, Ukraine can win the war. I am a lawyer, and I do not accept the argument that the confiscation of these assets is a legal question. It is a political decision that should have been taken yesterday.
Finally, I recently had a discussion in Warsaw with Russians about the future of their country. Liberal Russians abroad often make the argument that Russian society cannot be equated with Putin, that there is another Russia which we will eventually see. However, I do not believe that there is a future for Russia unless it is completely defeated in this imperial war. I am standing here in a church, and as a Christian I have learned to love my enemy. With love to my enemy, I want the Russians to lose, because it is the only chance for them to have a future.'
Daria Kaleniuk is co-founder and executive director of the Anticorruption Action Centre (AntAC) in Kyiv. She is also the founder of the International Center for Ukrainian Victory. According to the Novoye Vremya magazine, Kaleniuk is among the 100 most successful women of Ukraine. Watch her entire October Lecture here.