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Ukraine cracks down on corruption as Poland requests Germany’s OK to send tanks

German Leopard 2 tank
Poland has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer the Polish military’s German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
(Michael Sohn / Associated Press)
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A high-level shakeup in the Ukrainian government cost nearly a dozen senior officials their jobs, as President Volodymyr Zelensky sought Tuesday to root out entrenched corruption while conducting the fight against Russia’s invasion.

The crackdown came as Poland formally requested permission from Germany to transfer a modest number of Warsaw’s Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. Germany builds the high-tech armor, and Warsaw needs Berlin’s permission to send them to a non-NATO country.

In Kyiv, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office quit after Zelensky pledged to address high-level corruption allegations — including some related to specific wartime spending — that have embarrassed authorities and could slow the country’s bids to join the European Union and NATO.

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Kyrylo Tymoshenko asked to be relieved of his duties, according to an online copy of a decree signed by Zelensky and Tymoshenko’s own social media posts. Neither gave a reason for the resignation.

Deputy Defense Minister Viacheslav Shapovalov also resigned, according to local media reports, which alleged that his departure was linked to a scandal involving the purchase of food for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko quit, too.

In all, four deputy ministers and five regional governors were set to leave their posts, the country’s Cabinet secretary said on the Telegram messaging app.

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The departures thinned the government’s wartime ranks as Zelensky had already lost his interior minister, who oversaw Ukraine’s police and emergency services, and the rest of the ministry’s leadership in a helicopter crash last week.

With Western allies pouring billions of dollars into Ukraine to help Kyiv’s fight against Moscow, Zelensky had pledged to weed out corruption, which some observers have described as endemic. Zelensky came to power in 2019 on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption platform.

Tymoshenko joined the presidential office in 2019, after working on Zelensky’s media and creative content strategy during his presidential campaign.

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In his nightly video address, Zelensky said that Ukraine’s focus on the war would not stop his government from tackling corruption.

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“I want to be clear: There will be no return to what used to be in the past,” Zelensky said.

Tymoshenko was last year under investigation relating to his personal use of luxury cars. He was also among officials linked in September to the embezzlement of humanitarian aid worth more than $7 million earmarked for the southern Zaporizhzhia region. He has denied all the allegations.

On Sunday, a deputy minister was dismissed for being part of a network embezzling budget funds. Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry later identified the dismissed official as Vasyl Lozynsky, a deputy minister there.

Oleksandr Kubrakov, the infrastructure minister, said Lozynsky was relieved of his duties after Ukraine’s anti-corruption agency detained him while he was receiving a $400,000 bribe for helping to fix contracts related to restoring infrastructure facilities battered by Russian missile strikes.

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In June, the European Union agreed to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership, acting with uncharacteristic speed and unity to pull the embattled country further away from Russia’s influence and bind it more closely to the West. To join the bloc, countries must meet a host of economic and political conditions, including a commitment to the rule of law and other democratic principles.

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Ukraine has long aspired to join NATO, too, but the military alliance is not about to offer an invitation, because of the country’s contested borders, its defense establishment shortcomings and, in part, its corruption issues.

Meanwhile, the delivery of an expected 14 Leopard tanks from Poland appeared to be a foregone conclusion, with the main outstanding question being when it will happen.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock had said Sunday that Berlin wouldn’t seek to stop Warsaw from providing the versatile tanks to Kyiv if it asked, and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Tuesday that his country and other Western allies he didn’t identify are already training Ukrainian soldiers in Poland on the Leopards.

German officials confirmed to the DPA news agency that they had received the Polish application and said it would be assessed “with due urgency.”

Poland is a leading advocate in the EU for giving military aid to help Ukraine prevail over the Kremlin’s forces, which invaded exactly 11 months ago. Although Germany has become one of Ukraine’s main weapons suppliers, other Western allies — especially Poland and the Baltic countries on NATO’s eastern flank, which feel especially threatened by Russia — have shown impatience with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s perceived slowness to act.

Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak appealed to Germany “to join the coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks” — a reference to recent pressure on Berlin to send some of its own tanks. Germany has hesitated to take that step, despite Ukraine’s pleas. The tank is adaptable to many types of combat situations.

“This is our common cause, because it is about the security of the whole of Europe!” Błaszczak tweeted.

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Morawiecki aimed another political broadside at Berlin.

“I hope the response from the German side comes quickly this time, because the Germans are lingering, dodging, acting in a way that is difficult to understand,” Morawiecki said.

He alleged that Germany was unwilling to defend Ukraine more broadly and speculated on why that might be: “Does it mean fear, some not entirely comprehensible dread or faith that a return to normal relations with Russia is possible?”

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday called for the speedy delivery of new weapons to Ukraine, where a broad battlefield stalemate is expected to give way to new offensives in the spring.

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“At this crucial moment in the war, we need to provide Ukraine with heavier and more advanced systems, and we need to do it faster,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday after talks with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin.

Polish officials have indicated that Finland and Denmark are ready to join Poland in sending Leopards to Ukraine. Poland wants to send a company of the tanks, which means 14 of them, but they would barely make an impression in a war that involves thousands of tanks. If other countries contribute, Warsaw reckons, the tank detachment could grow to a brigade size.

Zelensky’s office said Tuesday that at least five civilians were killed and seven others were wounded in Ukraine over the previous 24 hours. One Russian rocket hit a school in eastern Ukraine, killing one person, Donetsk regional Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Ukrainian TV.

Russian forces also shelled nine towns and villages in the northern Sumy region, which borders Russia, killing a young woman and wounding three other people, local Gov. Dmytro Zhyvytsky reported on Telegram. He said the casualties all lived in the same house, which suffered a direct artillery hit.

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