Recently, information appeared on the Internet that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his government «stole $400 million allocated by the United States for the purchase of diesel fuel» in 2022. It starts with an article by the American journalist Seymour Hersh, who refers to his own sources in US intelligence.
Seymour Myron «Sy» Hersh — is an American investigative journalist and political writer. He gained recognition in 1969 for exposing the My Lai massacre (Thảm sát Sơn Mỹ) and its cover-up during the Vietnam War, for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. During the 1970s, Hersh covered the Watergate scandal for “The New York Times”, also reporting on the secret U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the CIA’s program of domestic spying.
It is worth noting that the article we will talk about today, «Trading with the Enemy» was published on the “Substack” website. Seymour Hersh has 127,000 followers on this site, which is quite a lot for a blog. His most resonant materials received up to 2,000 likes, which indicates a certain base of regular readers. It should be said that this is not a serious media, but only a platform where anyone can publish their own texts. There is no 1) censorship, 2) editorial board, and 3) editorial responsibility, so, for example, you cannot sue him for defamation.
The $400 million question: did Zelensky steal money?
We will remind you that the journalist wrote his article, referring to his own sources in the US intelligence. All written statements do not have any evidence.
Quote: “One estimate by analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency put the embezzled funds at $400 million last year, at least; another expert compared the level of corruption in Kiev as approaching that of the Afghan war, “although there will be no professional audit reports emerging from Ukraine.”
The author did not specify what kind of analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency they are and where you can find their evaluations. We looked for anything indicating such analytics, but found nothing.
Since the start of the full-scale war on February 24, 2022, the United States has been one of Ukraine’s biggest allies, providing $20 billion in military aid. Part of these funds, of course, went to purchase fuel for the military.
It is worth noting that the US Government, as well as other countries that actively help Ukraine, control where the resources provided as support for us are directed. For this, many tools are used, for example, special barcodes on the equipment, which can be used to track its location. This was stated directly by the inspector of the US Ministry of Defense, Robert Storch.
“So with regard to security assistance to Ukraine when they go into the country there are then all hell is supposed to be tracked. The department of defense has the responsibility to do this and use monitoring to ensure accountability. It is a robust ongoing series of work and will continue to be so. During that, compliance with the regulations. How to vote for the weapons for”, — he saidat the discussion in the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives of the US Congress.
At the same meeting, which took place at the end of March 2023, he added that there were no violations on the part of Ukraine:
“We have not substantiated any instance of diversion of our security assistance. Obviously, we will continue to explore any allegations that are made of any sort of waste fraud abuse or misconduct of any kind and in terms how oversight is working it is ongoing with the third EUM project to get those advisories early on because we do oversight state of four and then looking to the future we are starting to plan for the next EUM evaluation what thing that we learned it makes common sense this is evolving rapidly with enemies to be agile, and we are doing that, and we will keep doing that”.
We asked Yaroslaw Bozhko, a political analyst, Head of the Center for Political Studies «Doctrine», what he thinks about this material.
«This is not the first time that Seymour Hersh has been spotted in rather conspiratorial showers. For example, in 2015, he publicly criticized the official version of the elimination of Osama bin Laden by American intelligence service, that is, he questioned the position of the American government. In addition, he stated in February 2023 that the USA and Norway were involved in the destruction of the «Nord Stream» and that the American military planted explosives there during exercises in the Baltic Sea. This is a person who, for several years, has systematically conducted activities against the United States and its allies, relying on allegedly his own sources. What Seymour Hersh is doing is very similar to subversive activities in the interests of, for example, the Russian Federation or perhaps China, to some extent».
Quote: “Zelensky’s been buying discount diesel from the Russians,” one knowledgeable American intelligence official told me. “And who’s paying for the gas and oil? We are. Putin and his oligarchs are making millions” on it”.
Considering that Ukraine has been in a state of active war with Russia for more than a year, this statement is very risky and illogical. The President of Ukraine actively demonstrates his anti-Russian position and does not enter into negotiations with the aggressor country.
Yaroslaw Bozhko replied that this statement has no evidence at all, so it does not deserve to be trusted.
«He does not provide any documents or public testimony, only a reference to some anonymous intelligence officer. You can invent dozens of such and assign any words. When we accuse someone of such serious corruption, at least there should be stronger evidence. This story is rather poorly combined with the statements of the American inspectorates that exist in Ukraine, that in general, no major embezzlement of funds on the part of the military-industrial complex and its support was detected. Such statements were made repeatedly at the beginning of 2023. All these narratives about corruption related to the sale of weapons, embezzlement of US aid to Ukraine — it always smacks of Russian disinformation, especially if no evidence is provided. We are invited to believe in the authority of Seymour Hersh».
We asked our expert what would happen if Hersh’s words were theoretically true. He answered:
«Involvement in embezzlement is a serious crime, there will be criminal cases, etc. Here the question is what will be the marker that it turned out to be true. If this is a statement by American authorities about people from the Ukrainian government who embezzled money, then it will be a political scandal. This will seriously damage the image of the government in Ukraine and its social support. This may not lead to the opening of criminal cases under the existing system. Another thing is if the Ukrainian investigative body opens a case on this episode and says that there was corruption and will raise suspicions against certain people».
Yaroslaw added that it is a very dangerous story from a legal and political point of view, when investigative bodies begin to open criminal cases based on the materials of Russian propagandists, because it legitimizes the propagandists’ materials.
Quote: “[CIA Director William — ed.] Burns [he was in Ukraine in January 2023 — ed.]also presented Zelenskyy with a list of thirty-five generals and senior officials whose corruption was known to the CIA and others in the American government. Zelensky responded to the American pressure ten days later by publicly dismissing ten of the most ostentatious officials on the list and doing little else”.
Indeed, CIA Director William Burns secretly came to Kyiv this year. He came to inform Volodymyr Zelenskyy about Russia’s military plans in Ukraine. According to Hersh, the official came to «scold» the president of Ukraine for «corruption».
At the end of January 2023, there was indeed a wave of dismissals among officials, but not 10, only eight people lost their positions. Some of them resigned in order to get a new, higher position, such as Oleksiy Kuleba, who became the deputy head of the office of the President of Ukraine. However, most were caught up in corruption scandals. It is worth noting that there is no evidence that Zelenskyy or his government is involved in criminal machinations.
The USA has previously stated that it does not see any violations on the part of Ukraine. For example, John Kirby, the security advisor to the administration of the US president, stated at a briefing that the White House has no evidence of illegal actions by Ukraine with weapons received from allies. Also, in January 2023, US auditors were in Kyiv together with consultants from the World Bank and the Deloitte consulting company to make sure that Ukraine uses US aid and weapons as intended. The US Treasury Department reported that Washington has no evidence of misuse of US funds in Ukraine.
“I’m not aware of — of those specific reports. We haven’t seen any evidence that — that there’s been any egregious misconduct when it comes to managing the security assistance that’s gone into Ukraine. I would note that the Ukrainian officials also share our concerns about making sure there’s proper accountability and transparency of things getting in and moving around the battlefield”, — said John Kirby.
Yaroslaw Bozhko commented on it as follows:
«These are statements that interpret Ukraine as a US colony. In this situation, when we claim that the head of the CIA put a list on the president’s table of some officials whom he should fire, the question arises — where could Hersh get such data? This is not the data that the entire CIA knows about, only a few people may know about it. Considering what Hersh previously said was directed against the CIA, Biden and other high-ranking US officials — I doubt that the CIA leadership will cooperate with him. The very discussion that such a situation can happen interprets Ukraine in a colonial way. This is also the goal of Russian propagandists — to demonstrate to Ukrainians and the West that Ukraine does not govern itself. From my own experience, I can say that Americans don’t care about surnames, they want to see the result.»
In addition, we asked Bozhko what will happen to the author of this material if it is proven that it is a fake. He replied that the punishment may be, but it is not entirely expedient for Ukraine.
«The US has a fairly broad culture of both freedom of speech and liability for defamation. The question is whether Ukraine will undertake to prove in American courts that Hersh’s position is fake. The very maintenance of such a case during the war is an expense for the state. In the event that, the state can officially issue a rebuttal on behalf of the Center for Strategic Communications and Countering Disinformation or the National Security Council. Although in this case, you can limit yourself to an article in some state media. Against this background, it is not always rational to launch a legal process».
What is the situation with corruption in Ukraine in 2023?
Ukraine ranked 116th out of 180 countries in “Transparency International’s corruption perception index” for 2022. This index is based on the research of 13 authoritative international organizations and research centers. He takes into account corruption only in the public sector. For example, in 2023 Russia is on 137 place of corruption in the world. In 2021, it was also into 10 Most Corrupt Countries in the World (on 5 level).
The determining indicator of the index is the number of points, not the place in the rating. The index measures the perception, not the actual level of corruption. Ukraine scored 33 points out of 100 (where 100 is the almost non-existent level of corruption). This is the best result in the last 10 years.
Despite the systematic efforts of Russian propaganda to discredit Ukraine’s anti-corruption policy, we are observing a positive trend in the rating of the Corruption Perception Index over the past ten years (+8 points). Ukraine is gradually introducing important systemic changes.
Checking Seymour Hersh’s article, we realized that we have nothing to refute at all. The journalist did not provide any evidence base, thereby protecting himself from verification of the authenticity of his statements. Indeed, recently, the author has been seen in several conspiracy theories, which allows us to question his words. In any case, we rely on facts and statements from US officials that are contrary to Hersh’s opinion.