U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Kyiv on May 6, where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It marked the first visit to Ukraine by a senior official in the administration of President Joe Biden, and Mr. Blinken reaffirmed the position that the United States believes Ukraine is a key ally in the fight against Russian aggression.
“We stand strongly with you,” Mr. Blinken said in Kyiv. The secretary also assured Ukraine that “we’ll continue to strengthen our security partnership and in-flux collaboration with you to make sure Ukraine can defend itself against aggression.” While Mr. Blinken also noted that, “We look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions,” it seems Russia has not removed the more than 100,000 troops it has amassed on its border with Ukraine.
From our perspective, perhaps the most significant of the topics discussed between Messrs. Blinken and Zelenskyy was Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO. Mr. Zelenskyy pushed Mr. Blinken on Ukraine’s desire to join the military alliance, asking the secretary of state for U.S. support in Kyiv’s effort to secure a Membership Action Plan to be granted Ukraine at the coming summit of the alliance in June.
The powers that control Ukraine’s potential access to NATO membership, and the United States is among them, have made it clear that Kyiv must first take significant steps to counter the corruption and graft that have long been endemic in the country.
During his trip to Kyiv, Mr. Blinken was asked by Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC whether the news that the Ukrainian government fired the head of the state-owned gas company Naftogaz demonstrated that the country has not yet demonstrated it can implement the reforms required to be a NATO member.
Mr. Blinken replied that Ukraine has the very difficult task of dealing with external aggression from Russia. But it must also address an internal threat “in terms of corruption that potentially eats away at its democracy, oligarchs who are advancing their own interests instead of the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Blinken said.
“We’ve had detailed conversations with our Ukrainian counterparts about the efforts they’re making to reform,” Mr. Blinken told Ms. Mitchell on May 6. “They’ve taken some good steps, but there are other areas where real progress is needed, which they acknowledge. Corporate governance is one of them. So is making sure that the judiciary is reformed. So is making sure that there’s a truly independent anticorruption board, something we [the U.S.] helped establish way back in 2015. All of those things are vital, but the reason they’re vital is because this is how you make sure that the government is actually delivering for the people and not for some special interest, also because corruption is a tool that Russia uses to try to erode Ukrainian sovereignty from the inside.”
We believe that the best way for Ukraine to ensure its democratic future is through NATO membership, and taking that road means Kyiv must make significant strides to fight corruption at all levels in Ukrainian society.