The president said he withheld military aid for Ukraine over corruption concerns.
“Corruption” was the first reason President Trump gave for delaying nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. But his administration has approved defense exports with nearly $3 billion to governments considered more corrupt than Kyiv’s.
That’s according to data published by the State Department, the U.S. agency responsible for approving proposed export sales; and by Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit that annually ranks the world’s countries by public sector corruption.
On Monday, amid news reports that the U.S. president had held up the funds to pressure his Ukranian counterpart into investigating the family of a potential 2020 rival, Trump told reporters that concerns about corruption led him to withhold congressionally approved funds for sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and communications equipment.
“[W]e're giving a lot of money away to Ukraine and other places,” he said in New York. “You want to see a country that’s going to be not corrupt.” (On Tuesday, he offered a different, nearly opposite explanation: that he withheld the money because he wanted more European nations to send money to Ukraine. The New York Times soon noted that European Union members had sent Ukraine a total of $16.4 billion since 2014, dwarfing the U.S. total of under $2 billion between 2013 and 2017.)
Ukraine ranks as the world’s 60th-most corrupt nation, according to Transparency International’s 2018 ranking. Countries considered more corrupt include Mexico, Nigeria, Kenya and Iraq — all of which have received the Trump administration’s approval to import U.S.-made weapons, including attack planes, armed helicopters and missiles.
Deals to these countries include:
- Mexico: MH-60R submarine-hunting helicopters, $1.2 billion.
- Mexico: Harpoon missile and Mk-54 torpedo, $98.4 million.
- Mexico: Evolved Seasparrow tactical missiles, $41 million.
- Iraq: warplane logistics, $1 billion.
- Iraq: machine guns, rifles and armored vehicles and other infantry equipment, $295.6 million.
- Iraq: warship repairs, $150 million.
- Iraq: armed Bell 407 helicopters, $82.5 million.
- Nigeria: armed A-29 Super Tucano attack planes, $593 million.
- Kenya: attack planes, $418 million.
- Kenya: attack helicopters, $253 million.
The deals do not include smaller weapons deals and billions of dollars in U.S. aid given to countries considered more corrupt than Ukraine.
Historically, there have always been concerns about the security of weapons flowing from Eastern Europe, especially following the Cold War, said Rachel Stohl, who directs the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. But she also noted that te United States has sold arms worth many billions of dollars to Middle Eastern nations with track records of human-rights abuses.
“There are many worse cases than Ukraine,” Stohl said. “I'm not opposed to holding up arms sales because we're concerned about corruption, because we're concerned about end use, [or because] we’re concerned about the potential for diversion. Those are all legitimate reasons to be cautious and figure out how you're going to mitigate those risks before you transfer arms. I welcome that, in fact. What I don't really welcome is a quid pro quo relationship: ‘You do this for me, I give you weapons’.”
Earlier this year, the Trump administration bypassed Congress to green-light arms sales to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Lawmakers opposed the deals amid reports of widespread civilian deaths from the U.S.-assisted Saudi and UAE bombing campaign in Yemen against Iran-backed insurgents, and the Saudi regime’s role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“Under this presidency we have had a much more open and wide ranging discussion on arms sales than we have in the past,” Stohl said. “I think primarily because some of these cases are so egregious.”