Ukraine Doesn't Appear to Be Diverting Arms, DOD Inspector Says as He Ups Scrutiny
As lawmakers worry about the possibility of stolen arms, incoming IG says 20 audits are underway or planned.
The Defense Department is increasing its scrutiny of U.S. arms and other aid flowing to Ukraine, the department’s incoming inspector general told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Robert Storch, who spent years working to uncover corruption in Ukraine long before Volodymyr Zelenskyy became president, told the Hosue Armed Services Committee that the country’s top leaders have promised to remain tightly focused on the issue of corruption. Still, Storch said, “We're in the trust-but-verify business.”
His office has 20 audits going on or planned, and is also working with other inspectors general and the Government Accountability Office to monitor weapons shipments and make sure that they’re getting to the right place.
“We're also working with our partners to make sure that there aren't any gaps with regard to the different types of assistance that are being provided,” he said.
During Tuesday’s hearing, lawmakers looked for reassurances that Ukraine was living up to its commitments and not allowing low-level officials to steal and resell weapons. Several described Ukraine as—at least historically—corrupt, a perception that former President Donald Trump has used in rationalizing his own efforts to coerce Ukraine to perform political favors in exchange for congressionally authorized aid.
Said Storch, “You know, I've worked the Ukraine issue now for about nine years and in our engagements over that entire period, corruption was the No. 1 issue we raised with Ukrainian officials. And I think there have been improvements over time, especially in the defense sector.”
Ukraine achieved its worst score on Transparency International’s corruption index back in 2013 under Putin-ally Viktor Yanukovych. Zelenskyy’s government has installed measures to provide transparent record-keeping to satisfy international partners, donors, and lenders,. Those efforts include a five-year action plan to tackle corruption and the launching of an online procurement tracker to let anyone monitor how Ukraine aid is being spent. These efforts have been reflected in an improved corruption index score.
Recently, Zelensky fired several top military officials on corruption charges, a sign that, despite these efforts, corruption continues in the country but also that the government is willing to take public actions to curb it.
In some ways, the Defense Department inspector general will find it harder to conduct end-use monitoring in Ukraine than in Afghanistan, where there were far more U.S. officials.
Defense undersecretary for policy Colin Kahl told lawmakers on Tuesday that Ukrainians were working to make sure that they could continue to give the U.S. data on inventories and transfer logs.
“We have provided them handheld scanners. That data gets transmitted directly back to us so that we can keep custody. We have shared NATO-standard inventory and logistics software. We also have access to that data. And then, of course, we do have a presence at the embassy. We have an office of defense cooperation and they have done six different site visits out from Kyiv,” Kahl said. “It's a dangerous place and we don't have outposts across the country. They have seen no signs of diversion or that the Ukrainians are not following procedures.”
Storch told lawmakers that he had seen no evidence that Ukraine has put weapons into the wrong hands.
“We have not substantiated any such instances,” he said.
But even if Ukraine is living up to its commitments, the Defense Department must work harder to make sure monitoring is effective, he said, repeating a point that the inspector’s office made in two management advisories last year. Storch said that he had since seen some improvement in the Defense Department’s record-keeping procedures in Ukraine.
The issue of weapons diversion now comes as many lawmakers debate how much continued aid for Ukraine is appropriate, especially in light of another recent inspector general report highlighting how political corruption hurt U.S. efforts in Afghanistan to build up partner forces there.
Storch pointed out that the two countries were highly dissimilar.