August 8, 2022 - 4:45pm

Three days. The publication of a CBS report ‘Arming Ukraine’ lasted three days before it was taken down for quoting an NGO worker who said that only 30% of western aid was reaching the frontlines of Ukraine. According to the network, the NGO worker gave this assessment in late April, insisting that delivery had since improved. Now the documentary is being ‘updated’ to reflect this new information.

Despite the backlash against CBS, there has been a slow but perceptible shift in discussing topics that were once considered verboten. This weekend, the head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine office resigned in protest at the release of a report claiming that Ukrainian forces were ignoring international law by exposing civilians to Russian fire. Amnesty stated that it regretted the “distress” caused by the report, but has (unlike CBS) stood by it.

There have also been a growing number of reports on Ukrainian corruption — a sensitive issue that many turned a blind eye to after the invasion. In addition to the CBS documentary, German newspaper Die Welt has published extracts from a biography on Zelenskyy detailing “corruption on an industrial scale” over offshore deals while the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote in his most recent column:

There is deep mistrust between the White House and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine — considerably more than has been reported. And there is funny business going on in Kyiv.

On July 17, Zelensky fired his country’s prosecutor general and the leader of its domestic intelligence agency — the most significant shake-up in his government since the Russian invasion in February. It would be the equivalent of Biden firing Merrick Garland and Bill Burns on the same day. But I have still not seen any reporting that convincingly explains what that was all about. It is as if we don’t want to look too closely under the hood in Kyiv for fear of what corruption or antics we might see, when we have invested so much there. (More on the dangers of that another day.)

- Thomas Friedman, NYT

It is rare for Friedman — who was once invited to discuss Ukraine at the White House over a chocolate milkshake — to diverge from the Biden administration on foreign policy matters. Indeed, the White House has been voicing similar concerns, particularly after Zelenskyy fired his prosecutor general and intelligence chief. “Russia’s war against Ukraine poses an external threat,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, “but corruption poses an internal threat, and the threat that corruption poses can be corrosive to democracy, to sovereignty, to the freedoms that the people of Ukraine so desperately wish to retain”. As an Associated Press article noted at the time, these dismissals cast “an inconvenient light on an issue that the Biden administration has largely ignored since the outbreak of war with Russia”. 

Though the US and Western allies remain firmly committed to supporting Ukraine, cracks are slowly starting to appear. With a new $1 billion aid package expected to be announced this week, the Biden administration will be facing heightened scrutiny as to where this money is going. Yet according to the now-deleted documentary, nobody knows. “There are like power lords, oligarchs, political players,” one NGO worker says. “The system itself, it’s like, ‘We are the armed forces of Ukraine. If security forces want it, well, the Americans gave it to us.’ It’s power games all day long”.

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.