Ukraine’s best defense against Russia

The country has been rewarded by international lenders for its progress against corruption. Clean governance can help a democracy fight off neighboring bullies.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy attends a news briefing following a Ukraine-EU summit in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 12.

Since July, when President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea that Ukraine is a sovereign country, Russia has amassed some 100,000 troops on the border with its weaker neighbor. The implied threat of an invasion has ignited concerns in Western capitals about how to defend a nation seeking to join the West. Yet something else has been afoot since July, something that could be Ukraine’s best defense. Its elected leaders have rushed to approve or implement anti-corruption measures to meet the demands of both international lenders and the Ukrainian people for clean governance.

In August, those efforts took on added urgency. Ukraine saw how corruption in Afghanistan led to the quick collapse of an elected government unwilling to fight Taliban forces. Or as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken put it last May, “Ukraine is facing two challenges: aggression from outside, coming from Russia, and in effect aggression from within, coming from corruption, oligarchs, and others who are putting their interests ahead of those of the Ukrainian people.”

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s struggle to reform its corrupt ways paid off, literally.

The International Monetary Fund sent nearly $700 million to Ukraine as a result of the country’s progress toward cleaning up its courts, improving the independence of the central bank and anti-corruption bodies, and curbing the influence of business tycoons. The money, part of a larger $5 billion package agreed to in early 2020, had been delayed for about a year because of relative inaction by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his ruling Servant of the People party.

The IMF’s move was a stamp of approval that could embolden more reforms and boost the economy, and thus shore up support among Ukrainians to protect their democracy. It might also force the Kremlin to think twice about the risk of invading a country where its forces might be pinned down by a pro-democracy resistance.

When a sovereign nation arms itself with rule of law and democratic equality, war with a threatening neighbor can be won long before it starts.

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