In the early weeks of the war in Ukraine, the government found itself in desperate need of weapons as the invading Russian Army closed in on Kyiv. In a surprising move, they reached out to Serhiy Pashinsky, a former lawmaker who had been embroiled in corruption scandals and had been sidelined by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s anti-corruption campaign. Pashinsky, who had ties to the arms business and knew how to navigate the bureaucracy, answered the call.
Fast forward 18 months, and a New York Times investigation reveals that a company connected to Pashinsky, Ukrainian Armored Technology, has become Ukraine’s largest private arms supplier. The company reported record-breaking sales of over $350 million, a significant increase from just $2.8 million the year before the war. However, Pashinsky finds himself once again under investigation, this time by Ukrainian authorities looking into the company’s pricing and financial relationships.
The re-emergence of figures like Pashinsky highlights a little-discussed aspect of Ukraine’s war strategy. In their race to arm the military, leaders have turned to individuals with questionable backgrounds and temporarily abandoned anticorruption policies. Suppliers who had previously ripped off the military are no longer blacklisted, and public disclosure rules have been ignored. This has resulted in inflated prices and layers of profit-making.
While these temporary changes have allowed Ukraine to hold off Russian troops and receive international aid, there are concerns about the long-term consequences. The fear is that these practices will become entrenched, allowing figures like Pashinsky to emerge from the war with even more money and influence. Ukrainian leaders acknowledge this risk but emphasize their need for immediate weapons during the war.
The Times investigation reveals how Pashinsky’s network operates. The company buys and sells weapons multiple times, leading to rising prices and increased profits for Pashinsky’s associates. The Ukrainian military ends up paying the highest price for these weapons. Some of the funding for this system comes from European aid, although officials are reluctant to discuss Pashinsky due to fears of playing into Russia’s narrative of Ukrainian corruption.
Pashinsky denies any financial interest in the arms business, although government officials and arms procurement officials state otherwise. He has been accused of using his position to ensure government contracts are awarded to Ukrainian Armored Technology. Critics argue that the current environment of acquiring weapons at any cost benefits Pashinsky. Despite the ongoing investigation, he maintains that he is a responsible citizen who has never betrayed his country.
One instance that highlights Pashinsky’s influence is a meeting he had with Nelly Stelmakh, a military procurement official, in 2015. Pashinsky instructed her to buy fuel from his chosen vendor instead of the lowest bidder. When Stelmakh refused, she faced problems, including government investigators interrogating her. Eventually, the government purchased fuel from Pashinsky’s vendor. This incident was just one example of Pashinsky’s ability to exert influence.
Corruption has long been a concern for Western leaders supporting Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. While they want to provide assistance, they do not want to fuel personal profit for corrupt politicians. The West has urged Ukraine to address corruption as a condition for joining NATO and the European Union. Transparency International also highlighted the conflict of interest between Pashinsky’s role as an arms dealer and his position overseeing arms deals, hindering anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.
Overall, Ukraine’s desperate need for weapons resulted in their government turning to figures like Pashinsky, who had previously faced corruption allegations. While this gamble has temporarily paid off in terms of military support, there are concerns about the long-term consequences and the entrenchment of corrupt practices.