Mary Dejevsky

What’s behind Zelensky’s latest purge?

(Getty Images)

President Zelensky has announced that he is dismissing the heads of all Ukraine’s regional military recruitment offices and replacing them with veterans who had served on the front line. He used a video address to say that a state investigation had turned up widespread corruption, including bribe-taking and help for draft dodgers to flee abroad. 

As a war leader, he has, in effect, autocratic power, beyond anything he would enjoy as an elected leader in peacetime – and he has shown himself willing to use it

Sounding a notably tough note, Zelensky said: ‘This system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery during war is treason.’ He recommended recruitment officers who lost their jobs but were not subject to investigation should volunteer to fight while insisting that joining up would not free anyone from criminal responsibility. ‘Officials who confused epaulettes with perks,’ he said, ‘will definitely face trial.’

In one respect, Zelensky’s decision can be seen as the most pointed of his efforts to root out corruption, which was one of his election promises back in 2019 and is a theme that has surfaced intermittently during the war. But it is at least as significant for what it may say about the public mood and about how far Ukraine’s President is already trying to anticipate postwar Ukraine.

First, the public mood. It is hard to believe that Zelensky would have ordered a state investigation into recruitment, let alone across-the-board dismissals, had there not been substantial public disquiet about who is and who is not being called up to fight. Since Ukraine declared martial law after the Russian invasion, there has been a ban on most men between 16 and 60 leaving the country. But there are now noticeably more men joining their women and children outside the country, suggesting the ban may be less effective than it was.

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