With deteriorating economic ties and an ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, one of the few things Ukraine and Russia have left in common is corruption. The two countries rank as the most corrupt states in Eastern Europe in the latest international corruption rankings released late Tuesday by non-governmental organization Transparency International.
The rankings come a day after an official from the U.S. Treasury Department told a BBC program that American officials have known for “many, many years” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has engaged in corruption.
“We’ve seen him enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn’t view as friends using state assets. Whether that’s Russia’s energy wealth, whether it's other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don’t,” said Adam Szubin, a U.S. Treasury official who oversees sanctions.
The Kremlin was quick to deny allegations of corruption levied against Putin in the BBC program.
“None of these questions or issues need to be answered, as they are pure fiction,” said Dmitry Peskov, the presidential spokesman. He went on to tell Russian agency RIA Novosti that accusations from the U.S. Treasury without proof “casts a shadow” on the agency.
In rankings that cover 2015 and measure corruption in the public sector, Russia placed at 119 while Ukraine ranked 123 out of 168 countries with several nations tying for spots. While both Russia and Ukraine improved from their lower spots last year, the index comes as Kiev continues to try and stamp out corruption and implement economic reforms as part of the conditions of bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund.
The Ukrainian government announced last week that it would move forward with reforms of its judicial system to try to eradicate corruption by creating stricter criteria for who can become a judge and also stripping judges of immunity from prosecution, Reuters reported. But citizens remain skeptical with polls showing fewer than 10 percent of Ukrainians think the long-term fight against corruption is showing any progress.
Transparency International first began tracking corruption with rankings in 1995. Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia were at the bottom of this year's rankings while the United States ranked at number 16 out of 168.