Everyone should read my colleague John Daniel Davidson’s excellent piece detailing Rep. Victoria Spartz and her claims about Ukrainian corruption.
Whatever you make of Spartz’s contentions, the very fact that a Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee member is given anonymity to smear a colleague who is bringing up issues the media should be asking legislators about is curious. If Spartz is spreading conspiracies or fabrications, a Republican House Committee member should be able to publicly debunk those claims—otherwise cynics may get the idea someone is trying to hide something.
One probable reason for hiding behind anonymity to level these attacks is that any assurance of Ukraine’s virtuousness could easily backfire. Ukraine was one of the most corrupt in Europe before the Russian invasion, and there’s no reason to believe it has suddenly reformed as tens of billions of dollars flow in. A 2018 report ranked Ukraine around 130 of 180 countries and territories in corruption, in the vicinity of Gambia, Iran, and Myanmar on the list. Pointing out this reality doesn’t make you pro-Putin—that gangster’s country is slotted in one space lower than Ukraine.
If Volodymyr Zelensky’s confidants—namely, Andriy Yermak and Oleh Tatarov—are trusted stewards of seemingly unlimited aid, it does nothing to diminish our support for “democracy” to ask for more coordination and oversight. The anonymous source tells Politico that we’ve already “vetted these guys.” We have? The story offers no evidence to back this assertion up. Did they vet these guys like they did our Taliban allies? Are “we” providing the same meticulous oversight over the aid that we did over the up to $400 billion stolen from the Covid relief bill? We have no reason to take these people at their word.
An earlier Politico piece amplified accusations by Ukrainian officials who accused Spartz of being a Putin stooge and opportunist. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry claimed Spartz was “trying to earn extra political capital.” How? By challenging the dominant position of the entire D.C. establishment? Seems unlikely. An immigrant from Ukraine, Spartz has visited the country six times since Russia invaded. Her concerns don’t strike me as unreasonable. They do not strike me as pro-Russia. Yet, according to Politico, “there’s a widespread fear that her posture is damaging U.S.-Ukraine relations at the worst possible time — and that she’s being played by forces that aim to weaken the Western alliance.”
As Nate Hochman points out, the piece offers no evidence that Spartz is being played by anyone. Nor is there any proof offered by anyone that a freshman congresswoman from Indiana has the power to weaken an international alliance. Do other NATO members not allow representatives to make inquiries on foreign aid?
Politicians signing off on tens of billions in aid should be able to openly defend their choices. Now, I certainly make no claim to have special insight into the Ukrainian/Russian conflict. Though I hope Ukraine irreparably damages Putin’s regime, I’m relatively certain Ukraine can’t “win” against a nuclear power. Surviving is a victory. That doesn’t mean, however, we should feel compelled to discard all skepticism and reason at home, or end transparency and debate, when we’re talking about a dangerous, long-term foreign policy entanglement. That is not, as history has consistently shown, a good idea.