The watchdog for US spending on Afghanistan told Responsible Statecraft in an interview that he expects “pilferage” of US aid to Ukraine.
John Sopko, who has served as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) since 2012, said that he personally favored creating a similar position for US spending on the war in Ukraine.
Explaining why more oversight on the Ukraine policy is needed, Sopko pointed to the fact that the US has already authorized $113 billion in spending. “That money is flowing like manna from the sky. If you don’t get in there soon, you’re gonna see pilferage,” he said.
Sopko said he was not just concerned about military assistance to Ukraine but also aid disbursed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). “We’ve always had more problems with AID. In Afghanistan, my experience with them is they have not been a very well-run organization,” he said.
Sopko pointed to the fact that USAID was overseeing aid that’s paying the salaries of Ukrainian government workers. In Afghanistan, Sopko said the Pentagon directed the paying of government salaries and could never come up with a system to make sure the US was paying the salaries of real Afghans.
“Well, have you heard anybody saying, ‘what’s the system they have in place to ensure that they’re not paying ghost Ukrainian civil servants, ghost Ukrainian police, ghost Ukrainian soldiers?'” he said.
Sopko said USAID has “had a poor track record on ghosts and on oversight” and added that the State Department is “even worse.” The US has provided Ukraine with tens of billions in “budgetary aid,” funds that go directly to the Ukrainian government.
Sopko said he was worried about after the war when the US and its allies fund Ukraine’s reconstruction. “The real crisis is going to happen once the shooting stops, and they start laying concrete, and they start rebuilding things … We’re going to be buying horribly overpriced steel and cement and other products,” he said.
US government agencies have assigned their own inspector generals to oversee Ukraine aid but have resisted efforts to establish a position similar to Sopko’s. He said a “whole of government” approach was necessary for the oversight. The Senate recently voted down an amendment introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) that would have created a special inspector general for Ukraine.
Earlier this month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a report that alleged the CIA is aware of rampant corruption in Ukraine and estimated that Ukrainian officials have skimmed at least $400 million in US-provided funds earmarked for diesel purchases.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Ukraine’s notorious corruption was commonly cited by Western governments. In June 2021, President Biden said Kyiv must “clean up corruption” before it can join NATO. But since the US began flooding Ukraine with weapons and money, the corruption concerns have barely been mentioned.