The Rise of Strategic Corruption

How states weaponise graft

By Philip Zelikow, Eric Edelman, Kristofer Harrison, and Celeste Ward Gventer


PERHAPS the most prominent case of strategic corruption in recent years is the Ukraine imbroglio that led to the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019. Many Americans may think of this as primarily a domestic political scandal. But it is crucial to understand its foreign roots.

Trump was impeached because over the summer of 2019, he sought to condition his and his administration’s future relations with Ukraine on Kyiv’s willingness to help him dig up dirt on his political opponent Joe Biden, blame former Ukrainian government officials (and not the Kremlin) for hacking the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and cast doubt on evidence that U.S. prosecutors had used to put one of Trump’s 2016 campaign managers, Paul Manafort, in prison. But the story actually started long before Trump did any of those things, and its primary authors were not Americans.

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