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After reports of chemical attacks, White House considers new military action against Syrian regime

The Trump administration has considered new military action against the Syrian government in response to reports of ongoing chemical weapons use, officials said, raising the prospect of a second U.S. strike on President Bashar al-Assad in less than a year.

President Trump requested options for punishing the Assad government after reported chlorine gas attacks — at least seven this year — and possibly other chemicals affecting civilians in opposition-controlled areas.

In a Feb. 25 incident, residents and medical staffers in a rebel-held Damascus suburb, Eastern Ghouta, described symptoms associated with chlorine exposure. One child died, medical staffers reported.

The president discussed potential actions early last week at a White House meeting that included Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, officials said.

One official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to address internal deliberations, said that the president did not endorse any military action and that officials decided to continue monitoring the situation.

Dana White, chief Pentagon spokeswoman, denied that Mattis took part in discussions about military action in Syria and said the “conversation did not happen.”

One senior administration official said that Mattis was “adamantly” against acting militarily in response to the recent chlorine attacks and that McMaster “was for it.”

The prospect of renewed military action, even if tabled for now, underscores the explosiveness of a conflict that has become a battlefield for rivalries between Russia and Iran on one side and the United States and its allies on the other.

The White House discussions come amid a drumbeat of accusations from Trump administration officials, who have sought to galvanize international pressure on Syria over repeated small-scale chemical attacks amid an escalation of widespread conventional air and ground assaults that have killed hundreds of civilians in recent weeks.

On Monday, the Assad government allowed a U.N. aid convoy to deliver food and other aid, but not certain medical supplies, to Eastern Ghouta, even as shelling and airstrikes continued.

The Trump administration has condemned Iran for deploying weapons and fighters that have helped turn the war in Assad’s favor. It has also blamed Russia for failing to enforce a U.N.-backed cease-fire proposal and for allowing the use of chemical weapons to continue.

“The civilized world must not tolerate the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Sunday.

Russian and Syrian officials have rejected reports of government chemical weapons use.

Images of Syrians suffering the effects of chemical exposure appear to have energized the president to explore launching a new assault, as they did before the missile attack he authorized on a Syrian air base in April.

Trump ordered the Pentagon to fire Tomahawk missiles[1] on the Syrian facility believed to be linked to a sarin gas attack that killed 80 people. It was the first direct American assault on the Assad government, a step that President Barack Obama had shied away from, even after an estimated 1,400 people were killed in a gruesome attack[2] in August 2013.

[New chemical attacks reported in Syria, and Trump administration blames Russia[3]]

Administration officials say Syria has continued to make and employ chemical weapons despite an internationally backed deal[4] to remove its stockpiles after the 2013 incident.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which tracks reports from medical staffers, patients have reported symptoms linked to chlorine exposure seven times this year. In November, also in Eastern Ghouta, hospitals described seeing patients with symptoms indicative of sarin, the society said.

Unlike with earlier deadly incidents, U.S. officials say, the Assad regime is now conducting only small-scale attacks and is relying mainly on chlorine, which is made from commercially available materials and is more difficult to detect than nerve agents such as sarin.

“They clearly think they can get away with this if they keep it under a certain level,” a senior administration official told reporters last month.

Officials also suspect Syria of using ground-based systems rather than aerial means for delivering chemical agents, because they are harder to track.

The Syrian government has resorted to such attacks, officials say, to compensate for manpower shortages and to discourage supporters of the opposition from returning to strategic areas.

Even as the U.S. military winds down its campaign against the Islamic State, the Trump administration risks being more deeply drawn into Syria’s civil war, in which NATO ally Turkey is another important player. Many U.S. officials say that only greater political stability can prevent the extremists’ return.

The Pentagon has sought to keep its mission in Syria tightly focused on the Islamic State. There are about 2,000 U.S. troops in the east and north, tasked with advising local forces who have been battling the extremists.

[Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons[5]]

Some officials also have raised concerns about conclusively assigning responsibility for chlorine attacks. Others express skepticism that another strike would deter Assad when the last one did not.

But other officials, particularly at the White House and the State Department, appear more open to renewed action against Assad. They say that a U.S. response might deter the Assad regime from rebuilding its chemical arsenal in a way that might eventually threaten the United States and might demonstrate that the United States will not be deterred by Russia’s presence in Syria.

The discussions highlight the gray area that chlorine has occupied in the West’s response to chemical weapons use in Syria. While chlorine is not a banned substance, its use as a choking agent is prohibited under international chemical weapons rules.

The Assad government’s reported employment of chlorine has been much less lethal than that of sarin, at least in recent reported incidents in Syria. SAMS said two people had been killed in the seven attacks this year.

Mattis told reporters last month that the United States was seeking evidence[6] of renewed sarin use.

Fred Hof, an Obama administration official who is now at the Atlantic Council, said the United States would send a “deadly” message if it lashes out after chemical attacks but does nothing when civilians are killed with conventional arms.

“When we go out of our way to say, in effect, the only time we will lift a finger to protect Syrian civilians is when particularly deadly chemical weapons are employed, we are inadvertently — unintentionally but inevitably — encouraging the Assad regime, the Russians and the Iranians to attack civilians with everything at their disposal,” he said.

Even if Trump authorizes another attack, the Pentagon is likely to advocate limiting U.S. involvement in the war. The April attack, which included 59 cruise missiles, was aimed narrowly at an isolated airfield, minimizing the likelihood of tit-for-tat escalations.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is investigating whether chlorine was used in recent attacks in Eastern Ghouta, Reuters reported.

Greg Jaffe in Washington and Louisa Loveluck in Beirut contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ fire Tomahawk missiles (www.washingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ gruesome attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ New chemical attacks reported in Syria, and Trump administration blames Russia (www.washingtonpost.com)
  4. ^ internationally backed deal (www.washingtonpost.com)
  5. ^ Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ seeking evidence (www.reuters.com)
0

After reports of chemical attacks, White House considers new military action against Syrian regime

The Trump administration has considered new military action against the Syrian government in response to reports of ongoing chemical weapons use, officials said, raising the prospect of a second U.S. strike on President Bashar al-Assad in less than a year.

President Trump requested options for punishing the Assad government after reported chlorine gas attacks — at least seven this year — and possibly other chemicals affecting civilians in opposition-controlled areas.

In a Feb. 25 incident, residents and medical staffers in a rebel-held Damascus suburb, Eastern Ghouta, described symptoms associated with chlorine exposure. One child died, medical staffers reported.

The president discussed potential actions early last week at a White House meeting that included Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, officials said.

One official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to address internal deliberations, said that the president did not endorse any military action and that officials decided to continue monitoring the situation.

Dana White, chief Pentagon spokeswoman, denied that Mattis took part in discussions about military action in Syria and said the “conversation did not happen.”

One senior administration official said that Mattis was “adamantly” against acting militarily in response to the recent chlorine attacks and that McMaster “was for it.”

The prospect of renewed military action, even if tabled for now, underscores the explosiveness of a conflict that has become a battlefield for rivalries between Russia and Iran on one side and the United States and its allies on the other.

The White House discussions come amid a drumbeat of accusations from Trump administration officials, who have sought to galvanize international pressure on Syria over repeated small-scale chemical attacks amid an escalation of widespread conventional air and ground assaults that have killed hundreds of civilians in recent weeks.

On Monday, the Assad government allowed a U.N. aid convoy to deliver food and other aid, but not certain medical supplies, to Eastern Ghouta, even as shelling and airstrikes continued.

The Trump administration has condemned Iran for deploying weapons and fighters that have helped turn the war in Assad’s favor. It has also blamed Russia for failing to enforce a U.N.-backed cease-fire proposal and for allowing the use of chemical weapons to continue.

“The civilized world must not tolerate the Assad regime’s continued use of chemical weapons,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Sunday.

Russian and Syrian officials have rejected reports of government chemical weapons use.

Images of Syrians suffering the effects of chemical exposure appear to have energized the president to explore launching a new assault, as they did before the missile attack he authorized on a Syrian air base in April.

Trump ordered the Pentagon to fire Tomahawk missiles[1] on the Syrian facility believed to be linked to a sarin gas attack that killed 80 people. It was the first direct American assault on the Assad government, a step that President Barack Obama had shied away from, even after an estimated 1,400 people were killed in a gruesome attack[2] in August 2013.

[New chemical attacks reported in Syria, and Trump administration blames Russia[3]]

Administration officials say Syria has continued to make and employ chemical weapons despite an internationally backed deal[4] to remove its stockpiles after the 2013 incident.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), which tracks reports from medical staffers, patients have reported symptoms linked to chlorine exposure seven times this year. In November, also in Eastern Ghouta, hospitals described seeing patients with symptoms indicative of sarin, the society said.

Unlike with earlier deadly incidents, U.S. officials say, the Assad regime is now conducting only small-scale attacks and is relying mainly on chlorine, which is made from commercially available materials and is more difficult to detect than nerve agents such as sarin.

“They clearly think they can get away with this if they keep it under a certain level,” a senior administration official told reporters last month.

Officials also suspect Syria of using ground-based systems rather than aerial means for delivering chemical agents, because they are harder to track.

The Syrian government has resorted to such attacks, officials say, to compensate for manpower shortages and to discourage supporters of the opposition from returning to strategic areas.

Even as the U.S. military winds down its campaign against the Islamic State, the Trump administration risks being more deeply drawn into Syria’s civil war, in which NATO ally Turkey is another important player. Many U.S. officials say that only greater political stability can prevent the extremists’ return.

The Pentagon has sought to keep its mission in Syria tightly focused on the Islamic State. There are about 2,000 U.S. troops in the east and north, tasked with advising local forces who have been battling the extremists.

[Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons[5]]

Some officials also have raised concerns about conclusively assigning responsibility for chlorine attacks. Others express skepticism that another strike would deter Assad when the last one did not.

But other officials, particularly at the White House and the State Department, appear more open to renewed action against Assad. They say that a U.S. response might deter the Assad regime from rebuilding its chemical arsenal in a way that might eventually threaten the United States and might demonstrate that the United States will not be deterred by Russia’s presence in Syria.

The discussions highlight the gray area that chlorine has occupied in the West’s response to chemical weapons use in Syria. While chlorine is not a banned substance, its use as a choking agent is prohibited under international chemical weapons rules.

The Assad government’s reported employment of chlorine has been much less lethal than that of sarin, at least in recent reported incidents in Syria. SAMS said two people had been killed in the seven attacks this year.

Mattis told reporters last month that the United States was seeking evidence[6] of renewed sarin use.

Fred Hof, an Obama administration official who is now at the Atlantic Council, said the United States would send a “deadly” message if it lashes out after chemical attacks but does nothing when civilians are killed with conventional arms.

“When we go out of our way to say, in effect, the only time we will lift a finger to protect Syrian civilians is when particularly deadly chemical weapons are employed, we are inadvertently — unintentionally but inevitably — encouraging the Assad regime, the Russians and the Iranians to attack civilians with everything at their disposal,” he said.

Even if Trump authorizes another attack, the Pentagon is likely to advocate limiting U.S. involvement in the war. The April attack, which included 59 cruise missiles, was aimed narrowly at an isolated airfield, minimizing the likelihood of tit-for-tat escalations.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is investigating whether chlorine was used in recent attacks in Eastern Ghouta, Reuters reported.

Greg Jaffe in Washington and Louisa Loveluck in Beirut contributed to this report.

References

  1. ^ fire Tomahawk missiles (www.washingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ gruesome attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ New chemical attacks reported in Syria, and Trump administration blames Russia (www.washingtonpost.com)
  4. ^ internationally backed deal (www.washingtonpost.com)
  5. ^ Trump administration: Syria probably continuing to make, use chemical weapons (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ seeking evidence (www.reuters.com)
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Watchdog: Arizona city didn't need to be 'middleman' in contract for …

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 1of/7

Caption

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Image 1 of 7

An American flag is set in the middle of the pathway, where Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. This pictured center, built as a “man camp” for the oil and gas industry, is a temporary center that will be used until the new facility is completed. The new facility will accomadate 2400 individuals. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. less[1]
An American flag is set in the middle of the pathway, where Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that … more[2]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 2 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. less[3]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[4]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 3 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. less[5]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[6]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 4 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. The building units at the far right will be used on the new facility. less[7]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[8]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 5 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. less[9]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[10]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 6 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, second from left, tours the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas, with Commander Robert Harris, left, Border Patrol Laredo Sector, Vice Admiral Williams “Dean” Lee, right, and Special Agent David Marwell of Homeland Security Investigations, second from right. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility is an oil industry “man camp” that will be used for approximatly 45 days until the new facility is completed in an adjoining lot. The new facility will house 2400 individuals. less[11]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, second from left, tours the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas, with Commander Robert Harris, left, Border Patrol Laredo Sector, … more[12]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 7 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, center, address the media after he toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. With him are Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee, from left, Special Agent David Marwell of Homeland Security Investigations, and Commander Robert Harris of Border Patrol Laredo Sector. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility is an oil industry “man camp” which will be used for 45 days until the new facility is completed in an adjoining lot. less[13]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, center, address the media after he toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. With him are Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee, … more[14]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Watchdog: Arizona city didn’t need to be ‘middleman’ in contract for detention center

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In their rush to open a sprawling family detention center south of San Antonio, federal officials “created an unnecessary ‘middleman’” by having the contract pass through the coffers of a city in Arizona, the internal watchdog for the Homeland Security Department found.

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The Office of Inspector General for the department found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could offer “no assurance” that the contract “was in the best interest of the federal government, taxpayers or detainees.” In a report released last week, the watchdog criticized ICE’s contracting method for detention centers that are operated — on paper at least — by local governments.

When ICE more than three years ago wanted to open the South Texas Family Residential Center, a 2,400-bed family detention facility in Dilley, it did so by modifying an existing contract with Eloy, Arizona, nearly 800 miles away. The San Antonio Express-News first reported about the unusual contract in 2014[15].

“Eloy’s sole function under the modification is to act as the middleman between ICE and CCA; Eloy collects about $438,000 in annual fees for this service,” the inspector general’s report states.

The Corrections Corporation of America, known as CCA, received the contract to operate the Dilley facility. The company changed its name to CoreCivic in 2016.

In a statement, ICE said it “agreed to better establish and communicate specific written procedures for” contracts with local governments but that the agency did nothing wrong when it opened the detention center in Dilley, about a 70-mile drive southwest of San Antonio on Interstate 35.

ICE regularly uses contracts with local governments, called intergovernmental service agreements or IGSAs, to operate its detention centers. Under these agreements, city and county governments are the official operators of detention centers, and they subcontract with companies such as CoreCivic.

The 750-bed Karnes County Residential Center, another family detention facility, is officially operated by Karnes County, which subcontracts with Geo Group. The 1,500-bed Eloy Detention Center is operated by the city of Eloy, which subcontracts with CoreCivic.

In those cases, ICE pays the money to the local government, which takes a cut and passes the rest on to the private prison operator. Eloy makes about $438,000 a year for being the pass-through for the Dilley center. Under the original 2014 contract, ICE paid CoreCivic as though the detention center was at capacity, regardless of the facility’s population. In late 2016, ICE, Eloy and CoreCivic renegotiated the contract for running the facility, dropping the cost from about $20 million a month to about $13 million a month.

In 2014, when large numbers of women and children from Central America were crossing the border in South Texas and requesting asylum, ICE had only about 100 beds for family detention. To increase bed space, ICE privately asked two companies, Geo and CoreCivic, to submit proposals for a large-scale family detention center, according to the inspector general report. Only CoreCivic responded.

It was “improper” for ICE to negotiate directly with the private prison companies rather than with Eloy, which is with whom ICE technically has the contract, the inspector general found. The original contract with Eloy didn’t include any mention of family detention, the report found.

“In general, ICE has no assurance that it executed detention center contracts in the best interest of the federal government, taxpayers or detainees,” the report states. “It appears that ICE deliberately circumvented (federal contracting) provisions by modifying its IGSA with Eloy, rather than contracting directly with CCA. Because ICE’s agreement and legal relationship is with the city of Eloy, CCA’s performance is effectively insulated from government scrutiny.”

The inspector general recommended that ICE set stricter guidelines for future intergovernmental service agreements and negotiate a new contract for the South Texas Family Residential Center. ICE agreed with the first recommendation and said it has created new written procedures for contracting with local governments.

But the agency said it’s not required to follow federal contracting regulations when it signs agreements with local governments, there are no problems with how the agency handled the contract for the Dilley detention center, and that the facility will continue operating it through a contract with the city of Eloy.

“ICE was able to obtain a reasonable price through negotiations with the vendor,” the agency wrote in its response. “Through four weeks of negotiations prior to award, ICE achieved price reductions and was able to eliminate some elements of risk.”

Most of ICE’s nearly 40,000 detention beds are funded through intergovernmental service agreements, said Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center. In some cases, such arrangements make sense because the local city or county owns the detention space, Fleming said.

For about 30 percent of ICE’s beds, however, the local city or county that holds the contract doesn’t serve any purpose other than to allow ICE to circumvent federal contracting procedures, he said. Fleming called them “sham contracts” that avoid public scrutiny and a bidding process.

“While the Dilley contract is probably the most egregious example of this, we have seen over the last few years, and in fact at quite a few facilities in Texas, where ICE has avoided these (federal) procurement laws by setting up these straw man contracts with local governments,” he said.

References

  1. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  2. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  3. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  4. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  5. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  6. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  7. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  8. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  9. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  10. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  11. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  12. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  13. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  14. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  15. ^ first reported about the unusual contract in 2014 (www.expressnews.com)
0

Watchdog: Arizona city didn't need to be 'middleman' in contract for …

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 1of/7

Caption

Close

Image 1 of 7

An American flag is set in the middle of the pathway, where Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. This pictured center, built as a “man camp” for the oil and gas industry, is a temporary center that will be used until the new facility is completed. The new facility will accomadate 2400 individuals. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. less[1]
An American flag is set in the middle of the pathway, where Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that … more[2]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 2 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. less[3]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[4]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 3 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. less[5]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[6]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 4 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. The building units at the far right will be used on the new facility. less[7]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[8]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 5 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility, which was a “man camp” for the oil industry, will be used for approximatly 45 day until the new facility is completed in the adjoining lot. less[9]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at … more[10]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 6 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, second from left, tours the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas, with Commander Robert Harris, left, Border Patrol Laredo Sector, Vice Admiral Williams “Dean” Lee, right, and Special Agent David Marwell of Homeland Security Investigations, second from right. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility is an oil industry “man camp” that will be used for approximatly 45 days until the new facility is completed in an adjoining lot. The new facility will house 2400 individuals. less[11]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, second from left, tours the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas, with Commander Robert Harris, left, Border Patrol Laredo Sector, … more[12]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 7 of 7

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, center, address the media after he toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. With him are Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee, from left, Special Agent David Marwell of Homeland Security Investigations, and Commander Robert Harris of Border Patrol Laredo Sector. Detained immigrants that are currently being held in Artesia will begin arriving at the Dilley facility within the next two weeks. Monday, Dec. 15, 2014. This pictured facility is an oil industry “man camp” which will be used for 45 days until the new facility is completed in an adjoining lot. less[13]
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, center, address the media after he toured the new South Texas Family Residential Center, just outside Dilley, Texas. With him are Vice Admiral William “Dean” Lee, … more[14]

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Watchdog: Arizona city didn’t need to be ‘middleman’ in contract for detention center

Back to Gallery

In their rush to open a sprawling family detention center south of San Antonio, federal officials “created an unnecessary ‘middleman’” by having the contract pass through the coffers of a city in Arizona, the internal watchdog for the Homeland Security Department found.

Express Newsletters

Get the latest news, sports and food features sent directly to your inbox.

The Office of Inspector General for the department found that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could offer “no assurance” that the contract “was in the best interest of the federal government, taxpayers or detainees.” In a report released last week, the watchdog criticized ICE’s contracting method for detention centers that are operated — on paper at least — by local governments.

When ICE more than three years ago wanted to open the South Texas Family Residential Center, a 2,400-bed family detention facility in Dilley, it did so by modifying an existing contract with Eloy, Arizona, nearly 800 miles away. The San Antonio Express-News first reported about the unusual contract in 2014[15].

“Eloy’s sole function under the modification is to act as the middleman between ICE and CCA; Eloy collects about $438,000 in annual fees for this service,” the inspector general’s report states.

The Corrections Corporation of America, known as CCA, received the contract to operate the Dilley facility. The company changed its name to CoreCivic in 2016.

In a statement, ICE said it “agreed to better establish and communicate specific written procedures for” contracts with local governments but that the agency did nothing wrong when it opened the detention center in Dilley, about a 70-mile drive southwest of San Antonio on Interstate 35.

ICE regularly uses contracts with local governments, called intergovernmental service agreements or IGSAs, to operate its detention centers. Under these agreements, city and county governments are the official operators of detention centers, and they subcontract with companies such as CoreCivic.

The 750-bed Karnes County Residential Center, another family detention facility, is officially operated by Karnes County, which subcontracts with Geo Group. The 1,500-bed Eloy Detention Center is operated by the city of Eloy, which subcontracts with CoreCivic.

In those cases, ICE pays the money to the local government, which takes a cut and passes the rest on to the private prison operator. Eloy makes about $438,000 a year for being the pass-through for the Dilley center. Under the original 2014 contract, ICE paid CoreCivic as though the detention center was at capacity, regardless of the facility’s population. In late 2016, ICE, Eloy and CoreCivic renegotiated the contract for running the facility, dropping the cost from about $20 million a month to about $13 million a month.

In 2014, when large numbers of women and children from Central America were crossing the border in South Texas and requesting asylum, ICE had only about 100 beds for family detention. To increase bed space, ICE privately asked two companies, Geo and CoreCivic, to submit proposals for a large-scale family detention center, according to the inspector general report. Only CoreCivic responded.

It was “improper” for ICE to negotiate directly with the private prison companies rather than with Eloy, which is with whom ICE technically has the contract, the inspector general found. The original contract with Eloy didn’t include any mention of family detention, the report found.

“In general, ICE has no assurance that it executed detention center contracts in the best interest of the federal government, taxpayers or detainees,” the report states. “It appears that ICE deliberately circumvented (federal contracting) provisions by modifying its IGSA with Eloy, rather than contracting directly with CCA. Because ICE’s agreement and legal relationship is with the city of Eloy, CCA’s performance is effectively insulated from government scrutiny.”

The inspector general recommended that ICE set stricter guidelines for future intergovernmental service agreements and negotiate a new contract for the South Texas Family Residential Center. ICE agreed with the first recommendation and said it has created new written procedures for contracting with local governments.

But the agency said it’s not required to follow federal contracting regulations when it signs agreements with local governments, there are no problems with how the agency handled the contract for the Dilley detention center, and that the facility will continue operating it through a contract with the city of Eloy.

“ICE was able to obtain a reasonable price through negotiations with the vendor,” the agency wrote in its response. “Through four weeks of negotiations prior to award, ICE achieved price reductions and was able to eliminate some elements of risk.”

Most of ICE’s nearly 40,000 detention beds are funded through intergovernmental service agreements, said Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center. In some cases, such arrangements make sense because the local city or county owns the detention space, Fleming said.

For about 30 percent of ICE’s beds, however, the local city or county that holds the contract doesn’t serve any purpose other than to allow ICE to circumvent federal contracting procedures, he said. Fleming called them “sham contracts” that avoid public scrutiny and a bidding process.

“While the Dilley contract is probably the most egregious example of this, we have seen over the last few years, and in fact at quite a few facilities in Texas, where ICE has avoided these (federal) procurement laws by setting up these straw man contracts with local governments,” he said.

References

  1. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  2. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  3. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  4. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  5. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  6. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  7. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  8. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  9. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  10. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  11. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  12. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  13. ^ less (www.expressnews.com)
  14. ^ … more (www.expressnews.com)
  15. ^ first reported about the unusual contract in 2014 (www.expressnews.com)
0

Off-duty homeland security officer helps catch gunman

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SAN DIEGO – An off-duty homeland security officer came to the rescue Monday afternoon when an armed felon took off running.

“We got the call at about 1:45, a woman told us her boyfriend was in her apartment and would not leave,” said Lt. Charles Lara, San Diego Police.

Lara said the woman reported her boyfriend was beating her and he also had a gun.

When police arrived, the suspect ran from the apartment. An officer chased the suspect on foot throughout Bankers Hill. The suspect ended up at the Chevron gas station, where tried to hide.

An off-duty homeland security officer was also at the gas station, pumping gas.

“Fortunately for us, there was an off-duty homeland security officer or agent who was here and assisted in taking him into custody,” said Lara. “He initially was non-compliant with the homeland security officer, but as more officers arrived, he decided it was in his best interest to surrender.”

Officers arrested 37-year old Gregory Hunter on charges of felony domestic violence and resisting arrest. Lara said Hunter also has two outstanding warrants.

Investigators said upon searching Hunter’s backpack, they found a gun, which turned out to be a BB gun.

“It was not a real gun, but it looked extremely realistic. It even had real looking bullets,” said Lt. Lara.

Lara also said Hunter complained of chest pains and was taken to a nearby hospital.

0

Off-duty homeland security officer helps catch gunman

Please enable Javascript to watch this video

SAN DIEGO – An off-duty homeland security officer came to the rescue Monday afternoon when an armed felon took off running.

“We got the call at about 1:45, a woman told us her boyfriend was in her apartment and would not leave,” said Lt. Charles Lara, San Diego Police.

Lara said the woman reported her boyfriend was beating her and he also had a gun.

When police arrived, the suspect ran from the apartment. An officer chased the suspect on foot throughout Bankers Hill. The suspect ended up at the Chevron gas station, where tried to hide.

An off-duty homeland security officer was also at the gas station, pumping gas.

“Fortunately for us, there was an off-duty homeland security officer or agent who was here and assisted in taking him into custody,” said Lara. “He initially was non-compliant with the homeland security officer, but as more officers arrived, he decided it was in his best interest to surrender.”

Officers arrested 37-year old Gregory Hunter on charges of felony domestic violence and resisting arrest. Lara said Hunter also has two outstanding warrants.

Investigators said upon searching Hunter’s backpack, they found a gun, which turned out to be a BB gun.

“It was not a real gun, but it looked extremely realistic. It even had real looking bullets,” said Lt. Lara.

Lara also said Hunter complained of chest pains and was taken to a nearby hospital.

0

In Ukraine, Corruption Is Now Undermining the Military

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KIEV, Ukraine — Nearly four years into a grinding war against rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry proudly announced last month that it had improved its previously meager medical services for its wounded troops with the purchase and delivery of 100 new military ambulances.

Not mentioned, however, was that many of the ambulances had already broken down. Or that they had been sold to the military under a no-bid contract by an auto company owned by a senior official in charge of procurement for Ukraine’s armed forces. Or that the official, Oleg Gladkovskyi, is an old friend and business partner of Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

Ukraine’s spending on defense and security has soared since the conflict in the east started in 2014, rising from around 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product in 2013 to more than 5 percent this year, when it will total around $6 billion.

This bonanza, which will push procurement spending in 2018 to more than $700 million, has enabled Ukraine to rebuild its dilapidated military and fight to a standstill pro-Russian rebels and their heavily armed Russian backers.

But by pumping so much money through the hands of Ukrainian officials and businessmen — often the same people — the surge in military spending has also held back efforts to defeat the corruption and self-dealing[1] that many see as Ukraine’s most dangerous enemy.

The problem has throttled the hopes raised in February 2014 by the ouster of Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt, pro-Russian former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It has also left the country’s dispirited Western backers and many Ukrainians wondering what, after two revolutions since independence in 1991, it will take to curb the chronic corruption.

“It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned last year, referring to regions of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists after the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych.

Ukraine has made considerable progress since 2014 in draining pools of corruption in the gas business, a major source of income for crooked tycoons under Mr. Yanukovych. It has overhauled the state energy company, Naftogaz, and reduced the scope for corrupt gas deals by insiders by cutting its reliance on supplies from Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom.

Military spending, however, has opened up new vistas for opaque insider deals, sheltered from scrutiny by a cone of secrecy that covers the details of military spending.

“Corruption in the energy sector has been reduced, so some of the main avenues for corruption have moved to defense,” said Olena Tregub, the secretary general of the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee, a research group funded by Western donors.

While Mr. Gladkovskyi acknowledged that the ambulance purchase did not involve an open tender for bids, there is no evidence that he tilted military contracts for ambulances and other vehicles toward his own company, something he denies doing. But the appearance of a blatant conflict of interest is just one of many in a country where business and political power form a tangled skein of overlapping, opaque and often lucrative transactions.

“There is no proof that he influenced purchasing decisions, and there never will be. It is all secret,” said Victor Chumak, an independent member of the Ukrainian Parliament and deputy chairman of its anticorruption committee. “The merging of politics and business is our biggest problem.”

President Petro O. Poroshenko, right, at celebrations of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces last year. He hopes to win re-election next year.CreditMaxym Marusenko/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Emblematic of the intertwining of business and politics and the rich fruit this can yield are three lavish villas on the southern Spanish coast. They are owned by President Poroshenko, Mr. Gladkovskyi and Ihor Kononenko, another business partner of the president who leads Mr. Poroshenko’s faction in Parliament.

All three were wealthy businessmen before taking official posts, but they have nonetheless stirred suspicion by being less than forthcoming about their holdings. None of them declared the Spanish properties in mandatory filings of assets, an annual declaration of wealth by senior officials introduced in 2016 as part of a now-stalled drive for greater transparency and accountability.

Conflicts of interest are so widespread “that you are no longer even shocked,” said Aivaras Abromavicius, a former investment banker from Lithuania who helped lead a since-becalmed push for clean government while serving as Ukraine’s minister of economy and trade. “They are all over the place. It is sad, depressing and discouraging.”

Such disappointment has already cost Ukraine dearly. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union, frustrated by foot-dragging over the establishment of a long-promised independent anticorruption court and other setbacks, have suspended assistance money totaling more than $5 billion.

“Ukraine lived for decades in a state of total corruption,” said Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU, an independent agency set up in 2015 during an initial burst of enthusiasm for clean government following the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych. “These schemes have now been renewed and are again working. Some people simply don’t want to get rid of them.”

His bureau has assembled evidence in 107 cases against previously untouchable officials, but only one has ended with a court sentence. The rest are stalled in a sluggish judicial system addled by corruption and political meddling[2].

NABU’s efforts to delve into defense-related embezzlement, which led to the arrest last year of a deputy defense minister and the ministry’s procurement chief, led to a flurry of moves to neuter the anticorruption body.

“This is a very sensitive zone,” Mr. Sytnyk said.

NABU has come under sustained attack in recent months, with Parliament drafting legislation, later dropped, that would have emasculated the agency and with the domestic intelligence service raiding the homes of NABU employees.

Mr. Poroshenko, who is expected to seek re-election next year, has positioned himself as a leader who rebuilt Ukraine’s ramshackle military and stood up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. To the consternation of the Ukrainian leader, though, the conflict with pro-Russian separatists is slowly mutating in the public mind from a heroic struggle into yet another sinkhole of profiteering and graft.

Helping along this shift has been Mikheil Saakashvili,[3] the former president of Georgia who, until he was grabbed by Ukrainian security officers last week in a Kiev restaurant and bundled against his will onto a plane bound for Poland,[4] had led a new political party in Kiev focused on denouncing corruption. His supporters in Kiev have joined angry veterans of the war in the east in a protest encampment outside the Ukrainian Parliament. Their tents and barricades are festooned with banners accusing Mr. Poroshenko and his business pals of thieving while soldiers are dying.

“Nobody mentions Putin anymore, and the ‘P’ word now is Poroshenko,” Mr. Saakashvili said in an interview in Kiev shortly before his expulsion from Ukraine. “This is not fair, because Putin is mostly responsible, but people see that there is a war and that Poroshenko and his friends are making money out of it.”

Mr. Abromavicius, the former economy minister, who quit in fury over the backtracking on anticorruption efforts, said he did not believe that Mr. Poroshenko was profiting personally from the conflict in the east. But he said the president has left himself exposed by failing to deliver on promises to sell off his business assets or to set up a genuinely independent anticorruption court.

Mr. Gladkovskyi defended the secrecy and the absence of public tenders for most military equipment, including ambulances, as necessary to prevent Russia from meddling in purchases by submitting phony bids through fake companies, which he says it has done repeatedly when competitive bidding has been attempted.

Mr. Saakashvili, right, at the Kiev Court of Appeal in January, has taken on the role of a corruption fighter.CreditAlexey Furman for The New York Times

“Nobody is making money from the war,” he said.

Mr. Gladkovskyi said that he had withdrawn from business decisions at his auto company, Bogdan Motors, and that his only knowledge of the ambulances came from visits to the front line, where he saw his vehicles and felt proud that Bogdan was assisting the war effort.

“Corruption,” he added in an interview, “is really very serious, but it is not connected with the system I am running.”

Looming large in this system is Ukroboronprom, a sprawling state conglomerate comprising 130 defense companies and employing around 80,000 people. Dmitro Maksimov, a former employee in Ukroboronprom’s control department, said shady deals in procurement were “the essence” of the conglomerate’s operations.

He recounted how a small screwlike piece of metal purchased by Ukroboronprom for an aircraft repair factory in Lviv had skyrocketed from $50 in early 2014 to nearly $4,000 a year later, after Ukroboronprom mysteriously shifted its business to an outside supplier.

Mr. Maksimov said he had raised this and other inexplicably high prices with his superiors, but was told to drop the matter and was later fired, a dismissal he is challenging in court.

Denys Gurak, the conglomerate’s young deputy director, said he did not know about Mr. Maksimov’s complaints but acknowledged that corruption existed in the defense sector. He added that after years of systematic looting under Mr. Yanukovych — who he said set up Ukroboronprom in 2010 so as to centralize stealing — “it is a miracle we can still do anything.”

“It is a systemic problem for the whole country, not just one sector,” he said. “The system does not work, so people steal. This is why the Soviet Union collapsed.”

He said that Ukroboronprom had itself sent 200 reports to prosecutors about corruption in its ranks but that only two of these had ended up in convictions, and suspended sentences.

The defense conglomerate last week announced, without explanation, the resignation of its director general, Roman Romanov.

Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Anticorruption Action Center, a nongovernmental group in Kiev, said that transparency and accountability are national security issues that must be addressed if Ukraine is not only to create a functioning European-style democracy, but also to hold its own on the battlefield in the east.

They would also help clarify why the military ambulances sold by Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company keep breaking down and why they were purchased in the first place.

A report last year by the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee said that each vehicle, whose chassis is Chinese made, had cost the Ukrainian Defense Ministry $32,000, much more than an ambulance imported from China would cost, and could carry only 800 pounds, far too little for a vehicle that would need a driver, armed guards and medical staff.

Valentina Varava, a volunteer who delivers supplies to troops in the east, said the ambulances were designed for urban roads, but “in the military zone, there are no roads.”

She said that as many as 19 of the 50 vehicles so far delivered to the east were out of service. The Ministry of Defense, she added, recently decided to buy 100 more ambulances from Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company.

Iulia Mendel contributed reporting.

Advertisement

0

In Ukraine, Corruption Is Now Undermining the Military

Advertisement

KIEV, Ukraine — Nearly four years into a grinding war against rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry proudly announced last month that it had improved its previously meager medical services for its wounded troops with the purchase and delivery of 100 new military ambulances.

Not mentioned, however, was that many of the ambulances had already broken down. Or that they had been sold to the military under a no-bid contract by an auto company owned by a senior official in charge of procurement for Ukraine’s armed forces. Or that the official, Oleg Gladkovskyi, is an old friend and business partner of Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

Ukraine’s spending on defense and security has soared since the conflict in the east started in 2014, rising from around 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product in 2013 to more than 5 percent this year, when it will total around $6 billion.

This bonanza, which will push procurement spending in 2018 to more than $700 million, has enabled Ukraine to rebuild its dilapidated military and fight to a standstill pro-Russian rebels and their heavily armed Russian backers.

But by pumping so much money through the hands of Ukrainian officials and businessmen — often the same people — the surge in military spending has also held back efforts to defeat the corruption and self-dealing[1] that many see as Ukraine’s most dangerous enemy.

The problem has throttled the hopes raised in February 2014 by the ouster of Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt, pro-Russian former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It has also left the country’s dispirited Western backers and many Ukrainians wondering what, after two revolutions since independence in 1991, it will take to curb the chronic corruption.

“It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned last year, referring to regions of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists after the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych.

Ukraine has made considerable progress since 2014 in draining pools of corruption in the gas business, a major source of income for crooked tycoons under Mr. Yanukovych. It has overhauled the state energy company, Naftogaz, and reduced the scope for corrupt gas deals by insiders by cutting its reliance on supplies from Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom.

Military spending, however, has opened up new vistas for opaque insider deals, sheltered from scrutiny by a cone of secrecy that covers the details of military spending.

“Corruption in the energy sector has been reduced, so some of the main avenues for corruption have moved to defense,” said Olena Tregub, the secretary general of the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee, a research group funded by Western donors.

While Mr. Gladkovskyi acknowledged that the ambulance purchase did not involve an open tender for bids, there is no evidence that he tilted military contracts for ambulances and other vehicles toward his own company, something he denies doing. But the appearance of a blatant conflict of interest is just one of many in a country where business and political power form a tangled skein of overlapping, opaque and often lucrative transactions.

“There is no proof that he influenced purchasing decisions, and there never will be. It is all secret,” said Victor Chumak, an independent member of the Ukrainian Parliament and deputy chairman of its anticorruption committee. “The merging of politics and business is our biggest problem.”

President Petro O. Poroshenko, right, at celebrations of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces last year. He hopes to win re-election next year.CreditMaxym Marusenko/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Emblematic of the intertwining of business and politics and the rich fruit this can yield are three lavish villas on the southern Spanish coast. They are owned by President Poroshenko, Mr. Gladkovskyi and Ihor Kononenko, another business partner of the president who leads Mr. Poroshenko’s faction in Parliament.

All three were wealthy businessmen before taking official posts, but they have nonetheless stirred suspicion by being less than forthcoming about their holdings. None of them declared the Spanish properties in mandatory filings of assets, an annual declaration of wealth by senior officials introduced in 2016 as part of a now-stalled drive for greater transparency and accountability.

Conflicts of interest are so widespread “that you are no longer even shocked,” said Aivaras Abromavicius, a former investment banker from Lithuania who helped lead a since-becalmed push for clean government while serving as Ukraine’s minister of economy and trade. “They are all over the place. It is sad, depressing and discouraging.”

Such disappointment has already cost Ukraine dearly. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union, frustrated by foot-dragging over the establishment of a long-promised independent anticorruption court and other setbacks, have suspended assistance money totaling more than $5 billion.

“Ukraine lived for decades in a state of total corruption,” said Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU, an independent agency set up in 2015 during an initial burst of enthusiasm for clean government following the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych. “These schemes have now been renewed and are again working. Some people simply don’t want to get rid of them.”

His bureau has assembled evidence in 107 cases against previously untouchable officials, but only one has ended with a court sentence. The rest are stalled in a sluggish judicial system addled by corruption and political meddling[2].

NABU’s efforts to delve into defense-related embezzlement, which led to the arrest last year of a deputy defense minister and the ministry’s procurement chief, led to a flurry of moves to neuter the anticorruption body.

“This is a very sensitive zone,” Mr. Sytnyk said.

NABU has come under sustained attack in recent months, with Parliament drafting legislation, later dropped, that would have emasculated the agency and with the domestic intelligence service raiding the homes of NABU employees.

Mr. Poroshenko, who is expected to seek re-election next year, has positioned himself as a leader who rebuilt Ukraine’s ramshackle military and stood up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. To the consternation of the Ukrainian leader, though, the conflict with pro-Russian separatists is slowly mutating in the public mind from a heroic struggle into yet another sinkhole of profiteering and graft.

Helping along this shift has been Mikheil Saakashvili,[3] the former president of Georgia who, until he was grabbed by Ukrainian security officers last week in a Kiev restaurant and bundled against his will onto a plane bound for Poland,[4] had led a new political party in Kiev focused on denouncing corruption. His supporters in Kiev have joined angry veterans of the war in the east in a protest encampment outside the Ukrainian Parliament. Their tents and barricades are festooned with banners accusing Mr. Poroshenko and his business pals of thieving while soldiers are dying.

“Nobody mentions Putin anymore, and the ‘P’ word now is Poroshenko,” Mr. Saakashvili said in an interview in Kiev shortly before his expulsion from Ukraine. “This is not fair, because Putin is mostly responsible, but people see that there is a war and that Poroshenko and his friends are making money out of it.”

Mr. Abromavicius, the former economy minister, who quit in fury over the backtracking on anticorruption efforts, said he did not believe that Mr. Poroshenko was profiting personally from the conflict in the east. But he said the president has left himself exposed by failing to deliver on promises to sell off his business assets or to set up a genuinely independent anticorruption court.

Mr. Gladkovskyi defended the secrecy and the absence of public tenders for most military equipment, including ambulances, as necessary to prevent Russia from meddling in purchases by submitting phony bids through fake companies, which he says it has done repeatedly when competitive bidding has been attempted.

Mr. Saakashvili, right, at the Kiev Court of Appeal in January, has taken on the role of a corruption fighter.CreditAlexey Furman for The New York Times

“Nobody is making money from the war,” he said.

Mr. Gladkovskyi said that he had withdrawn from business decisions at his auto company, Bogdan Motors, and that his only knowledge of the ambulances came from visits to the front line, where he saw his vehicles and felt proud that Bogdan was assisting the war effort.

“Corruption,” he added in an interview, “is really very serious, but it is not connected with the system I am running.”

Looming large in this system is Ukroboronprom, a sprawling state conglomerate comprising 130 defense companies and employing around 80,000 people. Dmitro Maksimov, a former employee in Ukroboronprom’s control department, said shady deals in procurement were “the essence” of the conglomerate’s operations.

He recounted how a small screwlike piece of metal purchased by Ukroboronprom for an aircraft repair factory in Lviv had skyrocketed from $50 in early 2014 to nearly $4,000 a year later, after Ukroboronprom mysteriously shifted its business to an outside supplier.

Mr. Maksimov said he had raised this and other inexplicably high prices with his superiors, but was told to drop the matter and was later fired, a dismissal he is challenging in court.

Denys Gurak, the conglomerate’s young deputy director, said he did not know about Mr. Maksimov’s complaints but acknowledged that corruption existed in the defense sector. He added that after years of systematic looting under Mr. Yanukovych — who he said set up Ukroboronprom in 2010 so as to centralize stealing — “it is a miracle we can still do anything.”

“It is a systemic problem for the whole country, not just one sector,” he said. “The system does not work, so people steal. This is why the Soviet Union collapsed.”

He said that Ukroboronprom had itself sent 200 reports to prosecutors about corruption in its ranks but that only two of these had ended up in convictions, and suspended sentences.

The defense conglomerate last week announced, without explanation, the resignation of its director general, Roman Romanov.

Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Anticorruption Action Center, a nongovernmental group in Kiev, said that transparency and accountability are national security issues that must be addressed if Ukraine is not only to create a functioning European-style democracy, but also to hold its own on the battlefield in the east.

They would also help clarify why the military ambulances sold by Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company keep breaking down and why they were purchased in the first place.

A report last year by the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee said that each vehicle, whose chassis is Chinese made, had cost the Ukrainian Defense Ministry $32,000, much more than an ambulance imported from China would cost, and could carry only 800 pounds, far too little for a vehicle that would need a driver, armed guards and medical staff.

Valentina Varava, a volunteer who delivers supplies to troops in the east, said the ambulances were designed for urban roads, but “in the military zone, there are no roads.”

She said that as many as 19 of the 50 vehicles so far delivered to the east were out of service. The Ministry of Defense, she added, recently decided to buy 100 more ambulances from Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company.

Iulia Mendel contributed reporting.

Advertisement

0

In Ukraine, Corruption Is Now Undermining the Military

Advertisement

KIEV, Ukraine — Nearly four years into a grinding war against rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry proudly announced last month that it had improved its previously meager medical services for its wounded troops with the purchase and delivery of 100 new military ambulances.

Not mentioned, however, was that many of the ambulances had already broken down. Or that they had been sold to the military under a no-bid contract by an auto company owned by a senior official in charge of procurement for Ukraine’s armed forces. Or that the official, Oleg Gladkovskyi, is an old friend and business partner of Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

Ukraine’s spending on defense and security has soared since the conflict in the east started in 2014, rising from around 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product in 2013 to more than 5 percent this year, when it will total around $6 billion.

This bonanza, which will push procurement spending in 2018 to more than $700 million, has enabled Ukraine to rebuild its dilapidated military and fight to a standstill pro-Russian rebels and their heavily armed Russian backers.

But by pumping so much money through the hands of Ukrainian officials and businessmen — often the same people — the surge in military spending has also held back efforts to defeat the corruption and self-dealing[1] that many see as Ukraine’s most dangerous enemy.

The problem has throttled the hopes raised in February 2014 by the ouster of Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt, pro-Russian former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It has also left the country’s dispirited Western backers and many Ukrainians wondering what, after two revolutions since independence in 1991, it will take to curb the chronic corruption.

“It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned last year, referring to regions of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists after the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych.

Ukraine has made considerable progress since 2014 in draining pools of corruption in the gas business, a major source of income for crooked tycoons under Mr. Yanukovych. It has overhauled the state energy company, Naftogaz, and reduced the scope for corrupt gas deals by insiders by cutting its reliance on supplies from Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom.

Military spending, however, has opened up new vistas for opaque insider deals, sheltered from scrutiny by a cone of secrecy that covers the details of military spending.

“Corruption in the energy sector has been reduced, so some of the main avenues for corruption have moved to defense,” said Olena Tregub, the secretary general of the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee, a research group funded by Western donors.

While Mr. Gladkovskyi acknowledged that the ambulance purchase did not involve an open tender for bids, there is no evidence that he tilted military contracts for ambulances and other vehicles toward his own company, something he denies doing. But the appearance of a blatant conflict of interest is just one of many in a country where business and political power form a tangled skein of overlapping, opaque and often lucrative transactions.

“There is no proof that he influenced purchasing decisions, and there never will be. It is all secret,” said Victor Chumak, an independent member of the Ukrainian Parliament and deputy chairman of its anticorruption committee. “The merging of politics and business is our biggest problem.”

President Petro O. Poroshenko, right, at celebrations of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces last year. He hopes to win re-election next year.CreditMaxym Marusenko/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Emblematic of the intertwining of business and politics and the rich fruit this can yield are three lavish villas on the southern Spanish coast. They are owned by President Poroshenko, Mr. Gladkovskyi and Ihor Kononenko, another business partner of the president who leads Mr. Poroshenko’s faction in Parliament.

All three were wealthy businessmen before taking official posts, but they have nonetheless stirred suspicion by being less than forthcoming about their holdings. None of them declared the Spanish properties in mandatory filings of assets, an annual declaration of wealth by senior officials introduced in 2016 as part of a now-stalled drive for greater transparency and accountability.

Conflicts of interest are so widespread “that you are no longer even shocked,” said Aivaras Abromavicius, a former investment banker from Lithuania who helped lead a since-becalmed push for clean government while serving as Ukraine’s minister of economy and trade. “They are all over the place. It is sad, depressing and discouraging.”

Such disappointment has already cost Ukraine dearly. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union, frustrated by foot-dragging over the establishment of a long-promised independent anticorruption court and other setbacks, have suspended assistance money totaling more than $5 billion.

“Ukraine lived for decades in a state of total corruption,” said Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU, an independent agency set up in 2015 during an initial burst of enthusiasm for clean government following the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych. “These schemes have now been renewed and are again working. Some people simply don’t want to get rid of them.”

His bureau has assembled evidence in 107 cases against previously untouchable officials, but only one has ended with a court sentence. The rest are stalled in a sluggish judicial system addled by corruption and political meddling[2].

NABU’s efforts to delve into defense-related embezzlement, which led to the arrest last year of a deputy defense minister and the ministry’s procurement chief, led to a flurry of moves to neuter the anticorruption body.

“This is a very sensitive zone,” Mr. Sytnyk said.

NABU has come under sustained attack in recent months, with Parliament drafting legislation, later dropped, that would have emasculated the agency and with the domestic intelligence service raiding the homes of NABU employees.

Mr. Poroshenko, who is expected to seek re-election next year, has positioned himself as a leader who rebuilt Ukraine’s ramshackle military and stood up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. To the consternation of the Ukrainian leader, though, the conflict with pro-Russian separatists is slowly mutating in the public mind from a heroic struggle into yet another sinkhole of profiteering and graft.

Helping along this shift has been Mikheil Saakashvili,[3] the former president of Georgia who, until he was grabbed by Ukrainian security officers last week in a Kiev restaurant and bundled against his will onto a plane bound for Poland,[4] had led a new political party in Kiev focused on denouncing corruption. His supporters in Kiev have joined angry veterans of the war in the east in a protest encampment outside the Ukrainian Parliament. Their tents and barricades are festooned with banners accusing Mr. Poroshenko and his business pals of thieving while soldiers are dying.

“Nobody mentions Putin anymore, and the ‘P’ word now is Poroshenko,” Mr. Saakashvili said in an interview in Kiev shortly before his expulsion from Ukraine. “This is not fair, because Putin is mostly responsible, but people see that there is a war and that Poroshenko and his friends are making money out of it.”

Mr. Abromavicius, the former economy minister, who quit in fury over the backtracking on anticorruption efforts, said he did not believe that Mr. Poroshenko was profiting personally from the conflict in the east. But he said the president has left himself exposed by failing to deliver on promises to sell off his business assets or to set up a genuinely independent anticorruption court.

Mr. Gladkovskyi defended the secrecy and the absence of public tenders for most military equipment, including ambulances, as necessary to prevent Russia from meddling in purchases by submitting phony bids through fake companies, which he says it has done repeatedly when competitive bidding has been attempted.

Mr. Saakashvili, right, at the Kiev Court of Appeal in January, has taken on the role of a corruption fighter.CreditAlexey Furman for The New York Times

“Nobody is making money from the war,” he said.

Mr. Gladkovskyi said that he had withdrawn from business decisions at his auto company, Bogdan Motors, and that his only knowledge of the ambulances came from visits to the front line, where he saw his vehicles and felt proud that Bogdan was assisting the war effort.

“Corruption,” he added in an interview, “is really very serious, but it is not connected with the system I am running.”

Looming large in this system is Ukroboronprom, a sprawling state conglomerate comprising 130 defense companies and employing around 80,000 people. Dmitro Maksimov, a former employee in Ukroboronprom’s control department, said shady deals in procurement were “the essence” of the conglomerate’s operations.

He recounted how a small screwlike piece of metal purchased by Ukroboronprom for an aircraft repair factory in Lviv had skyrocketed from $50 in early 2014 to nearly $4,000 a year later, after Ukroboronprom mysteriously shifted its business to an outside supplier.

Mr. Maksimov said he had raised this and other inexplicably high prices with his superiors, but was told to drop the matter and was later fired, a dismissal he is challenging in court.

Denys Gurak, the conglomerate’s young deputy director, said he did not know about Mr. Maksimov’s complaints but acknowledged that corruption existed in the defense sector. He added that after years of systematic looting under Mr. Yanukovych — who he said set up Ukroboronprom in 2010 so as to centralize stealing — “it is a miracle we can still do anything.”

“It is a systemic problem for the whole country, not just one sector,” he said. “The system does not work, so people steal. This is why the Soviet Union collapsed.”

He said that Ukroboronprom had itself sent 200 reports to prosecutors about corruption in its ranks but that only two of these had ended up in convictions, and suspended sentences.

The defense conglomerate last week announced, without explanation, the resignation of its director general, Roman Romanov.

Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Anticorruption Action Center, a nongovernmental group in Kiev, said that transparency and accountability are national security issues that must be addressed if Ukraine is not only to create a functioning European-style democracy, but also to hold its own on the battlefield in the east.

They would also help clarify why the military ambulances sold by Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company keep breaking down and why they were purchased in the first place.

A report last year by the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee said that each vehicle, whose chassis is Chinese made, had cost the Ukrainian Defense Ministry $32,000, much more than an ambulance imported from China would cost, and could carry only 800 pounds, far too little for a vehicle that would need a driver, armed guards and medical staff.

Valentina Varava, a volunteer who delivers supplies to troops in the east, said the ambulances were designed for urban roads, but “in the military zone, there are no roads.”

She said that as many as 19 of the 50 vehicles so far delivered to the east were out of service. The Ministry of Defense, she added, recently decided to buy 100 more ambulances from Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company.

Iulia Mendel contributed reporting.

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In Ukraine, Corruption Is Now Undermining the Military

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KIEV, Ukraine — Nearly four years into a grinding war against rebels armed by Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry proudly announced last month that it had improved its previously meager medical services for its wounded troops with the purchase and delivery of 100 new military ambulances.

Not mentioned, however, was that many of the ambulances had already broken down. Or that they had been sold to the military under a no-bid contract by an auto company owned by a senior official in charge of procurement for Ukraine’s armed forces. Or that the official, Oleg Gladkovskyi, is an old friend and longtime business partner of , Petro O. Poroshenko.

Ukraine’s spending on defense and security has soared since the conflict in the east started in 2014, rising from around 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product in 2013 to more than 5 percent this year, when it will total around $6 billion.

This bonanza, which will push procurement spending in 2018 to more than $700 million, has enabled Ukraine to rebuild its dilapidated military and fight to a standstill pro-Russian rebels and their heavily armed Russian backers.

But by pumping so much money through the hands of Ukrainian officials and businessmen — often the same people — the surge in military spending has also held back efforts to defeat the corruption and self-dealing[1] that many see as Ukraine’s most dangerous enemy.

The problem has throttled many of the hopes raised in February 2014 by the ouster of Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt, pro-Russian former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It has also left the country’s dispirited Western backers and many Ukrainians wondering what, after two revolutions since independence in 1991, it will take to curb the chronic corruption.

“It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned last year, referring to regions of eastern Ukraine seized by Russian-backed separatists after the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych.

Ukraine has made considerable progress since 2014 in draining pools of corruption in the gas business, a major source of income for crooked tycoons under Mr. Yanukovych. It has overhauled the state energy company, Naftogaz, and reduced the scope for corrupt gas deals by insiders by cutting its reliance on supplies from Russia’s energy giant, Gazprom.

Military spending, however, has opened up new vistas for opaque insider deals, sheltered from scrutiny by a cone of secrecy that covers the details of military spending.

“Corruption in the energy sector has been reduced, so some of the main avenues for corruption have moved to defense,” said Olena Tregub, the secretary general of the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee, a research group funded by Western donors.

While Mr. Gladkovskyi acknowledged that the ambulance purchase did not involve an open tender for bids, there is no evidence that he tilted military contracts for ambulances and other vehicles toward his own company, something he firmly denies doing. But the appearance of a blatant conflict of interest is just one of many in a country where business and political power form a tangled skein of overlapping, opaque and often highly lucrative transactions.

“There is no proof that he influenced purchasing decisions, and there never will be. It is all secret,” said Victor Chumak, an independent member of the Ukrainian Parliament and deputy chairman of its anticorruption committee. “The merging of politics and business is our biggest problem.”

President Petro O. Poroshenko, right, at celebrations of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces last year. He hopes to win re-election next year.CreditMaxym Marusenko/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

Emblematic of the incestuous intertwining of business and politics and the rich fruit this can yield are three lavish villas on the southern Spanish coast. They are owned by President Poroshenko, Mr. Gladkovskyi and Ihor Kononenko, another business partner of the president who leads Mr. Poroshenko’s faction in Parliament.

All three were wealthy businessmen before taking official posts, but they have nonetheless stirred suspicion by being less than forthcoming about their holdings. None of them declared the Spanish properties in mandatory filings of assets, an annual declaration of wealth by senior officials introduced in 2016 as part of a now-stalled drive for greater transparency and accountability.

Conflicts of interest are so widespread “that you are no longer even shocked,” said Aivaras Abromavicius, a former investment banker from Lithuania who helped lead a since-becalmed push for clean government while serving as Ukraine’s minister of economy and trade from 2014 to 2016. “They are all over the place. It is sad, depressing and discouraging.”

Such disappointment has already cost Ukraine dearly. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union, frustrated by foot-dragging over the establishment of a long-promised independent anticorruption court and other setbacks, have suspended assistance money totaling more than $5 billion.

“Ukraine lived for decades in a state of total corruption,” said Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU, an independent agency set up in 2015 during an initial burst of enthusiasm for clean government following the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych. “These schemes have now been renewed and are again working. Some people simply don’t want to get rid of them.”

His bureau has assembled evidence in 107 cases against previously untouchable officials, but only one has ended with a court sentence. The rest are stalled in a sluggish judicial system addled by corruption and political meddling[2].

NABU’s efforts to delve into defense-related embezzlement, which led to the arrest last year of a deputy defense minister and the ministry’s procurement chief, led to a flurry of moves by the authorities to neuter the anticorruption body.

“This is a very sensitive zone,” Mr. Sytnyk said.

NABU has come under sustained attack in recent months, with Parliament drafting legislation, later dropped, that would have emasculated the agency and with the domestic intelligence service raiding the homes of NABU employees.

Mr. Poroshenko who is expected to seek re-election next year, has positioned himself as a leader who rebuilt Ukraine’s ramshackle military and stood up to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. To the consternation of the Ukraine leader, though, the conflict with pro-Russian separatists is slowly mutating in the public mind from a heroic struggle into yet another sinkhole of profiteering and graft.

Helping along this shift has been Mikheil Saakashvili,[3] the former president of Georgia who, until he was grabbed by Ukrainian security officers last week in a Kiev restaurant and bundled against his will onto a plane bound for Poland,[4] had led a new political party in Kiev focused on denouncing corruption. His supporters in Kiev have joined angry veterans of the war in the east in a protest encampment outside the Ukrainian Parliament. Their tents and barricades are festooned with banners accusing Mr. Poroshenko and his business pals of thieving while soldiers are dying.

“Nobody mentions Putin anymore, and the ‘P’ word now is Poroshenko,” Mr. Saakashvili said in an interview in Kiev shortly before his expulsion from Ukraine. “This is not fair, because Putin is mostly responsible, but people see that there is a war and that Poroshenko and his friends are making money out of it.”

Mr. Abromavicius, the former economy minister, who quit in fury over the backtracking on anticorruption efforts, said he did not believe that Mr. Poroshenko was profiting personally from the conflict in the east. But he said the president has left himself exposed by failing to deliver on promises to sell off his business assets or to set up a genuinely independent anticorruption court.

Mr. Gladkovskyi defended the secrecy and the absence of public tenders for most military equipment, including ambulances, as necessary to prevent Russia from meddling in purchases by submitting phony bids through fake companies, which he says it has done repeatedly when competitive bidding has been attempted.

Mr. Saakashvili, right, at the Kiev Court of Appeal in January, has taken on the role of a corruption fighter.CreditAlexey Furman for The New York Times

“Nobody is making money from the war,” he said.

Mr. Gladkovskyi said that he had withdrawn from business decisions at his auto company, Bogdan Motors, and that his only knowledge of the ambulances came from visits to the front line, where he saw his vehicles and felt proud that Bogdan was assisting the war effort.

“Corruption,” he added in an interview, “is really very serious, but it is not connected with the system I am running.”

Looming large in this system is Ukroboronprom, a sprawling state conglomerate comprising 130 defense companies and employing around 80,000 people. Dmitro Maksimov, a former employee in Ukroboronprom’s control department, said shady deals in procurement were “the essence” of the conglomerate’s operations.

He recounted how a small screwlike piece of metal purchased by Ukroboronprom for an aircraft repair factory in Lviv had skyrocketed from $50 in early 2014 to nearly $4,000 a year later, after Ukroboronprom mysteriously shifted its business to an outside supplier.

Mr. Maksimov said he had raised this and other inexplicably high prices with his superiors, but was told to drop the matter and was later fired, a dismissal he is challenging in court.

Denys Gurak, the conglomerate’s young deputy director, said he did not know about Mr. Maksimov’s complaints but acknowledged that corruption existed in the defense sector. He added that after years of systematic looting under Mr. Yanukovych — who he said set up Ukroboronprom in 2010 so as to centralize stealing — “it is a miracle we can still do anything.”

“It is a systemic problem for the whole country, not just one sector,” he said. “The system does not work, so people steal. This is why the Soviet Union collapsed.”

He said that Ukroboronprom had itself sent 200 reports to prosecutors about corruption in its ranks but that only two of these had ended up in convictions, and suspended sentences.

The defense conglomerate last week announced, without explanation, the resignation of its director general, Roman Romanov.

Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Anticorruption Action Center, a nongovernmental group in Kiev, said that transparency and accountability are national security issues that must be addressed if Ukraine is not only to create a functioning European-style democracy, but also to hold its own on the battlefield in the east.

They would also help clarify why the military ambulances sold by Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company keep breaking down and why they were purchased in the first place.

A report last year by the Independent Defense Anti-Corruption Committee said that each vehicle, whose chassis is Chinese made, had cost the Ukrainian Defense Ministry $32,000, much more than an ambulance imported from China would cost, and could carry only 800 pounds, far too little for a vehicle that would need a driver, armed guards and medical staff.

Valentina Varava, a volunteer who delivers supplies to troops in the east, said the ambulances were designed for urban roads, but “in the military zone, there are no roads.”

She said that as many as 19 of the 50 vehicles so far delivered to the east were out of service. The Ministry of Defense, she added, recently decided to buy 100 more ambulances from Mr. Gladkovskyi’s auto company.

Iulia Mendel contributed reporting.

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