Ukraine’s farm minister is the latest corruption suspect as Kyiv aims to undo recent Russian gains

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Ukrainian court on Friday ordered the detention of the country’s farm minister in the latest high-profile corruption investigation, while Kyiv security officials assessed how they can recover lost battlefield momentum in the war against Russia.

Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court ruled that Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Solskyi should be held in custody for 60 days, but he was released after paying bail of 75 million hryvnias ($1.77 million), a statement said.

Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau suspects Solskyi headed an organized crime group that between 2017 and 2021 unlawfully obtained land worth 291 million hryvnias ($6.85 million) and attempted to obtain other land worth 190 million hryvnias ($4.47 million).

Ukraine is trying to root out corruption that has long dogged the country. A dragnet over the past two years has seen Ukraine’s defense minister, top prosecutor, intelligence chief and other senior officials lose their jobs.

That has caused embarrassment and unease as Ukraine receives tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid to help fight Russia’s army, and the European Union and NATO have demanded widespread anti-graft measures before Kyiv can realize its ambition of joining the blocs.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was due to hold online talks Friday with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which has been the key international organization coordinating the delivery of weapons and other aid to Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said late Thursday that the meeting would discuss how to turn around Ukraine’s fortunes on the battlefield. The Kremlin’s forces have gained an edge over Kyiv’s army in recent months as Ukraine grappled with a shortage of ammunition and troops.

Russia, despite sustaining high losses, has been taking control of small settlements as part of its effort to drive deeper into eastern Ukraine after capturing the city of Avdiivka in February, the U.K. defense ministry said Friday.

It’s been slow going for the Kremlin’s troops in eastern Ukraine and is likely to stay that way, according to the Institute for the Study of War. However, the key hilltop town of Chasiv Yar is vulnerable to the Russian onslaught, which is using glide bombs — powerful Soviet-era weapons that were originally unguided but have been retrofitted with a navigational targeting system — that obliterate targets.

“Russian forces do pose a credible threat of seizing Chasiv Yar, although they may not be able to do so rapidly,” the Washington-based think tank said late Thursday.

It added that Russian commanders are likely seeking to advance as much as possible before the arrival in the coming weeks and months of new U.S. military aid, which was held up for six months by political differences in Congress.

While that U.S. help wasn’t forthcoming, Ukraine’s European partners didn’t pick up the slack, according to German’s Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which tracks Ukraine support.

“The European aid in recent months is nowhere near enough to fill the gap left by the lack of U.S. assistance, particularly in the area of ammunition and artillery shells,” it said in a report Thursday.

Ukraine is making a broad effort to take back the initiative in the war after more than two years of fighting. It plans to manufacture more of its own weapons in the future and is clamping down on young people avoiding conscription, though it will take time to process and train any new recruits.

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