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For Ukrainian Politicians, All Roads Lead to K Street

Incoming President Zelenskiy’s pledge to make a total break with the past could be costly for Washington consultants.

by Ky Krauthamer 9 May 2019

For Ukraine’s president-elect, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the priorities for his administration “are absolutely clear: the fight against corruption, rule of law and economic reforms.”


With these words, Zelenskiy’s adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk is seeking to distance him from outgoing President Petro Poroshenko, the Financial Times writes.


And yet, Poroshenko’s government has made its share of like-sounding promises to its Western partners, in return for diplomatic support in the war with Russian-backed separatists, military hardware and advisers, and above all, financial aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.


A Backroom Meeting


But if the incoming team’s rhetoric is not all that different from what Washington and Brussels have been hearing for the past five years, what might truly change is the steady flow of money from Ukraine’s ruling elites to Washington insiders.


Some light, and more heat, was thrown on the Kyiv-Washington axis this week with the sudden sacking of the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv.


Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat appointed to the post by President Barack Obama, has been called home two months before her stint in Kyiv was due to expire. This despite her main Ukrainian critic’s admission that he heavily embellished his account of their fraught 2017 meeting, a story American right-wingers have seized upon as evidence of Obama-era meddling in Ukrainian politics.


In his initial account of the meeting, General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said Yovanovitch presented him with a “do not prosecute list” during a meeting in January 2017 when the ambassador queried him as to why some anti-corruption activists were themselves under suspicion of shady dealing.


The U.S. State Department dismissed Lutsenko’s claim as an “outright fabrication.” He made the allegation in an interview with The Hill two weeks after Yovanovitch had angered him by calling for the ouster of the controversial chief anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky.


Lutsenko quickly walked back the claim, Unian reported, admitting last month he  wrote down a few names of activists, then asked Yovanovitch to “give me a do not prosecute list,” which she refused to do.


The implication was that Yovanovitch wanted to shield allies of Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to a story in yesterday’s edition of Vanity Fair.


The Kyiv-D.C. Axis


Since Lutsenko can expect to be replaced soon after Zelenskiy takes office, and Yovanovitch’s three-year posting was due to end in a few weeks anyway, does any of this matter?


It might well have a bearing on the presidential ambitions of Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s point man on Ukraine and is taking fire from American conservatives who allege he intervened to protect his son Hunter Biden’s consulting work for a Ukrainian oligarch close to ousted former leader Viktor Yanukovych.


British journalist Oliver Bullough says Biden, who announced his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election two weeks ago, actually did a good job trying to unravel the famously tangled web of Ukrainian politics.


In a commentary for The Washington Post, Bullough concedes that Hunter Biden (pictured) showed a weak grasp of ethics when he took a lucrative consulting job for exiled Ukrainian businessman Mykola Zlochevsky in 2014.


Bullough, the author of Moneyland: Why Thieves And Crooks Now Rule The World And How To Take It Back, covered Ukraine’s investigation into Zlochevsky’s energy company in a 2017 report for the Guardian.


Hunter Biden, an “undistinguished corporate lawyer, with no previous Ukraine experience,” was not an obvious choice to advise a controversial Ukrainian businessman and official in 2014, Bullough wrote two years ago, at a time when Ukraine’s investigation into Zlochevsky’s Burisma Holdings company had faltered.


However, claims that Joe Biden intervened to get Ukraine’s chief prosecutor sacked in order to protect his son don’t hold water, Bullough writes for the Post. Ukraine’s investigation into Burisma flamed out well before Ukrainian lawmakers sacked the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, in 2016. Bullough cites a report by the Anti-Corruption Action Center alleging that both Shokin’s predecessor and his successor, Lutsenko, quashed probes into Burisma.


Under-the-radar connections between Ukraine’s elites and Washington politicians and consultants predate the Trump administration. The guilty verdicts handed political fixer Paul Manafort, partly over his work in Ukraine, date to well before he joined the Trump campaign team. U.S. federal prosecutors have charged Greg Craig, at one time Obama’s White House counsel, with making false statements in connection with a report on the Yanukovych administration’s prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Manafort commissioned the report in 2012, seen as an attempt to blacken Tymoshenko, from Skadden Arps, the law firm where Craig was a partner, the Daily Beast reported.


Tymoshenko traveled to the United States in December to drum up support for her ultimately unsuccessful presidential bid (she finished third in the first round of voting).


Records released by the U.S. Justice Department reveal that foreign agents and lobbyists contracted to a lobbying firm run by former Republican member of Congress Bob Livingston helped make Tymoshenko’s meetings with influential politicians happen, according to, a project of the U.S. political finance watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.


During her December trip, Tymoshenko held meetings with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a Democrat, and Republican Senator for Arkansas Tom Cotton.


Another lawmaker turned lobbyist, Bob McEwen, “quietly introduced” Tymoshenko to Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani (pictured), OpenSecrets says.


The former New York City mayor’s appearance in the story adds another layer of complexity. Giuliani was quick to blast Joe Biden for inappropriate behavior regarding his son’s work in Ukraine. He was, until at least last summer, also head of a consulting firm that worked for Ukrainian clients.


In July, Giuliani said he intended to continue representing foreign entities, a departure from standard practice for presidential lawyers, The Washington Post wrote.


“I’ve never lobbied [Trump] on anything,” Giuliani said. “I don’t represent foreign government[s] in front of the U.S. government. I’ve never registered to lobby.”

Ky Krauthamer is a senior editor at TOL.
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