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“Avakov isn’t anti-Trump. Avakov is pro-Avakov”: What Yovanovitch’s Testimony Revealed About Ukrainian Politics
6 November, 2019

Former Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko was working to remove former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch from office, while Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov warned her of Lutsenko’s efforts. Another former Prosecutor-General, Viktor Shokin, lied to the U.S. embassy in an attempt to receive a visa. And U.S. President Donald Trump called into a meeting held between Lutsenko and the President’s personal lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

That’s just a few of the fragments gleaned from testimony Yovanovitch provided to the U.S. Congress during the course of an ongoing impeachment inquiry against Trump. Yovanovitch worked in Kyiv for three years, and was suddenly recalled in April 2019 at Trump’s command.

The 317-page document, containing Yovanovitch’s testimony, was only released to the public this week. We’ve distilled the biggest takeaways from her testimony.

Trump Called In to a Meeting Between Lutsenko and Giuliani

Lutsenko and Giuliani held a meeting in January of 2018, the nature of which wasn’t clear to Yovanovitch at the time. But she did recall learning that Trump himself called into the meeting. Yovanovitch says that U.S. diplomat Joseph Pennington informed her of this fact, and it was further confirmed by Yevhenii Yenin, who was at the time a deputy prosecutor-general responsible for international liaisons.

The Chairman: You mentioned there was a rumor that the President may have joined, by phone, a meeting between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Lutsenko. What was the time of that meeting?

Yovanovitch: That was the January 2018 meeting.

The Chairman: And where did you hear this particular rumor from?

Yovanovitch: Oh, Mr. Yenin, the deputy – well, he was one of the deputy prosecutors to Mr. Lutsenko and he handled international affairs.

Avakov "Betrayed" Lutsenko to the U.S. Embassy

Yovanovitch said that she learned about the meetings between Lutsenko and Giuliani from Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov. He told the ambassador that Giulaini was trying to set up a meeting with him, when the minister visited the United States in January to the beginning of February 2019.

Giuliani personally called Avakov. Avakov was also contacted by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two of Giuliani’s associates that have since been indicted for conspiring to violate straw and foreign donor bans on U.S. domestic elections. Avakov decided not to meet with Giuliani, and advised Yovanovitch to tread carefully. “[Avakov] thought it was very dangerous...that to start kind of getting into U.S. politics, into U.S. domestic politics, was a dangerous place for Ukraine to be,” she said. 

READ MORE: Buzzfeed’s Kozyreva on Investigation into Giuliani Associates Parnas and Fruman

The Congressional committee brought up a post made by Avakov on Facebook, prior to the U.S. election in 2016, that he had said “Trump is more dangerous to America than terrorism,” quoted by Politico, though the post was deleted after Trump’s victory.

The committee wanted to know whether Avakov was opposed to Trump. But according to Yovanovitch, Avakov was a very pragmatic politician.

Steve Castor, Republican staffer for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: To your knowledge, was Mr. Avakov, was he anti-Trump?

Yovanovitch: I think he was pro-Avakov.

Giuliani Lobbed for a U.S. Visa for Shokin

Yovanovitch says that near the end of 2018, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv received a tourist visa application from Viktor Shokin.

Yovanovitch: The embassy had received a visa application for a tourist visa from Mr. Shokin, the previous prosecutor general. And he said that he was coming to visit his children, who live in the United States. And so, the consular folks, you know, got the application, recognized the name, and believed that he was ineligible for a visa, based on his, you know, known corrupt activities. And they alerted me to this. And I said, Well, what would you do if he wasn’t – if it wasn’t Mr. Shokin, if it was some other businessman that we didn’t recognize the name? And they said, We would refuse the visa...The next thing we knew – so I alerted Washington to this, that this had happened. And the next thing we knew, Mayor Giuliani was calling the White House as well as the Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, saying that I was blocking the visa for Mr. Shokin, and that Mr. Shokin was coming to meet him and provide information about corruption at the embassy, including my corruption.

The former ambassador also noted that Shokin had lied on his application, because his application stated that his goal was to visit his children who live in the U.S., and that the application did not include any information about a meeting with Giuliani. Yovanovitch added that she relayed this information to the Assistant Secretary of State for Euro-Asian Affairs, Wes Mitchell, and that Mitchell completely supported the embassy’s decision.

READ MORE: Former Ambassador Decries ‘Concerted Effort’ Behind Her Removal

The U.S. Began Looking into Zelenskyy in Summer of 2018

A separate line of inquiry during the deposition involves Yovanovitch’s relations with the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections. She says that the U.S. embassy in Kyiv started taking in interest in Zelenskyy in summer of 2018, due to Zelenskyy’s rising popularity. And the former ambassador met with Zelenskyy in September 2018. She added that the embassy understood that Zelenskyy would most likely win the election in January of this year.

As for Poroshenko, the former president and then-candidate for re-election, she characterized as a representative of the “old elite.” She called her relations with Ukraine’s fifth president “complicated”, because she believed that he was providing cover for both corrupt prosecutors, Shokin and Lutsenko. Poroshenko also seemingly disliked the U.S. embassy’s activities concerning anti-corruption.

READ MORE: It Was Unfair to Drag Zelenskyy Into US Domestic Politics - Former US Official

Yovanovitch commented that reforms under Poroshenko stalled after the first few years of his presidency, and that Ukrainian society rejected his politics. According to her, Lutsenko was trying to get, through Giuliani, Trump to endorse Poroshenko in spring of 2018.

And in answering a question on whether or not she supported Zelenskyy, who she had met on April 20, a day prior to the second round of voting, Yovanovitch explained that she could not endorse any politician – she was both a diplomat and she had no strong understanding of what sort of president Zelenskyy would be. But it seemed, to both her and former Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker, that Zelenskyy would generally try to push through reform.

As a result, she said she was rather confused by the conciliatory tone taken by Zelenskyy during his phone call with Trump, and by the fact that Zelenskyy had called her a “bad ambassador.” She claims this information was a big and unpleasant surprise to her, though she reasons that this attitude was due to the Ukrainian leader’s dependance on America. But as she was no longer working in Kyiv at the time, this information was unpleasant, but not overly concerning.

READ MORE: The Power Games Inside Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office

/By Maxim Kamenev and Nataliya Gumenyuk

/Translated by Romeo Kokriatski