Ukraine’s Zelenskyy Administration Sues RFE/RL Over Oman Visit Report
14 February, 2020
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) and Sultanate of Oman's Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah meet on January 5. Office of the President of Ukraine

UPDATE: RFE/RL has responded to the Presidential Administration (link in Ukrainian.) The statement calls the presidential administration's actions as "pressure and interference in editorial work", and states that government funding of UA: PBC, the Ukrainian public broadcaster and a co-sponsor of the Schemes project, "does not mean that [the government] has the right to publicly pressure" the channel.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the Middle Eastern country of Oman in early January, shortly before the shooting down of Ukrainian Airlines Flight PS752 by the Iranian military. While the official record of that trip stated that Zelenskyy met with a few Omani government officials, journalists working at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s “Schemes” anti-corruption project allege that the president didn’t just meet with Omani officials – but with a high-ranking member of the Russian government.

These allegations, core to an eighteen minute video that claims to have sources exposing Zelenskyy’s meeting with the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev. In response to the allegations raised in the "Schemes" video, the presidential administration has lodged a suit with a Kyiv court asking for an apology from the news agency for what the administration says is spreading disinformation.

“The disclosed findings are not based on facts or investigations, but on assumptions and assertions from some shadowy sources, which were broadcast as part of the 'Schemes' program. The Office of the President of Ukraine considers this as a downright manipulation of public opinion. When these sorts of manipulations are sent out through anonymous accounts on social networks as part of the framework of informational operations of the aggressor against Ukraine, then this can be explained through the logic of hybrid warfare. But when Ukrainian journalists act the same way – this leaves the realm of press freedom for journalists,” reads a statement by the Office of the President.

The RFE/RL journalists do rely on the use of unnamed sources throughout their reporting, as is common journalistic practice, and they further establish that the chartered flight, used by Zelenskyy to return to Kyiv from Oman following the downing of flight PS752, was the same one that brought Patrushev to Oman – at the same time that Zelenskyy was present in the country.

The Office of the President and all politicians thought to be part of the scheme – such as Kharkiv mayor Gennady Kernes – to hold secret talks with Russian representatives deny any involvement, with the Office of the President affirming that Zelenskyy has never met with Patrushev.

Andriy Yermak, the new chief-of-staff for Zelenskyy’s administration, added in a Facebook post that he believes that journalists should have the ability to criticize the ruling authorities, these criticisms should be “supported by facts.”