Ukraine is no stranger to controversy. It’s not exactly a secret that Ukraine was, and so far remains, deeply corrupt – but aside from oligarch efforts to burnish their own international image, that corruption has stayed mostly domestic. However, new allegations from U.S. President Donald Trump are pushing a Ukraine corruption story – a daily feature of headlines in the country – onto the international stage, with implications for not only Ukraine’s reputation abroad, but its very own national security, as Ukraine remains locked in a conflict with Russia for the sixth year going.
This newest controversy mixes Ukrainian and U.S. domestic politics in a way that may not be completely clear, and has already led to an upcoming declaration of impeachment for President Trump – so we at Hromadske have compiled a Q&A on all the different parts of this story.
During a recent phone call between Trump and recently elected Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Trump is said to have pressured his Ukrainian counterpart on starting investigations into a political rival, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Biden, currently a frontrunner in the upcoming 2020 U.S. president elections, had previously worked with the Ukrainian government after the Maidan Revolution, as part of the Obama Administration, and he’s boasted of his role in ousting then-Ukrainian General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin.
Trump has publicly repeated a number of times his belief that Joe Biden acted corruptly in calling for Shokin’s removal – a belief based in, according to Trump, business relations that Joe Biden’s son had with a Ukrainian company at the time. Trump and his lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have said that they believe that Shokin was removed so as to stymie corruption investigations into that company.
Hunter Biden’s Role
Hunter Biden, a lawyer, has had a career that has often followed in the trail of his father’s. He’s worked for various companies and organizations involved in issues that his father often had a political role in – though that in itself is not evidence of wrongdoing, as Hunter Biden is a private citizen and has not played a political role in the U.S.
However, during the post-Maidan period, the Obama Administration made supporting Ukraine a priority, as the country underwent a democratic transition away from Russian influence. Joe Biden, along with many other Obama officials, often visited Ukraine to provide guidance and assistance. It was during this time that Hunter Biden was offered a position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma – a role that paid up to $50,000 at times.
A lot of the scandal revolves around the Ukrainian General Prosecutors involved in the story, of which there are two key figures – Viktor Shokin, who held the role for a little over a year in the Poroshenko administration, and Yuriy Lutsenko who succeeded him. The claim by Trump and Giuliani is that Shokin was removed, under pressure from Biden, to halt investigation of Burisma – which Shokin said was a top priority for him at the time.
However, Shokin’s story doesn’t hold up to facts – the Burisma investigation, which was concurrent with a U.K.-based freeze of owner Mykola Zlochevsky’s funds, actually stalled under Shokin’s watch. The U.K. police, who were investigating Zlochevsky for suspected money laundering, repeatedly expressed their frustration with the Ukrainian side’s refusal to share documentation, which resulted in Zlochevsky’s funds being unfrozen shortly thereafter.
Additionally, Shokin’s own deputy admitted that tough talk on Burisma was just a ruse – a view shared by many, if not most, international observers and partners at the time. Joe Biden’s call to fire Shokin seemed less to be based on a need to protect his son’s business interests, and more as the voice of a broad-based international coalition that wanted Shokin out.
But the Burisma story doesn’t end there – the prosecutor who replaced Shokin, Lutsenko, also stalled the Burisma investigation, eventually dropping the case and all charges against Burisma and Zlochevsky.
The U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has announced that she will be launching a formal impeachment inquiry next week, the first stage of the impeachment process. The tipping point for the U.S. Democratic Representative seems to have been a whistleblower complaint filed with the Director of National Intelligence that alleges misconduct on Trump’s side during his phone call with Zelenskyy – though neither the whistleblower complaint, nor the transcript of the call, have been disclosed to the public as of press time.
On the Ukrainian government’s side, both President Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko have denied that any pressure was put on President Zelenskyy by Trump during the call.
While President Trump’s impeachment is the big story for U.S. domestic news, for Ukraine a more critical question is the unlocking of U.S. military aid to the country. About $400 million has been earmarked for Ukraine support by the United States. However, a week before the phone call with President Zeleneskyy, Donald Trump is said to have ordered that the money be blocked for now, leading to suspicions that Trump was attempting to set up a quid pro quo deal with the Ukrainian head of state. However, the U.S. President denies this, first saying that the funds are merely pending review for anti-corruption purposes, though later he added that Europe, not the U.S., should be the main provider of aid.
However, President Trump’s statement is not entirely factual – the EU has provided Ukraine with approximately $15 billion in grants, loans, and other forms of assistance since the Euromaidan.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is still hoping for the additional $400 million in U.S. funds, and it remains to be seen when President Trump, now embattled in a fight for his presidency with the Democrat-controlled House, will see fit to release it.
/By Romeo Kokriatski