Ukraine: Context is important

By Randall Poulton | Oct 17, 2019

Did you know the president of Ukraine is a professional comedian? No? How about that, in a speech delivered prior to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona declared: “These people (Ukrainians) love the United States of America, they love freedom”? These facts provide important context to events past and future.

Until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Once free, Ukraine declared itself neutral and cozied up to the European Union while still remaining largely dependent on Russia for oil and trade. Then, in 2013, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych decided to formally suspend relations with the E.U. in favor of closer ties with Russia.

Shortly thereafter, Russia launched a sneak attack into Ukraine and “annexed” the portion of Ukraine known as Crimea. In doing so, Russia secured its access to Crimea’s strategic seaports. Ukraine was very unhappy. During the ensuing two-year war, thousands of Ukrainians were killed and Russia shot down a civilian airliner.

The U.S. watched from the sidelines — President Obama chose not to help the Ukrainian military (which desperately needed anti-tank weapons). Instead, the U.S. and E.U. imposed trade sanctions and member nations were supposed to stop buying Russian oil. Understandably, most freedom-loving Ukraine people were not too happy with Russia or their president (or Obama for that matter).

What followed was a full-scale revolution. Ukraine President Yanukovych was impeached and removed from power. He is currently in exile in Russia and remains wanted by Ukraine for high treason. However, decades of communist control and corruption were not so easily banished.

In 2014, Ukrainians elected a new president, billionaire Petro Poroshenko, who was anti-Russia and pledged to end corruption. But, so far, Russia continues to occupy Crimea. And, although Poroshenko created the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, any decrease in corruption has been scant: Since 2015, the Anti-Corruption Bureau has taken almost 200 cases to court without a single significant conviction.

Starting in 2014, the U.S. sent Ukraine well over a billion dollars to promote democracy and fight corruption. But there were concerns this U.S. aid was often diverted into the pockets of the rich. Accordingly, Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead the U.S. effort to help Ukraine fight corruption and wean itself off Russian oil.

Biden began regular visits to Kiev and says he went to Ukraine “at least a dozen times” during 2014, 2015 and 2016. I wonder if he ran into Paul Manafort while he was there? Just asking! Remember that, according to the Steele Dossier, it was during this same time period that Manafort was cutting deals with corrupt Ukrainians.

Now, pay attention, this is important: One of the investigations that was being slow-walked by the Anti-Corruption Bureau was that of oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of the oil and natural gas company Burisma Holdings. Zlocheysky was accused of money laundering, tax evasion and corruption. While the Ukrainian investigations stalled, law enforcement in the United Kingdom had seen enough and froze $23 million in Burisma assets on deposit with English banks.

Then, in May 2014, miracle of miracles! Shortly after Hunter Biden was fired from his job with the U.S Navy for failing drug tests, he was hired by Burisma! And not just any job — Hunter Biden was given a seat on the company's board of directors and annual compensation well north of $500,000! Soon thereafter, Zlochevsky’s U.K. money was “unfrozen.”

To summarize: Joe Biden’s son, who knew nothing about the petroleum business, took a high-paid position with a foreign company that was owned by an individual accused of money laundering, tax evasion and corruption.

Then, in 2015, Viktor Shokin became the prosecutor general, inheriting the 3-year-old and stalled Burisma investigation. Exactly what happened next is not known (yet), but it seems likely Shokin was close to indicting Zlocheysky, when, during a trip to Kiev in December 2015, Joe Biden told Ukrainian President Poroshenko to fire Shokin.

What we do know for certain is that Biden very much wanted Shokin fired. In fact, in May 2018, during an on-camera appearance at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, Biden bragged about his foreign relations “triumph.”

Specifically, Biden told Poroshenko to fire Shokin. And, if he didn’t fire him, Biden would withhold a billion-dollar “loan.” Here are Biden’s exact words: "I'm going to be leaving here in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you're not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch, he got fired." Yup, and the investigation into Burisma came to a screeching halt. Again.

Then, in May of this year, the Ukrainians elected a new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the aforementioned comedian. As it turned out, the joke was on Poroshenko: Zelensky got 73% of the vote! And, as they say, elections have consequences. There is a new sheriff in town and it sounds like Zelensky wants to know why Shokin was fired and why Zlocheysky isn’t in jail.

That brings us to the now-infamous phone call of July 25, 2019. Trump haters focus on Trump’s request that Zelensky provide Attorney General William Barr with any information Ukraine might have about Joe Biden's trying to quash the investigation involving his son’s position with Burisma. I say this focus is out of context because there was a lot more to the phone call than that.

Long before the conversation came around to the Biden topic, the “favor” that Trump asked for was Zelensky’s assistance in Barr’s ongoing investigations of the genesis of Crossfire Hurricane (the Trump-Russia collusion investigation). Remember, the Steele dossier repeatedly refers to events that supposedly happened in Ukraine.

No matter how much Adam Schiff and the media pretend these probes into Crossfire Hurricane don’t exist, they do. The Department of Justice is in charge, and the two parallel investigations are led by prosecutors John Durham and Michael Horowitz, respectively. They have grand jury subpoena power and lots of money. The investigations are rightly examining whether the Obama Justice Department and Obama FBI acted lawfully and appropriately when they instituted operation Crossfire Hurricane to collect intelligence (dirt) on Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

In part, Durham and Horowitz are seeking to determine whether the conduct of senior members of DOJ and FBI involved in Crossfire Hurricane rises to the level of crimes.

This investigation is essential to the sanctity of future elections. Based on the outcome, it may well be necessary for Congress to enact clear new laws to insulate our election campaigns from politicized use of the government’s counterintelligence and law-enforcement powers.

That Trump asked Zelensky for help with these investigations is, indeed, “perfect.” We should all want to know what really happened.

Randall Poulton is a columnist for The Republican Journal. He lives in Winterport.

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