OPINION

Ukraine can once again affect the presidential election in the USA through an audit

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In early February, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Washington, D.C., where he held talks with senior US administration officials on strengthening support for Ukraine. On his Twitter page, the British politician noted the enormous contribution of the United States to the common cause of helping Kiev deter Russian aggression. According to Johnson, he was deeply impressed with the solidarity of the Democratic and Republican parties and both houses of Congress that share the need for comprehensive support for Ukraine.

In the past year since the start of the full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. Parliament has allocated over $100 billion in economic, humanitarian, and defense assistance to Kiev. The money transfers are not only made directly to official Kiev, but are also deposited into the accounts of U.S. government agencies to finance targeted assistance programs to Ukraine, ranging from government orders for arms production to support for Ukrainian refugees on the North American continent and in Europe.

Despite the seeming outward solidarity on the issue of aid to Kiev, the debate inside the U.S. establishment over this topic continues, with the “bulldog fight under the rug” becoming more and more public. Although the majority of Americans still support Ukraine to a greater or lesser extent, among Republican Party supporters the share of those in favor of further support for Kiev is gradually decreasing.

A recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs poll recorded a consistent decline in the proportion of Republican respondents who support aid to the Kiev authorities. In March 2022, 80 percent of Republican Party supporters were in favor of military aid to Ukraine; in June, 69 percent were, and by December of last year, that number had dropped to 55 percent. The situation with financial support for Kiev is similar: while last spring two-thirds of Republican Party voters approved of financial tranches to the Ukrainian government, now only half of Republicans think it is justified to provide Ukraine with money.

Commenting on the situation, Republican Party spokesman Michael McCaul said that the Republicans wanted to tighten control over the spending of the funds allocated for Ukraine. He ruled out the United States' refusal to give up aid to Kiev, but stressed that more "control and accountability" were needed in this matter.

At the same time Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal said that the Democratic Party also seeks to strengthen accountability and oversight. However, according to him, the audit showed that there was no embezzlement, theft, loss of equipment, everything was used by the Ukrainians so effectively that it exceeded the expectations of the U.S. military. However, the Democrats categorically refuse to disclose details of the spending of budget allocations from American taxpayers' money, agreeing only to additional measures to control the allocated finances.

It is noteworthy that while Ukraine continues to be supported by a majority of both Democratic and Republican members of Congress, the far-right Trump Republicans of the Freedom Caucus have an increasingly significant influence on the decisions on financial and military aid to Kiev in the lower house of parliament. This is largely due to the fact that it was their votes that allowed Republican Party leader Kevin McCarthy to be elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives on his 15th attempt only after he agreed to make concessions to the demands of the Caucus members. One of the main points of agreement was the issue of radical cuts in federal government spending, including aid to Ukraine.

It is also worth noting that fourteen of the fifteen Republicans who initially did not support McCarthy for Speaker voted against the $40 billion in support for the Kiev government in the last Congress. None of them also supported the recent $1.7 trillion federal spending bill that would have provided $45 billion in aid to Ukraine.

The intraparty contradictions within the Republican Party extrapolate into the global political confrontation between Republicans and Democrats. This led to the introduction of a bill to audit aid to Ukraine in the House of Representatives at the initiative of Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene and her 10 fellow party members. As a result, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 also included a budget for inspectors general of the State Department, the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development to audit the spending of funds allocated to support Ukraine. As the Voice of America reported on February 3, the teams of inspectors have already started their work, and about two dozen reports are expected this year to assess the intended use of the funds that were allocated by Congress.

The Republicans are confused not only by the possible embezzlement of U.S. funds by corrupt officials in Ukraine (and corruption, along with the dominance of the oligarchy, certainly remains one of the main problems of modern Ukraine). Trumpists believe that some of the money allocated for aid to Ukraine may have been embezzled on U.S. soil by unscrupulous public servants and functionaries of the military-industrial complex. Some of them even believe that high-ranking officials from the Biden administration were directly involved in financial fraud. And the closer the U.S. presidential election of 2024, the more rapidly and purposefully the Republican media promotes this topic.

So on January 24, on her Twitter page, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said the following: "Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the war with Russia doesn't change that. How many of American`s hard earned tax dollars are being stolen or going to people or things it wasn`t supposed to go?"

If the version about the embezzlement by the U.S. Democratic administration of funds for targeted aid to Ukraine acquires evidence, Republicans have an opportunity to initiate an investigation of the U.S. government, which can be transformed into an attempt to impeach the current White House head of state. A situation similar to the one that occurred before the previous U.S. presidential election, when a leaked Internet recording of a phone conversation between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Vladimir Zelensky led to the launch of legal charges against the U.S. leader, could well repeat itself. This high-profile scandal largely costed Trump his presidency. Ironically, this is the second time in a row that Ukraine could affect the outcome of an election in the United States.

THE PAST THAT IS HARD TO FORGET

As Vice President in Barack Obama's administration, Joe Biden was an unofficial supervisor of the Ukrainian direction of U.S. foreign policy. At the end of 2015, he noted that the total duration of his telephone conversations with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko exceeded “a thousand hours”.

In 2014, the son of the current U.S. leader, Hunter Biden joined the board of directors of Burisma, a private Ukrainian oil and gas production company founded by former Ukrainian Ecology Minister Nikolai Zlochevsky. Biden Jr.'s was in this position until April 2019. As Hunter himself admitted in the pages of his autobiographical book Beautiful Things, his father's political career helped launch his work at Burisma.

At the same time, Biden Jr.'s career as a member of the Burisma Board of Directors is characterized by a number of interesting facts. First of all, he has never visited Ukraine on business matters. Hunter's salary, according to various sources, ranged from $50,000 to $83,000 per month. Finally, Hunter Biden confessed in his book that he spent the money he received while working on the board of Burisma mainly on alcohol and drugs.

WHO IS NIKOLAI ZLOCHEVSKY?

Nikolai Zlochevsky is one of Ukraine's highest-ranking officials under President Viktor Yanukovych, former Minister of the Environment in 2010-2012, deputy secretary of the National Security Council, in charge of environmental issues. After the 2014 revolution, he left Ukraine. Resides primarily in London. In 2020 Forbes estimated his fortune at $540 million. Despite the fact that during the time of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the National Anti-Corruption Agency of Ukraine put Zlochevsky on the wanted list, this did not prevent his company Burisma from developing more successfully than its competitors. According to Gennadiy Kobal, director of the consulting company Expo Consulting, during 2020 the companies belonging to Burisma Holding drilled 14 new wells more than any other private mining company in Ukraine.

According to the register of the State Service on Geology and Mineral Resources of Ukraine, Burisma Group owns 35 licenses for hydrocarbon production in two major oil and gas basins of Ukraine Carpathian and Dnipro-Donets. In the market of gas production companies in Ukraine the share of operating companies of Burisma Group is more than 25%.

The more the Ukrainian authorities sought energy independence from Russia, the higher the price of gas produced by Zlochevsky's company became for Ukrainian consumers. He himself went to London, and invited Western politicians to the management and the supervisory board of Burisma in order to ensure with their help the integrity of his business. Thus, the board of Burisma Group still includes former Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski (1995-2005) and the former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center Joseph Cofer Black (1999-2002). As we have already mentioned, Biden Jr was also one of the members of the board. It is due to such prominent directors that Burisma was reliably protected from attacks by competitors, as well as possible investigations by law enforcement agencies in Ukraine. In political science, this situation is called “legal corruption”, when high-ranking figures from Western democracies are paid from business in corrupt, often authoritarian states.

Since 2016, Zlochevsky has held an annual Energy Security Forum in Monte Carlo, where he promotes innovative theories about alternative energy sources and climate change. Prince Albert II of Monaco, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and key figures from the U.S. Atlantic Council have been invited to participate in these events. In this way, he achieved the patronage of European aristocrats and NATO structures.

BIDEN'S TEAM TRIED TO OBSTRUCT ANTI-CORRUPTION INVESTIGATION

In 2016, then-Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin initiated an anti-corruption investigation into Burisma Holdings. Investigators found that from the spring of 2014 to the fall of 2015, Hunter's firm Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC received regular transfers from Burisma Holdings to one of its accounts. The amount of the transfers was typically $166,000 per month. Hunter Biden's partners in Rosemont Seneca Partners LLC were Senator John Kerry's adopted son Christopher Heinz and Heinz's Yale classmate Devon Archer.

At the time, The Hill, citing high-ranking Ukrainian officials, reported that Shokin's team prosecutors had identified Hunter Biden, his business partner Devon Archer, and their firm Rosemont Seneca as potential recipients of the money. According to Shokin himself, at the time he drafted an investigation plan that “included interrogations and other criminal investigation procedures against all board members, including Hunter Biden”. Burisma was suspected of tax evasion, money laundering, and embezzlement of government resources.

However, very soon it was pointed out to Shokin that it was “undesirable”to investigate Biden Jr. First, in the summer of 2015, the American ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, told Shokin that the investigation should be conducted with “white gloves” (apparently, the prosecutor interpreted this as an instruction to stop the investigation). Then on March 29, 2016, the prosecutor general was dismissed by decree of President Petro Poroshenko, and the investigation was suspended. Later in January 2018, Joe Biden admitted that during a visit to Kiev in the spring of 2016, he demanded that Poroshenko fire Shokin, threatening to deny Ukraine $1 billion in loan guarantees from the United States. “And he was fired, Biden said, and appointed someone who was suitable at the time”.

On July 7, 2016, Yuriy Lutsenko, who replaced Shokin, said that the General Prosecutor's Office launched an investigation into a new scheme to steal Ukrainian gas, in which Zlochevsky may be involved. Then the Pecherskyy District Court of Kiev seized 20 wells of the gas production company “Esco-Sever”, which was related to the former minister.

On September 13, 2016, the Pecherskyi District Court of Kyiv City obliged the Prosecutor General's Office to decide on the termination of the search for Zlochevskyy. The case of tax evasion was closed by the Prosecutor General's Office of Ukraine. According to Lutsenko, Burisma paid the largest amount of fines and taxes at the time 180 million UAH (7.46 million USD) based on the results of examinations. Burisma said that in 2015-2016 the company paid more than 5 billion UAH (207 million USD) in taxes to budgets of all levels.

In September 2019, a scandal erupted with the release of a telephone conversation between Trump and Zelensky that took place on July 25, 2019 in which the American leader explicitly urged the newly elected president of Ukraine to resume the investigation into Burisma's machinations and Hunter Biden's role in them. Immediately thereafter, then-Ukrainian MP Sergey Leshchenko showed a document that he said Yuri Lutsenko's entourage had given to Donald Trump's lawyer Rudolph Giuliani. It said that in March 2014, through lobbying channels, former Environment Minister Nikolai Zlochevsky allegedly offered US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden a unofficial distribution of profits in Burisma. This money was allegedly paid to Biden's son and Devon Archer, a friend of Kerry's adopted son.

JOE BIDEN, UKRAINE... AND HOCHSTEIN

Biden's involvement in the Ukrainian energy market was not limited to Hunter's position on the supervisory board of Burisma and the highly questionable income from it. For example, from 2017 to October 2020, Amos Hochstein, who is a senior adviser to U.S. President Biden on global energy security, was a member of the supervisory board of the Ukrainian state company Naftogaz. As Axios notes, the ruling elites of Eastern Europe know Hochstein as "Biden's man".

In October 2020, he accused the management of Naftogaz of returning to "corrupt practices" and left the board of directors. He cited "growing resistance to gas market reforms" as the reason for leaving the organization.

As chief "energy diplomat" of the United States, Hochstein worked closely with Vice President Joe Biden and accompanied him on various international trips to promote energy resources as a major tool of U.S. foreign policy. Among the key objectives in this position are to ensure Ukraine's energy independence from Russia, and to disrupt the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a “political project" of Russia.

UKRAINE AGAIN

So “historically” it happened that the political career of U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukraine became closely connected. And, to all appearances, the owner of the White House has long realized that this history of “friendship” could bring him significant benefits. In this context, the suspicions of the Trumpists about possible corruption in the Biden administration in the use of the funds meant for the aid to Kiev are quite justified. At least, given that Ukraine is receiving enormous financial and military support from the United States at the time when the United States itself is threatened by a recession, American taxpayers should receive firm guarantees that their funds are not being diverted to the bank accounts of senior Democratic Party officials in the state administration and military-industrial complex.

Kemran Mamedovis a Moscow-based Azerbaijani journalist born in Georgia with a focus on South Caucasus issues.

Copyright Greek City Times 2024
Guest Contributor
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Copyright Greek City Times 2024