Sergii Leshchenko: By helping Giuliani, Ukrainian politicians help Russia
By Sergii Leshchenko. Published Dec. 25. Updated Dec. 25 at 5:07 pm
In the scandal surrounding the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump, there are many controversial figures, both on the U.S. and the Ukrainian side.
But one Ukrainian politician stands out even in this shady crowd: Yuriy Lutsenko, a veteran politician and ex-prosecutor general.
Lutsenko has become an informant for the conspiracy theory designed by Trump’s entourage, now broadcast on One America News TV channel.
As a journalist who has been covering Ukrainian politics for 20 years, I maintain that Lutsenko and the rest of Rudy Giuliani’s interlocutors in Ukraine are not in the least trustworthy.
Moreover, most of them have long had contacts with Moscow, which seeks to shift responsibility for interference in the 2016 U.S. elections from Russia to Ukraine. This scenario is actively supported by part of the corrupt Ukrainian establishment.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that Lutsenko plays a key role in a geopolitical disturbance that is hurting Ukraine. The previous time happened 20 years ago.
Lutsenko and Russia
Lutsenko was the key person who enabled Giuliani’s conspiracy of Ukraine interfering in U.S. domestic politics.
Many Ukrainians may be surprised why Lutsenko plays in what is clearly a pro-Russian scenario. In fact, for those who closely follow Ukrainian politics, Lutsenko’s connections to the Russian elite won’t come as a surprise.
In 2000, Lutsenko was one of the main actors in the audio tapes scandal involving Ukraine’s then-President Leonid Kuchma. The tapes with recordings of Kuchma’s alleged orders to silence Ukrainian journalist and an outspoken critic Georgiy Gongadze, whose beheaded body was found in the woods near Kyiv, stirred the whole country. Lutsenko was the person who prepared the recordings for publication for a press conference. He pressed the play button on the tape recorder, after which the whole country heard Kuchma’s voice. When mass street protests followed against Kuchma, Lutsenko was one of their leaders.
However, Russia was the only beneficiary of those actions. Then the pro-Western government of Victor Yushchenko was dissolved, the United States turned away from Ukraine, and Kuchma was driven further into the Kremlin’s orbit, after which he named Viktor Medvedchuk his chief of staff. Medvedchuk, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been the main operator of Russian influence in Ukraine.
It is ironic that Lutsenko then sought the dismissal of the prosecutor general because of the sabotage of Gongadze’s murder investigation. But when 15 years later Lutsenko himself headed the Prosecutor General’s Office, he didn’t come one step closer to finding people behind this murder.
Lutsenko repeatedly cooperated with pro-Russian forces throughout his career. After entering parliament in 2002, he became friendly with Andriy Klyuyev, one of the top members of the Party of Regions, led by pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych, the future president. At that time, Lutsenko was also the Socialist Party’s curator in the Donetsk Oblast, where Klyuyev and the Party of Regions had the most influence.
Klyuyev later became the last head of the Yanukovych administration before the bloody massacre on the EuroMaidan in February 2014 made both him and the disgraced president flee Ukraine. He is now hiding from justice in Russia.
In the 3.5 years when Lutsenko was the prosecutor general, by a strange coincidence, Klyuyev’s case wasn’t hears in court to be heard in absentia, as it happened with Yanukovych.
Former Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko speaks to U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and One America News host Chanel Rion during an interview in Budapest on Dec. 3, 2019
Back in 2002, Lutsenko helped Medvedchuk attack pro-Western politician Viktor Yushchenko. A Russian political technologist Igor Shuvalov later told Ukrainian media that Medvedchuk’s political advisors paid Lutsenko to spread damning information about Yushchenko’s daughter.
In 2004, the Orange Revolution erupted in Ukraine and Lutsenko was one of the faces of street protests. But few know that he brought Andriy Derkach, a pro-Russian lawmaker, to the revolution’s winning camp. Derkach, a graduate of the FSB School in Moscow, is now known as a front man in promoting the idea of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
There are many witnesses to Lutsenko and Derkach’s friendship – Derkach was spotted visiting Lutsenko’s son’s wedding several years ago and at Lutsenko’s birthday celebration this month. When Lutsenko was the interior minister, he presented the ministry’s honors – a prize gun – to Derkach’s wife. Subsequently, it became the subject of an investigation against Lutsenko, but the case was closed.
Lutsenko also has connections to the so-called “Luzhnikov Group,” a semi-criminal group that has assets in the energy and hotel business in Ukraine. Lutsenko established relations with them during the Orange Revolution. One of the front men of this clan is the Russian politician Aleksandr Babakov, former deputy speaker of the State Duma who voted for the annexation of Crimea. His assets in Ukraine include a group of 19 hotels, including the Premier Palace in Kyiv, a pair of shopping malls and an alarming amount of regional electricity supply networks, according to a Kyiv Post investigation published on March 29, 2019.
In 2007, Lutsenko was one of the founders of the Nasha Ukraina – Narodna Samooborona electoral bloc, receiving a quota for places on the electoral list, some of which went to Babakov’s people, such as Kirill Kulikov. He was a representative of some of the group’s projects in Ukraine, and used to head the Ukrainian Bureau of Interpol at the time when Lutsenko was interior minister.
Another Babakov man whom Lutsenko gave a place on the party ballot was Igor Pikovsky, who was the chairman of the supervisory board of the Promzvyazok factory in Kyiv at the time. Most of Babakov’s Ukrainian assets were registered using the factory’s address.
But Lutsenko isn’t the only Ukrainian politician who is an active player in the Kremlin’s plot to shift responsibility for interference in the 2016 U.S. election from Russia to Ukraine.
Ukraine’s ‘three amigos’
Among those feeding the conspiracy theory are pro-Russian lawmaker Derkach, Oleksandr Dubinsky, a lawmaker loyal to oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, and a former lawmaker Andriy Artemenko, who once was under investigation for embezzlement. Artemenko was rescued from charges after a deputy prosecutor general loyal to Medvedchuk intervened in the case.
It was Artemenko who promoted in the U.S. an alternative plan for settling the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, which suggested leasing Crimea to Russia.
Another Ukrainian politician whom Giuliani tried to get involved in this anti-Ukrainian scenario is a fugitive ex-lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who has been hiding from the investigation for over three years. The One America News network, which has been working with Giuliani to promote the conspiracy of the Ukrainian interference, even tried (unsuccessfully) to obtain a U.S. visa for Onyshchenko. But the fugitive ex-lawmaker was detained in Europe at Interpol’s request.
But the main agent of Russia, with whom Giuliani and his team are working, is trying to keep a low profile. He avoids interviews but he does not spare money to escape American justice. We recently learned that he paid $1 million to Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas. It’s oligarch Dmytro Firtash, a wealthy industrialist with assets across Europe, who has spent the last five years in Vienna fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery charges.
Firtash is useful for Giuliani in helping him advance the conspiracy theory. For example, lawmakers Oleh Voloshyn and Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, both of whom are close to Firtash, are trying to start a “parliamentary inquiry” into ex-Vice President Joe Biden’s activities in Ukraine.
In addition, at Firtash’s request, another key “witness” to Giuliani, former Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, gave an affidavit accusing Biden of trying to remove him from his job in order to protect the Burisma gas company which employed Biden’s son.
But when quoting this part of Shokin’s affidavit, Giuliani doesn’t notice that, in another paragraph, Shokin defends Firtash against the allegations made in regards to him by a federal prosecutor in Illinois. In other words, Giuliani undermines the credibility of the U.S. law enforcement investigation.
The situation looks absurd, because Firtash, being a suspect in the U.S., evidently contributed to the creation of a document that is now being used by the U.S. president and his associates to defend against impeachment charges.
What does Firtash want in return? Obviously, the oligarch seeks to use Giuliani to avoid extradition to America. This year, Firtash has hired the conservative legal duo close to Trump and Giuliani — lawyers Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing. And this is despite the fact that Giuliani, six months ago, criticized Firtash’s previous lawyer for taking on Firtash as a client.
“(Firtash) is considered to be one of the close associates of (Semion) Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend,” Giuliani was quoted as saying by The Hill. “Lanny Davis (Firtash’s former lawyer) has represented him for four or five years. If the newspapers are correct, he gets $80,000 a month from this guy who’s considered to be one of the high-level, Russian organized crime members or associates.”
Apparently, Giuliani’s position on Firtash suddenly changed when the oligarch became useful to Giuliani. And now his friends are working for Firtash as lawyers, and Giuliani himself uses “evidence” created by Firtash in his plot to defend Trump and attack Biden.
Giuliani’s strategy to promote his conspiracy theory looks like political schizophrenia. But his actions also gave Russia great opportunities to advance its interests.
Sergii Leshchenko is a Ukrainian journalist, a Kyiv Post columnist, and a former member of parliament living in Kyiv.