The Kremlin Inches Closer to the Biden Plot

Lev Parnas pointed his finger at Dmytro Firtash.

Somewhere near the heart of the Ukraine scandal is Dmytro Firtash. Evidence has long suggested this fact. But over the past week, in a televised interview and in documents he supplied to congress, Rudy Giuliani’s former business partner Lev Parnas pointed his finger at the Ukranian oligarch. According to Parnas, Giuliani’s team had a deal with Firtash. Giulani would get the Justice Department to drop its attempt to extradite the oligarch on bribery charges. In return, according to Parnas, the oligarch promised to pass along evidence that would supposedly discredit both Joe Biden and Robert Mueller.

Parnas’s account, of course, is hardly definitive. Throughout his career, he has attempted to inflate his importance to make money. (Firtash apparently paid him a million dollars for his services, though it’s still not totally clear what these services were.) And his description of Firtash’s involvement raises as many questions as it settles. Still, the apparent centrality of Firtash should inform any assessment of Rudy Giulinai’s escapades and their entire Ukraine story.

When commentators invoke the name Dmytro Firtash, it is usually followed by mention of his alleged connections to Russian organized crime and the fact that he is close to the Kremlin. These descriptions, however, understate his ties to Vladimir Putin. In his book Russia’s Crony Capitalism, the Atlantic Council’s Anders Aslund describes Firtash as a “Kremlin Influence agent.” A Ukrainian parliamentarian who investigated Firtash has called him “a political person representing Russian interests in Ukraine.” That representative of Russian interests is who Giuliani and Parnas apparently enlisted as their partner.  

The rapid ascent of Firtash, a fireman from western Ukraine, remains mysterious–although he once disgorged details from his past in a long chat with the U.S. ambassador to Kyiv, Bill Taylor, a description of which eventually emerged in a Wikileaks document dump. But it’s been widely reported that Firtash attached himself to the gangster Semion Mogilevich, one of the region’s most important mafia bosses, a man the FBI placed on its Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List. (His lawyers vociferously deny any connections to gangsters.)

When Putin ascended to power in 2000, he gained control of his country’s natural gas business. He placed his allies at the helm of the country’s gas monopoly, Gazprom, and he has routinely wielded that company as an instrument of Russian foreign policy. In 2002, Firtash became Gazprom’s most important middleman: He was responsible for selling Russian gas to Ukraine. Thanks to an extraordinary Reuters investigation, which burrowed into customs documents, contracts, and Cyprus bank accounts, the details of this arrangement are now well known. Gazprom sold Firtash gas at four times below the market price. When Firtash resold the gas to the Ukranian state, he pocketed a profit of $3 billion. Even as he amassed this fortune, bankers close to Putin extended Firtash an $11 billion line of credit.

According to close-watchers of Gazprom, a chunk of this cash cycled back to Moscow in the form of kickbacks. Another chunk of this money was spent bankrolling Russian political influence in Ukraine. Firtash was one of the two primary patrons of the deposed president Viktor Yanukovych and his political party. (He also bought a television network for the sake of promoting the cause.) This meant that Firtash was also writing the checks that covered the cost of Paul Manafort’s services to Yanukovych. It’s worth pausing to marvel at the narrative symmetry of this scandal: Both Manafort and Parnas shared the same Russian-alligned paymaster.

In 2014, just after a revolution chased Yanukovych from power, the FBI issued an arrest warrant for Firtash. Austrian authorities detained Firtash near his Vienna mansion. The indictment alleged that he bribed Indian officials on behalf of Boeing, which desperately wanted to acquire rare materials for the construction of its 787 Dreamliner. (McKinsey & Company, the now-vilified consulting firm, apparently vetted Boeing’s decision to work with Firtash and didn’t recommend against it, according to a New York Times investigation.)

When Firtash needed someone to pay his pay bail–which the Austrians set at $155 million, the highest in the nation’s history–the oligarch Vasily Anisimov, a member of Putin’s inner circle, supplied the cash. Over the last five years, Firtash has successfully battled the Justice Department’s attempts to extradite him. He’s hired an army of American lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants, including the notorious Jack Abramoff and long-time Clinton friend Lanny Davis, as well as the Trump-supporting lawyers Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing. His spokesman is Mark Carollo, who worked for Trump’s legal team during the Mueller investigation.

The congressional investigation into the Ukraine scandal has largely skipped over Giulini’s efforts–which means that investigators have yet to delve into Dmytro Firtash’s possible involvement. But now that Parnas has added a fresh layer of detail to the narrative, there are some basic questions that should attract attention:

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT THE PLOT AGAINST BIDEN BEGAN WITH FIRTASH? According to the Daily Beast, Firtash has long seethed at Joe Biden. As Vice President, Biden had vigorously promoted an anti-corruption agenda that included liberating Ukraine’s energy sector from Firtash’s dominance. In fact, when Biden visited Kyiv in 2015 and spoke before the parliament, he seemed to praise the Ukranian government for “closing the space for corrupt middlemen who rip off the Ukrainian people.” Firtash raged against this speech. He described Biden as an “overlord.” He said, “I was ashamed to look at this. I was repulsed.” If Firtash promised Parnas material that could be used against Biden, he was fulfilling a long-held grudge.

Most narratives of the plot against Biden allege that corrupt Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin concocted the whole scenario out of a desire for vengeance. Biden, after all, had demanded the Ukranian president fire Shokin, whose office was a bastion of corruption. (Oligarchs notoriously pay handsomely for the allegiance of prosecutors, who bring cases against their enemies.) Over time, it has become clear that Shokin and Firtash are allies. Last September, at the request of Firtash’s lawyers, Shokin filed an affidavit in Austrian Court testifying to the oligarch’s innocence. How long have Shokin and Firtash been allies? Were they working together when the plot against Biden first germinated?

WHAT HAPPENED AT NAFTOGAZ? Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman hoped to obtain a contract to export American natural gas to Ukraine. As part of this scheme, they seem to have launched a campaign to remove the leadership of the Ukranian national company, Naftogaz–and to install managers more favorably inclined to their bid. Given the complexities of putting together a bid, it’s puzzling that they would have focused so heavily on Natfotgaz, especially since other details of the plan were so distant from realization.

Is it possible they were fixated on remaking Naftogaz because of Firtash’s long-running battle with the company’s reformist leadership? Firtash believes that the company owes him money and that it is unfairly preventing him from accessing stored gas that he believes he owns. Was Parnas’s team attempting a coup at Naftogaz on behalf of Firtash?

WHAT DID GIULIANI DO ON FIRTASH’S BEHALF? Giuliani has consistently sought to minimize his ties to Firtash. But over time, he’s conceded that he spoke with the oligarch’s lawyers in Chicago and that he meet with his proxies in Europe. Did Giulani press Firtash’s case at the Justice Department? That is, did he fulfill the quid pro quo that Parnas alleged this week? Did he attempt to help Firtash avoid American justice in exchange for material on Biden? In October, The New York Times reported that the Giuliani met with officials in the Justice Department to discuss the case of a foreigner accused of bribery. Giuliani wouldn’t name his client, whom he described as “very, very, sensitive.” Parnas told Rachel Maddow that he overheard Giuliani discussing his Ukranian operation with Attorney General William Barr. If they in fact took place, did those discussions ever include the subject of Dmytro Firtash?

WHAT DID THE RUSSIANS KNOW? Given Firtash’s past involvement with the Kremlin–given that the Russian state supplied him with his fortune, given that he did its political bidding in the past, given that a Putin insider loaned him the money for his bail–it seems fair to ask: Did he keep the Russians in the loop about his involvement with Parnas and Giuliani? Did he ever seek to enlist their help? These are admittedly speculative questions, but the oligarch’s background demands their consideration.

Dmytro Firtash’s work in Ukraine undermined that nation’s democracy. He spent hundreds of millions entrenching the forces of kleptocracy. His machinations kept the country locked in Russia’s orbit. That he may have been involved in spreading disinformation about Biden for the sake of avoiding extradition, is the most important allegation from Lev Parnas’s trail of cable news interviews. It suggests that he may have attempted to reprise his past work on American soil, and maybe even succeeded.

(c) The Atlantic


  1. “A Ukrainian parliamentarian who investigated Firtash has called him “a political person representing Russian interests in Ukraine.”
    Sorry Ukraine. If you want to survive as a free nation, you must deport all these “political persons representing Russian interests in Ukraine.” Every last one of them. And take all their cash and property assets. So what if you get called ‘fascists’; the putinazis call you that anyway.
    Remove the current crypto-putlerite govt and install Poro as dictator. Consolidate for 5 years and then hold democratic elections. It’s the only way I fear.

    • Another step would be to stop the Moskali from buying Ukrainian media. This would help eliminate Moskali propaganda and allow the truth to be released to the Ukrainian people.

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