Derkach’s seven: the Russian-linked Ukrainians sanctioned by US over election interference
Last September, the US Treasury sanctioned Ukrainian independent MP Andriy Derkach citing his attempt to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election as a Russian agent. A few days ago, the agency targeted “Derkach’s inner circle” by imposing sanctions against several former Ukrainian officials and current MP Oleksandr Dubinskyi. Euromaidan Press found out who those newly-sanctioned are and what they did to end up under US sanctions. How is Dubinskyi related to Derkach and how were they trying to meddle in the US election?
On 11 January 2021, the US Department of the Treasury reported that the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took further action against Russian-linked actors by including seven Ukrainian citizens and four companies on its sanctions list.
According to the report, the action targets the inner circle of Andriy Derkach, the independent MP sanctioned last September by the Department as an active Russian agent who sought to influence the US 2020 presidential elections.
These are not the first sanctions against Ukrainian nationals introduced by the US. In 2014, the first Ukraine-related sanctions were imposed on a number of Yanukovych allies, including Putin’s crony in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk.
The sanctions on Derkach and his circle, however, are not related to the 2014 program since this time the sanctioned individuals and entities have found themselves on the list of “specially designated nationals” (“SDN list”) designated under programs that are not country-specific.
The newest addition to the OFAC SDN list include:
- People’s Deputy Oleksandr Dubinskyi (President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party), the former host of a supposedly anti-corruption TV show, whom Ukrainian media link to oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi;
- former prosecutor Kostiantyn Kulyk;
- former MP Oleksandr Onyschenko (Yanukovych’s Party of Regions);
- Andriy Telizhenko, a former employee of the Ukrainian embassy in the United States;
- Dmytro Kovalchuk and Anton Symonenko, assistants to sanctioned MP Andriy Derkach;
- Petro Zhuravel, Derkach’s media manager.
- Sanctions also hit Derkach’s media resources Era-Media, Only News, NabuLeaks, and Skeptic.
“They have made repeated public statements to advance disinformation narratives that U.S. government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine. These efforts are consistent with and in support of Derkach’s efforts, acting as an agent of the Russian intelligence services, to influence the 2020 U.S. Presidential election,” the US Treasury Department’s message goes.
Their assets are to be blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.
MP Andriy Derkach
The sanctioned individuals and entities are part of a Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with Ukrainian independent MP Andriy Derkach, according to the US Treasury Department, while Derkach himself is “an active Russian agent for over a decade, maintaining close connections with the Russian Intelligence Services.”
On 5 December 2019, Derkach met with US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Kyiv to build a corruption case against Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma.
In May 2020, halfway between his meeting with Giuliani and the US presidential November elections, Derkach released a portion of a 2015 phone call between then US Vice President Joe Biden and then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Both Poroshenko and Biden’s campaigns later noted that the records were heavily edited. According to Derkach, the audio recording he publicized might be evidence of the influence of the US VP on the Ukrainian President, however, the released tape itself didn’t back any allegations by Derkach.
On 7 August 2020, US intelligence mentioned Derkach’s actions among the US 2020 election threats as an example of Russia’s measures to denigrate Biden, and later, on 9 September, the US Treasury put MP Derkach on the OFAC SDN sanctions list stressing that
“Derkach has directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in an attempt to undermine the upcoming 2020 U.S. presidential election,” according to the official comment, and the “designation of Derkach is focused on exposing Russian malign influence campaigns and protecting our upcoming elections from foreign interference.”
The US Treasury calls Derkach the de-facto owner of Era-Media-related companies and mentions his more recent NabuLeaks platform, created “to disparage the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU),” one of three specialized anti-corruption bodies in Ukraine. Both Era Media and NabuLeaks have ended up on the recent addition to the OFAC SDN sanctions list.
“Since at least 2019, Derkach and his associates have leveraged U.S. media, U.S.-based social media platforms, and influential U.S. persons to spread misleading and unsubstantiated allegations that current and former U.S. officials engaged in corruption, money laundering, and unlawful political influence in Ukraine,” according to the US Treasury.
Among Giuliani’s contacts on his visit to Kyiv in December 2019 was another current member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Oleksandr Dubinskyi, a member of President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People faction.
On 2 December 2019, days before their meetings with Guiliani, Dubinskyi and Andriy Derkach signed letters addressed to Sen. Lindsay Graham, WH official Mick Mulvaney, Rep. Devin Nunes, in which they attacked American technical assistance projects in Ukraine and discredited Ukrainian pro-reform MPs, calling them “grant-eaters” and “children of Soros.”
Prior to his service as people’s deputy, Dubinskyi was an economic journalist, who in 2010 became a creative producer for the Journalistic Investigations Department on the 1+1 TV channel owned by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi.
“Since then, has started defending the interests of the channel’s owner, clearly and consistently,” the Ukrainian independent media watchdog Detector.Media says.
For example, an episode of the Dubinskyi-produced show Ukrainian Sensations, aired a month before the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections, was devoted to then-incumbent President Poroshenko and included fake allegations that Poroshenko ostensibly had created a criminal group in Moldova and even killed his brother, Mykhaylo, who died in a car crash in 1997.
Detector.Media also mentions various other Dubinskyi’s hit pieces against opponents of Kolomoiskyi, such as National Bank Head Valeriya Hontareva, acting Healthcare Minister Ulana Suprun, PM Volodymyr Hroisman, head of Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy.
In the fall of 2019, MPs Dubinskyi and Derkach initiated the creation of a temporary parliamentary commission to investigate the activities of a number of top Ukrainian officials from the times of the presidency of Petro Poroshenko, blaming them of wasteful spending of US technical assistance for Ukraine. However, the effort failed as the MPs failed to find support among their colleagues in the Parliament.
Now, one of the possible information sources for the US Treasury Department that could have been used for making the decision to sanction MP Dubinskyi was a dossier on the people Deputy, compiled and submitted by the Ukrainian NGO Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC) a month after putting MP Derkach on the US OFAC sanctions list.
Daria Kaleniuk, a lawyer and AntAC executive director gave more details on their Dubinskyi dossier in her interview with Ukrainska Pravda.
“[In November 2019] Oleksandr Dubinskyi held a press conference with Andriy Derkach, at which he actually dissiminated the discrediting materials, unsubstantiated by any facts, about Joe Biden’s alleged role in covering his son’s alleged role in US investment funds in buying up Ukrainian bonds under Yanukovych,” said Ms. Kaleniuk. “In our dossier, we presented the fact of this press conference, and then a number of other actions taken by Oleksandr Dubinskyi to discredit one of the US presidential candidates, as well as a number of state institutions in Ukraine, including the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.”
Ms. Kaleniuk says that they also included facts indicating the possible legalization of criminal proceeds by Dubinskyi and showed that he has been “systematically working to promote anti-Western and pro-Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine.”
“Oleksandr Dubinsky abused his legal status as a People’s Deputy, in fact, in order to become an instrument in the hands of Andriy Derkach and others who promoted Kremlin narratives and tried to interfere in the US presidential election. Actually, that’s why he came under sanctions,” the AntAC director noted.
Another important point on MP Dubinskyi, Daria Kaleniuk stressed, is that he is connected to Ihor Kolomoiskyi, an oligarch investigated by the US Department of Justice,
“Since Kolomoiskyi is under criminal proceedings in the United States, no sanctions are applied to him. But I believe that this is a very vivid message that, in fact, sanctions were imposed on a person, very close to Ihor Kolomoiskyi. It is also a signal to US government officials and law enforcement.”
In its press release, the US Department of the Treasury says that Dubinskyi “joined Derkach in press conferences designed to perpetuate these and other false narratives and denigrate U.S. presidential candidates and their families.” The Department also mentions that Derkach and Dubinskyi lobbied against NABU in an effort to “replace NABU leadership, discredit NABU as an organization, and deny their own corrupt practices.”
Dubinskyi, however, states that he “never interfered in elections in other countries, including the US elections, and never had anything to do with releasing the so-called Poroshenko-Biden tapes,” and he even assured that he had no connection with MP Derkach.
Ex-prosecutor Kostiantyn Kulyk
Kostiantyn Kulyk, a prosecutor for the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine in 2017-2019, compiled a dossier in English to accuse Joseph Biden’s son of corruption in fall 2019. Later he was a participant of Derkach’s May 2020 press conference where the Biden-Poroshenko tape was presented. As the US Treasury puts it, he “formed an alliance with Derkach to spread false accusations of international corruption.”
In Ukraine, Kulyk was indicted three times on corruption charges, though all the cases were dismissed. In late 2019, the then PG Ruslan Riaboshapka fired him after Kulyk failed his re-qualification as a prosecutor.
Ex-MP Oleksandr Onyshchenko
Oleksandr Onyshchenko is a former people’s deputy who was first elected in 2007 as a candidate from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and later served as an MP three more times. In 2014 he was re-elected as an independent candidate. In 2016 the Verkhovna Rada stripped him of the parliamentarian immunity in the wake of criminal charges brought against him by the Prosecutor General’s Office, NABU, and the Security Service of Ukraine. The charges ranged from corruption to high treason. As he was bailed out, Onyshchenko fled to the EU and keeps hiding in different EU countries up until now. However, he failed to receive asylum in Germany and Spain.
In 2018, Onyshchenko published several tapes of alleged conversations with then-President Poroshenko accusing the latter of corruption. The Presidential Administration dismissed the tapes as fakes. NABU, however, questioned several people who allegedly were mentioned or recorded on the tapes, though the case didn’t get a continuation.
Now, the US Treasury Department says, it was Onyshchenko who “provided edited audiotape copies of purported audio recordings of conversations between former Ukrainian and U.S. officials, which Derkach released between May and July 2020 to discredit U.S. officials and influence the U.S. elections.”
On his Facebook page, Onyshchenko alleged that the US sanctions against him are “the reaction of the new US authorities to my systemic revelations of the corruption of Biden and the US Democratic Party in Ukraine, as well as their agents of influence, represented by a network of expensive and stupid anti-corruption bodies.”
Ex-diplomat Andriy Telizhenko
Andriy Telizhenko was the 3rd Secretary in the political section of the Embassy of Ukraine in the USA from December 2015 to June 2016, according to Washington Post. Before his service as a diplomat, Telizhenko worked in the Ukrainian government and prosecutor general’s office.
He started promoting pro-Russian, anti-Biden narratives by sharing information with GOP lawmakers in early 2019, and later Telizhenko was present at the meeting of Giuliani and Derkach in Kyiv in December 2019, according to Washington Post referring to a person familiar with the meeting.
According to the US Treasury Department,
“Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomat, orchestrated meetings between Derkach and U.S. persons to help propagate false claims concerning corruption in Ukraine.”
The US Treasury Department calls Petro Zhuravel “a key member of Derkach’s media team” who maintains Derkach’s website NabuLeaks, a “cornerstone of Derkach’s election influence platform.”
The Department also mentions that Zhuravel owns two other sanctioned media companies, Only News and Skeptik TOV, which spread disinformation.
Derkach’s aides Dmytro Kovalchuk and Anton Simonenko
Dmytro Kovalchuk was a long-time aide for MP Derkach during his three tenures as a people’s deputy from Yanukovych’s Party of Regions from around 2007 up until 2014.
The US Treasury Department notes,
“Most recently, he served in the ranks of Derkach’s media team, where he provided profiles on U.S. political figures.”
Anton Simonenkohas been deputy’s aide for MP Andriy Derkach since his first tenure in the Rada in 2007 up until now.
According to the US Treasury Department,
“Simonenko helped Derkach hide financial assets. Simonenko continues to be one of Derkach’s closest associates.”
President Zelenskyy’s office pledges to punish those sanctioned
On 13 January, a message emerged on the official Telegram channel of the Office of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, promising to punish the newly-sanctioned individuals,
“The office of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will do everything in its power to bring to justice those responsible for interfering in the elections in the United States of America, regardless of their party affiliation.Concrete steps will be announced soon,” the message reads.
Additionally, head of presidential office Andriy Yermak tweeted,
“For the sake of clarity — regardless of party affiliation, this administration will do everything in its power to hold [to account] those responsible for meddling in U.S. elections.”
Such a vivid reaction of the officials is due to the fact that sanctioned MP Oleksandr Dubinskyi is a member of the presidential faction in the Parliament.