Will President Zelensky comply with Donald Trump’s Demand to Investigate Joe Biden?
Stephen Komarnyckyj digs deeper into Hunter Biden’s connection with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma and the shark tank of Ukrainian politics under Viktor Yanukovych.
When Donald Trump replaced the receiver after his phone call on 25 July with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky he probably had no idea that he would trigger his own impeachment.
An anonymous whistle-blower subsequently alleged that Trump had asked Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, Joe Biden. Trump released the stenogram of the call last month, arguing that it cleared him of any impropriety.
However, the record of the conversation shows that he did ask the Ukrainian President (or “one of your people”) to phone the US Attorney General about Biden. He also linked his request to aid for Ukraine and, despite his denials, there was a clear suggestion that Ukraine should earn his support by helping him out. He had delayed financial aid to Ukraine a few days previously.
The possibility that Zelensky’s administration might help Trump persecute his political foe if they are given the nod by Kolomoisky cannot be discounted.
Most Western coverage has focused on the possibility of Trump being impeached and the apparent exploitation of the call for personal advantage. However, how likely is it that Zelensky will investigate Biden’s dealings in Ukraine and help Trump?
The Yanukovych Years and Biden’s Burisma
During the call to the Ukrainian President, Trump also said that he would ask his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as well as the US Attorney General, to phone Zelensky. He suggested that Joe Biden “stopped the prosecution” of his son Hunter Biden and added that: “Whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
Giuliani has claimed that Hunter Biden was involved in corruption while serving on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. He joined Burisma in April 2014.
Its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, had been the minister for ecology and natural resources in the then President Viktor Yanukovych’s Government from 2010 to 2012. Yanukovych’s administration, which was overthrown in March 2014, looted Ukraine on a grand scale. The President and his associates rigged state tenders so that they were won by companies they controlled. Burisma was certainly able to expand its gas extraction sites in Ukraine during Zlochevsky’s period in control of the ministry responsible for issuing licenses for fossil fuel extraction.
Zlochevsky’s London bank accounts had also been frozen in April 2014 over suspicions of money laundering and he fled Ukraine later that year. The appointment of Hunter Biden was probably an attempt to regain a respectable profile for Zlochevsky and Burisma in the West.
Burisma subsequently signed a cooperation agreement with Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council as it rebuilt its Western image. Zlochevsky was cleared by the Ukrainian courts, but the prosecution against him was revived in August. The revival of this prosecution after the Trump phone-call is an interesting coincidence.
The Shark Tank
Ukrainian politics and oligarchic business is a shark tank and it is quite possible that a case will be built against Zlochevsky. It is, however, very unlikely that Hunter Biden, as a Burisma board member, would have any knowledge of any questionable dealings.
Ukraine’s oligarchs strike their deals behind closed doors and the Westerners who add a veneer of respectability are not privy to these conversations. The business climate in the country has improved post-Yanukovych due to its democratic processes and revolutions.
However, Zelensky is sponsored by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky who looted Ukraine’s Privatbank, which he owned, to the tune of $5 billion before it was nationalised in 2016. Some of his enemies, such as the former head of Ukraine’s national bank, Valeria Gontareva, whom he blames for taking Privatbank from him, are being prosecuted. Oleksandr Danyliuk, the chief of Ukraine’s National Security Council, has just resigned reportedly due to the increasing influence of Kolomoisky.
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Outside the System
The possibility that Zelensky’s administration might help Trump persecute his political foe if they are given the nod by Kolomoisky cannot be discounted. However, Zelensky will also have to reckon with the probable election of a Democratic president in the US and the outcome of the impeachment process. Kolomoisky too might be wary of alienating a potential future US president so a prosecution which smears Biden is extremely unlikely.
Zelensky will probably keep spinning the plates during his conversations with the maverick US president and might perhaps look at prosecuting Zlochevsky. But, given the oligarch’s friends in Washington, he is stuck between a rock and a hard place.