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Mon 28 September 2020
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Stephen Komarnyckyj debunks the claims made against the Democratic US Presidential Candidate with the release of a new tape

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On 20 May, Ukrainian President Zelensky held a press conference to mark his first year in office in the grounds of his Kyiv residence the Mariinsky Palace suggesting that a Ukrainian prosecution involving Joe Biden and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko needed to be ‘considered’.

Zelensky was responding to alleged taped conversations between Biden and ex-president Poroshenko the previous day. The recordings date from 2015-2016 when Biden was still Vice President of the United States. They had been released by Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach who had handed them to the prosecutor. 

It looks like what we call a rollout, a political stage show in the US.

Robert Waldeck

The prosecutor had then opened a case against Poroshenko on the grounds that he might have betrayed state interests. Zelensky was apparently giving his blessing to a prosecution that could ruin Ukraine’s relationship with the US when the Democrats come to power.

Poroshenko seemed to be the target of his hostility at the press conference but, to the surprise of the journalists, he did not suggest Biden might have done nothing wrong. Then on 21 May the prosecutor launched a second, as yet non-criminal, investigation into whether Biden had hampered the work of ex-prosecutor Viktor Shokin.

Who is behind the claims about Biden’s activity? How accurate are they? And is Zelensky breaking Ukraine’s policy of remaining neutral in US elections in order to help Trump?


The Man Behind the Tape

During a July 2019 phone call to the US President, the Ukrainian leader Zelensky stressed that he controlled the prosecutor’s office. If that is true, then he is allowing the cases to proceed to keep on the right side of Trump.

The source of the recording, Andriy Derkach, is a Ukrainian national and politician who graduated from the Russian state security — FSB — academy in Moscow in 1993. He was a member of ex-president Yanukovych’s party. Ukrainian intelligence regards him as a Russian agent of influence.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudi Giuliani met Derkach in December 2019 when he was digging for dirt on Biden. Derkach suggested that a joint investigation into the alleged corruption of Biden and the energy company Burisma was needed. He also claimed that Soros governed Ukraine.

The claims that Derkach makes using the tapes and the real situation are laid out below:


Claim One

Derkach claims that he obtained the tapes from journalists and that they were made by Poroshenko.

Reality

Biden’s office has acknowledged that the tapes are genuine but notes that the material has been ‘heavily edited’. It is unlikely that journalists simply handed the tapes to him and the FSB is a more likely source.


Claim Two

Derkach claimed that the tapes indicated Biden had offered $1bn of US funding for the protection of a corrupt scheme involving the company Burisma.

Reality

Biden does not mention Burisma on the tapes. He does pressurise Poroshenko to fire Shokin, who was the prosecutor in 2015-2016 and dragged his heels over investigating Burisma.

The firm is owned by Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky who has been investigated for corruption dating back to when he was a government minister in 2010-2012. Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, joined the board of Burisma in April 2014 when British officials froze bank accounts belonging to Zlochevsky and he left in 2019.

In 2017 Burisma also signed a ‘cooperation agreement’ with the Atlantic Council, a think tank linked to the Bidens. The prosecution may claim that Joe Biden helped Burisma hook up with the Atlantic Council to launder its image. It will argue that he pressured Poroshenko to get rid of Shokin in order to stop Burisma being investigated.

It’s true that Burisma traded on Hunter Biden’s name, but Joe Biden did not offer Poroshenko money to block an investigation into Burisma and tried to get rid of Shokin who had stalled investigations into corruption.


Claim Three

Derkach claimed that the tapes show Ukraine was governed from abroad by Biden.

Reality

The tapes show that Biden pressured Poroshenko to get rid of Shokin and address corruption before the was released. Poroshenko and his associates were indeed suspected of corruption. In 2018, Oleksandr Onyshchenko, one of the gang of four helping Derkach pursue the Burisma case released recordings of Poroshenko and Zlochevsky. He claimed they proved corruption but Poroshenko argued they were fake. These recordings will probably be looked at by the prosecution.


Compromising Ukraine’s Electoral Neutrality

The launch of an investigation into Joe Biden to discredit him appears to have been coordinated. On 12 May 2020, former prosecutor Shokin’s attorney held a press conference at which he claimed that his client’s life was in danger because of pressure from Biden.

This created the impression that there was a pressing need to look at the US politician’s actions in Ukraine before the cases were launched the following week. According to Robert Waldeck, an attorney who has researched the links between the US and Ukraine for major media outlets: “It looks like what we call a rollout, a political stage show in the US.”

The prosecution will hurt Poroshenko and Biden and help Zelensky and Trump. However, the launch of a legal case which will affect the US election breaks Ukraine’s policy of neutrality.  If Zelensky does not halt this contrived prosecution, his image among the Ukrainian diaspora, whose support has often proved crucial, will be severely damaged.

The Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine has already said that: “President Zelensky’s job is to maintain bipartisan US support for Ukraine. He must avoid getting roped into US party politics.”

They have a point. If Biden wins the vote in November 2020, Zelensky will find himself facing a foe in the White House as well as one in the Kremlin.

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