September 18, 2019

Kiev’s relations with the US are not all roses…

“I can assure you, Mr. President, that relations between Ukraine and the United States have never been stronger,” those were the first words by US Vice President Mike Pence during his Warsaw meeting with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky on September 1. The importance of this meeting for the American side was emphasized by its being broadcast by Fox News channel and by Zelensky’s being the only guest of the Polish capital, whose meeting with Pence was honored with a separate material at the White House website.

Nevertheless, Pence’s ostentatious cordiality and particularity of the meeting cannot conceal the fact that something is rotten in Kiev’s relations with the new American administration. Thus, on August 28, immediately after US President’s National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit to Kiev, Donald Trump asked his team to consider the feasibility of providing Ukraine with US military assistance amounting to $250 million, which was previously approved by the Congress.

Besides, duration of Zelensky’s visit to the United States has not been determined either – not to attend the UN General Assembly session to begin on September 17, where he will probably rub shoulders with Trump, but purely for contacts with the American leadership and a White House meeting. On August 9, the US President said it would take place soon, while the White House press release about Pence’s meeting with Zelensky said nothing about it. And one of Washington Post’s editorials of September 5 claims that “Mr. Trump has refused to grant the Ukrainian leader a White House visit.” The newspaper links both this refusal and the freezing of military aid to the fact that the US President is exerting pressure on Zelensky, “attempting to force him to intervene in the 2020 US presidential election,” providing dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, President Trump’s most dangerous opponent so far.

The same day this article was published, Zelensky had a Kiev meeting with Democratic US Senator Ron Johnson and Republican Christopher Murphy, who had recently been denied entry to Russia by the way. The Senators also met with Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksandr Danylyuk and newly appointed General Prosecutor Ruslan Ryaboshapka. Officially, it was about supporting Ukraine in security and energy, as well as reforms and combating corruption. But as an anonymous Telegram channel reported, the meetings appeared as “bargaining” for dirt on Biden. For instance, Ryaboshapka and Danylyuk have to become mediators and Biden’s lobbyists in Ukraine, as well as his “communications agents”. The Senators held talks with all the key players who might be related to the search for compromising material on Biden. This was done in order to recruit at least someone. After all, Zelensky can be “outbid” by Donald Trump, which means that the role of other “players” may grow.

The mentioned Telegram channel has gained popularity in the last couple of months due to distributing damaging material and obvious rumors about what is really happening among the Ukrainian people in power. The channel’s political face is evident – it supports both head of state Vladimir Zelensky and oligarch Igor Kolomoysky. The latter does not enjoy as much support as the President, but the official narrative of Kolomoisky’s lack of influence at the very top of the country is not supported by the channel. On the contrary, examples of such influence are thrown in, and the way information is presented inclines the reader to regard the oligarch’s role as positive.

A lot of the channel’s bogus stories and rumors have proved out. However, the information that the Senators acted as Biden lobbyists is hard to believe. Yes, Democrat Christopher Murphy from Connecticut does really seem to be a supporter of the former Vice President, but all of his meetings were held together with Republican Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. The latter can hardly be called a die-hard Trumpist. However, it’s one thing that under the pressure from the media one dissociates himself from Trump’s lambasting the four colored radical democrats in the House of Representatives (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Soyini Pressley and Rashida Tlaib), but it’s quite another when you play the side of the President’s foremost rival.

No, I think the situation is different. Of course, Biden’s team is fighting to ensure Zelensky’s not allowing the transfer of compromising material. However, it will hardly attempt to influence Kiev through Johnson. But why then did Telegram publish an outright lie? I think, not only to warm up the readers’ interest but to cover the real negotiations with Biden’s people on the one hand, while on the other providing information that opinions may be different inside Zelensky’s team, hinting to the growth of bargaining stakes.

Opinions in Zelensky’s team seem to be really different, which is not only due to the Soros background of its separate members, for instance, NSDC Secretary Danylyuk, but also to the unascertainable outcome of the 2020 American elections. Kiev is reasonably afraid to back up the wrong horse.

Perhaps, these very disagreements are linked to Zelensky’s team most mysterious story over the short months of his presidency. The evening of August 1 saw a news circulate through the Ukrainian media that the head of the President’s Office (i. e. the administration of the head of state) Andrei Bogdan had resigned, but just a couple of hours later the authorities tried to turn it into a joke. The news on Bogdan’s resignation appeared the same day as the media leak about Trump’s refusal to meet Zelensky as long as Bogdan heads the President’s Office. But a week later Trump turned out to be waiting for a meeting with the Ukrainian leader in the White House, even though Bogdan remained in office.

In my opinion, the case was as follows. The administration head did really make a demarche with his resignation, but warned it was not about him personally or Igor Kolomoisky, whose close associate he is rightly considered, but about Trump’s quest for dirt on Biden through pressure on them. Zelensky, who is very comfortable working with Bogdan, conceded. His resignation was turned into a joke, and the White House was given a signal that Kiev would cooperate on Biden, and perhaps some information was even provided. As a result, Trump voiced a number of compliments upon Zelensky.

But now it turns out that the White House has failed to get everything it needs, maybe it only got mere promises. Meanwhile, such a sequence of events has reinforced Igor Kolomoysky. It clearly demonstrated Zelensky that he was virtually non-toxic to the West, as it was said during the election and immediately after it. Toxicity is just being created around him in order to affect Zelensky. In the United States, criticism towards Kolomoysky has now disappeared after all, and not only from resources backing the Republicans. Thus, the above mentioned Washington Post editorial praises Zelensky as a bold reformer, whose government intends to bring to life all that the IMF has dreamt of. And he pays no attention to the fact that the entire power block of the new Cabinet consists of the people linked to the oligarch. It seems that both Trump’s and Biden’s people now want to negotiate with Mr. Kolomoysky as friends, aware of his influence over Zelensky. And I think Kolomoysky managed to strengthen hand at home specifically because it became clear what the rumors of his toxicity were worth of.

But in politics there is no eternal kindness, and the attitude of the opposing American camps may change any minute. As for what lengths Zelensky is ready to go to in relations with Trump, this will become clear after the Ukrainian President’s trip to the UN General Assembly session.

Alexander Ponomarenko, political analyst

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