Thursday, September 26, 2019

Joe Biden, Corruption in Ukraine and American Power Peddling

With the Ukraine controversy swirling around Donald Trump and the actions taken by the Democrats to impeach him, a look back at some relatively recent comments by the Democrat's top presidential candidate are in order.  Rather that focussing on the potential conflict of interest between Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden and the justice system in Ukraine, I am going to take a different approach to recent events that play to a wider narrative, that of the use of political power  peddling on the international stage by Washington. 

Let's look at a bit of background first.   Thanks to a timeline created by Just Security, we can look back and see key events in Ukraine prior to the time that Joe Biden was visiting the nation.  In November 2013, Ukrainians began protests against their government in Kyiv's Maidan, against the government of President Yanukovych.  By February 2014, the pro-Russian Yanukovych government fell, President Barack Obama appointed Joe Biden as his point man on Ukraine and the ongoing war in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donestsk and Luhansk began in April 2014.  In April 2014, Joe Biden's youngest son, Hunter Biden, joined the board of Burisma Holdings, the largest private natural gas producing company in Ukraine.  Here is the announcement: 

At the time, there was a perception of a conflict of interest given Joe Biden's position in the Obama Administration and his appointment as the lead person for Ukraine.

In April 2014, the United Kingdom's Serious Fraud Office blocked all accounts of Burisma's majority shareholder, Mykola Zlochevskiy and then unblocked them on January 21, 2015 after the found that there is no evidence to suggest that the assets were unlawfully acquired during his term in public office.  It is this event that has created a kerfuffle since it is believed that Ukraine's Prosecutor General did not supply the U.K. with the documents needed for a complete investigation.

On September 24, 2015, United States Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt gave a speech at the Odesa Financial Forum, scolding Ukraines's Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin for not cooperating with the British investigation and even undermining it.  Here are some of his comments:

"That problem (corruption) threatens everything that the Rada, the Cabinet, the National Reform Council, and others are doing to push political and economic reforms forward and make life better for Ukrainians, and it flies in the face of what the Revolution of Dignity is trying to achieve. 

That obstacle is the failure of the institution of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to successfully fight internal corruption. Rather than supporting Ukraine’s reforms and working to root out corruption, corrupt actors within the Prosecutor General’s office are making things worse by openly and aggressively undermining reform.

In defiance of Ukraine’s leaders, these bad actors regularly hinder efforts to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials within the prosecutor general’s office. They intimidate and obstruct the efforts of those working honestly on reform initiatives within that same office. 

The United States stands behind those who challenge these bad actors…. 

I encourage all of you to speak up in support of these brave investigators and prosecutors. Give them the resources and support to successfully prosecute these and future cases. 

We have learned that there have been times that the PGO (Prosecutor General’s Office) not only did not support investigations into corruption, but rather undermined prosecutors working on legitimate corruption cases.

For example, in the case of former Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky, the U.K. authorities had seized 23 million dollars in illicit assets that belonged to the Ukrainian people. Officials at the PGO’s office were asked by the U.K to send documents supporting the seizure.

Instead they sent letters to Zlochevsky’s attorneys attesting that there was no case against him. As a result the money was freed by the U.K. court and shortly thereafter the money was moved to Cyprus.

The misconduct by the PGO officials who wrote those letters should be investigated, and those responsible for subverting the case by authorizing those letters should – at a minimum – be summarily terminated. " (my bolds)

On December 8, 2015, Joe Biden gave a speech to Ukraine's Rada (Ukraine's parliament) regarding what it needed to do with regards to battling corruption:

"As the Prime Minister and the President heard me often say, I never tell another man or another nation or another woman what’s in their interest.  But I can tell you, you cannot name me a single democracy in the world where the cancer of corruption is prevalent.  You cannot name me one.  They are thoroughly inconsistent.  And it’s not enough to set up a new anti-corruption bureau and establish a special prosecutor fighting corruption.  The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform.  The judiciary should be overhauled.  The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles -- not sweetheart deals.  It’s not enough to push through laws to increase transparency with regard to official sources of income.  Senior elected officials have to remove all conflicts between their business interest and their government responsibilities.  Every other democracy in the world -- that system pertains. 

Oligarchs and non-oligarchs must play by the same rules.  They have to pay their taxes, settle their disputes in court -- not by bullying judges.  That's basic.  That's how nations succeed in the 21st century. 

Corruption siphons away resources from the people.  It blunts the economic growth, and it affronts the human dignity.  We know that.  You know that.  The Ukrainian people know that.  When Russia seeks to use corruption as a tool of coercion, reform isn’t just good governance, it’s self-preservation.  It’s in the national security interest of the nation.

Russia is trying to undermine the stability and sovereignty of Ukraine any way they can't, including squeezing Ukraine financially, trying to undermine your economy.  They view that as a cheaper way than sending tanks across the line of contact."

There's the key point - the Obama Administration is clearly blaming Russia for the corruption in Ukraine.

Now, let's move forward just over two years.  Back in January 2018, Joe Biden appeared at the Council on Foreign Relations, a highly influential non-profit think tank which has numerous former federal government politicians and prominent members of the American intelligence community among its members.  In a question and answer exchange with Richard Haas, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, we find the following comments from the former Vice President on his relationship with Ukraine during his term in office between 2014 and 2016, keeping in mind that this followed a lengthy exchange on Russia and its relationship with Washington:

"Do I think they’re—I think the Donbas has potential to be able to be solved, but it takes two things. One of those things is missing now. And that is I’m desperately concerned about the backsliding on the part of Kiev in terms of corruption. They made—I mean, I’ll give you one concrete example. I was—not I, but it just happened to be that was the assignment I got. I got all the good ones. And so I got Ukraine. And I remember going over, convincing our team, our leaders to—convincing that we should be providing for loan guarantees. And I went over, I guess, the 12th, 13th time to Kiev. And I was supposed to announce that there was another billion-dollar loan guarantee. And I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t.

So they said they had—they were walking out to a press conference. I said, nah, I’m not going to—or, we’re not going to give you the billion dollars. They said, you have no authority. You’re not the president. The president said—I said, call him. (Laughter.) I said, I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars. I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. (Laughter.) He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.

Well, there’s still—so they made some genuine substantial changes institutionally and with people. But one of the three institutions, there’s now some backsliding." (my bolds)

I'm certain that the "backsliding" that has taken place can somehow be blamed on Russia.

I realize that the story is extremely complicated and I have tried to simplify it as much as possible.  In my opinion, at the very least, we can take one thing from the aforementioned events in Ukraine and comments by key members of the Obama Administration; Washington is completely hypocritical when it comes to corruption in government and how Russia uses coercion and other means of control to get its own way in the domestic affairs of other nations and how it uses corruption as a means of warfare.  A great deal of energy has been spent blaming Russian and Vladimir Putin for the woes of the world when, in fact, much of the blame for various geopolitical issues around the globe can be laid at the feet of Washington, the driving force behind Ukraine's current situation.   

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