Note: Это международная, отредактированная версия оригинальной публикации. This is an international version of an original publication, edited for clarity. theBabel spoke to the top ranking official in Prosecutor Generalʼs Office, that wished to remain anonymous; a number of sources close to the president Petro Poroshenko, that we spoke to, wished to do the same.
According to theBabel’s source, on the beginning of March John Solomon from The Hill spoke to Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko and asked him to respond to 17 questions. Some of them touched upon relations with American ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and financial aid from US government. Lutsenko stated that the Ambassador named to him a number of Ukrainian citizens who “should not be prosecuted”. (State Department denies it.) He also stated that US Embassy in Ukraine failed to allocate four million dollars in US aid to the Prosecutor Generalʼs Office (PGO). Most importantly, he stated, that the Prosecutor Generalʼs Office of Ukraine opened a case on Ukraineʼs possible interference with 2016 US presidential elections.
The chain of events that PGO is now investigating began in May 2016, two years after Ukrainian revolution removed from power president Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. MP Serhiy Leshchenko and former deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine Viktor Trepak made public Party of Regions’ “black ledger”. Well-known political consultant Paul Manafort turned out to be among the recipients of unaccounted payments in cash from associates of Viktor Yanukovych. Paul Manafort advised Yanukovych for many years. In 2016 he became campaign chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Leaked “black ledger” was a part of a case initiated by National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). NABU was established after the 2014 revolution, as a government agency, to fight high-profile corruption. US Ambassadors to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Marie Yovanovitch supported this agency from the start. Artyom Sytnik, lawyer and former prosecutor, became its’ first director.
“Black ledger” story resulted in Manafort leaving the campaign, but did not stop Donald Trump from winning the election. Hillary Clinton, whose victory many Ukrainian politicians counted on, recognized the defeat. Ukrainian “black ledger” story became a part of Robert Mueller’s investigation. It found no evidence of Donald Trump’s collusion or coordination with Russia. Nonetheless, it spoiled his first two years in office. President Petro Poroshenko had a hard time establishing contacts with Washington.
“Black ledger” story came back to life in October 2017. MP Borislav Rosenblatt filed a claim against MP Serhiy Leshchenko and NABU director Artyom Sytnik. He asked to recognize their actions as an interference with US elections. In December 2018, the court upheld the claim and admitted that Sytnyk and Leshchenkoʼs disclosure of information on Manafort constituted an interference with the US elections. This decision did not come into force, because Leshchenko appealed to the Court of Appeals (it is being heard in court now).
A few months later, on March 14th, 2019, Rosenblat made public an audio recording, where a man with a voice resembling the voice of Sytnyk is bragging that he “helped Hillary’s campaign”. It’s still not clear if it is, in fact, Sytnik’s voice recorded on the audio, and where Borislav Rosenblat obtained it. Rosenblat has a reason to dislike Sytnik: NABU investigated him in 2017.
The White House made notice of this story. On March 15 former Republican candidate to Congress Chuck Callesto tweeted a link to an article based on “Rosenblat record”. On March 16th Donald Trump retweeted his post.
The Ukrainian officials were aware of the fact that Trump hold a grudge against Ukraine because of the Manafort’s forced dismissal from his campaign team –– he did not hide it. In July 2017, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign –– “quietly working to boost Clinton”. So, where is the investigation, the Attorney General?”
Ukrainian officials tried to reset a damaged relationship and seeked a means to do it. On the January 25th—28th Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko visited New York. According to theBabel’s source, he met with President Trump’s attorney Rudolph Giuliani. (When asked for comment on this meeting Yuriy Lutsenko said: “He is a former US Attorney, we have plenty to talk about. This is not our first meeting”.)
Soon after this meeting Lutsenko talked to The Hill and criticized Marie Yovanovitch. According to theBabel’s source in PGO this was an attempt to establish good relations with US president (Marie Yovanovitch was nominated to her post in May 2016, under Secretary of State John Kerry, member of Democratic party). It was also an attempt to weaken the position (or even get rid of) the unfriendly Ambassador. For a number of years Yovanovitch criticized Ukrainian authorities and supported anti-corruption organizations. According to theBabel’s source, on March 20th during Ukraine-EU summit president Petro Poroshenko complained about poor relations with US Embassy to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk and the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
On March 31th Ukraine holds its own presidential elections, and it does not make the “Yovanovitch story” any more simple. When asked to comment on the purpose of his statements about Marie Yovanovitch, Yuriy Lutsenko said: “Presidential elections are coming, and I care about [Ukraine’s future membership in] NATO. It is possible only if two presidents have close relationship. Everything that interferes with it should be eliminated”.
It seems like Lutsenkoʼs message reached the recipient. On March 21th Trump twitted a quote from The Hill: “John Solomon: As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges”. This is a reaction, for which Lutsenko took the heat from State Department and president Petro Poroshenko.
However, the heat was not as strong as many expected. Perhaps, because neither party wanted to punish Lutsenko seriously. In the US nobody demanded an official explanation from Ukrainian ambassador Valeriy Chaly. On March 23rd Fox News revealed, that former Congressman Pete Sessions asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to remove Yovanovitch from her position. Donald Trump Jr. twitted, saying “We need more Richard Grenell’s [US Ambassador to Germany] and less of these jokers as ambassadors”.
theBabel reached to sources close to Petro Poroshenko and asked if the president directed Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to talk to The Hill, or was aware that Lutsenko was about to talk to american journalist. Several sources close to the president, and Lutsenko himself strongly denied it. In the comment to theBabel Lutsenko said that in the days after scandalous interview he had a chance to talk to the president and their relationship remains “positive”.
It is expected that The Hill will publish the next installment of Lutsenko’s interview. According to theBabel’s source John Solomon asked him about Burisma, a company owned by former Minister of Ecology Mykola Zlochevsky, where Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, served on the board of directors. Mykola Zlochevsky’s name featured in three criminal cases, in one of them, on money laundering, he was a suspect. (This case was closed in 2017 and reopened in 2018.) The story may become significant if Joe Biden decides to run for president in 2020 elections. It seems like the investigation results against the son of prominent Democrat and possible Trump’s competitor will depend on the readiness of Prosecutor Generalʼs Office and Lutsenko himself to push the matter through.