By Justin Sink - 05/13/14 02:42 PM EDT
Ukraine’s largest private gas producer has appointed Vice President Biden’s youngest son, Hunter, to a position on its board of directors.
Burisma Holdings said Biden would head the company’s legal unit and provide support for the organization “among international organizations.”
The White House insisted Tuesday that Biden’s hire shouldn’t be read as an official endorsement by the U.S. government of the company.
“Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
But the hire could raise ethical questions — and diplomatic headaches — for the White House.
During a visit to Kiev last month, the vice president discussed energy security with Ukraine’s leaders, including ways the country could increase its own production of natural gas.
While there, he announced an additional aid package centered around energy assistance. Officials from throughout the Obama administration were dispatched to Ukraine, as well as Slovakia and Hungary, to help devise ways to reverse the flow of natural gas and provide Ukraine with a short-term supply, so that Kiev is not vulnerable to market manipulations from Moscow.
“Imagine where you’d be today if you were able to tell Russia: ‘Keep your gas.’ It would be a very different world,” the vice president told Ukrainian lawmakers.
The aid package announced by Biden also included assistance from American engineers and scientists who will boost production in conventional gas fields, help develop a regulatory framework and technology to extract “unconventional” gas resources, and demonstrate energy efficient practices to help lessen Ukraine’s dependence on Russian energy.
That assistance could benefit Burisma, which produces the equivalent of 10,500 barrels of oil daily. The company holds permits to develop natural gas in three of Ukraine’s most lucrative fields: the Dnieper-Donets, the Carpathian and the Azov-Kuban basins.
The hire also came a day after Russian energy giant Gazprom threatened to halt natural gas shipments to Ukraine unless the country prepays for its energy. That announcement has sparked fears that energy costs could strain Ukraine’s fragile economy.
The vice president’s office joined the White House in distancing Biden’s hire from the administration.
“Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer. The vice president does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company,” said Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for the vice president.
The younger Biden, for his part, said in a statement he believed his legal and corporate advice would “contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine.”
“Burisma’s track record of innovations and industry leadership in the field of natural gas means that it can be a strong driver of a strong economy in Ukraine,” Hunter Biden said.