The Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), administered by the Department of Justice and other sources, provides evidence of both Democrats and Republicans having been hired as political consultants and lobbyists by pro-Russian Ukrainian kleptocrats. These are the very same political figures who have been routinely criticized by U.S. policymakers.
Viktor Pinchuk, a well-known Ukrainian oligarch, has links to Washington that stretch back to 2001 when he hired Kroll, an investigative agency, to whitewash President Leonid Kuchma’s involvement in the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
In 2003-2004, Pinchuk brought U.S. VIPs, such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and President George H.W. Bush to Ukraine to improve Kuchma’s international image. Pinchuk also hired Black, Kelly, Scruggs & Healey (BKSH) Associates and the Washington World Group for public relations work.
Pinchuk has provided donations to both Democrats and Republicans. He supported the Clinton Library and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPennsylvania GOP authorizes subpoenas in election probe We must mount an all-country response to help our Afghan allies Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE’s 2008 election campaign and when Clinton was Secretary of State she received $8.6 million from Pinchuk's foundation.
In 2016, Pinchuk switched sides and provided a donation to the Trump campaign and paid Trump, then a presidential candidate, $150,000 for a 19-minute video call to the Yalta European Strategy summit.
Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash has a more colorful background and is wanted by the U.S. on corruption charges and by Spain for money laundering with Russian organized crime. Firtash hired Jack Abramoff, who had spent three years in jail, to thwart U.S. requests for his extradition and to promote his newly created Agency for the Modernization of Ukraine.
Six years earlier, Zev Furst, president of First International Resources, and Firtash had met U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor where he admitted to being permitted to operate in the highly-opaque gas business by Russian mafia don Semyon Mogilevich, who has been on the FBI wanted list since the 1990s for multi-million-dollar fraud schemes.
Firtash and Mogilevych have always worked for Russian Presidents Borys Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. It was therefore surprising why the Ukrainian-American community accepted $2.5 million from Firtash to pay for a Washington, D.C. memorial to Stalin’s 1933 artificial famine in Ukraine, unveiled in 2015.
Yanukovych and his oligarchic allies hired American consultants, lobbyists and lawyers to a greater degree than any other group of Ukrainians. From 2002-2004, his government had an established relationship with a range of U.S. consultancies that included DB Communications, Venable, Potomac Communications Strategies, Creative Response Concepts and Jefferson Waterman International. FARA reported that the Yanukovych government paid DB Communications and Venable $123,000 per month in 2004.
After the 2004 Orange Revolution, Davis-Manafort International was recommended to Yanukovych’s long-term ally, oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. Davis-Manafort International worked in Ukraine and in the U.S. but never registered with FARA in 2005-2014. Manafort headed Trump’s election campaign but resigned after extensive media coverage of his nefarious activities. Manafort’s work for Yanukovych became public through the FARA registration of Daniel J. Edelman.
The Manafort contract produced conflicts of interest. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign manager, Rick Davis, co-owner of Davis Manafort International.
Their work with the pro-Russian and anti-democratic Yanukovych contrasted sharply with McCain’s support for the Orange and Euromaidan Revolutions and his visceral dislike for Putin. If McCain had won the 2008 U.S. elections, Davis would have been his chief of staff at a time when his business partner worked for Yanukovych.
President Yanukovych hired Democrats and Republicans. Another conflict of interest occurred when Vin Weber was awarded the Democracy Service Medal in recognition of his service as National Endowment for Democracy (NED) chairman for his support for democracy and human dignity. In the 2012 election campaign, Weber was Mitt Romney’s leading foreign-policy adviser.
Weber, a partner at Mercury, Clark & Weinstock, was a registered lobbyist for European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU), funded by President Yanukovych who was dismantling Ukraine’s democracy. Another Republican, Bruce Jackson, president of the Project on Transitional Democracies and former vice president of Lockheed Martin, supported the Orange Revolution but was hired by Akhmetov. The following year he received $300,000 from Akhmetov.
The Yanukovych-funded ECFMU also hired Democrats from the Podesta Group. John Podesta, a former chief of staff in President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonBusiness coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader Obamas, Bushes and Clintons joining new effort to help Afghan refugees MORE’s administration and a former advisor to President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFormer Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees MORE, was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.
Former President of Freedom House Adrian Karatnycky, a long-time Democrat, wrote countless op-eds in support of Yanukovych.
Think tanks provide a back door to lobbying the U.S. government without the need to register with FARA. Pinchuk provided donations to the Brookings Institution for projects headed by former U.S. Ambassadors to Ukraine Carlos Pascual and Steven Pifer and donations to the Peterson Institute for International Economics where well-known economist Anders Aslund was a senior fellow.
The International Advisory Board of Akhmetov’s Foundation for Effective Governance (FEG) included former Democratic Senator and Governor of Rhode Island Lincoln Chafee.
Leading U.S. law firms have been hired by Ukrainian kleptocrats. In 2010, Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov’s government paid $3 million for an international audit of the Yulia Tymoshenko government by Trout, Cacheris, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and Kroll Inc.
Azarov is in in hiding in Russia and wanted by Interpol. Their report was used by Yanukovch to justify the imprisonment of Tymoshenko, which was condemned by the U.S. government as selective use of justice. Akhmetov hired Strauss, Akim, Gump, Hauer & Feld to pressure and threaten publishers and media outlets to drop publications that raised their client’s murky past.
In 2012, American law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP prepared a lengthy investigation of the Tymoshenko trial to present her sentencing as free and fair. The U.S. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland responded to questions about the report saying, "Our concern is that Skadden Arps' lawyers were obviously not going to find political motivation if they weren’t looking for it."
FARA legislation was drawn up to counter Nazi espionage in a very different era to that of today’s kleptocrats, offshore tax havens and K Street’s lobbyists. It has failed to prevent widespread abuse by cynical operators, such as Manafort, that never registered. Trump’s pledge to "drain the swamp" has to include Democrats and Republicans who have been both hired by foreign kleptocrats.
Correction: An earlier version of this op-ed inaccurately insinuated that Jack Abramoff spent time in jail as a result of working with Israeli consultant Aron Shaviv. We apologize for the error.
Correction: An earlier version of the piece stated that the ECFMU hired Blue Star Strategies. Blue Star Strategies told The Hill it was never hired by, never worked on behalf of, nor received fees from the ECFMU. We apologize for the error.
Taras Kuzio is a Toronto-based international expert on contemporary Ukrainian and post-communist politics, nationalism and European integration at the Centre for Political and Regional Studies, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta and a non-resident fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR), School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University. He holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Birmingham.
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