Ukraine is not the first post-USSR country whose Western-looking orientation has been skillfully exploited by the independent Russian Federation’s foreign intelligence successor to the KGB, the GRU.
Engaging in what is known as “hybrid warfare,” Moscow’s long-time goal has been to impede and reverse Western influence — which has been on the rise since the fall of the USSR in 1991.
Mission 1: Keeping the West out
Ukraine is a young democracy with a difficult national history that has not been able to shake off the grip of politicians and oligarchs sympathetic to Moscow.
The net effect of their self-serving interests and competing loyalties is inhibiting reform and exacerbating corruption in Ukraine. For that reason, the country has provided rich hunting grounds for embezzlement, money-laundering, fraud and for-hire political intrigue for anti-Western interests.
Russian intel at the center of the spider’s web
Some of these political players have open, direct and active ties to Russian intelligence, politicians and oligarchs. They rely on controlling stakes in Ukrainian industrial, energy and media companies and coordinating with shadowy lobbying firms to protect their questionable influence from scrutiny.
As deeply resourceful influencers, they have become adept at undermining civic institutions and influencing foreign and domestic elections in tandem with Russia’s disinformation campaign, headed by Russia’s Internet Research Agency.
Mission 2: Keeping Ukraine down
These players use their influence to create alternative narratives in a “war of information.” These narratives contribute to a state of chaos that harms Ukrainian and foreign democracy-based institutions’ efforts to clean up Ukraine.
A cooperative framework of national and international rules of law is considered poisonous by Ukraine’s promoters of criminality and illicitness.
Russia/Trump nexus: Creating chaos in Ukraine
This chaos of political disunity is essential to Russia’s kleptocratic and expansionist policy goals.
The Trump campaign is heavily tied to many of Ukraine’s oligarchs, criminals and corrupt politicians that have featured in Russia’s most successful campaigns to weaken Western resolve. They are resolute in their intent to hollow out cooperation with the West as best they can.
Putin’s man in Ukraine
For over 10 years, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, headed Russian-backed international lobby machines in Kiev and Brussels.
His effort was designed to promote the ludicrous idea of rebranding the corrupt and heavily Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych as “pro-Western” and pro-reform. The goal of his lobbying was to dupe the West into backing his candidacy.
From corruption to treason
The “Manafort machine” helped Yanukovych win the 2010 election. Yanukovych’s election was a major aim of six years of GRU-directed election interference, meddling and shadow lobbying in Ukraine.
From his inauguration until the Maidan Revolution in 2014 that pressured him to leave, Yanukovych and his “family” embezzled and stole an estimated $160 billion from Ukraine.
The goods he delivered to Moscow in exchange for this “opportunity” were to sharply curtail Ukraine’s alignment toward the European Union.
When Ukrainians collectively protested his corruption and unwanted pivot from “West” to “East” in 2013 and 2014, the Yanukovych administration’s internal police murdered over 100 protesters.
In response, Yanukovych fled to Russia with stolen treasury funds and opened the door to Russian military aggression towards Ukraine.
Russia’s real goal beyond Yanukovych
Yanukovych also allowed Ukraine’s armed forces to languish to an estimated 20% combat-efficiency in his time as President.
Yanukovych is suspected of having intentionally let Ukraine’s guard down to set up Russia to annex Crimea as well as to incite and support insurrection in two of Ukraine’s eastern regions.
Crimea’s annexation and the ongoing proxy war in Donbas have since played important roles in Moscow’s goals of weakening the West’s reform efforts and the value of Western cooperative security guarantees.
It seems that Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his administration’s attacks on his immediate predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, indicate a few interesting possibilities about their readiness to help Russia in its chaotic war of information that is ultimately intended to benefit Trump.
Generally speaking, Poroshenko is a strange target for a young “reform” president such as Zelensky.
Whatever Poroshenko’s failings, Ukraine’s war-time president was charged with the difficult task of defending and redeeming the country after Yanukovych’s betrayal in the face of Russia’s multi-faceted attack.
The Washington machine spins Ukraine-gate
Trump campaign surrogate Rudy Giuliani and Moscow-oriented Ukrainian politicians are continuing to try to spin Ukraine-gate and the successive impeachment scandal in Trump’s favor. The Zelensky-Poroshenko power struggle merely serves as a backdrop.
Giuliani has been meeting and coordinating with Andriy Derkach as part of a back-channel influence campaign against Joe Biden.
Derkach, an oligarchical Ukrainian MP from a far-flung (read: buyable) district was educated by the former KGB. Derkach recently released edited tapes of phone conversations of Biden and Poroshenko.
The illegally obtained tapes are suspected of being provided by international criminal businessman Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who has business ties to Donald Trump and the Yanukovych “family” (many of whom now reside in Russian with their embezzled fortunes).
Going after Joe Biden
The Trump campaign has tried to spin the tapes as backing their Ukraine-gate defense to make it seem as if former Vice President Joe Biden was coercing Poroshenko at the time to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.
The Trump campaign alleges that Biden’s supposed goal was to end investigations into Burisma, a company that was engaged in a conflict of interest with Biden’s son, Hunter.
However, it is well-understood by Western authorities and the current Ukrainian government, as well as by Shokin’s former Deputy Prosecutor, Vitaliy Kasko, that Shokin was, in fact, corrupt himself.
Shokin’s real goal was to shield the owner of Burisma from investigation into suspected money-laundering of funds suspected of being embezzled from Ukrainian state resources on a massive scale.
Suspicious moves by the “reform” President
As the Derkach tapes were released, Zelensky ramped up his judicial attacks on Poroshenko, hinting at treasonous allegations. No question, Poroshenko or his hand-picked Prosecutor General to replace Shokin, Yuriy Lutsenko, played central, possibly nefarious roles in Ukraine’s suspicious entanglement in U.S. politics.
However, since losing to Zelensky, Poroshenko has found himself the subject of many unorthodox investigations and subpoenas by Ukraine’s security service, SBU, which happens to be headed by a childhood friend of Zelensky.
As confidence in Zelensky wanes that he is sincere in his reform efforts and will not “capitulate” to Russia’s efforts towards the “federalization” of Ukraine, his overtures of treasonous accusations may be setting Ukraine up for another feature role in an international scandal.
An October surprise in the making?
Many are wondering how this perplexing political feud in Ukraine will affect U.S. politics, which has so conspicuously mirrored Ukrainian politics since the rise of Trump.
The Republican Party has a history of precedent-shattering, unethical plots of an international geo-political nature to sway voter sentiment just before a presidential election.
In 1968, Richard Nixon told the North Vietnamese through back-channels not to make any peace deals with the South which the Democratic administration of Lyndon Johnson was supporting.
A “treason showdown” between Ukraine’s new reform president and its previous war-time president is proving to be fertile grounds for another Republican “October Surprise” — but with Trump and not Nixon as the crook.
The Russians did it before
The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee supports the U.S. intelligence assessment that Moscow was waging a hyper-active disinformation campaign on behalf of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign effort.
At the height of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, the Hollywood Access tape was released and was predicted to be a fatal bombshell recording of a presidential candidate bragging about committing sexual assault. However, Moscow’s GRU saw to it that Wikileaks did a marvellous “just in time” performance.
Wikileaks relayed sensitive, in-house campaign emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager that had been hacked and stolen by Russian intelligence.
Evidence points to associate of Paul Manafort’s international lobby firm and Trump campaign advisor, Roger Stone, of being heavily connected to that conspiracy of election interference.
Trump’s dirty brigades: Will they do it again?
As the United States enters another extremely sensitive general election countdown, Trump may be inclined towards abusing his office in another conspiracy of invited or coerced election interference as current U.S. polling data overwhelmingly show him to be the underdog with less than five months before the election.
There is a lot of speculation as to what an emboldened and desperate Trump campaign has in mind to help tilt the polls in the President’s favor.
After all, Trump has had key Republican-led Senate support before in flipping the facts as to which political figures are associated with bribery, fraud, embezzlement and treason to defend against accusations of abuse of office.
Whatever it takes
The most likely scenario of another U.S.-Ukraine scandal is that, to sway sentiment in Trump’s favor before the election, decisive action taken against Poroshenko will be used by the Trump campaign to implicate Biden in wrongdoing.
It is foreboding for Ukraine’s heightened role in international politics that criminals in Trump’s orbit are able to obtain sensitive government recordings and are coordinating their release with the Trump campaign in broad daylight without much scrutiny.
In the backdrop of Zelensky’s fizzling popularity and public confidence and escalating political intrigue in Ukraine, the timely indictment of Poroshenko for potential wrong-doings seems poised to be exploited to harm Biden at a critical moment in the 2020 U.S. election.
This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together. Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. And sign up for our highlights email here.