‘Oh no, not us again.’ That was the reaction in Kiev when news of the Trump-Zelensky phone call leaked last month and Ukraine was once again at the center of an American political controversy. The latest leaks confirm that Ukraine’s leadership feels distinctly queasy about the problem and the opportunity presented by President Trump’s request for dirt on the Bidens. Quoting anonymous sources, the Associated Press reported that President Zelensky gathered his most trusted advisers last May for a three-hour discussion on how to deal with ‘insistent requests’ from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for an investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, and his role at a Ukrainian oil company, Burisma – and whether Biden himself was compromised by any of this. Two months later – and while with holding US military aid – Trump made his now famous phone call to Zelensky, asking for a ‘favor’ – for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Zelensky was a comedian before he became president. The show that made him famous was Servant of the People. He played a high school teacher who unexpectedly gets elected president after one of his students films him ranting against government corruption. The TV station that broadcast the show is owned by an oligarch called Ihor Kolomoisky, who has been called the ‘puppet master’ behind Zelensky’s rise. One source in Washington DC tells Cockburn that Kolomoiksy may increasingly figure in news about the Ukrainian affair. As if to confirm this, the latest report by the New York Times from Kiev says that ‘Giuliani’s outreach had focused mostly on a faction in Mr Zelensky’s government that includes his friends from the comedy industry and the associates of a Ukrainian billionaire, Ihor Kolomoisky’.
Kolomoisky may look like an eccentric college professor, with tiny round glasses and bushy gray hair, but he has prospered in the ruthless world of Ukraine’s gangster capitalism. Vladimir Putin has called him a ‘unique crook’ (admittedly after Kolomoisky called him a ‘schizophrenic dwarf’.) When one of the businesses he was associated with had a dispute, he sent round ‘accountants’ to settle the matter – the ‘accountants’ allegedly came with ski masks and guns. He funded his own militia, Dnipro-1, to fight Russian-backed separatists. He was even said to have a live, five-meter-long shark in his office that – as Politico reported – he fed during meetings ‘to unnerve his guests’.
With such a colorful history, Kolomoisky was always going to have trouble in the US. He is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for money laundering. This relates to what has been called ‘the biggest case of money laundering in history,’ Kolomoisky facing a civil action in the US courts, accused of stealing $470 billion from a Ukrainian bank he controlled and moving it through Cyprus over 10 years. (If true, you’d think someone was bound to notice – this was 10 times Cyprus’s GDP over the same period.) Cockburn’s Washington source asks if Giuliani or anyone working for him offered help with these legal problems, in return for assistance in unearthing dirt on the Bidens.
If this did happen – and there’s no evidence yet that it did – no deal was struck, the discussions ending in a rancorous falling out. Kolomoisky publicly attacked Giuliani, saying he was going to be the subject of a ‘big scandal;’ Giuliani called for Kolomoisky to be arrested in Ukraine. Talk about a quid pro quo offered to Kolomoisky is one tiny fraction of the speculation about Giuliani’s secret Ukrainian diplomacy. In one of the most incendiary claims that Cockburn has heard, one source says Giuliani offered a US green card to a fugitive Ukrainian businessman. Giuliani did not return Cockburn’s calls but the businessman himself denied it.
Giuliani is now said to be under investigation for his Ukrainian black ops. The New York Times is reporting that federal prosecutors in Manhattan are looking at whether he broke lobbying laws. Cockburn’s source with the green card story says this is true. ‘I reported him.’ The next leak of information will no doubt be very damaging to someone, but whom? The Bidens – if any dirt does emerge; Giuliani – if he is charged; Zelensky – if the anti-corruption president is shown to have done a backchannel deal with Trump; and Trump – if he is impeached? It’s anyone’s bet who might be the ultimate casualty of the Ukrainian affair.