Zelensky indicates he endorses criminal case against Poroshenko for treason

Zelensky indicates he endorses criminal case against Poroshenko for treason

21 May 2020

Ukrainian President Zelensky indicated in a May 20
press conference that he endorses personally the Prosecutor General Office’s
decision the prior day to register a criminal case against his predecessor,
Petro Poroshenko, for state treason in alleged political deals he made with
then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. In response to a question about the
prospects for Poroshenko’s prosecution, Zelensky said, “Regarding a verdict for
Mr. Poroshenko. I am sure that all this is still ahead. You saw yesterday’s
scandal. I think they led the state in such a way that they await very many
various adventures and various verdicts.” He later added, “I think this isn’t
the last alarm bell that Ukrainians and citizens will see” in regards to the
audio recordings released the same day that provided the alleged evidence for a
criminal case of treason. Zelensky’s remarks indicated that the evidence is
credible, while Poroshenko alleged afterwards the evidence is fabricated.


The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine registered
on May 19 the latest criminal case against former President Poroshenko after
reñeiving at least a dozen allegedly incriminating audio recordings submitted
by MP Andriy Derkach. Earlier the same day, Derkach held a Kyiv press
conference presenting the recordings, which were also released on the “NABU
Leaks” YouTube channel. At least ten of them are excerpts of alleged phone conversations
between Poroshenko and then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and two are between
Poroshenko and then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Many of the recordings
were edited.


Among the most significant alleged recordings – reported
to have occurred on May 13, 2016 – buttressed Biden’s own admission in January
2018 (in a speech to the Council of Foreign Relations) that Poroshenko
dismissed his then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin as part of a quid pro quo
deal to receive USD 1 bln in Western loan guarantees, including from the IMF.
Shokin has alleged that he was dismissed because he began investigations in
Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian natural gas extraction company in which Joe
Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board of directors, drawing a reported USD
80,000 a month salary. In the alleged recording, Poroshenko told Biden that he
has fulfilled the two main requirements for securing the USD 1 bln in loan
guarantees, which are dismissing Shokin and approving legislation to reform the
prosecutor general’s office. While bold captions of the recordings lead viewers
to believe this was related to Burisma, the words themselves – even after
possible editing – don’t make mention of Burisma and indicate Biden was more
interested in eliminating corruption, which had been alleged by Western-backed
NGOs at the time.


In an alleged call reported to have occurred on Mar.
22, 2016, Poroshenko overtly sought Biden’s approval to appoint Yuriy Lutsenko
as Shokin’s replacement. “One of the possible candidates was leader of my
fraction – Lutsenko, who is the public figure. If you think that the political
motivated figure would be not very good from your point of view, I recall this
proposal [sic],” said Poroshenko, who eventually gained Biden’s blessing. In an
alleged Feb. 18, 2016 recording, Poroshenko assured Biden allegedly that he
asked Shokin to submit his resignation, “despite of the fact that we didn’t
have any corruption charges, we don’t have any information of him doing something
wrong [sic].”


In a one-minute clip, also allegedly recorded on May
13, 2016, Poroshenko informed Biden that his administration made significant
progress in meeting IMF and U.S. requirements for securing USD 1 bln in loan
guarantees. That included raising natural gas tariffs for the public by 100%
(or double), “despite the IMF expecting only a 75% hike,” as well as reforms to
state enterprises and pharmaceutical prices, “having removed all obstacles.”


The recordings prompted the opening of an investigation
by Ukrainian prosecutors on abuse of authority and state treason, as reported
by the pravda.com.ua news site, citing an anonymous source in the prosecutor
general’s office. Poroshenko already faced two criminal cases of abuse of
authority, state overthrow and numerous other charges.


Poroshenko accused the President’s Office of Ukraine
of being involved in what he characterized as fabricated audio recordings in a
Russian large-scale special operation to undermine U.S. bipartisan support for
Ukraine. Pro-Russian provocateurs in Ukraine such as Derkach, whom Poroshenko
specifically identified as a graduate of the Dzerzhinsky Higher School of the
KGB in Moscow, could have been able to gain the raw recordings from the
President’s Office to fabricate, he said in a video announcement produced in
response to Zelensky’s May 20 remarks on the situation. Poroshenko called upon
the Security Service of Ukraine to investigate who leaked the recordings, who
sanctioned the leaks and who benefits from the leaks. Poroshenko also accused
billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky (as well as three Russian-oriented television
networks) of sponsoring the provocation as part of his geopolitical program to
return Ukraine’s under Moscow’s influence. 


Derkach has been a member of Ukraine’s parliament
since 1998, having joined the Russian-oriented Party of Regions for the 2006
elections. He opposed the EuroMaidan protest of 2013-2014. He is currently
serves as an independent MP, representing a single-mandate district in the Sumy
region. His father served in the KGB, and led the SBU for about three years.
These ties indicate how Andriy Derkach has been able to leak numerous Soviet
and Ukrainian documents throughout in his career. He claimed he gained the
Poroshenko-Biden audio recordings from investigative journalists, and that they
were made by Poroshenko himself. In his May 19 press conference presenting the
recordings, he alleged the USD 1 bln in Western loan guarantees were used by
Poroshenko to secure military procurements for companies in which the former
president had a stake.


As their response to Zelensky’s May 20 remarks, U.S.
State Department officials reportedly called their counterparts at Ukraine’s
Foreign Ministry to “very assertively express the recommendation that Ukraine
refrain from influencing and interfering with the election campaign in the
U.S.,” the eurointegration.com.ua news site reported that day, citing several
anonymous U.S. sources independent from each other. They also expressed their
concern the president’s statements on investigating the context of the
communications between Poroshenko and Biden. Several officials believe the
scandal has Russian roots.


Zenon Zawada: This latest
dirty episode in what is practically an ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war is disturbing
on many levels.


Effect on Ukraine-U.S. relations

Unless Zelensky misspoke (public speaking is one of
his strengths), the president demonstrated unusual confidence in his May 20
endorsement of a criminal case of state treason against Poroshenko that is
based on highly questionable evidence, namely audio recordings – from a source
with extensive Kremlin ties – that were edited to a large extent. Such
confidence could be explained by several factors, particularly an overall
foreign policy of détente towards Russia.


It’s quite possible Zelensky’s political advisers
likely saw the latest polls, which indicate Ukrainians are aware of the
president’s inability to fight corruption and prosecute high-ranking officials.
So his comments could have been aimed at alleviating such concerns, at least
temporarily. But we don’t expect any criminal prosecution of Poroshenko, given
that Zelensky has consistently demonstrated that he prefers taking the easy way
out of difficult situations and avoiding difficult decisions. We don’t see him
taking the heat, both domestically and in the West, for prosecuting Poroshenko
in full criminal trials.


Given that Poroshenko’s prosecution is an unlikely
outcome of this episode, Zelensky indeed has taken his latest step in harming
with the U.S. He also has come dangerously close to
taking sides in the 2020 presidential race. But if Ukraine was accused of
supporting Democrat contender Hillary Clinton in 2016, then Zelensky is
flirting with U.S. President Trump this time around. It remains unclear of
whether Zelensky is aware that he’s playing with fire (Poroshenko implied in
his video announcement that he may not be aware), or if he’s being fed talking
points and policies by behind the scenes players, that could still include Ihor


On the leak of confidential phone calls

For the second time in a half year, recordings have
been leaked of high-ranking Ukrainian officials engaging in sensitive, official
discussions. In mid-January, a recording was leaked revealing some embarrassing comments made by then-PM Oleksiy
in a December meeting with top financial officials.
This indicates that high-ranking officials, whether in the President’s Office,
intelligence bodies or law enforcement – are actively working for special
interests and against the national interest. Not only have top security
officials been able to halt these leaks and find those responsible, but top
officials – including the president and prime minister – can’t be confident
that their sensitive discussions are confidential. 


Also disturbing is the fact that it’s unclear to what
extent the May 19 recordings were edited. So in listening to the recordings,
the public doesn’t know their true content and the full context in which the
remarks were made. The public generates its opinion only from the released
excerpts that are manipulated and presented for a particular result in political


On Kolomoisky’s alleged role

We believe it’s valid speculation that Kolomoisky
played some role in both the Honcharuk and Poroshenko-Biden leaks, as had been
alleged by his political opponents. This implies that Kolomoisky and other
magnates have agents embedded in top government bodies working on their behalf,
which is a widely accepted reality of Ukrainian politics.


But in this episode, their possible work goes beyond
base business interests in directly threatening the national interest. It seeks
to discredit Poroshenko, who leads Ukraine’s pro-Western opposition; the IMF,
which is on the verge of approving a major loan program for Ukraine; and Joe
Biden, who is on the verge of becoming the Democratic challenger to President
Trump in November.


It can’t be denied that Kolomoisky’s extensive work to
undermine the IMF loan, which may or may not include this leak, plays into the
hands of the Kremlin. So another disturbing aspect is whether Kolomoisky is in
active cooperation with Russian agents, or whether their mutual opposition to
Western cooperation is merely a coincidence of temporarily mutually shared


On the alleged role of the Russians

We agree with many of the claims made by former President
Poroshenko in explaining the Russian role in these events, particularly that
the Kremlin’s fifth column in Ukraine has launched a large-scale special
operation to undermine relations with the U.S. We believe that the recent interviews conducted
with Natalia Poklonskaya and Igor Girkin – both of whom played a key role in
the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine – are also part of this large-scale
psychological operation on public opinion.


Whether or not they are true, the recordings will be
spun by pro-Russian media to promote Kremlin narratives among the Ukrainian
public that: (1) Poroshenko took his orders from the U.S., sacrificing national
interests and making Ukraine a virtual U.S. protectorate, (2) Poroshenko was
willing to make life harder for average Ukrainians (with higher gas prices) to
satisfy U.S. and IMF demands, (3) Biden was primarily concerned with his
personal business interests when dealing with Poroshenko (and vice versa), and ultimately
(4) U.S. and IMF cooperation is harmful to Ukraine’s national interests.


This large-scale special operation is ultimately
aimed at recapturing the Ukrainian electorate, mostly in the southeastern
regions, that favors renewed relations with Russia, but voted for Zelensky and
The People’s Servant party instead of the overtly pro-Putinist forces in the
2019 elections. The goal is to reinstate the notion that renewed relations with
Russia would bring far more benefit than relations with the U.S., which is only
exploiting Ukraine and causing misery.  We believe some success will be
achieved with this approach.

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