What’s a little public backstabbing among close allies? Ukraine’s top prosecutor seems to be trying to have a US envoy replaced using corruption allegations and a promise to help Donald Trump combat the Russia collusion narrative.
Hill.TV, the video branch of leading American political newspaper the Hill, ran a story evoking HBO’s frontline series ‘Game of Thrones’ this week. The starring role was given to Yuriy Lutsenko, the prosecutor general of Ukraine and a close ally of the country’s president. The character probably slated for an unexpected tragic end – at least in terms of her current tenure – is Marie Yovanovitch, the career diplomat who has been serving as America’s top woman in Ukraine since August 2016.
The Ukrainian official, who got his current job months before Yovanovitch got hers, said that during their first meeting the American diplomat “gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute.” The claim was branded “an outright fabrication” by the embassy, which said the interview was meant to discredit the ambassador.
Two weeks ago the US ambassador to Ukraine was unusually scathing of President Poroshenko’s record for tackling corruption. https://t.co/suIGBhWftF
— Jonah Fisher (@JonahFisherBBC) March 21, 2019
The accusation came in the context of a murky case of American financial aid, which was provided to fund anti-corruption reforms in the country. Lutsenko said his office failed to account for $4.4 million of the money. He said the embassy assured him in a letter that the money was spent as intended, and called the situation “strange.”“We have never seen those, and the US Embassy replied there was no problem,” he said.
The letter in question was apparently published by the Hill in a separate story and was penned in April 2016, before Yovanovitch took office. It says that the allegations of embezzlement against a deputy prosecutor general, which were raised by some Ukrainian MPs at the time, were groundless.
The Hill correspondent, who interviewed Lustsenko, says the document is “supporting part of his story” by showing that Yovanovitch’s predecessor did ask the Ukrainian justice “to stand down on the misappropriation-of-funds case.” The deputy prosecutor general had already been sacked by Lustsenko’s predecessor by the time the letter was sent.
Next comes a plot twist. In the same interview, the Ukrainian prosecutor announced he was launching an investigation into alleged interference in 2016 US presidential election by Ukrainian officials, who wanted to help Hillary Clinton win. So they leaked to the US media financial documents, which purported to incriminate Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for receiving illegal payments from the Ukrainian government during his time lobbying for it.
This is hardly a revelation – a Ukrainian court even ruled in December that two Ukrainian officials had committed such interference, while Manafort has been sentenced to a lengthy term for tax dodging and money laundering. What is interesting is how the Hill links Lutsenko’s words with the infamous Steele dossier and its role in launching an FBI investigation into candidate Trump – which the US president himself sees as a bona fide conspiracy against him.
The newspaper builds on this by saying that Lutsenko is not the only person to complain about the American Embassy in Kiev. It cites House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, who argued that the State Department may want to sack Yovanovitch – an Obama appointee – due to “her disdain for the current administration.” If this take makes it to Fox and Friends, who knows what may happen?
If Lutsenko’s interview is indeed aimed at smearing and potentially disposing of Yovanovitch, his boss, President Petro Poroshenko, may find it quite convenient. With the diplomatic mission in disarray, Poroshenko would be under less scrutiny ahead of crucial election on March 31. His campaign is limping to the date with no certainty that he would even get into the second round. Poroshenko is fighting accusations of embezzling defense budget money by his business partner while the interior minister has accused his campaign of mass voter bribery.
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