Servant of the People in a House of Cards: the Ukrainian side of Trump’s impeachment

The epic saga leading to the impeachment of US President Donald Trump. From our partners in Ukraine, Hromadske International.

On New Year’s night in 2019, comedian Volodymyr Zelensky announced that he would run for president of Ukraine. Two weeks before 2020, the US Congress impeached American president Donald Trump – with the reason being improper pressure put on the newly elected president Zelensky.  Read more:  Ukrainian President in Vilnius: investments, war and solidarity – key takeaways   

Between these two events is a unique story, which has some parallels with the Ukrainian series Servant of the People, starring Zelensky, and some analogies to the US political drama House of Cards, about the intrigues of American politics. In the heart of it all is a single phone call: when, on July 25, 2019, Zelensky called Trump to ask for a favour.

In order to reconstruct these events, we read through thousands of pages of transcripts of events and official documents and listened to dozens of hours of witness testimony by American diplomats, who testified before Congress during the impeachment investigation of the American president. Zelensky’s role in this story – further in our report.

 The saga begins 

In the evening of April 21, 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky thanked many people. From the stage of his press center at his campaign headquarters, in the Parkovy exhibition hall in Kyiv, the freshly elected sixth president of Ukraine thanked his parents, his wife, his children, his cleaners, his studio, Kvartal 95, law enforcement, soldiers, and volunteers. A little later, off camera, Zelensky thanked US president Donald Trump. Trump had called Zelensky to congratulate him on his victory. The new Ukrainian president wanted Trump to visit Kyiv for his inauguration, while Trump invited Zelensky to the White House.

“When I owned Miss Universe, they always had great people. Ukraine was always very well represented. When you’re settled in and ready, I’d like to invite you to the White House. We’ll have a lot of things to talk about, but we’re with you all the way,” said Trump.

“Well, thank you for the invitation. We accept the invitation and look forward to the visit. Thank you again. The whole team and I are looking forward to that visit,” replied Zelensky.

Zelensky wanted to drag Trump to Kyiv at all costs. That would solidify American support for Ukraine. Zelensky promised to do whatever was necessary to end the war in the Donbass during his electoral campaign, and planned a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Support from Trump would definitely not hurt the upcoming talks.

“We see America as one of our strategic partners, because if you were you go outside and ask random people – what country is Ukraine’s best friend, then the majority would say – the US,” explained Andriy Yermak later, a lawyer and film producer that Zelensky had chosen to be his advisor in international affairs. US support didn’t just promise peace – it promised money. According to Yermak, Zelensky’s team counted on attracting American investment into the energy, infrastructure, and IT sectors.

 Welcome to the House of Cards 

Trump had his own plans for Ukraine. While the presidential campaign wrapped up in Ukraine, the American campaign had just started. The US presidential elections are planned for November 3, 2020. On April 25, a few days after the conversation between Trump and Zelensky, Joe Biden, the former vice president under Barack Obama declared his candidacy. Biden was widely seen as a frontrunner for the job among the other Democratic candidates, and thus was considered to be Trump’s main opponent. The US president’s team immediately started attacking Biden.

Rudy Giuliani – Trump’s personal lawyer and former mayor of New York City – stated that he’s investigating Biden’s actions during his time as vice president, which he had served from as from 2009 to 2017. Giuliani believed that Biden could have had a conflict of interests during his work in the White House. One of the topics Biden had covered during his post was Ukraine – overlapping with the time that Biden’s son, Hunter, was a member of the board at a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma: 2014-2019.

During Obama’s presidency, the US financed reform projects in Ukraine. One of the priorities was the fight against corruption. Biden himself demanded an investigation into the owner of Burisma – Mykola Zlochevsky, who was suspected of financial fraud. However, Viktor Shokin’s staffers, who in 2014 served as the head of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office, did not send a single anti-corruption investigation to court, despite working as the Prosecutor General for over a year. This included investigations into Burisma. Shokin claimed that he believes that investigating the company that employed the son of the US vice president was a risky affair. But US patience ran out when Shokin began to hinder the work of the anti-corruption unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office, created on American initiative.

In December 2015, Biden set an ultimatum to then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, saying that he would not sign a 1 billion US dollar aid package from international financial organisations being offered to Ukraine, as long as Poroshenko kept Shokin in his post. Biden himself related the story after he had left the White House: “I looked at them and said, ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money.’ Well, son of a bitch. He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”

Shokin remained quiet for two years after his dismissal, but at the beginning of 2019 said to Giuliani that Biden had demanded Shokin’s resignation because the Prosecutor General’s Office was looking into the Burisma case. Shokin blamed Biden in lobbying in the interests of Burisma, though he failed to provide any evidence. But for Giuliani, Shokin’s word was enough.

US law enforcement bodies did not see this as a basis on which to open investigations into Biden, which is why Giuliani wanted the Ukrainians to start this investigation. But Yuriy Lutsenko, Shokin’s successor as Prosecutor General, despite talking about Biden’s potential conflicts of interest, said to Bloomberg on May 16 that Hunter Biden had not violated any Ukrainian laws. Prior to this, Giuliani had already shifted his attention to the new Ukrainian president. On May 9, Giuliani stated that he was heading to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky.

 Practice run 

Two guests from Washington visited Kyiv at the start of May. Businessmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman – immigrants to the US from the former Soviet Union – presented themselves as ‘proxies’ for Rudy Giuliani. The evidence for their connection to the head of the White House was a photograph of themselves with Trump on Facebook. These ‘proxies’ wanted to meet with Zelensky, saying that they had a letter for Zelensky from Giuliani.

“I am private counsel to President Donald J. Trump. Just to be precise, I represent him as a private citizen, not as President of the United States,” wrote Giuliani in the letter, adding that he had “a more specific request. In my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent, I request a meeting with you on this upcoming Monday, May 13th or Tuesday, May 14th”.

In order to probe the situation, two close Zelensky aides spoke to the pair – these were Zelensky’s childhood friend, Ivan Bakanov, and Zelensky’s business partner, Serhiy Shefir.

Parnas passed along Trump’s demands for the Ukrainian: they needed to investigate Biden, or Mike Pence, the current US vice president, would not fly in to attend Zelensky’s inauguration. Pence had tentatively agreed to visit Kyiv for the inauguration instead of Trump. Practically, these ‘proxies’ for the US president was telling the Ukrainians to find compromising material on Trump’s political opponent.

The next day, Bakanov learned something about Parnas and Fruman from American diplomats in Kyiv. George Kent, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, had just arrived to the Ukrainian capital.

“And [Bakanov] said, these guys want to meet met, what do you think? […] I had suggested, as I said, someone like you who’s an associate could meet and hear somebody out without making commitments. But at this time it would be my best counsel to you to shield your President-elect from private citizens,” stated Kent later, during his congressional testimony during Trump’s impeachment hearing.

Kent told the president’s advisor, who now heads Ukraine’s Security Service, that Parnas and Fruman are indeed linked to Giuliani, who he considers to be, like the pair, a private citizen.

On the evening of May 7, Volodymyr Zelensky held a meeting. It consisted of Andriy Bohdan, who would soon be named as Chief of Staff of the President’s Office, Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Naftogaz Andriy Kobolyev, as well as American citizen Amos Hochstein, who was a member of Naftogaz’ supervisory board.

Hochstein worked as an advisor to Joe Biden when Biden was vice president. Three sources reported to the Associated Press that Zelensky first wanted to talk about energy, but the discussion then went to the question of how to react to the demand that they investigate Hunter Biden’s business affairs in Ukraine, and how to avoid getting caught in the U.S electoral campaign.

Ukraine has enjoyed support, from its independence, of the two parties in the United States – both the Republicans and the Democrats. If Zelensky had acted on Trump’s wishes to attack Biden, then the Ukrainian president would be risking losing Democratic support for Ukraine. But if not, then Zelensky may have been pitting the US president and the Republican party against Ukraine.

Parnas flooded Shefir and Bakanov with messages on WhatsApp about a meeting with Zelensky. But they didn’t reply.

Giuliani couldn’t take the fact that he was being ignored by Zelensky’s team and started a scandal. On May 11, Trump said that he’s cancelling his trip to Kyiv, because in Ukraine he’d be surrounded by people who he considers to be “enemies of the president,” and in some cases, “enemies of the US”.

On May 19, Zelensky became convinced that the topic of Biden was of serious concern to Trump. The US president, during an interview to TV station Fox News, said that “Biden calls them and demands the firing of this prosecutor, who’s investigating a case tied to his son”. He didn’t provide any evidence for this statement. “Then he says, if you fire this prosecutor, you’ll be good, if not – you won’t get the loan guarantee for 2 billion US dollars. Can you imagine if I did that?” Further events proved this to be a hint of his actions towards Zelensky.

Parnas’ warnings turned out to be true – on May 23, two weeks later, Mike Pence did not attend Zelensky’s inauguration. Instead, the American delegation was headed by Rick Perry, who was at the time the US Secretary of Energy. As later events made clear, Trump had convinced Pence not to attend somewhere in mid-May.

Parnas and Fruman from that moment had not returned to Ukraine. In October 2019, they were arrested by FBI agents and charged with violations of campaign finance law for allegedly attempting to funnel money from foreign governments to US politicians.

 Shadow channel of communication 

On April 25, 2019, Donald Trump recalled the then US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and did not name a replacement. As a result, Ukrainians no longer knew how to properly communicate with Washington. US diplomats and officials that had worked on Ukraine relations also no longer knew who would coordinate their work.

In this situation, Rick Perry and other members of the US delegation recently returned from Zelensky’s inauguration, turned to Trump. Perry met Trump on May 23. US Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker explained that during this conversation, Trump shared his views on Ukraine. “Ukraine is a terrible place, they’re all corrupt, they’re terrible people, they tried to take me down,” cited Volker during his testimony to Congress on Trump’s impeachment investigations. Even before this, Trump had spoken about his beliefs in conspiracy theories regarding Ukraine – such as that in 2016, Ukraine interfered in the US presidential elections.

US diplomat Fiona Hill, who for the last two years served as the Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on Trump’s National Security Council, called Trump’s views on Ukraine “meta-alternate narratives” – or, simply put, conspiracy theories.

According to Kent, these views were influenced by a conversation Trump had had with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Hungary in May 2019. “Both leaders, both Putin and Orban, extensively talked Ukraine down, said it was corrupt, said Zelensky was in the thrall of oligarchs, specifically mentioning this one oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky,” testified Kent.

After listening to Trump, Perry, Volker, and the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, attempted to convince him that Ukraine wasn’t all that bad and advised the president to meet with Zelensky. But Trump suggested that Zelensky “speak to Rudy” Giuliani instead, because Giuliani was working on the Ukraine question. From then on, the trio of Perry, Volker, and Sondland, known to their diplomatic colleagues as the ‘three amigos’, began to coordinate with Giuliani.

 The Hook 

While the “’hree amigos’ were busy trying to convince Trump to meet Zelensky, Alexander Vindman – a decorated US Army officer and the Director for European Affairs for the US National Security Council – was readying a congratulatory text for Zelensky from the US president.

A veteran of the Afghanistan war, Vindman is also a Ukraine-born American. The Zelensky team offered him the position of head of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, but he refused. When Vindman sent the congratulatory letter to the White House, he was surprised – an additional sentence had been added to the letter: “I invite you to meet with me in the White House in Washington, as soon as we can find a convenient time.”

According to Vindman and his colleague from the NSC, Fiona Hill, this quick of an invite was not standard. Typically, officials in Washington first consider the new foreign leader, their team and politics, and only then are they given an invite to the White House. In particular, Hill thought that Trump should meet Zelensky only after the parliamentary elections, which was scheduled for October, or even better – once Ukraine had created a new government.

The invite did not contain a concrete date. Vindman later discovered that this sentence was added by Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney with the president’s approval.

But by sending Zelensky an invite without a date, Trump put the Ukrainian president into the position of being the person who asks – after all, it would be necessary to prepare for the meeting in advance. That would require asking the Americans when the meeting would be held, which was the path that unerringly led to Rudy Giuliani.

 Follow the News 

Ukrainians were not in a rush to contact Giuliani. Zelensky’s team waited while Trump would finally appoint a new head of mission to the US embassy in Kyiv, and prepared for early elections in Ukraine’s parliament, set for July 21. Trump and Giuliani’s patience was wearing thin. In mid-June, Giuliani himself addressed the Ukrainian president on Twitter:”New Pres of Ukraine still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 election and alleged Biden bribery of Pres Poroshenko. Time for leadership and investigate both if you want to purge how Ukraine was abused by Hillary and Obama people.”

New Pres of Ukraine still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in 2016 election and alleged Biden bribery of Pres Poroshenko. Time for leadership and investigate both if you want to purge how Ukraine was abused by Hillary and Obama people. — Rudy Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani)  June 21, 2019  

Zelensky did not react.

On June 19, Donald Trump checked the news. One of the items of the day very much interested the US president. The US Department of Defence had allocated 250 million US dollars in aid to Ukraine. That same day, Trump addressed the budget committee, telling them to describe the aid program. After two weeks – on July 3 – the US paused the aid program. But at that time, Ukrainians had no idea about Trump’s decision, and neither did the American diplomats.

Around the same time, the US State Department had decided who would coordinate their embassy’s work in Kyiv. William Taylor was appointed as the acting ambassador to Ukraine. He had experience working in Ukraine – from 2006 to 2009, he was the ambassador in Kyiv. On May 28, he, along with Perry, Volker, and Sondland, spoke with Zelensky in a video conference. Taylor later recalled this conference: he realised during the call that there wouldn’t be a meeting in the White House without Zelensky announcing the investigation into Biden and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 US presidential elections.

 A demonstration of readiness 

On the day of July 3, when Trump froze the defence aid to Ukraine, Zelensky was in Toronto at a conference on reform. “I invite everyone. Bring money,” smiled Zelensky from the stage. The Ukrainian president invited the conference participants to attend an investment forum to be held in Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine. According to American diplomats that were present at the conference, Volker shortly spoke to Zelensky about Volker’s meeting with Trump on May 23. Then, he gave Zelensky a quick update:

“We’re working on a phone call with President Trump,” said Volker.

“What about the meeting?” cut in Zelensky.

“First – the phone call,” replied Volker.

But the Ukrainians had already lost trust in these promises. Andriy Bohdan convinced Zelensky to not agree on a phone call. The Ukrainian chief of staff feared that a call would replace the Washington visit. Volker, for his part, hinted to Zelensky that if he wanted a meeting with Trump, that he should show a willingness to cooperate.

What the Ukrainians actually needed to do to display this willingness was directly stated by Gordon Sondland – a member of the ‘three amigos’, along with Volker. On July 10, a Ukrainian delegation led by Oleksandr Danylyuk, who at the time was the Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, and Andriy Yermak, who became a presidential advisor following Zelensky’s inauguration, landed in Washington. They were scheduled to meet John Bolton, a presidential advisor on security issues, at the White House.

Danylyuk had planned to obtain Bolton’s support for reforms in the NSDC, while Yermak was interested in setting a date for the promised Zelensky White House meeting. When the time came for Sondland to talk, he said that there was an agreement on a meeting between the two presidents. But there was a catch – it would happen only after Ukraine starts an “investigation into the energy sector”. Sondland’s behaviour shocked Bolton, who quickly ended the meeting.

Zelensky learned about Trump’s freeze on aid in mid-July. This led the Zelensky team to agree to Trump’s demand to communicate with Giuliani. On July 19, Yermak asked Volker to connect him to Trump’s lawyer. Giuliani finally achieved what he was hoping to in April – contact with Zelensky’s team. He agreed to meet Yermak at the beginning of August.

 The infamous phone call 

Once contact had been established between Yermak and Giuliani, the unofficial channel between Trump and Zelensky began working. The ‘three amigos’ of Perry, Volker, and Sondland became Giuliani’s new proxies in Ukraine. The acting ambassador, Taylor, who represented the official point of contact between Washington and Kyiv was against the unofficial connection through Giuliani.

He tried to dissuade American diplomats, those involved in the unofficial channel, and Yermak from talking to Giuliani. But he wasn’t able to make much headway. The diplomats in Washington were likewise ineffective. Kent and Hill tried to understand what role the US ambassador to the EU – Sondland – had to do with Ukraine, which is not a part of the EU, and reminded Volker that his mandate was focused only on the war in Donbass.

The first result of the ‘amigos’ work was the second phone call between Trump and Zelensky. It worked in the following way: first, Sondland met Trump. On the evening of that same day, Volker texted Yermak over WhatsApp recommendations for what exactly Zelensky should say during his talk with Trump: “Heard from White House – assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”

The mood of the Zelensky team before the second phone call wasn’t great. A few days before the call, Danylyuk told Taylor that Zelensky doesn’t want to be used as a tool for Trump’s re-election campaign. The official reason for Trump’s phone call was to once again congratulate the Ukrainian president – this time for the victory of his party, Servant of the People. It took first place in the parliamentary elections, winning, for the first time since Ukrainian independence, a complete majority.

This time, Zelensky didn’t quite as strongly thank Trump for the victory, but he still agreed with each of Trump’s statements nonetheless – things like agreeing that the US does a lot for Ukraine, that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, does nothing, and that ex-US ambassador to Ukraine Yovanovitch was a bad person.

Trump asked Zelensky for a favour – to investigate Ukrainian interference in the US elections. Zelensky replied that this was an important topic for him, though adding that his aides had already met with Giuliani and he would be glad to see the former New York mayor in Ukraine. Trump reminded Zelensky about Biden, who, Trump claimed, to have demanded the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor because of his son, and asked Zelensky to pay special attention to this, along with the prosecutor general.

Zelensky answered that the new prosecutor general (Yuriy Lutsenko was still the Prosecutor General of Ukraine at that moment) would be completely “his man” and they would together work on investigating the cases Trump had mentioned.

Only after this did Zelensky start talking about what he wanted – about a meeting with Trump. Zelensky offered a meeting on September 1 in Warsaw, where leaders would mark the 80th anniversary of the start of World War Two, and after fly to Kyiv together.

After the call, Zelensky’s team decided to protect itself. Yermak sent a text to Volker, writing that it would be convenient for Zelensky to visit Washington on September 20, 21, or 22. The next day, Volker and Sondland met Zelensky in Kyiv. After that meeting, Sondland called Trump while eating at a Kyiv restaurant. Trump asked Sondland about his feelings on the talk, to which Sondland replied, “Zelensky loves your ass”.

 Trump’s trap 

Trump did not come to Warsaw. He stayed in the US to track the progress of Hurricane Dorian, which was moving towards the Bahamas. Instead, his vice president attended the Warsaw commemorations instead. Not long prior to that visit, the information about the defence aid freeze to Ukraine went public – on August 28, Politico, relying on its own sources, reported that the US had frozen the aid. And Zelensky started seriously worrying. Yermak wrote about the freeze to Volker and Taylor, but the diplomats had no explanation for why Trump had decided to act that way.

On the eve of Zelensky’s visit to Warsaw, there was news from the US Acting Ambassador Taylor who stated that Ukraine had only one month to receive the aid – on October 1, a new budgetary year starts in the US, and that aid would vanish. It would be a major loss for the young Ukrainian president – he would have failed in obtaining security assistance from a strategic partner.

While Zelensky asked Pence why America had acted the way it did, Yermak obtained an answer to the question from Sondland. “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton,” relayed Kent during his Congressional testimony.

Yermak and Giuliani had already been in talks for a month, with the cooperation of the ‘three amigos’, about how Zelensky should fulfill Trump’s demands. They met on August 2, as agreed, though in Madrid in Spain, instead of Ukraine. It was at that time that Giuliani clarified that the conditions for a meeting between the two presidents included a public statement from Zelensky about Burisma, Biden, and “election interference”. But Yermak and Giuliani were unable to agree on a text for that announcement.

On August 12, Yermak presented a finalized version of the text that the Ukrainian president was supposed to say. “Special attention should be paid to the problem of interference in US domestic politics, in particular, the possible involvement of some Ukrainian politicians. I want to talk about the inadmissibility of that practice. We intend to ensure and complete a transparent and impartial investigation into all the facts and events, in order to prevent these kinds of problems in the future.”

Giuliani did not like Yermak’s proposal. He wanted a public announcement about Burisma and the elections. But the Ukrainians were in no hurry to correct it. They had not agreed on a text by the time of Zelensky’s visit to Warsaw.

On September 2, the day following Zelensky’s meeting with Pence, the latter voiced the official position of the White House on the frozen aid to Ukraine: “But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption. […] the President wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine,” stated Pence.

Yermak continued to ask Sondland what exactly the Ukrainians had to do to receive the security assistance. Sondland then called Trump on September 7. Trump’s reply, which Sondland later relayed to Congress, became a meme: “I want nothing. I want nothing. No quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing. This is the final word from the president of the United States: ‘I want nothing’.”

In the end, Yermak, Giuliani, Sondland, and Volker agreed that Zelensky would make the announcement that Trump had wanted in a September 13 interview on CNN. Fareed Zakaria, a CNN host, would interview the Ukrainian president, though as it transpired Zakaria knew nothing about the agreement between the two presidential teams.

 Money from the sky 

On September 11, without any explanation – two days before Zelensky’s planned CNN interview – the US State Department unfroze aid for Ukraine. Trump subsequently explained that he had in the end increased assistance by 100 million US dollars. Taylor suggested to Danylyuk that Zelensky cancel his CNN interview, which he did.

It turned out that it wasn’t exactly a miracle that the money was released – instead it was the result of a report by an anonymous whistleblower. One of the American diplomats, who was present at the time of Trump and Zelensky’s July 25 conversation, wrote, back on August 12, a letter of disclosure to the Inspector General of the US Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson. The disclosure alleged that Trump had pressured the Ukrainian president and promised him a ‘quid pro quo’ – a favour for a favour.

Atkinson decided that this complaint needed to be immediately examined in Congress. However, Joseph Maguire, the US Acting Director of National Intelligence, did not rush to pass along the complaint to Congress, which led Atkinson to publicly announce the complaint on September 9.

Two days later, Trump unfroze aid to Ukraine, though it was already too late for Trump. Congress launched an investigation, and House Democrats blamed Trump of using the aid freeze and dangling a White House meeting in order for Zelensky to launch an investigation into Trump’s political opponent, Joe Biden, and into Trump’s theories about Ukrainian interference in American elections.

On December 19, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Donald Trump, on charges of abuse of official office in his personal interests and obstruction of Congress. If Trump, now impeached, is found guilty in the upcoming Senate trial, he will be removed from the office of the President of the United States.

Zelensky got what he wanted on September 25 – a meeting with Trump. He met him in New York, during a convention of the UN General Assembly. That same day the White House released the transcript of their July 25 phone call.

At a joint press conference following the meeting, Zelensky was asked if he had done what Trump had wanted, if he had opened an investigation into Biden. Zelensky replied, “We have an independent country and an independent Prosecutor General’s office. I can’t influence anyone. That’s your answer. I have not called the new prosecutor general.”

If this wasn’t reality, but a series entitled ‘Servant of the People in the House of Cards’, then Zelensky would have said: “No promises, no apologies”. in the original Ukrainian, this is a reference to a song by Ukrainian singer Viktor Pavlik. This was his pre-election motto.

Trump, at the time, thanked the Ukrainian president, saying “I hope that you meet with President Putin and solve your problem. This would be a huge achievement.”

 The first time 

Grand politics, for Volodymyr Zelensky, opened with an incredibly twisted and complicated challenge – keeping Ukraine out of the US’ presidential campaign, even when you’re being asked to do this by Donald Trump. The Zelensky team managed to hold out for four months, but it gave in at the end, flinching at the possibility of not receiving security assistance from the US

We still don’t know who to thank for fishing Zelensky out of Trump’s trap – the whistleblower remains anonymous. During his Congressional testimony, Alexander Vindman stated that it wasn’t him. But he didn’t say a word about his twin brother Yevgeny, who also works in the US National Security Council.

Yevgeny was also present during the conversation between the two presidents. American media writes that the whistleblower demonstrated the conflict between Trump and the foreign policy establishment – the diplomats and advisors that the US president tried to replace with his “shadow communication channels”.

Now Trump is forced to defend himself against his opponents in the Democratic Party, who had initiated his impeachment.

On December 5, Rudy Giuliani finally visited Kyiv. But this time, Yermak did not meet him. Instead, Yermak flew to London and spoke at the Royal Institute of International Relations, also known as Chatham House, about the Zelensky team’s preparations for the Normandy format meeting with Putin in Paris.

Zelensky and Yermak to this day refuse to talk about the specifics of these events. Hromadske attempted to obtain the details from them, but they strongly refused. “You shouldn’t dig into stranger’s affairs. We wanted to have this weight off our shoulders and got it off,” responded one of them.

 The story originally appeared on  Hromadske   LRT English newsletter: subscribe  here.   

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