It’s the biggest and the poorest country in Europe. Right now it’s causing both political parties in the U.S. a bunch of pain. If you have heard any news report in the last two weeks, you should be able to guess that this country is Ukraine (formerly “the Ukraine”) even if you aren’t a geography whiz. How and why is this Eastern European country causing such an uproar here in the U.S.?
First, for all those geographically challenged citizens, let’s take a minute to get up to speed on Ukraine. The country came into existence in 1991 with the breakup of the Soviet Union. It’s capital and largest city is Kiev. Whether Ukraine can lay claim to creating Chicken Kiev is a controversy for another blog post. Ukraine produces and processes its own natural gas and petroleum an industry which sets the stage for the present goings on with Americans.
Ukraine has some disputes, land and otherwise, with Russia. The enemy of your enemy being your friend and all, Uncle Sam is Ukraine’s friend. And as any good friend would do, Uncle Sam is providing hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid to Ukraine to fight Russian-aligned forces.
Just like the United States, Ukraine has a president. The current Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected back in April 2019. Like President Trump, Zelensky was not an experienced politician when elected; he was an actor and comedian. President Trump appeared on the TV screen in “The Apprentice” before his election to the nation’s highest political office. President Zelensky starred in the TV series “Servant Of The People” where he played the Ukrainian president before being elected to fill that office in real life.
With that background, let’s look at THE biggest news story receiving air time right now. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced on September 24th that six committees would undertake formal impeachment inquiries against President Trump following reports of controversial interactions between Trump and Ukraine. Apparently six committees instead of just one are required to undertake these proceedings because the government cannot do anything without duplication and repetition.
Although the word “impeachment” does not have a “U” in it, you can’t talk about the current impeachment goings on without Ukraine being smack dab in the middle of it. The apparent last straw to fuel the impeachment fire was President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. This conversation has been characterized as Trump’s solicitation of foreign interference in the 2020 election. Hey, what’s an American election without foreign interference, right Russia?
As verified by transcripts of the phone call, Trump suggested an investigation by Ukraine was in order of some fishy business involving Americans in that country. So far, that sounds reasonable. The catch is that the individual in the crosshair was none other than potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
How is Joe involved with the Ukraine? Wasn’t he busy being President Obama’s VP and now running to unseat President Trump? Why yes, but Biden is not just a politician, he’s a family man. Surely he is a proud papa of son Hunter, a Yale Law School grad. And not only does Hunter have a law degree, but he is savvy too. In 2014, he managed to land a position the board of directors for Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer. This scandal-plagued Ukrainian natural gas company took Hunter on despite his having no background or experience whatsoever in oil and gas. And for that lack of background and experience he was paid up to $50,000 A MONTH to so serve. (Where do I sign up for this kind of work with my law degree?)
Why on earth would Hunter Biden of all people have obtained this clearly lucrative position in a Ukrainian business? COINCI-DENTALLY (or not), Hunter’s dear old dad was serving as U.S Vice President at the time and was personally involved in U.S. Ukrainian policy; in particular, Joe was pressuring Ukraine to do better at rooting out corruption. At best, taking such a job was poor judgment on Hunter’s part; at worst, it represented a conflict of interest.
But, hey, that’s simply Hunter’s bad, right? Well, there’s more to the story. In March 2016, VP Joe Biden threatened then Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko that $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees would be pulled if Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was not fired immediately. The Prosecutor General had been generally denounced by Western leaders as corrupt. Ukraine sacked Shokin as a result. So, if he was corrupt, what’s the big deal? COINCIDENTALLY, Shokin was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into Burisma Holdings at the time he was fired. Getting Shokin removed could be seen as an attempt to keep Sonny Boy’s business from getting in trouble and him thus losing his enviable ~$50,000/month board position.
Fast forward to July 2019, Trump is chatting with Zelensky president to president and mentions that some bad things might have been done in Ukraine. Shouldn’t a leader want to get to the root of corruption and bad dealings in his country? Sure. But, as with Hunter Biden, this request, which put a Trump political rival under a microscope, might be seen as a lapse in judgment or self-dealing.
A transcript of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky conversation was released. To absolutely no one’s surprise, readers reached various conclusions. Trump supporters found nothing horrible while Trump foes were aghast at such egregious behavior. Additional accusations were levied that Trump used military aid as leverage; specifically, it was said that he was blocking millions of dollars the U.S Congress had approved for aid to Ukraine. (This move would be a no no as opposed to Biden threatening to withdraw a BILLION dollars in U.S. loan guarantees to obtain leverage.)
Was Zelensky pressured by Trump? Why not get the answer staight from the proverbial horse’s mouth? In a September 25th press conference at the U.N., Zelensky addressed this very issue. He stated, “It is impossible to put pressure on me.” The Ukrainian president went on to stress that “nobody pressured me” to investigate Biden. But, he’s a president (not to mention a former TV star), so can we believe what he says? Trump supporters say “yes,” while Trump detractors say “no.”
It remains to be seen where the impeachment inquiry will lead. But the story to date provides some takeaways. It’s politics as usual for both political parties. Those involved, regardless of their party affiliation, often make poor judgment calls (pun intended as it applies to Trump and his phone conversation with Zelensky). Monetary assistance, or the lack thereof, is a frequent political weapon of choice. Whether or not a politician’s particular actions are outrageous or acceptable lies in the eye of the beholder and his political affiliation. In any event, the Ukraine’s involvement has taught people some geography and provided a solid news story as opposed to reports about Justin Bieber’s second wedding to Hailey Baldwin.
Have you read the transcript of President Trump’s phone conversation with President Zelensky? Does the fact Zelensky claims nobody pressured him to probe Biden resolve the matter? Should alleged instances of corruption be investigated no matter who brings them to the attention of the authorities? Why do successful, well educated people make poor judgment calls?