This week, the Ukraine found itself once again smack-dab in the middle of the impeachment drama surrounding Donald Trump’s presidency.
Roughly the size of Texas, the country has had an outsized role in American politics during this administration. It is surprising, until you consider that the area is struggling for financial stability and hungry for foreign investment.
Rife with corruption and an unstable political climate, some of the country’s leading business people and politicians have poured money into lobbying efforts internationally, developing political connections along the way.
Though the Ukraine has been independent since the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the country has been split about how strong its ties to Russia should be.
Roughly half the country is ethnically and linguistically Russian. The other is Ukrainian and supports political alliances to the European Union and NATO. The country’s politics have seesawed between pro-Russian and pro-Western factions, creating an environment in which political consultants could thrive.
Those are the conditions in which Paul Manafort worked in the Ukraine.
Trump’s former campaign manager, who was convicted on charges related to his Ukrainian earnings, worked on campaigns for Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian leader who was ultimately ousted. Yanukovych was elected as Manafort was performing an “extreme makeover” of his political party, bringing legitimacy to what was seen as a mobbed up machine.
Other lobbyists and consultants, including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, would be enlisted by both business and political interests to further the goals of their Ukrainian clients.
For those able to navigate the country’s corrupt systems, there is the potential for economic gain, particularly in energy and how it is transported. Regulations have favored state companies and political insiders, such as Mykola Zlochevsky, former ecology minister under Yanukovych.
Zlochevsky’s company, Burisma, one of the Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, hired Hunter Biden and became a subject in the now infamous call between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky.
Under the Trump administration, Ukrainian oligarchs who have benefitted from the country’s systems have spent millions to influence D.C. on everything from steel tariffs to fighting off a pipeline that would starve the Ukraine of gas transport fees.
Since Manafort’s trial, the Justice Department investigated other firms with Ukrainian ties for potential foreign lobbying law violations, stemming from Manafort’s trial. Just this week, former Republican Congressman Vin Weber and Democratic power broker Tony Podesta were informed the investigation into their work had closed, according to the Washington Post.
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—What is CrowdStrike? Trump mentioned the company in his Ukraine call
—These are the key players in the Trump impeachment inquiry
—How impeachment momentum massively shifted among democrats
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