Volodymyr Zelenskyy (R) and Andriy Yermak (L), current head of Presidential Office. Source: Espreso TV
Ukrainian Presidential Office denies the accusation and has even filed a lawsuit against journalists, demanding that they apologize and deny the ostensibly false allegations. A really weak point of the journalistic investigation is the lack of references to open source information that could be verified independently. On the other hand, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a reliable outlet funded by the US government.
In theory, the accusation might have harsh consequences on Zelenskyy up to impeachment.
Why Zelenskyy flew to Oman
In January shortly after Zelenskyy’s visit to Oman, Euromaidan Press already wrote at length about it, putting together all the facts available at the moment:
Read in detail here: Zelenskyy suspected of private meetings with Russian officials during Oman trip
To recap briefly, Zelenskyy paid his visit to Oman on 5-9 January 2020. The visit remained secret until Pro-Russian Ukrainian news site Strana.ua shared photographs of Zelenskyy in a luxurious hotel in Oman. A few hours later, the Presidential Office stated that Zelenskyy arrived in Oman “with his family on a regular flight at his own expense” and also that he had “scheduled meetings at the highest level.” Indeed, photos of two meetings with Oman’s officials were published on 6 January.
The whole visit, however, remained enigmatic and obscure for the public and press. A summit meeting in Oman was hardly the first priority for Ukraine that doesn’t have any significant economic or other ties to this Gulf country. Moreover, Oman has been on the EU tax haven blacklist.
The Ukrainian leader didn’t offer a convincing explanation of the necessity to visit Oman and why he traveled on a regular flight instead of using services of the presidential air fleet. Zelenskyy didn’t meet with the head of Oman – Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who was on his deathbed and died the next day after the Ukrainian leader departed. Instead, the Office shared photographs of Zelenskyy’s meetings with two second-grade officials and stated that the Ukrainian president had encouraged the Omani side to invest in the Ukrainian economy.
Subsequently in Ukrainian media, two popular versions prevailed in an attempt to get to the true nature of this visit. The first and seemingly more plausible suggested that Zelenskyy was willing to go on a luxury vacation in Oman while keeping it secret from the public. The second version speculated that he had secret meetings with Russian officials there.
Data from public online aircraft tracking services reinforced version two. A private jet belonging to Putin’s Ukrainian crony Viktor Medvedchuk had flights between Muscat, Oman to Moscow, Russia precisely on 8-9 January, before the end of Zelenskyy’s visit. A private plane that brought Zelenskyy back to Ukraine also arrived in Oman with a layover in Moscow. Nevertheless, there was no direct evidence to prove this version and no information was available on the passengers of the flights. Also, there was and still is no solid proof that Zelenskyy had any other meetings in Oman but those mentioned officially.
New facts in the investigation by RFE/RL’s Skhemy
Putting aside the previously known facts, a new piece of information presented by journalists of RFE/RL’s Skhemy is the statement that Nikolai Patrushev of Russia visited Oman when Zelenskyy stayed there.
“According to the information of our source,” Skhemy wrote, “Russian statesman Nikolai Patrushev arrived to Oman from Moscow on 8 January at 1 a.m.”
The journalists also state that Patrushev flew the same plane on which Zelenskyy arrived in Kyiv 24 hours later. And Skhemy has reportedly acquired another confirmation of their account on Patrushev “from another source in the database of the crossings of the Russian Federation’s state border.”
The journalists of Skhemy don’t directly claim that Zelenskyy met Patryshev on his visit. Yet, the logical implication of their publication is that if Patrushev left Moscow for Muscat by the same plane Zelenskyy used some hours later to get from Muscat to Kyiv, then it’s very likely that they had a meeting.
The investigators, once again citing unnamed sources, also state that Kharkiv city Mayor Hennadiy Kernes together with Robert Tedeyev linked to Andriy Yermak, the current head of Zelenskyy’s Office, had visited Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow two weeks before Zelenskyy’s visit to Oman. Tedeyev didn’t deny their visit to Moscow but stated that he accompanied his friend Kernes who went to see a dentist in the Russian capital.
In the official answer, the Presidential Office denies any meetings with Patrushev:
“We would like to inform you that President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy is not familiar, has never talked by phone, has not ever met and, respectively, has not discussed any issues with the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Mykola Patrushev.”
The same response, that was sent to journalists on their request before the publication, contains the following:
“In case of further misinformation of the population and insufficient verification of information by the editorial staff of the program, the Office of the President will have to go to court to establish the truth and to refute the false facts.”
As soon as the article was published, the presidential office reported that it is waiting for apologies for the misinformation and is filing a lawsuit against Skhemy journalists.
Whatever the truth is, the suggestion that President Zelenskyy visited Oman to secretly negotiate with Russian officials became possible because of the vague nature of this visit and the Office’s failure to properly inform the public of all presidential activities during Zelenskyy’s 4-day-long stay in the Gulf country.
That’s why influential Ukrainian organizations, including the Capitulation Resistance Movement, demand a full account of presidential activities on his January trip to Oman.
Following the petition filed by European Solidarity MP Oleksiy Honcharenko, the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption has begun an inquiry to ascertain whether Zelenskyy had to make changes to his public financial declaration, updating it with his spendings on the visit to Oman that was conducted, as the Presidential Office put it, at his own expense.
At the same time, Honcharenko initiated the creation of a temporary investigative commission in the Verkhovna Rada. If the Rada supports his proposal, the commission will conduct a public investigation to confirm or refute claims made by the journalists of Skhemy. If the fact of Zelenskyy meeting with Patrushev is confirmed by the commission, the procedure of impeachment can be launched and Zelenskyy may be accused of state treason, states Honcharenko. The impeachment prospects, however, would be unrealistic, given the pro-Zelenskyy “mono-coalition” of the Servant of the People party in Parliament.
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