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Russia, Ukraine, and the Trump scandals

Russia, Ukraine, and the Trump scandals
Article by: Vitaly Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Ukraine has been thrust into the US political arena again in connection with the scandal surrounding the publication of the email correspondence of the US president’s older son Donald Trump Jr. and his meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer close to the Russian government.

Lindsey Graham, known for his tough stance on the Kremlin, asked the nominee for FBI director, Christopher Wray, about the possible “interference” by Ukraine in the presidential election campaign. The same article on the Politico online portal that was mentioned by Senator Graham is being cited by conservative commentators sympathetic to the Trump family. The essence of these comments is about the same as in the article — to prove that “everyone is doing it.”  Even if Republicans have resorted to questionable Russian sources to receive compromising information on the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democrats have sought the help of Ukrainians to compromise Trump.

I have no doubt that such tactics may be important in shaping public opinion. Even though it is not at all clear why this public opinion needs to be shaped under conditions of such obvious polarization in the United States. In any case, supporters of Donald Trump are not going to pay attention  to any allegations against their idol — even if these allegations are supported by concrete, undeniable facts. Furthermore, I would argue that even if the accumulation of these facts led to the impeachment of Trump, his fans would be convinced that the real estate tycoon was the victim of the “conspiracy of the Washington elite,” not simply against Trump but against the “little guy” whose interests, for some unknown reason, the eccentric billionaire has decided to defend.

As for Clinton’s supporters, they do not need to prove anything. They are already convinced that Trump is a Russian agent and that Putin has indisputable compromising material on the billionaire. This is why the American president acts like a fool in front of his Russian colleague and calls meetings with him “a great honor.” He is simply afraid, and no proof is needed here.

Therefore, the exchange of allegations and reports on sympathetic TV channels will add little. But from a legal  point of view, the attempt to equate Russian and Ukrainian “contributions” to the elections may turn out to be another trap for the US president and his entourage — especially if the circumstances that were outlined in the notorious Politico article attract the interest of the FBI.

It is obvious that the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States and other officials in Ukraine would refute any possibility that Kyiv participated in the US election campaign. But let’s take a look at what Ukraine is accused of. The Ukrainian diplomatic mission is accused of cooperating with Alexandra Chalupa, an American of Ukrainian descent and a “contractor” with the Democratic National Committee, who helped collect compromising information on Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign manager at the time.

But the fact that Ukraine was providing such information was not a secret even during the election campaign. Information that Manafort’s name appeared in the so-called “secret ledger” of the Party of Regions could not have been made public without the knowledge of government officials. The press conference where allegedly compromising information on Manafort was made public was also held by an official person — Verkhovna Rada Deputy Serhii Leshchenko, who is believed to have good relations with Viktor Pinchuk, one of the friends or even sponsors of the Clinton family in Ukraine. But Leshchenko did not hold his press conference in a mask. He spoke about his accusations against Manafort openly. And, by the way, it was under the pressure of these allegations that Manafort had to leave the Trump campaign, since even then the political consultant turned out to be toxic for the future winner of the presidential election.

But, at the same time, no one in Ukraine spoke about Manafort’s possible connections with Moscow, only about his professional and informal relations with Viktor Yanukovych, Rinat Akhmetov, and the leadership of the Party of Regions. Ukraine did not have and could not have had any information about Manafort’s contacts with Russians. From the presented facts it was possible simply to reach the empirical conclusion that Manafort’s contacts with the “Regionals” must have brought him closer to communication with the Kremlin. Most of all, the information provided did not touch the person of Donald Trump; at most, it pointed to negligent staffing by a businessman engaging in grand politics.  Therefore, if the FBI really takes up the “Ukrainian trail” in the matter of the US elections, in the best case scenario for the Trump team, it may or may not reveal Manafort’s contacts with Ukrainian “Regionals,” but in the worst case, it may reveal the former campaign manager’s contacts with the Kremlin. That, in fact, is the extent of Ukraine’s role — real or imaginary.

Russia’s role is quite different. First, the representatives of the Trump campaign concealed their contacts with Russians who  promised to help them with information on Hillary Clinton. And this was not only the case with the previously unknown Veselnitskaya, but with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak. Neither Trump’s son, nor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, nor the Attorney General Sessions, nor the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, nor Manafort — practically no one revealed these contacts even when it came to filling out official documents and answering questions by members of Congress. Of course, when these contacts were revealed later, they claimed that all this was completely unimportant, that they had forgotten, that there was nothing — about the same arguments that Donald Trump Jr. is using now in response to the exposure of his contacts with Veselnitskaya. But the fact remains that these people did not want their contacts to be known.

Secondly, Russia has not revealed any data from “secret ledgers.” But “someone” was able to penetrate the email of the National Committee of the Democratic Party and another “someone” was able to carry out hacking attacks during the election. Practically no one in the US establishment doubts that it was the Kremlin. Even Donald Trump himself, who maintained for a long time that Russia was not involved, admitted that he did, however, ask Vladimir Putin about it during the meeting in Hamburg that the US president characterized as “wonderful.” And, so far, the US President has continued to try to minimize Russia’s role in the election campaign, arguing that other countries could have engaged in hacker attacks. Although no traces of other countries have been found in the United States. And no Ukrainian traces either.

Every country, naturally, wants for the head of an allied state to be a political figure sympathetic to it. There is no need to pretend otherwise. But Ukraine has never had Russia’s technical capabilities nor its insolence. Ukraine cannot even defend itself against Russian attacks, much less want to interfere somewhere. That is why Ukraine simply cannot be “another Russia” even if it wants to. Not to mention the fact that Ukrainian politicians, unlike the Russian ones, are simply forced to consider the consequences of their actions because these consequences will have an impact on their country and on their own electoral prospects. And Putin is not interested in either one or the other.

This is why all attempts to shift  US attention from Moscow to Kyiv appear as the need to conceal information that is really significant for US national security from the public. And this can only bring shame to those who are participating in this effort.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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