Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The diplomat Andrey Telizhenko about the interference of the Ukrainian authorities in the American elections…
The Ukrainian Embassy in the US is located in an old brick mansion on the corner of M-street in the prestigious Georgetown area. In this building George Washington signed an agreement with a group of landowners on the allocation of plots for the creation of the capital District of Columbia. The embassy even stores a copy of the symbolical key from Washington. Here is where the American capital began. Here is where a story started that has politically shaken this city for two years.
Sometimes it seems that all current political processes in the US revolve around the “Russia investigation” of the special prosecutor Robert Müller. And the investigation, in turn, rests on charges against the former head of the campaign headquarters of Trump Paul Manafort.
Well, and the charges in their essence contain information about the Ukrainian Embassy helping the Democrats, who were eager to receive compromising evidence on their opponent.
We decided to talk to a unique witness of this story – a former employee of the diplomatic mission of Ukraine in Washington Andrey Telizhenko.
The world heard his name for the first time in January of the last year, when his testimony about the interference of the Ukrainian authorities in the American elections on the side of Hillary Clinton formed the basis of an article in the authoritative Politico publication.
This is Andrey’s first interview to a Ukrainian publication. At the time Telizhenko arrived to work in the US at the invitation of the ambassador Valery Chaly. But their paths have drastically diverged concerning inclusion in the electoral process.
Now Andrey works as a political consultant in the US and Canada and is able to afford some frankness – or to the extent that it is possible to be frank about a story that affects so many powerful people in the world.
Let’s start with the main, perhaps, question: is the current American administration of Trump in general engaging with Ukraine?
“Indeed, Ukraine has fatigued Washington. Our country isn’t even in 2nd or even 10th place among the priorities of the US. And the problem is only aggravated by the fact that the Ukrainian politicians coming to Washington bring with them the same complaints and grievances as they did a few years ago. The refusal to replace the ambassador in Washington became one of the main mistakes of Petro Poroshenko concerning the American direction. Our embassy there has today become a barrier in front of developing relations between Ukraine and the US. We should remember that before there was no need to hire any lobbyist companies, like BGR, in order to maintain dialogue with the White House. At the time of Obama’s administration relations with the political management level were excellent.”
Do you have any idea about why he didn’t opt to replace the ambassador?
“It is difficult for me to understand. Petro Poroshenko is well versed in international relations, and the need to replace the representative in the US is too obvious. One shouldn’t think that it’s only a matter of personal loyalty to and long-term acquaintance with Valery Chaly. Personal interests in such matters can’t be put above the State in any way. And this surprises so many in Washington. After all, there were rather transparent enough hints from their side – the same article in Politico in January of last year. And it was given additional propulsion last July via the personal statement of Trump and the press secretary of the White House about the need for an investigation into the interference of the Ukrainian Embassy in the presidential elections. The signal was clear: change the ambassador, and everything will be good.
Understand correctly that by saying this I don’t pursue any personal interests. Although recently ambassador Chaly goes around Washington and tries to tell everyone that I am a ‘Russian spy’. It is ridiculous that the diplomatic mission is directly engaged in fighting against people who have an opinion that differs from the position of the Presidential Administration.
Why was it necessary to replace the ambassador? Because everyone in Washington knows how he personally played on the side of Hillary Clinton. And now our head of State can’t hold a fully-fledged meeting in the White House. The one that took place last year didn’t conform to the main requirements of the protocol for such a meeting at this level. During an official visit of the President the first lady must accompany him, and Donald Trump should’ve met him in front of the White House, as is the case with the visits of other heads of States.
After all, Poroshenko met Trump just in the midst of the meeting on the Ukrainian subject that was held by the then adviser for national security Herbert McMaster. And after that our President came outside and, as we all remember, gave a briefing in front of the fence of the White House. Yes, there was a photo, there was a conversation, but it wasn’t a fully-fledged meeting of such a level. In this way the Americans simply showed their ‘good’ attitude towards Ukraine.”
I.e., they couldn’t not accept Poroshenko, but they had already accepted him as was desired…
“Yes. The meeting was organised through the influential lobbyist structure BGR. Trump’s adviser Cohen, contrary to the statement of the BBC, had nothing to do with organising it. Cohen has a unique tie to Ukraine only through his wife, who is from Kharkov.”
And this is the sum of $400,000 that he allegedly received for organising this meeting?
“This is the official payment to BGR. Before that, Pavel Klimkin had a photo with Trump – this also happened through the official payment to BGR. The embassy in this situation was on the sidelines. Unfortunately, such things didn’t even happen in the days of Yanukovych, when we had good relations with the United States. All the same, back then the embassy had access to various American government structures.
During Obama’s reign the Vice-President Joe Biden was a key figure concerning the Ukrainian direction. Further, a hierarchy of officials and the related grant funds – coordinated by Victoria Nuland – were built.”
Who is now a part of the conditional “Ukrainian team” in the US, who is responsible for policy in this direction?
“Now we are at the level of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which isn’t so bad, but most countries in the world are at this level. Earlier the Vice-President Joe Biden dealt with the issues of Ukraine. In the Ukrainian direction he had both personal and political interests. At the moment ‘Ukraine-US’ relations are coordinated at the level of the State Department, there is no comprehensive ‘Ukrainian team’ in Washington as such. Also, the newly appointed adviser for national security John Bolton is trying to understand the problems of the Ukrainian reality. But he isn’t as engaged ‘in the topic’ as we would like.”
What role does lobbyists now play in the development of the policy in the Ukrainian direction? Paul Manafort’s case, seemingly, has cooled the interest in the profitable Ukrainian market, or I am mistaken?
“According to the American Foreign Agents Registration Act, all lobbyists must notify such organisations as FARA about their activities that are in the interests of foreign politicians. If earlier many neglected to do this, then after charges were brought to Manafort all lobbyists started to try their best to be properly registered. Now they check their clients very carefully and the origin of the money that will be used to pay for the work. In this sense Ukraine found itself on the list of ‘toxic’ countries, because everyone is afraid of becoming involved in the ‘Russia investigation’ and connected to the possible interference of Moscow in the US elections.”
And are there are lobbyists in the US who were dumped in one way or another by our [Ukraine’s – ed] politicians?
“Unfortunately yes. If you remember, at the beginning of last year Yulia Tymoshenko had a meeting with Donald Trump on the sidelines of the Prayer breakfast. And although this meeting was all of five minutes, Trump was well prepared for it. Moreover, the very fact of meeting one of the leaders of the opposition before the US President met the authorities [Poroshenko – ed] is unprecedented. And this was already a signal to Ukraine that something is wrong in our relationship. But after that, Yulia Tymoshenko didn’t fulfil her obligations to some influential people in Washington. And later, when she travelled to a meeting with the adviser to the US President Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump at the Trump’s country house in Florida, she was denied an audience the day before the appointed meeting.”
She offended the lobbyists?
“It’s not a question of offense. It’s the fact that over the ocean they wait for politicians of such a scale to keep their word. And even if Yulia Tymoshenko in this matter was framed more by her team, her image was seriously spoiled.”
Now back to the interference in the American elections. Poroshenko’s team already had good relations with Obama’s administration. What was the logic of trying to please the Democrats even more by participating in the campaign against Trump, or did they ask for help from across the ocean?
“It should be noted about our authorities that Poroshenko mentally is more similar to Trump than probably any other leader in the world. Both are businessmen who could have a good relationship. But our authorities were snagged on a hook – a request for support from another team, they decided to play for high stakes without thus having a global strategy. This led to a miscalculation. The Embassy of Ukraine in the US could either not develop cooperation with the Democrats in this direction, or move forward. Chaly decided to go along the second path, although I strongly advised him to not do it. I consider that he overstepped all unspoken diplomatic lines in this affair.”
How did he explain such a decision?
“Chaly convinced himself that Trump is a pro-Russia candidate, without having serious proof of this. He probably also wanted to show the team of Clinton that he is something more, and can apply for more significant roles. When I communicated with him I didn’t understand his position: why it is possible to maintain dialogue with all other candidates from the Republican Party besides Trump. This concerns the stage of the primaries.
Maybe his assistant Oksana Shulyar had personal relations with people from the HQ of the Democrats. Shulyar acquainted me with Aleksandra Chalupa from the Democrat party and instructed me to collect and pass on to her information about Paul Manafort.”
The purpose was to discredit Trump?
“Not only to discredit. According to Aleksandra Chalupa, and the media already wrote about this, the purpose was to succeed to remove Donald Trump from the pre-election race; to hold in the autumn of 2016 a special meeting of the committee of US Congress and to succeed to remove his candidacy. This was told to me directly. Shulyar told me to keep in touch with Chalupa in this direction. Chaly knew everything very well and didn’t interfere in it. As the ambassador, he had to stop it. I refused to take part in it, and after this I didn’t communicate with Chalupa.”
After the beginning of the scandal with Manafort, the media wrote that the latter was one of the chief lobbyists of the pro-West course of Yanukovych. From the abandonment of highly enriched uranium reserves to the attraction of the American energy giants Chevron and ExxonMobil to Ukraine – Manafort was said to be behind all of this in varying degrees. Why, despite all of this, did the Democrats decide to look for Paul’s ties with Russia in the Ukrainian stage of his career?
“Paul Manafort for them was always an odious figure, due to his many years of having an exclusive role in the ranks of the Republicans. And now they decided to recoup on it. It is sure that it will soon be proved that Paul didn’t do anything politically wrong and that he has no special ties with Russia. As for financial and tax questions – let the American law enforcement bodies and courts deal with it. And what is happening now is just the special prosecutor Müller trying to heat up the situation on the eve of the US congressional elections.”
And how do you personally evaluate Manafort’s role in Ukraine?
“My sources informed me that when Maidan began, Manafort very rigidly demanded from Yanukovych to stop any forceful actions against protesters, predicting the risk of the situation moving to the war stage. This is something that I know for sure and respect. On other questions I can’t especially say anything special, since I am not that close with Manafort. But I know from reliable sources about his actions in this dramatic situation, and I respect him for it.”
Let’s develop on the topic of Manafort. In diplomatic circles it is rumoured that when Bankova Street tries to come into contact with Trump’s administration it tries to pin all the blame for the discrediting of Manafort in the summer of 2016 on the activity of the people’s deputy Sergey Leshchenko, who spoke about Manafort in the context of the “black accounts” of the Party of Regions.
“Yes, I know about this. Just recently a high-ranking official visited Washington, and he tried to implement this line. They persistently want to send all dogs on our anti-corruption officials. In this regard there is a question: who transferred these so-called ‘black accounts’ to Leshchenko? I don’t believe that it was simply accidentally found somewhere. It was beneficial for someone to play along with the Democrats during the elections.”
Were attempts nade by the Ukrainian authorities to build relations with Trump’s staff and the Republicans as a whole?
“As a whole, work with the Republican Party was carried out. But not directly with Trump’s staff.”
And is it possible to say that Trump’s administration is still offended because of Kiev? The experts close to the Ukrainian authorities say that everything is already excellent. And even nearly better than it was under the former President. Allegedly, Trump gave Javelins, and Barack Obama didn’t opt to do this. How would you comment on this?
“The offense, of course, remained. The positive that we can see in the actions of Washington is mainly the inertia of the practices of the previous administration. Preparation to give us these same lethal weapons was ongoing even at the time of Obama’s administration. Unfortunately, there is nothing principally new here. And in the White House there is no serious discussion about Ukraine as an interesting partner. As for weapons, the US gives modern weapons to many countries for much bigger sums without preliminary conditions. Not to mention Israel. For example, more than $2 billion per year over 20 years was allocated for Egypt. But we are happy about the budget of $350 million per year.
As for ‘Javelins’, I personally helped with the organisation and was present in the spring of 2014 at a meeting between senator John McCain and the first Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema, who I worked as an adviser for. At the meeting deliveries of not only of these anti-tank systems, but also of other lethal and not lethal military production was thoroughly discussed. It is during this meeting that the idea of ‘Javelins’ appeared.
By the way, an interesting story is connected to this – why it is precisely ‘Javelins’. Ukraine needed a symbol of support. During the war in Afghanistan anti-Soviet guerrillas were given the ‘Stinger’ systems. And for Ukraine – ‘Javelin’ anti-tank systems. In reality, from the side of Ukraine there were 27 lists of different weapons: from grenade launchers to fighter jets. But there was a need for a uniform realistic list. And it is precisely these anti-tank systems that formed the basis of this list.”
What is your forecast concerning the actions of Americans on the eve of Ukrainian presidential elections? Who will Washington place a stake on, or will it start to obviously show its sympathies for someone in general?
“Americans still think very strong. In principle, nobody especially pleases them from among the existing candidates with an approval rating. And this concerns not only the US’ position, but also Canada’s and the leading EU countries’. I think that they will work out until the last moment who to make a deal with.
Ukraine is approximately in the same position that Russia was in 1996: the acting president has the same 6% approval rating; there is the same readiness to attract anyone from the West for help. So that’s why here George Soros and many others try to play. We are such a kind of platform for experiments: both in the sphere of carrying out different radical liberal reforms and in the sphere of politics. And it is only the forces of Ukrainians themselves that can change the situation for the better.”
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