Giuliani in Ukraine: Kyiv’s leaders, long silent, find some tales to share

Among the accounts emerging from Ukrainian officials is a July 2019 phone call between Giuliani and Andriy Yermak, formerly one of Zelensky’s top aides and now his chief of staff. Yermak said the conversation was the first direct contact between Giuliani and the Zelensky administration and, until now, was only discussed in general terms.

The new disclosures from Ukraine do not offer any bombshell revelations about Giuliani’s dealings. But they help fill in some blanks on his frantic — and unsuccessful — quest to press Ukraine to make statements seen as potentially helpful to the Trump reelection bid.

Giuliani’s overall goal, according to the accounts, was to have Zelensky’s government validate the Trump campaign’s unsupported claims — including that Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine and that then vice president Biden attempted to cover it up.

Giuliani, saying he was acting on President Trump’s behalf, also was promoting a false narrative that the Ukrainian government colluded to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections against Trump — an unproven claim that sought to deflect attention from Russia’s interference in the campaign.

Ukraine’s willingness to discuss Giuliani’s forays also lands at a difficult time for the former New York mayor as he faces mounting personal battles, including a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems over alleged false claims about ballot rigging in the 2020 election.

Giuliani did not respond to a list of questions sent to him, and also through his lawyer. Kurt Volker, the former State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine for peace negotiations, who was also on the call with Yermak, declined to comment.

‘All these trials’

The Zelensky team’s decision to talk about Giuliani’s tactics coincides with efforts for a reset in relations with President Biden, who dealt closely with Ukraine during his eight years as vice president.

“We’ve gotten through all these trials, despite criticism at home and abroad,” said Yermak. “And today, this feeling that Ukraine — the mention of Ukraine — is associated with various scandals should disappear.”

Giuliani’s tone and actions during his dealings with the Ukrainians were “aggressive and threatening,” said one Zelensky insider, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

But the Ukrainians, he said, steadfastly refused to “play ball.”

The accusations against Biden centered on his son, Hunter, and his previous position on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, which is under investigation for alleged corrupt dealings. Trump and his allies claimed, without evidence, that Joe Biden, then vice president, used his clout to end the investigations.

Ukrainian investigations into Burisma and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, are ongoing. But authorities say that none of the cases involve Hunter Biden. A Senate report in September described the younger Biden’s position at the company as “problematic” but found no wrongdoing by Joe Biden.

Giuliani’s pressure began almost from the moment of Zelensky’s election in April 2019. The former New York mayor planned to travel to Ukraine the following month.

But Giuliani canceled at the last moment, claiming that Zelensky was surrounded by “enemies” of Trump. This set off concerns in Zelensky’s inner circle that Giuliani would poison Zelensky’s relations with the White House.

In July 2019, Yermak asked Volker to introduce him to Giuliani in an effort to clear the air.

Ukrainians needed U.S. diplomatic and financial muscle to bolster them in their ongoing battles with Kremlin-backed insurgents in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

‘Go-to guy’

“Until we were 100 percent certain that Rudy was the go-to guy, and nothing would happen without him, we were trying to avoid him as much as possible,” said Igor Novikov, who served an adviser to Zelensky until August and was a member of the team tasked with responding to U.S. overtures during the Trump administration.

“But then toward the end of June, we realized that we couldn’t achieve anything with Trump without talking to Rudy first,” Novikov said.

To this end, Volker set up an introductory phone call on July 22, 2019 between himself, Yermak and Giuliani, according to Volker’s testimony during the impeachment proceedings. Novikov, unknown to Giuliani and Volker, sat next to Yermak and took notes.

Volker mentioned the phone call briefly in his testimony, saying that it was short and that he did not remember any discussion of Ukraine opening investigations.

Novikov, however, said the call lasted more than 40 minutes, during which Giuliani spelled out what he wanted.

The Giuliani wish list, according to Novikov: Zelensky would publicly announce the launch of investigations into Burisma and allegations that Ukrainian officials conspired to interfere in the 2016…

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