Donald Trump’s lawyer drags wary Ukraine into US political scrap

Rudy Giuliani refers to ‘enemies of the US’ around Ukraine’s new president Zelenskiy

US president Donald Trump's personal lawyer has cancelled plans for a controversial trip to Ukraine, but his bid to drag the embattled country into the crossfire of American politics has unnerved Kiev at a time of transition.

Rudy Giuliani announced last week that he intended to travel to Ukraine to urge its incoming president, erstwhile comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to pursue investigations that could be "very, very helpful" to Mr Trump.

The former New York mayor has now scrapped the idea, however, saying he would be “walking into a group of people that are enemies of the [US] president . . . in some cases enemies of the United States” – troubling comments for a nation that relies on Washington’s support to counter Russian aggression.

Mr Giuliani wants Kiev to examine claims that Democratic former US vice-president Joe Biden – who plans to run against Mr Trump in 2020 – pressed Kiev to quash an investigation into Ukrainian gas firm Burisma, where his son Hunter Biden was a director.


Spin-doctor’s resignation

He is also pushing Ukraine to investigate the release of financial information linking Paul Manafort to the country's former pro-Russian leader, Viktor Yanukovich, which prompted the spin-doctor to resign as Mr Trump's campaign chief in 2016.

“We’re not meddling in an election; we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr Giuliani told the New York Times last week.

“And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Senior Democrats lambasted Mr Giuliani's gambit, while experts in Kiev dismissed his claim that Mr Biden pressured Ukraine's leaders to fire then prosecutor general Viktor Shokin in 2016 to stop him investigating Burisma.

Former deputy prosecutor general Vitaliy Kasko and Daria Kaleniuk, the head of Ukraine's anti-corruption action centre, say Mr Shokin effectively shelved the case and was sacked for failing to fight graft and vested interests, in a move welcomed by western diplomats.

‘Great fear’

Mr Giuliani announced on Friday night he had decided not to visit Ukraine, citing "great fear" that Mr Zelenskiy "would be surrounded by, literally, enemies of the [US] president . . . and people who are involved with other Democratic operatives".

The claims about Mr Biden and the Manafort case are being pushed in Ukraine by its current prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, whom Mr Zelenskiy intends to replace when he takes power in the coming weeks.

"Lutsenko basically dragged Ukraine into someone else's war, making us a bargaining chip on the table between Trump and Biden, with the sole aim of keeping his job," wrote deputy Serhiy Leshchenko, who Mr Giuliani says sought to help the Democrats in the 2016 election by releasing the damaging information on Mr Manafort.

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s envoy to the Council of Europe, said Mr Giuliani’s comments were “dangerous” for Kiev.

“To safeguard and increase US support is a fundamental national interest for Ukraine. This is a delicate game, in which the new president’s team is forced to play and take tough decisions.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe