Rudy Giuliani says his latest ploy in Kyiv is about bringing Ukraine and America together. That’s a strange claim from the not-so-rogue Rudy, whose deluded crusade for kompromat on political opponents of Donald Trump is tearing apart the U.S.-Ukraine alliance. And it’s especially cruel to make it just days before Ukraine’s new president sits across from President Vladimir Putin for the first full-scale peace talks to be held in three years.
Surely, Giuliani realized that at best it would look suspicious for the president’s personal attorney to swoop in and amplify Kremlin propaganda about the ghosts of conspiracies past at a time when Ukraine needs strong, clear U.S. support. But as we know, Trump never liked Ukraine very much, and he is rather fond of Putin.
While the official reason for Giuliani’s visit was an “investigative documentary” on corruption made by the pro-Trump One America News Network —an excuse widely seen as a cover so he could continue seeking out kompromat on Trump’s foes without fear of blowback—President Trump gave away the ruse on Saturday.
“He’s going to make a report, I think to the attorney general and to Congress,” Trump told reporters. “He says he has a lot of good information.”
Russia’s state media was quick to pick up on Trump’s declaration, with an emphasis on the “good information.” It feeds perfectly into the narrative the Kremlin has been using to gaslight Ukrainians ever since Russian forces invaded Crimea in 2014 and used proxies to take over parts of the eastern Ukraine known as Donbas: Your attempts to move closer to the West are futile, you’re too dysfunctional for anyone in the West to have any real use for you.
The Giuliani-Trump foreign policy did find a use for Ukraine: exploiting it to serve as a set for their ongoing reality TV stunts.
Giuliani didn’t even attempt to hide the fact that he was in Kyiv to drag the country back into America’s domestic political affairs, hand-picking the most dubious of characters to provide “evidence” for the clumsily named OAN documentary “Ukrainian Witnesses Destroy Schiff’s Case–Exclusive with Rudy Giuliani.”
Nor did he bother to give so much as a nod to the peace talks that begin Monday, a make-or-break moment for Zelensky, whose dealings with Putin have already sparked massive protests and fueled fears among many Ukrainians that he will “capitulate” to Moscow and let the Kremlin get away with more land.
Some in Ukraine have already been asking: Could Trump’s personal lawyer have flown into Kyiv less than a week before the summit in Paris in order to clinch concessions for the Kremlin behind the scenes? Did he, perhaps, convey a mobster-like message to a presidential aide that, so to speak, Zelensky should go down in the third round?
Just by visiting Kyiv on the eve of talks, Giuliani has planted the seed of doubt among a public that already fears Zelensky will be compelled to make further concessions to Putin because he knows the U.S. no longer stands behind him. Any concessions at all that Zelensky gives to Moscow now run the risk of making him look like a puppet for both Trump and the Kremlin.
Any way you look at it, Giuliani’s trip was a slap in the face to Ukraine, and that much worse when you look back on his role, outlined so thoroughly in the House of Representatives impeachment inquiry, laying the groundwork for Trump to pressure Zelensky by withholding military aid and the endorsement that would have been provided by a White House meeting.
Through this whole mess, Zelensky, as politely as possible, has made it clear he doesn’t want Ukraine to be dragged into America’s domestic political soap opera and would rather see the focus where it should be: on the fact that more than 13,000 people have been killed as a result of Russian-sponsored aggression in the Donbas, and soldiers and civilians alike continue to be blown up on a weekly basis.
Instead, Giuliani just gave Putin the reassurance that one of Ukraine’s biggest allies has moved on to more pressing matters: helping, in the words of the House Judiciary Committee, the “president who mistakes himself for a monarch.”