Top U.S. officials in the Trump administration are working to try and organize a visit by senior Ukrainian officials to tour American liquefied natural gas production facilities, according to two U.S. officials and three other individuals familiar with the matter.
Washington has for months discussed the possibility of Ukrainians traveling to the U.S. for the purpose of solidifying a trade relationship between the two countries for the export of liquefied natural gas through Poland. A visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky or one of his top aides would not only give the U.S. the chance to show the Ukrainians how American companies produce and ship liquefied natural gas (LNG) but also to promote to the public the ongoing partnership between the two countries amid the ongoing impeachment investigation into President Trump, the officials said.
“We’ve been talking about this for some time but now it seems more than critical to get Ukrainians to D.C.,” one official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s not just because the Trump administration wants to up the exports of LNG. It’s because having Zelensky or people close to him come and do a photo opportunity would be so key given everything going on with impeachment.”
There is no set date for the tours and it is not certain Zelensky will make the trip, according to sources familiar with the matter. But Trump administration officials have over the last six months discussed the possibility of the Ukrainian president touring the LNG sites during an official state visit. Those conversations started as early as the first few days following Zelensky’s election in Ukraine, according to two U.S. officials, but slowed amid the increasingly intense House impeachment investigation into Trump and allegations that he pushed Ukraine to commit to investigations in exchange for military aid.
Since then, the White House has been in contact with Zelensky’s team about rescheduling. One Ukrainian official said that within the last several weeks the two sides have inched closer to cementing a date.
For the past year, U.S. officials have pushed Ukraine and other European countries to consider importing American LNG as an alternative to relying on Russian gas. More than a third of Russia’s gas bound for the European Union crosses Ukraine. But countries in the region, in particular Ukraine, are concerned Russia will turn off the taps in the coming months. Officials in Kyiv, with the help of European and U.S. officials, are also pushing back against the construction of the Russian Nordstream 2 pipeline that would bypass Ukraine.
The idea, put forward by former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, is to have American companies export the gas through Poland for transport into Ukraine. Perry was one of the “three amigos”—officials working outside the standard diplomatic channels—who worked closely with Ukrainian officials to try and broker a meeting between Zelensky and Trump earlier this summer, according to multiple House impeachment witnesses.
In August the U.S., Ukraine and Poland agreed to cooperate on the project. Poland’s representatives said the country would commit to sending 6 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine starting in 2021.
The plan comes with a host of obstacles, including convincing Ukraine of the commercial thinking on their purchasing of Western gas. But U.S. officials, and American representatives overseas including E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland, have promoted the idea in meetings with Ukrainian officials and publicly on social media.
Interest groups, too, have pushed for the export plan. Varying energy executives are in conversations about bidding on contracts for the potential deal, according to two Americans familiar with the matter.
Rudy Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman reportedly pitched officials in Kyiv on their new company and its plan for the construction of a pipeline from Poland to Ukraine carrying U.S. natural gas. Prosecutors in New York are scrutinizing whether Giuliani stood to profit from such a project.
Even before the news of the whistleblower complaint on Trump broke this fall, Trump officials were in talks with Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former chairman of the National Security and Defense Council in Ukraine, to visit LNG terminals in Texas and Louisiana, according to both Ukrainian and American officials. The trip was set to take place during the beginning of the summer when Giuliani and the three amigos were pushing for Ukraine to open investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 presidential election.
Danylyuk’s plan eventually fell through, officials said, though they would not elaborate on the reason.
Secretary Perry did host President Andrzej Duda of Poland in June in Louisiana to tour Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG terminal. Poland signed a 20-year deal with Sempra Energy in December 2018 to buy gas from U.S. companies
Now, officials in the Department of Energy and within the halls of the White House are pushing to set up a visit for Zelensky or his officials with a stop in Appalachia—a region where natural gas production has expanded in recent years.