KYIV—Ukraine is ready to investigate the connections Joe Biden’s son Hunter had with the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, according to Anton Geraschenko, a senior adviser to the country’s interior minister who would oversee such an inquiry.
Geraschenko told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that “as soon as there is an official request" Ukraine will look into the case, but “currently there is no open investigation.”
“Clearly,” said Geraschenko, “Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.” Among the counts on which Manafort was convicted: tax evasion. “We do not investigate Biden in Ukraine, since we have not received a single official request to do so,” said Geraschenko.
His remarks last week came amid widespread speculation that U.S. President Donald Trump had made vital U.S. military aid for Ukraine contingent on such an inquiry, but had tried to do so informally through unofficial representatives, including his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Giuliani’s adviser on Ukraine, Sam Kislin.
But Geraschenko spoke before the appearance of a Washington Post story on Thursday that implied that an intelligence community whistleblower may have reported that the untoward quid pro quo was put forth directly by Trump in a phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president last July.
Geraschenko reconfirmed his statements in a phone call on Friday.
The U.S. administration has thus far blocked efforts by Congress to learn precisely what the whistleblower reported, which Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson deemed an “urgent matter” while offering no details. The Post, citing two sources, said the allegation involved a “promise” made to a foreign leader.
Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 to congratulate him on his election. According to the official readout on Ukraine's presidency website, "Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA."
Toward the end of August, the White House reportedly was considering whether to block $250 million of funds to support Ukraine’s military in its war against Russian-backed separatists. On Sept. 12, however, that funding was released, and even increased. Congressional pressure played a role, and it is unclear whether the whistleblower’s reported “promise” allegations, made soon after the Zelensky phone call, did as well. (On Friday, Zelensky’s office announced that he will meet with Trump next week.)
What’s certain is that American and Ukrainian politics are closely connected these days, and on Thursday evening Giuliani admitted he had asked officials in Ukraine to investigate Biden. Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo in a contentious interview that there is nothing wrong with pressing for an investigation into corruption.
Others might call this whole affair a matter of political—indeed, geopolitical—extortion.
At a minimum, Giuliani’s pressure has been interpreted here as weakening this country’s institutions by pressing them to dig for dirt on Trump’s most important Democratic challenger.
Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies believe that it is up to U.S. investigators to ascertain, specifically, whether Biden’s son had any missed U.S. tax payments on income from Ukraine.
Hunter Biden actually took a job with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holding in 2014 and worked there for five years, then quietly quit in April, soon after his father announced his presidential candidacy. It is unclear how much money Burisma paid Hunter Biden in total. Whatever it was, he may rue the work, given the political cost.
Ex-MP Serhiy Leshchenko, the Ukrainian pro-Western politician and corruption fighter, has been in the epicenter of the scandal since Giuliani mentioned his name as one of “the enemies of Donald Trump and the USA.” The Trump attorney continued to criticize Ukraine’s leadership by saying that Ukraine’s president “is surrounded by people who are the enemies of the president [Trump] and people who are clearly corrupt.”
Any word of criticism pronounced by such influential Americans may be damaging to careers here. As a result of Giuliani’s statements, Leshchenko has lost a promising role on Zelensky’s team. “Both the United States and Ukraine are throwing Biden’s case at each other like a hot potato, pushing each other to begin investigating Biden,” Leshchenko told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “I totally understand, and I don’t want to be in the way, since Zelensky clearly does not want to quarrel with Trump. The United States is our main strategic partner and I value that.”
Earlier this month, President Zelensky publicly thanked Trump for releasing the military aid vital for his country. Zelensky spoke at the annual Yalta European Strategy conference, which this year had a symbolic title: Happiness Now.
Ukraine elected Zelensky and his supporters in parliament by a landslide earlier this year, largely in response to the alleged corruption of his predecessor and amid hopes the former comedian-turned-politician could end the war with separatists that has killed more than 13,000 people.
To bring an end to the carnage, Zelensky needs strong international support. He hopes to strike a peace deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin with backing from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron at a so-called Normandy Four meeting later this month.
Russia and Ukraine recently swapped prisoners, a positive sign, but Zelensky has offered no clues on possible concessions. He demands, as did his predecessor, that Russia return the annexed Crimean peninsula to Ukraine, a non-starter for Putin.
The Trump administration eventually released $390 million in military aid to Ukraine, $140 million more than the amount Kyiv had expected before the administration suspended the funds for “review” last month.
“For now, we would like America to support us more, and not only with money but also with the newest weapons in our war against the aggressor, the Russian Federation,” Geraschenko, the adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, told The Daily Beast. “We want a status as NATO’s special partner, allowing us to buy any weapons in the U.S., including the newest anti-aircraft rockets to defend our country in case Russia decides to attack from the air; our technology is more than 40 years old.”
Zelensky’s team is struggling to overcome war, poverty, and corruption. Clearly, the idea of helping politicians of foreign states win elections is not a part of his public agenda.
“This is a very special stage in Ukraine’s development: We have completely changed this year, our mentality has changed, we realize that the entire world is watching us right now,” Roman Truba, head of the State Bureau of Investigations, said in an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast.
Truba’s agency neither investigated Biden’s son nor Burisma Holding. There were no signs of illegality in Biden’s work in Ukraine, he said. “The State Bureau of Investigations should be an independent institution. I wish we would become as highly qualified, equipped with all modern technologies, and professional as the FBI.”