Early Concerns That 2020 Election Cycle Will ‘Sow Division’ in US-Ukrainian Relationship

May 29, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020

Seven retired U.S. Ambassadors to Ukraine denounced “efforts to inject Ukraine into America’s domestic politics as the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches,” in a statement issued on May 26.

It comes after Ukrainian politicians, diplomats, and civic activists called on American leaders in a joint statement three days earlier to differentiate between Ukraine’s position and the political actions sowing discord between two countries.

“Those efforts advance a false and toxic narrative, one with no basis in the reality of U.S.-Ukraine relations, in order to weaken the relationship between the United States and Ukraine and sow division within our two countries,” the statement posted on the Atlantic Council website said. The statement does not elaborate on what efforts it refers to.

The former ambassadors call on officials in both countries to “to avoid steps that will only erode the bilateral relationship.” The U.S.-Ukraine strategic partnership was established in 1996 and has been built over the years on the shared values of “democracy, liberty, and human freedom,” they said.

“Ukraine’s success in developing as an independent, stable, democratic state with a strong market economy … advances the U.S. interest in a more stable and secure Europe,” they said.

The statement was signed by retired U.S. Ambassadors who served in Ukraine during the period following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the country gained its independence. Among them are William Taylor and Marie Yovanovitch, both of whom testified in impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump, as well as John Herbst who currently is a director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

The eighth Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, who currently serves as the U.S. Ambassador to Greece after leaving the post in Ukraine in 2016, did not sign the joint statement.

The Atlantic Council received a donation from Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings in 2018.

This joint statement was considered a response to the joint statement by Ukrainian politicians and activists, Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and a signatory of the Ukrainian statement said on Twitter.

Ukrainian Politicians, Activists Appeal to American leaders

Ukrainian politicians, diplomats, civic activists, and experts issued a joint statement calling on American leaders to prevent “involving Ukraine in the political competition” that has been intensified in the United States” as it could erode the U.S.-Ukrainian partnership based on “the common values of national and human freedom.”

The statement issued on May 23 praises “the combined efforts of the two largest political parties in the United States and all concerned Americans to defend Ukraine.”

“We oppose the dishonest attempts to use the political controversies in the United States. We do not choose any side, but support each of them in the same way that they together help Ukraine’s independence,” the Ukrainian signatories said.

“We call on American leaders to distinguish between the position of new Ukraine, which stands for the unity of the West and acts to unite democracies around the world, and those forces that seek to turn the political developments in our country into a toxic narrative to sow discord among our partners,” the statement added.

Among sixty signatories of the statement are former Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former Ukraine’s cabinet members, and members of the Ukrainian Parliament.

“We call on America’s leaders to distinguish between the position of our nation from the actions of politicians instigated by Moscow,” the signatories said without providing any name of a person involved in such actions. It did not elaborate on what actions it refers to.

The letter came three days after an investigation was launched into leaked tapes allegedly involving Ukrainian officials and U.S. officials. Also, on the same day, a U.S. Senate Committee approved a subpoena request in the investigation involving a U.S. official and a Ukrainian company. Therefore facts related to these investigations are presented in this report.

Ukraine Investigates Leaked Tapes

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference with US Sec. of State Mike Pompeo at the president's office on January 31, 2020 in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the president’s office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Jan. 31, 2020. (Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on May 20 that prosecutors have opened a criminal inquiry into leaked tapes that allegedly feature then-President Petro Poroshenko discussing conditions for a $1 billion loan with then-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, reported the Associated Press.

The tapes, which are yet to be authenticated, were released the day before by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach.

The Ukrainian investigation was opened on treason and abuse of office charges, indicating it was mostly directed against Poroshenko. Poroshenko rejected the tapes as a fabrication by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

There was no immediate sign that the probe could be directed against Biden. The Prosecutor General’s Office gave no further details.

Senate Committee Investigates Biden-Burisma Relationship

Chairman Ron Johnson
Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) speaks at the start of a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on the government’s response to the CCP virus outbreak in Washington on March 5, 2020. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee led by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) launched an investigation to determine if there was a conflict of interest when Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, and 2020 Democratic presidential contender, served on the board of Burisma.

The Committee approved on May 20 at the request of Johnson the first subpoena in the investigation of Blue Star Strategies which represented Burisma Holdings in the United States.

It will cover records dating back to Jan. 1, 2013, regarding the public relations firm’s work for Burisma.

In a letter provided to Johnson before the voting, Blue Star Strategies Co-founder and CEO Karen Tramontano said that the company is willing to cooperate, had provided information demanded by the committee, and offered to be interviewed. However, Johnson said he disagreed that the company has been cooperating.

Hunter Biden, joined the board of Burisma in April 2014 when the former vice president was leading the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. He left Burisma in 2019.

The Associated Press, Allen Zhong, Ivan Pentchoukov, and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.