President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony for new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Pentagon. Picture: AP
President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony for new Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Pentagon. Picture: AP

How Ukraine got caught up in Trump's impeachment battle

By By Matthias Williams Time of article published Dec 2, 2019

Share this article:

Ukraine has unwittingly become

embroiled in a political battle in Washington between U.S.

President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats who could

announce formal impeachment charges against him within weeks.

Democrats launched an inquiry in September into allegations

Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr

Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a

Democratic possible rival in the 2020 presidential race.

Trump calls the inquiry a partisan "witch hunt" and neither

he nor his lawyers have agreed to appear in an inquiry hearing

on Wednesday.


In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Zelenskiy to

investigate an allegation that Biden, while in office, muscled

the Ukrainian authorities to fire a top prosecutor to shut down

a probe that could implicate his son Hunter.

Zelenskiy agreed to do so, according to a partial transcript

that was released by the White House.

On the same call, Trump brought up a conspiracy theory that

a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was in


Democrats are also investigating whether Trump abused his

powers by temporarily freezing $391 million in security aid to

pressure Zelenskiy. Trump denies doing so.


Zelenskiy denies being pressured by Trump and says he was

unaware Trump had frozen aid at the time of their call.

Zelenskiy's administration insists it does not want to take

sides or interfere in next year's U.S. election.

Ukraine is acutely aware it relies on bipartisan support as

well as military aid from Washington as Kiev battles

Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region in a

conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Persistently questioned about the impeachment inquiry by

journalists, Zelenskiy said last month that Ukrainians were

tired of the issue.

In an interview, Zelenskiy denied speaking to Trump about a

"quid pro quo".

"I don't want us to look like beggars. But you have to

understand. We're at war. If you're our strategic partner, then

you can't go blocking anything for us," he was quoted by Time

magazine as saying.


By his own account, Joe Biden pressed the Ukrainian

authorities to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in 2016,

threatening to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees if Kiev

failed to comply.

Giuliani alleged Biden did so because Shokin was

investigating the activities of Biden's son Hunter, who sat on

the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma.

Trump and his aides have presented no evidence of corruption

by the Bidens in Ukraine. Hunter Biden denies any wrongdoing

during his work for Burisma. Joe Biden denies trying to protect

his son, and says pressure to fire Shokin was being applied

widely by European governments at the time because of concern

over corruption.


After Zelenskiy took office this year, a new prosecutor

general launched a wide-ranging audit of criminal cases.

Thirteen of them relate to Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky, a

multimillionaire former minister.

The allegations concern tax violations, money laundering and

licences given to Burisma during the period where Zlochevsky was

in government. Zlochevsky has not commented and his whereabouts

are unknown to the Ukrainian authorities.

The prosecutor said in October he was not aware of any

evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, who was on the board of

Burisma between 2014-2019.


Giuliani alleges some Ukrainian officials conspired to help

Trump's Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in 2016 by leaking

information damaging to Trump's then-campaign chairman, Paul


Manafort, a long-time Republican political consultant who is

now serving a prison sentence after being convicted of fraud and

witness tampering, had worked in Ukraine for a previous

Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich.

Giuliani and other Trump allies say Ukrainians forged a

record of millions of dollars in payments -- known as the "black

ledger" -- to Manafort from Yanukovich's associates.

Separately, some right-wing websites have said that the

cyber security firm CrowdStrike falsely accused Russia of

hacking Democratic Party organisations and then stashed hacked

email servers in Ukraine as part of a cover-up. CrowdStrike

denies that.

Trump referenced that theory during his call with Zelenskiy.


Current and former U.S. officials have testified Giuliani

carried out a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, and led efforts

to get Zelenskiy to announce investigations into Burisma and

alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Text messages between Giuliani and U.S. diplomats show

pressure was exerted on Zelenskiy. The U.S. ambassador to the

European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified that Trump largely

delegated Ukraine policy to Giuliani.

Giuliani says he met current and former Ukrainian

prosecutors as part of his investigations into the Bidens and

the 2016 election but played down his role in liaising with U.S.

diplomats and Ukrainian officials. 


Share this article: