Ukrainian election shakes up foreign influence operations targeting the US

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ukraine’s election of comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelensky in the country’s recent presidential race has ushered in a new era of Ukrainian foreign influence and lobbying operations targeting the U.S.

The nearly decade-long efforts of former Ukrainian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko to influence the U.S. government appear to be ending. Meanwhile, a mysterious lawyer is bankrolling lobbyists on Zelensky’s behalf –– but not necessarily with the president’s blessing.

Operating in the shadows for nearly a decade, an opaque network of shell companies, offshore accounts and other secretive entities funneled millions of dollars into lobbying campaigns and foreign influence operations centered around Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko gained international attention as the subject of a controversial report and influence campaign orchestrated by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates along with lobbying powerhouse Skadden Arps. The operation was uncovered in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling surrounding the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Investigations led to Skadden’s retroactive FARA registration, a $4.6 million settlement for failure to register with DOJ, and the indictment of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig for alleged false statements related to lobbying work after he left the administration.

As she ran for president of Ukraine in 2019, Tymoshenko’s foreign influence and lobbying presence in the U.S. gained momentum. 

But just months after Tymoshenko lost in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election and Zelensky was voted into office, all the firms with disclosed influence operations and lobbying work for shell companies or individuals tied to Tymoshenko officially terminated their contracts. 

“The work has completed,” former Congressman Jim Slattery (D-Kan.), a partner at Wiley Rein LLP who has represented Tymoshenko’s interests for a number of years, told no deposit bonus forex.

A longtime advocate of Tymoshenko’s interests through a range of government relations and legal services, Wiley Rein terminated its arrangements with firms and individuals linked to Tymoshenko on July 30, according to lobbying disclosures and FARA records obtained using no deposit bonus forex’ Foreign Lobby Watch tool.

The firm represented Tymoshenko’s interests since at least 2011, when her husband Oleksandr  Tymoshenko was seeking U.S. support for her to be released from prison on corruption charges.

Over the years, Wiley Rein raked in millions in lucrative lobbying contracts through Tymoshenko’s husband as well as the Trident Foundation and Aveiro LP, entities investigations have found to be little more than shell companies created for the express purpose of advocating for Tymoshenko.

The Livingston Group, a lobbying firm run by former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), also terminated its contract with another Tymoshenko-linked entity called Innovative Technology & Business Consulting LLC or ITBC LLC on July 31. 

Weeks after the Maryland-based shell company’s 2018 incorporation, ITBC hired Livingston for lobbying and governmental affairs work related to Ukraine. The secretive limited-liability company’s ties to Tymoshenko were revealed months later, in July 2018, when the Livingston Group distributed a letter discussing her planned trip to the U.S. ahead of President Trump’s meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The severance may not be as straightforward as lobbying disclosures and FARA records make it appear, however, since Tymoshenko-linked entities have broken off contracts with firms multiple times before only to have a new shell company crop up and ink new lucrative contracts days later. 

During the leadup to Ukraine’s presidential election, Tymoshenko vehemently denied any role in influence operations targeting the U.S. on her behalf, accusing the lobbyists and foreign agents of orchestrating a disinformation campaign against her. In March, however, Wiley Rein filed an amendment with the Justice Department admitting Tymoshenko was the principal beneficiary of the firm’s work for another mysterious shell company called Aveiro LP. 

Shortly after the Ukrainian election, Tymoshenko’s ties to lobbyists and foreign agents she fought to distance herself from became even more apparent. 

FARA records revealed that foreign agents on the payroll of the Livingston Group accompanied Tymoshenko during her December 2018 trip to U.S. Capitol. One prominent revolving door foreign agent working for Livingston Group, former Rep. Bob McEwen (R-Ohio), introduced her to former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani recently faced media scrutiny for suspected foreign “shadow lobbying” operations and joined President Trump’s personal legal team in the heat of Mueller’s investigation. no deposit bonus forex confirmed that Livingston himself joined Tymoshenko at meetings with multiple members of Congress, including House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
Now, months later, both firms have severed their ties with the Tymoshenko-linked shell companies and individuals. 

A new era of Ukrainian foreign influence

A new Ukrainian foreign influence operation has already begun targeting Washington, D.C. But this time, instead of Tymoshenko, the efforts appear to support Zelensky.

After surviving the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election, Zelensky’s own foreign influence operation kicked off.

The firm behind that influence operation was Signal Group Consulting, a fully-owned subsidiary of Washington law firm Wiley Rein, revealed in FARA disclosures. Although both firms have represented a handful of other foreign interests over the years, all of the activities reported in FARA records filed directly by Wiley Rein were later revealed to benefit Tymoshenko.

Signal Group was hired on behalf of Zelensky through a contract with a low-profile U.S. lawyer named Marcus Cohen, according to FARA registration records obtained by no deposit bonus forex. Like Tymoshenko, Zelensky vehemently denied any involvement in the lobbying and influence operations purporting to support him.

Cohen’s address listed in the FARA filing matches that of a shopping mall in Kiev and has also been listed in contact information for the Zelensky campaign on its official website.

A delegation of Zelensky campaign officials and supporters visited Washington, D.C., in April, according to recent FARA records obtained by no deposit bonus forex and first reported on by Voice of America. Signal Group disclosed meetings with the White House, National Security Council and U.S. State Department as well as think tanks such as the libertarian Cato Institute and conservative Heritage Foundation.

The delegation paid $1,912 to “BLT Steak” according to FARA filings. Cohen and “around a dozen unknown others” dined with the delegation at the BLT Prime Trump International Hotel, RFE/RL confirmed. Trump’s business entanglements, especially his D.C. hotel just blocks from the White House, are under scrutiny for opening new secret avenues for foreign actors to curry favor with the U.S. government.

Signal Group was paid nearly $70,000 through mid-2019 for services and reimbursements related to its operations for Zelensky commencing in April, according to the FARA records.

“I paid for it,” Cohen said in an interview with RFE/RL claiming that Zelensky had no role in the operation. Cohen told RFE/RL that he bankrolled the operation “out of good will” after a brief meeting with Zelensky in Kyiv during his presidential campaign but declined to elaborate on how he came about the large sum of money.

Now that Zelensky is president of Ukraine, some efforts to further his interests in the U.S. may continue outside the purview of FARA due to an exemption covering diplomacy. Zelensky retorted when confronted with claims of covert lobbying and influence operations, “I am my own lobbyist.”

Zelensky and Trump remain in ongoing negotiations about a potential White House visit in the near future. 

Multiple attempts to contact Marcus Cohen, Signal Group Consulting and the Livingston Group were unsuccessful. 

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