The Ukrainian Prosecutor Behind Trump's Impeachment

KYIV, Ukraine -- Of all the names featured in the private depositions and public testimonies of the Presidential impeachment inquiry — Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman; Joe Biden and his son, Hunter — that of Yuriy Lutsenko has been cited more often than almost any other.

Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general, fed information to President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which Giuliani spun to smear Joe Biden.

In the sworn depositions of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, Lutsenko’s name appears two hundred and thirty times, nearly twice as often as Trump’s.

Lutsenko, sometimes referred to simply as “the corrupt prosecutor general” of Ukraine, has been portrayed, hardly without reason, as an unscrupulous politician prone to telling lies to further his personal ambitions.

As those closely following the news have learned, Lutsenko fed information to Giuliani, which Giuliani, Trump, and their allies spun to smear the reputations of the Bidens and of Yovanovitch, whom Trump fired in April.

One of the House’s star witnesses told me, of Lutsenko, “I don’t think we’d be here if not for him.” 

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, in 1991, Ukraine has been ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe.

The corruption has contributed to the country’s impoverishment and left its people beholden to external influence.

In 2014, after the Euromaidan Revolution, officials in the Obama Administration saw an opportunity to reduce the influence of Vladimir Putin’s Russia by giving aid to Ukraine on the condition that certain reforms took place.

Among those officials were Vice-President Biden, Yovanovitch and her predecessor as Ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt, both veterans of Republican as well as Democratic Administrations, and Kent, who spent two years as the anti-corruption coördinator in the State Department’s European bureau.

They joined forces with like-minded Ukrainians, including a group of anti-corruption activists and lawmakers.

For a time, Lutsenko seemed to be on the right side of history.

Before becoming prosecutor general, he was considered one of Ukraine’s most promising pro-Western politicians.

In 2004, he helped lead the country’s first major post-Soviet protest movement, known as the Orange Revolution.

In 2010, he was incarcerated for his political opposition to Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia Ukrainian President, and his release became a cause célèbre for the European envoys who’d visited him in prison.

As prosecutor general—the equivalent of the Attorney General in the United States—Lutsenko tried to assure his American counterparts that he, too, was committed to reform, but they soon came to see him as an enabler of the corrupt system that they were seeking to fix.

As Kent said in a closed-door deposition on October 15th, “He was bitter and angry at the Embassy for our positions on anti-corruption. And so he was looking for revenge.”

Lutsenko, who is fifty-five, left his job in August.

He’d become a figure of some notoriety in Kyiv, and, in the fall, he relocated temporarily to London, enrolling in an English-language immersion program.

I first met him at a hotel bar in Kensington in October.

An entertaining raconteur with a deadpan sense of humor, he was determined to rehabilitate his image.

As he alternated beverages—double Scotch, Coke, double Scotch, beer—he railed against his treatment by American diplomats, including Yovanovitch, who, he believed, had unjustly favored his rival, the head of a new anti-corruption bureau in Ukraine, and the cadre of young activists who scrutinized his every move.

“I asked Masha”—Yovanovitch—“why me, who was in prison, who was a street commander in two revolutions?” he said.

“I’m the bad guy and they are the brave soldiers?”

During the past two years, Lutsenko, seeking to bolster his reputation and suspecting that Yovanovitch was attempting to undermine him, was eager to arrange high-profile meetings for himself in Washington, starting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

When he heard rumors that Yovanovitch and other U.S. officials were blocking the meetings, he grew increasingly resentful.

Lutsenko said that one of his subordinates at the prosecutor general’s office told him in the fall of 2018 that an associate of Giuliani’s, Lev Parnas, a Ukrainian-born, Florida-based businessman and Trump supporter who worked as a fixer in Kyiv, wanted to set up a meeting between Lutsenko and Giuliani.

Giuliani had been rooting around in Ukraine for information that could help Trump deflect allegations stemming from an investigation by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

He was looking for witnesses who were willing to lend credence to dubious reports that Ukrainians colluded with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

In January, 2019, Giuliani spoke by phone with Viktor Shokin, the previous prosecutor general, about alleged misconduct by the Bidens, which set him on a new path of inquiry.

That month, Lutsenko flew to New York, and, in the course of several days, spoke with Giuliani at his Park Avenue office.

Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman were there, too.

Lutsenko knew what would interest Giuliani, so he had brought along financial information purportedly drawn from bank records, which, he said, proved that Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, had paid Hunter Biden and his business partner to “lobby” Joe Biden.

“Lutsenko came in with guns blazing,” Parnas told me.

“He came in with records showing us the money trail. That’s when it became real.”

Giuliani seized on Lutsenko’s claims, offering to help him secure high-level meetings in Washington and encouraging him to pursue investigations beneficial to Trump.

In a long conversation with me this past November, Giuliani largely confirmed Lutsenko’s account of their relationship.

He, too, saw Yovanovitch as an obstacle, hindering his attempt to dig up dirt against his client’s rival in advance of the 2020 election.

“I believed that I needed Yovanovitch out of the way,” he said.

“She was going to make the investigations difficult for everybody.”

Giuliani compiled a dossier on the Bidens and Yovanovitch, which he sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and which was shared with the F.B.I. and with me.

John Solomon, a journalist, had interviewed Lutsenko for the Washington-based publication The Hill.

Giuliani promoted the project.

“I said, ‘John, let’s make this as prominent as possible,’ ” Giuliani told me.

“ ‘I’ll go on TV. You go on TV. You do columns.’ ”

Initially, Lutsenko and Giuliani seemed a perfect partnership; the meeting between them, Lutsenko told me, offered a “win-win” situation.

But by May each man felt that he had been led on by the other.

After Giuliani failed to arrange a meeting with Attorney General William Barr, who had succeeded Sessions, and Lutsenko failed to publicly announce a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens, Trump made his fateful July 25th call to the new Ukrainian leader, Volodymyr Zelensky, to request that he announce a probe into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

In September, the disclosure of Trump’s request by a whistle-blower led Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, to launch the impeachment inquiry.

Three weeks later, F.B.I. agents arrested Parnas and Fruman, who face charges of conspiracy, making false statements, and falsification of records.

The F.B.I. has now reportedly turned its attention to Giuliani.

Lutsenko’s miseries were only beginning.

On October 3rd, Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, said in a closed-door deposition, “My opinion of Prosecutor General Lutsenko was that he was acting in a self-serving manner, frankly making things up, in order to appear important to the United States, because he wanted to save his job.”

In a closed-door deposition on October 11th, Yovanovitch described Lutsenko as an “opportunist” who “will ally himself, sometimes simultaneously . . . with whatever political or economic forces he believes will suit his interests best at the time.”

On the first day of public testimony, Kent accused Lutsenko of “peddling false information in order to exact revenge” against Yovanovitch and his domestic rivals.

Lutsenko told me they were all liars.

In our conversations, which took place in the course of several weeks, he veered between self-pity and defiance.

“I gave my country so many years,” he told me one night, after his third or fourth Scotch.

“I had a good story and good results, but I became a bad person. I can’t understand it.”

Lutsenko was born in 1964 in Rivne, a city in western Ukraine, at that time part of the U.S.S.R.

His father, Vitaliy, was a top Communist Party apparatchik in the city.

Yuriy was a member of the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, but at night he listened to news broadcasts on Radio Liberty and on the Voice of America.

Sometimes his father would ask him about the headlines.

“I loved him for the intellectual freedom that he allowed us at home,” Lutsenko recalled.

In 1982, he enrolled in the Lviv Polytechnic Institute, where he studied electrical engineering.

Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow in 1985, and the Soviet government’s reform movement, perestroika, gained momentum.

Within a few years activists in western Ukraine were talking about the possibility of Ukrainian independence.

After reading the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and other dissident writers, Lutsenko began to question his father’s Communist beliefs, and, soon after the Soviet Union dissolved and Ukraine declared its independence, he became a member of the new Socialist Party.

Lutsenko worked at Gazotron, a huge electronics factory, until 1994, when the director of the plant became the governor of the Rivne region and asked Lutsenko, then thirty, to serve as his deputy.

Lutsenko liked politics, and two years later he moved to Kyiv, where, in 1999, he became the Socialist Party’s press secretary.

That same year, he launched Grani, a weekly opposition newspaper that published articles by muckraking journalists, among them Georgiy Gongadze, a harsh critic of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s second post-Soviet leader, who was seen as corrupt.

In September, 2000, Gongadze disappeared.

A few months later, his headless body was found in a forest outside Kyiv.

A leaked tape recording suggested that Kuchma was indirectly responsible for the murder—a charge he adamantly denied—and protesters gathered on the streets of Kyiv to call for a new government.

“There were seven thousand people—Communists, Socialists, Nationalists, members of the intelligentsia—who marched together,” Lutsenko recalled.

At thirty-six, he became a protest leader, and coined the famous slogan “Ukraine Without Kuchma.” 

The government put down the protests, but support grew for the opposition.

In 2002, Lutsenko won a seat in the Ukrainian parliament as a member of the Socialist Party, leading its pro-Western wing.

He believed in the Party’s agenda, but was a pragmatist.

As the final round of the 2004 national elections approached, he feared that Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, would become the next President, and so he convinced the head of the Socialist Party, Oleksandr Moroz, to back Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western politician, who had pledged to solve the Gongadze case.

In November, 2004, reports of vote-rigging in favor of Yanukovych emerged.

Public anger prompted another wave of protests, which took place on the Maidan, Kyiv’s main square.

Lutsenko again became one of the primary organizers in the movement, which became known as the Orange Revolution.

In December, 2004, Yushchenko won the Presidency, and in February, 2005, he appointed Lutsenko his Interior Minister.

“He was hailed in the local papers as an honest cop,” John Boles, a former F.B.I. special agent who served at the time as the legal attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, told me of Lutsenko.

“They made a big deal out of the fact that, when he visited the police academy, he was probably the first Minister of Interior who actually paid for his own lunch.”

In those years, U.S. officials generally viewed Lutsenko favorably, and gave him meetings with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and, briefly, with Robert Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time; a photo from the Mueller meeting was displayed outside his office.

Lutsenko set about launching investigations into Yanukovych’s allies.

One of his targets was Mykola Zlochevsky, the owner of Burisma, who had served as the head of the State Committee for Natural Resources under Kuchma.

Lutsenko suspected that Zlochevsky had abused the position, issuing illegal permits for companies to explore for mineral deposits.

But the prosecutor general’s office, widely regarded as corrupt, didn’t pursue an investigation.

Lutsenko was known as a prodigious drinker, and in 2009 he was detained at the Frankfurt airport after consuming several beers at a bar there and throwing punches at security guards.

Lutsenko described the incident as a “misunderstanding”—the guards, he said, had been rough with his teen-age son, who was with him.

At home, a television show by the popular Ukrainian comedy troupe Evening Kvartal featured a skit in which an actor playing Lutsenko wakes up in a haze at the airport, surrounded by bandaged German border guards. (One of the Germans was played by a young comedian named Volodymyr Zelensky.)

Lutsenko, who was in the studio audience when the skit was performed, was shown laughing on camera.

In the 2010 Presidential election, Lutsenko supported Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who at the time was considered a reformer.

When she lost to Yanukovych, colleagues warned Lutsenko that he was likely to be arrested, but he decided against leaving the country.

Soon after Yanukovych’s inauguration, Lutsenko was walking his dog when masked policemen surrounded him.

He was charged with several spurious crimes, including the misuse of state funds by “illegally celebrating” a holiday in honor of the police force.

He was jailed in Lukyanivska, a tsarist-era prison, where he shared a nine-square-metre cell with three other men.

Tymoshenko, accused of abusing her office, was also jailed there.

Lutsenko told me, “We were sent to a small prison, and the country was sent to a big one.”

Before he stood trial, Lutsenko went on a monthlong hunger strike, during which he lost fifty pounds.

When he talks about his time in prison, he tends to portray himself as a persecuted intellectual.

In two and a half years in prison, he said, he read “three hundred and sixty-six and a half books”—among them Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom” and Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which reminded him of his own predicament. (At the time of his release, he was halfway through a book of interviews with the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky.)

Lutsenko also read the Dhammapada, a collection of the Buddha’s teachings in verse form.

Later, a young journalist named Mustafa Nayyem published a series of interviews with him, titled “On Both Sides of the Barbed Wire.”

In the book, Lutsenko muses about his unjust imprisonment: in Buddhist texts, he says, “I read that revenge ruins the soul of the fool, the same way a diamond breaks the cliffs from whence it came. . . . I decided not to seek revenge.”

In 2013, Yanukovych took part in negotiations with the European Union over a potentially historic pact that would expand Ukraine’s ties with the West, a move that Vladimir Putin wanted to prevent.

Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the former President of Poland and a European special envoy, who had visited Lutsenko in prison, explained to Yanukovych that releasing him and other political prisoners was “one of the most important conditions” for Ukraine’s integration into the European bloc.

Lutsenko was released on April 7, 2013, and soon afterward he met with Kwaśniewski and several European ambassadors in Kyiv.

“He was a political prisoner, so, by definition, he was a hero,” Kwaśniewski recalled.

“It was absolutely obvious, in this movement against Yanukovych, that he would play an important role.”

Six months later, on November 21st, Yanukovych balked at signing the E.U. agreement and announced instead a separate pact with Moscow.

During the next few days, thousands of Ukrainians assembled on the Maidan.

Lutsenko, who was injured in the protests by riot police, was one of the most energetic participants.

“We treated him as an ally at that time,” Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a nonprofit in Kyiv, founded in 2012, recalled.

Nayyem, the journalist, added, “Expectations of him were so high not because we thought he was great, or smart, or a Nelson Mandela, but because he himself had suffered under the prosecutor-general system.”

In February, 2014, after months of protests, Yanukovych and many of his allies in the government fled Ukraine for Russia.

Before they left, they squirrelled away tens of billions of dollars in government funds in a network of private bank accounts around the world.

The country was virtually bankrupt.

Activists and journalists descended on Yanukovych’s garish residence.

Searching for clues to where his money was hidden, they retrieved thousands of documents.

Some of them had been dumped in a nearby reservoir and were hand-dried by dozens of volunteers and stored in the residence’s sauna.

In a show of support, the U.S. sent a delegation of investigators and analysts, which included F.B.I. agents.

It became clear that tracking down the country’s wealth would take years and that Ukrainian officials were ill-equipped for the task.

Ukraine’s problems grew in March, 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, and soon afterward a war broke out in the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine.

Yet it was also a time of some optimism.

In early spring, Petro Poroshenko, a financial backer of the Orange Revolution who had made a fortune in the chocolate industry, announced his candidacy for President, pledging “zero tolerance” for corruption.

Poroshenko had helped Lutsenko’s wife, Iryna, while Lutsenko was in prison, and he shared Lutsenko’s goal of integrating Ukraine into the E.U. and NATO.

Lutsenko enthusiastically backed him.

The Obama Administration saw a chance to help remake Ukraine’s government.

In April, 2014, Vice-President Biden told a group of parliamentarians that the U.S. was ready to provide financial support to Ukraine, but, he added, “you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.”

A Biden adviser told me that the Vice-President’s message was: “If you don’t get your shit together, your country is doomed.”

In May, Poroshenko won the election, and Biden attended his inauguration.

“There was a sense of guarded optimism that Poroshenko had a real chance of making some progress,” one of Biden’s aides said.

Amos Hochstein, a State Department official who worked closely with Biden on Ukraine, told me, “Our group really thought that, after the Maidan, we could create a new democracy here, clean things up.” 

Lutsenko had hoped to become the mayor of Kyiv, but, when Poroshenko backed another candidate, he ran for and won a seat in parliament, where, for a year and a half, he was the head of Poroshenko’s faction.

Biden expected swift action on corruption, and a Poroshenko adviser told me that Poroshenko indicated that “he had everything under control.”

But it was soon evident that, without a reliable majority in parliament, he was wary of offending his fellow-oligarchs in Ukraine, who, if challenged, were sure to make it difficult for him to win reëlection. 

In April, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder had announced the creation of “a dedicated Kleptocracy squad within the F.B.I.” and veteran agents were assigned to help Ukrainian investigators, including those at the prosecutor general’s office, track down the stolen billions.

That year, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office detected suspicious transactions involving around twenty-three million dollars, and opened an investigation into Zlochevsky, suspecting that he had engaged in money laundering.

The British and American teams saw the investigation as a test case for the prosecutor general’s office, which needed to provide evidence to the British to present in court.

A former U.S. law-enforcement official told me that, after an initial period of close coöperation, “the F.B.I. agents would call the prosecutors, and they wouldn’t answer their phones anymore.”

The official went on, “The agents would show up and try to meet with them, and the door would be closed. One time, one of our agents caught one of them trying to run away when they were coming to see them.”

U.S. and U.K. officials later came to believe that at least one prosecutor had taken a bribe to thwart the money-laundering case against Zlochevsky.

In the years that followed, the alleged bribe was often cited by American officials in explaining why they felt they could not trust the prosecutor general’s office.

Without coöperation from Ukraine, the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office closed the case for lack of sufficient evidence.

Lutsenko told me that, during this period, he supported Biden’s efforts, but Sergii Leshchenko, an investigative journalist who had joined Poroshenko’s bloc in parliament, said that Lutsenko had no “particular enthusiasm” for pushing through reforms.

Nevertheless, Lutsenko co-sponsored a bill that, in April, 2015, created the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (nabu), to pursue high-profile cases.

Poroshenko appointed a young lawyer named Artem Sytnyk as its director.

American officials liked Sytnyk, who seemed to have no political ambitions of his own and was committed to maintaining the new agency’s independence.

Sytnyk’s investigators were paid better than their counterparts at the prosecutor general’s office, in order to discourage them from taking bribes.

F.B.I. officials were pleased to have a partner within Ukraine, but some members of Poroshenko’s coalition were wary of the new agency, fearing that it would target them for investigation.

Leshchenko told me that he thought Lutsenko supported nabu “not as a great believer” but as a matter of obligation.

Lutsenko said that pressure from Ukrainian anti-corruption groups and from the U.S., the E.U., and the International Monetary Fund to act fast resulted in Poroshenko and his allies passing laws that gave more power and independence to nabu than they really wanted it to have.

“But, given the situation, with this hole in our budget, we passed the laws anyway,” he said.

Some American officials had reason to suspect that Poroshenko’s pro-reform stance was an example of pokazukha, a Ukrainian term that means “something that is just for show.”

The Obama Administration’s doubts about Poroshenko deepened in 2015, when he chose an old-school prosecutor and friend, Viktor Shokin, to be the new prosecutor general.

Perhaps to reassure the Americans, Poroshenko also nominated David Sakvarelidze, a respected anti-corruption expert, to lead a new internal-affairs unit charged with investigating misconduct within the prosecutor general’s office.

But tensions soon erupted between Sakvarelidze and Shokin.

When the internal-affairs unit launched a sting operation against a friend of Shokin’s, Shokin cracked down on Sakvarelidze’s team, prompting anti-corruption activists to protest.

Geoffrey Pyatt, at that time the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, publicly sided with Sakvarelidze, delivering a blunt speech in Odessa in which he singled out for criticism the prosecutor general’s office.

Later, U.S. officials learned that Shokin’s allies had tried to get Pyatt recalled, planting a fake news story claiming that Biden had agreed to his removal.

The F.B.I. was fed up with Shokin, and decided to shift its support to nabu.

In December, 2015, Biden gave a speech to the Ukrainian parliament: “It’s not enough to set up a new anti-corruption bureau and establish a special prosecutor fighting corruption. The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform.”

Biden threatened to block a billion dollars in I.M.F. loan guarantees to Ukraine unless Poroshenko fired Shokin.

Poroshenko resisted, but, one of his former advisers told me, “there was no other option, and we were hitting deadlines. He had to dismiss Shokin because of the money.”

Before Shokin left, he fired Sakvarelidze and opened an investigation into Vitaliy Kasko, a respected young prosecutor who worked under Sakvarelidze. 

The relationship between Lutsenko and the anti-corruption activists began to sour.

Lutsenko told me that the activists, who were treated by the international community as “heroes,” were turning the Americans against him and his colleagues.

Daria Kaleniuk, of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, said, “What irritated Lutsenko was that the I.M.F., the E.U., and other foreign partners trusted our analysis and doubted the true intentions of parliament and the President.”

Volodymyr Chemerys, a former Lutsenko ally, said that Lutsenko represented a familiar archetype: the child of late-Soviet Communist nomenklatura, devoid of ideological belief, who thinks of power as a natural birthright.

“It’s clear to me now that Yuriy wasn’t driven by any civic or political motives but rather the pursuit of power and fame,” Chemerys said.

In April, 2016, a delegation of Ukrainian lawmakers visited Japan.

Lutsenko told me that, during the trip, Poroshenko asked him if he would be the new prosecutor general: “I said, ‘That’s fucking crazy, but I like it.’ ”

Lutsenko compared the challenge he faced in the job to repairing a Soviet-era jalopy while driving it on the highway.

Still, Valentyna Telychenko, a prominent Ukrainian lawyer who briefly advised Lutsenko in the prosecutor general’s office at the start of his term, told me, “Lutsenko was very optimistic. He and almost everyone else in Ukraine knew, at that time, that the prosecutorial system was absolutely unhealthy.”

Shortly before Lutsenko was made prosecutor general, Sytnyk, the head of nabu, told journalists, “I believe this appointment is our last chance both for the prosecutor’s office and for all of Ukraine.”

Lutsenko was not a lawyer, and American diplomats and law-enforcement officials had hoped that the job would go to a proven reformer.

“The Americans preferred people from their list, and I was not on their list,” Lutsenko said.

Lutsenko made no secret of the fact that he aspired to be Prime Minister, if not President.

In May, 2016, he joined Poroshenko and other prominent politicians at a memorial service honoring victims of the Soviet secret police.

A foreign diplomat who attended told me that Ukrainians there seemed to be more interested in talking to Lutsenko than to Poroshenko.

Lutsenko was “a political rock star,” the diplomat said.

“He was young, irreverent, glib-speaking, and really mixing it up with people. People responded to that.”

Before Lutsenko’s appointment was approved, he met three times with George Kent, the U.S. Embassy’s deputy chief of mission.

Kent reported back to his colleagues in Washington that he believed the U.S. government could work with Lutsenko.

One of Poroshenko’s advisers told me that he cautioned Ambassador Pyatt against jumping to conclusions.

The adviser said, “The Americans made the mistake of putting everyone in two baskets—the good guys and the bad guys. Sorry, guys! There are gray guys, and there are gray guys.”

Lutsenko told me he knew that it would be difficult to institute fundamental change.

“But he believed he could make it a bit better,” Valentyna Telychenko told me.

The activists called for an overhaul, demanding that the prosecutor general’s office focus on prosecuting criminals and that it transfer its investigators, who were seen by the F.B.I. as “attack dogs,” to other Ukrainian law-enforcement bodies.

One activist, Oleksii Grytsenko, recalled, “We said that if there are serious reforms we will be allies. If there will be no reforms, we will do everything so that he leaves in disgrace.”

The Obama Administration urged Lutsenko to replace Shokin’s team.

When Lutsenko resisted “cleaning house,” and failed to deliver on other changes favored by the Americans, the U.S. Embassy’s hopes for coöperation with the prosecutor general’s office began to fade.

In August, 2016, some of Lutsenko’s men discovered that, as part of an undercover investigation, nabu operatives were surveilling a facility used by the prosecutor general’s office.

An encounter between members of the two agencies on a Kyiv street near the facility turned into a brawl, and two nabu operatives were detained by the prosecutor general’s office.

One of them said later that he was beaten while in custody and that an interrogator had threatened him with a knife, smashed his finger, and demanded that he provide the password to unlock his laptop computer. (Lutsenko defended the conduct of his staff by saying that the nabu agents had failed to show proper identification.)

Bohdan Vitvitsky, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who served as Lutsenko’s special adviser within the Embassy, upbraided Lutsenko: “This is why God created doors. You settle this kind of shit behind closed doors.”

Nabu accused the prosecutor general’s office of “torturing” its staff, and protests broke out in which anti-corruption activists, including Mustafa Nayyem, the journalist who wrote the book about Lutsenko, chanted their support for Sytnyk and denounced Lutsenko.

A friend of Lutsenko’s later witnessed a confrontation between him and Nayyem.

“It was clear that Mustafa had invested his heart in the relationship and was now angry, and saying, ‘You betrayed me,’ ” the friend recalled.

Vitvitsky attempted to improve relations between Lutsenko and Sytnyk by arranging dinners for them so that they could air their grievances.

But before one of the dinners Sytnyk gave an interview in which he criticized Lutsenko and the prosecutor general’s office, prompting Vitvitsky to dress him down in front of his colleagues.

“For fuck’s sake, you don’t do something like that,” Vitvitsky told Sytnyk.

“If you’ve gotta bitch, come to the meeting and say whatever you want to say. But you can’t publicly trash a fellow law-enforcement institution.”

Rumors spread within the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv that Vitvitsky was “too close” to Lutsenko, and his contract was later cancelled, increasing Lutsenko’s sense of isolation.

At every level, American officials were frustrated by their Ukrainian counterparts’ refusal to investigate and prosecute corruption and self-dealing among government officials and the business class.

In September, 2016, Biden’s team learned that Poroshenko planned to allow the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade to take over a state-owned Ukrainian pipeline company, Ukrtransgaz, a move that was seen by the Americans as “a highly corrupt act,” benefitting a Poroshenko ally.

Marie Yovanovitch, who had just arrived in Kyiv as the U.S. Ambassador, met with the Prime Minister, Volodymyr Groysman, who told her that the Ukrainian government would “suspend” the transfer of the pipeline company. “

And Masha says, ‘I don’t know the Ukrainian legal system, but in the U.S. legal system there is no such thing as “suspend,” ’ ” a participant at the meeting recalled. “ ‘There is a move which is called “cancel.” ’ Masha was very tough.”

In a separate meeting, according to a Biden aide, the Vice-President lost his temper with Poroshenko.

The aide said that, when Poroshenko tried to blame Groysman, “Biden was just, like, ‘Enough. Everything that happens in Ukraine, you know about it. This is bullshit. If you do it again, you’ve lost me. That’s it. I’m done.’ ”

A Poroshenko adviser told me, “The relationship, at that point, cracked.”

In October, 2016, Lutsenko and Yovanovitch met at the prosecutor general’s office.

According to Lutsenko and a former aide of his, Yovanovitch had recently learned that Lutsenko’s office was investigating Vitaliy Kasko, the young prosecutor who had worked with David Sakvarelidze in the internal-affairs unit under Shokin.

She explained that she and other American officials believed that there were other people who should be a higher priority for investigation.

If Lutsenko was committed to reforms, she said, he should look closely at whether some of his own prosecutors were part of the corruption problem. (Yovanovitch declined to talk to me for this story.) 

Source: The New Yorker