Fake news was not invented by Russian President Vladimir Putin and did not first appear in 2014.
Joseph Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders hid and covered up the Holodomor for five decades and the USSR conducted disinformation for decades before the arrival of social media and Russia.
Ukrainian politicians have also been very good at disinformation, saying different things to different audiences at home and abroad.
President Leonid Kravchuk walked through the raindrops (as the joke went) and hoodwinked Boris Yeltsin with the help of copious amounts of vodka into dismantling the USSR.
President Leonid Kuchma was famous for his “multi-vector” foreign policy which was pro-Russian during winter and pro-NATO in the spring.
President Viktor Yushchenko was a specialist in speaking for hours and not saying anything remotely interesting or staying on topic.
Meanwhile, President and “Proffessor” Viktor Yanukovych mixed up names and although illiterate, his election program was believed by millions of eastern Ukrainians to such an extent that one Donetsk district gave him 127 percent support in the Donbas in the 2004 elections.
In our post-Donald J. Trump era of fake news, Russian electoral interference and Paul Manafort investigations, stories involving former members of Congress renting a room in the Capitol for a fake hearing are often buried by the mainstream media. Yes, that’s right, a fake hearing on Capitol Hill, broadcast live by Ukrainian television, headlined by Ukrainians and Americans with ties to Russia, and featuring the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
This fake hearing in the U.S. Congress was paid by the Industrial Union of Donbas oligarch Serhiy Taruta. In Ukrainian politics, Taruta and ISD have long been financial supporters of Tymoshenko and during the 2010 elections loaned the Hyatt Regency hotel to be used as her election campaign headquarters.
The Sept. 25, 2017, event in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, Room HC 8, was ostensibly a panel discussion, organized by former member of Congress and current lobbyist Connie Mack and featuring former CIA Director James Woolsey and Taruta. The purpose of the fake hearing was to review allegations of money laundering by officials of the National Bank of Ukraine. Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchina party supported the same allegations of corruption in the Ukrainian parliament as those raised in the fake hearing. Oligarch Taruta, the main Ukrainian mouthpiece for the event and a former governor of Donetsk, was closely aligned with Tymoshenko for the dismissal of National Bank head Valeria Gontareva.
Ukraine’s NewsOne television broadcast the event live and categorized it as a hearing of the “U.S. Congressional Committee on Financial Issues,” a non-existent entity. According to the Weekly Standard, NewsOne presented it as follows: “The highest levels of corruption in the NBU are known by the US Congressional Committee on Financial Issues…Shocking details and resonant details – live streaming on NewsOne! Turn on at 21:00-live from Washington, D.C.”
The closest House body to NewsOne’s fictitious committee is the United States House Committee on Financial Services, for which former Congressman Mack never served on before his failed senatorial bid.
As Jeff Birnbaum, president of BGR Public Relations stated: “Why else would Mr. Mack invite a Ukrainian television crew to an event in the Capitol if not to make it seem like it was a real hearing? Officials of the Ukraine government and its central bank complained publicly about the event and the assertions that were made at it.”
According to a USA Today report, throughout the hearing, Mack wore his congressional lapel pin and referred to Congress as “we,” which was an obvious attempt to imply the event was an official event of the U.S. Congress. While Mack denied these assertions, Birnbaum added: “Former Congressman Mack’s denial about referring to himself as a current congressman is contradicted by what is recorded as having said at the event, according to news reports. The event was called a congressional hearing on Ukrainian television, those reports added.”
Mack’s registered client for the event was Interconnection S.A., which the former congressman lobbied his former colleagues on behalf of to “raise awareness of corruption in the National Bank of Ukraine”. Interestingly, Interconnection S.A. has its own issues with corruption and transparency, since it is registered and conducts banking in Latvia, a notorious hub of Russian money laundering on a level with offshore tax havens Cyprus and Lichtenstein.
Also, in attendance was Oleksandr Zavadetskyym a former National Bank director of registration and licensing.
Taruta and Zavadetskyy primarily discussed the findings of the report “HONTAREVA: Combatting Corruption in the National Bank of Ukraine.”
VoxCheck, a Ukrainian nongovernmental organization and think tank with impeccable pro-reform credentials, analyzed the report and wrote, “VoxCheck has checked most of the facts from the Taruta brochure and has discovered that the data, though mostly correct, are manipulated in almost all occasions.” In other words, fake news, hyperbole, and populism have been blended together to suit the political and election goals of Taruta and his parliamentary ally Tymoshenko.
A fake congressional hearing, headlined by a former congressman and CIA Director and Ukrainian oligarch who sold ISD to Russian oligarchs with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2010 elections and broadcast live by Ukrainian news should be sufficient for further investigation by congressional oversight or the special counsel.
But the participation of Woolsey opens up other cans of worms. Woolsey, who was a member of the Trump transition team, also had ties to disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was dismissed and has agreed to give evidence to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Knowing Flynn’s Russia connections, his propensity to take Russian money connected to lobbying contracts and Woolsey’s reputation around Washington to charge exorbitant fees for consulting services, it is certainly within the realm of possibility that this event was paid for and stage managed by senior Russian interests as part of Russia’s and Putin’s information war against Ukraine.
The conservative Weekly Standard best sums up the bizarre nature of Woolsey’s appearance and the fake hearing with these comments from a Senate aide “with knowledge of the event” who said “It was a strange, strange event. Even by Ukrainian standards, that was an odd one… I mean, why would a former CIA director be in the basement of the Capitol for an inter-oligarch dispute? [Former] CIA directors don’t just go to events and say how much we could get along with the Russians. They don’t do that without a reason.”
Researching and writing about Ukrainian and Russian politics has always required more than education in political science. There is also a need to possess a zest for the theatrical, love of comedy and psychological strength to accept the bizarre. But, this fake event trumps it all: a fake congressional hearing by a Ukrainian oligarch working to pursue the same political goals as a longstanding Ukrainian populist politician in cahoots with American leaders who are seeking an alliance with Russia.
Now, let’s see if any Kyiv Post readers can Trump that one…
Taras Kuzio is a non-resident fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins-SAIS and the author of “Putin’s War Against Ukraine” and joint author of “The Sources of Russia’s Great Power Politics: Ukraine and the Challenge to the European Order.”