‘He has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.’ So once said Robert Gates, the former US defence secretary, of the now president Joe Biden. We don’t yet know if Biden is wrong about the current Ukraine crisis. We may be about to find out.
His speech on Tuesday was at least competent, if not entirely coherent. ‘Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called ‘countries’ on territory that belongs to his neighbours?’ asked the president, in one of his now all-too-familiarly infirm attempts to sound firm.
Yet Biden said his administration, and the broader Nato alliance, are ‘clear-eyed’ and ‘united’ in response the challenge Putin has thrown down. He said the world is witnessing ‘the beginning of an invasion’ of Ukraine and that the West’s punitive sanctions against Russia will go ‘far beyond’ what had previously been suggested.
He also stated that additional US forces would be deployed in the Baltic States to defend ‘every inch’ of Nato territory. ‘I’m hoping diplomacy is still available,’ Biden concluded. ‘Thank you very much.’
It was a short speech, as most Biden addresses are these days, and perhaps a pleasing contrast to the sinister, unhinged ramblings of the Russian leader in Moscow yesterday. As Biden trotted off, journalists shouted after him asking if he would meet Vladimir Putin in the coming days.
What’s peculiar is that nobody seems able or willing to ask Joe Biden about his complicated familial connections to Ukraine. That is a Trumpist talking point, after all, and nobody wants to be accused of peddling those. Donald Trump was impeached, you may remember, in 2019 for allegedly attempting to coerce the Ukrainian government into giving over information that might have been damaging to Biden, the man he would soon face in the 2020 presidential election.
But just because Trump dug for that dirt doesn’t mean that dirt isn’t there. After the insanity of Russiagate, the Democratic attempt to bring down Trump over his ties to Russia, you can see why Trump might have wanted to wage his own Ukrainegate against Biden. Trump and his media booster love to say ‘what if Trump’ when it comes to the media’s coverage of Biden, so much so it is tiresome. But when it comes to Ukraine and Biden it’s a game worth playing.
What if Donald Trump’s son had been paid one million dollars a year by a shady Ukrainian energy company? Wouldn’t the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and even the dear old BBC now be talking about little else? What if Donald Trump’s brother had received a considerable loan from an entity controlled by a businessman with substantial ties to Ukraine? You know the answer.
Yet that is exactly the case with Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States, and almost nobody outside the barmier fringes of the American right bothers to worry about it.
We heard the word ‘kompromat’ a lot in the Trump years. It was used to suggest Putin and his cronies had compromising information on the US president — a ‘pee tape’ involving prostitutes or details of Trump’s financial shenanigans — which they could use as leverage to get what they wanted. But the ‘smoking gun’ of the Trump-Russia inquiry never emerged.
Surely, though, there should be just a little more curiosity among more journalists about Biden’s chequered history with Ukraine and who might know what about it.
When tensions flared in Kiev and the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, Biden took the White House lead as he did on most foreign policy issues (he travelled there six times as vice president). At around the time, as chance would have it and as Politico’s Ben Schreckinger has expertly detailed in his book The Bidens, Joe’s son Hunter, a drug addict with absolutely no qualifications whatsoever for the role other than perhaps his surname, was on the board of the Ukrainian company Burisma. The founder of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, was then under considerable suspicion for corruption – one State Department employee in Kiev called him a ‘poster child for corrupt behaviour.’
In 2016, Biden’s brother James was also given $500,000 (£360,000) by a family friend called John Hynansky, a successful American entrepreneur with strong ties to his Ukrainian motherland. In 2011, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US federal agency, had authorised up to $20 million (£14 million) to Hynansky’s Winner Automative Group to expand its dealerships selling snazzy cars in Ukraine.
Let’s be clear: there is no evidence that the Bidens have been corrupt in their dealings with Ukraine. But there are quite a few strange connections and questions which America’s First Family probably should answer more thoroughly. Why aren’t they under more pressure to do so?
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