Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko aims a rifle during his visit to a demonstration of new weapons for the Ukrainian armed forces at a military base outside Kiev July 26, 2014. Picture taken July 26, 2014.REUTERS/Mykola Lazarenko /Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS


The Trump Administration bartered the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine to bury a potentially damaging investigation of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The US Defence Security Cooperation Agency announced late on Thursday February 1 that it was formally certifying the sale of 210 Javelin anti-tank missiles and 37 launch units to Ukraine to help the country deter offensives by Russian-backed militia in the eastern region.

The decision, first announced on December 12 last year, went further even than the Ukraine-friendly Obama administration had been prepared to do in supplying lethal weapons to the conflict.

The sale was puzzling given President Donald Trump’s long-standing public admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and the lengths that his administration has gone to slow down sanctions against Russia.

Support for Ukraine was the one item in the Republican platform that was weakened at the convention in Cleveland in July 2016 apparently at the direction of the Trump campaign.

However, the backstory of the decision to sell the weapons is connected to a lobbying effort by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko get into the good graces of the Trump administration by offering to shut down the investigation in Kiev into corruption charges against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Thus, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is not the only investigation that Trump has attempted to derail – except in this case he appears to have succeeded.

Three highly placed sources in Ukraine have confirmed that Ukraine effectively killed an investigation into Manafort for corruption following a meeting at the White House between Trump and Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko in June 2017.

And then in a major surprise, on December 12 Trump approved the sale of $350 million of military assistance to Ukraine, including the delivery of the anti-tank missiles.

The Ukrainian sources deemed this a quid pro quo for moving the investigation of Manafort’s activities in Ukraine from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau to a special prosecutor’s office under the control of Poroshenko, where it was buried.

The deal was, according to the sources, secretly negotiated by two of Trump’s Brooklyn based associates with links to the Ukraine.

The meeting between the two leaders – and the apparent quashing of the charges in Ukraine – happened before Manafort was indicted by Mueller last year for a range of financial and lobbying crimes. The charges against Manafort were escalated in February this year.

For Poroshenko it was a desperate attempt to prevent Russia from persuading the US to withdraw support Ukraine, a move which would have been a massive blow.

During the US presidential campaign the Ukraine government had miscalculated, believed that Hillary Clinton would win and encouraging the leaking of incriminating information on Manafort’s activities in Ukraine while he worked for the extremely corrupt pro-Putin President Yanukovich.

Manafort became the subject of an investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which threatened to also expose his close links to the Kremlin and Russian intelligence agencies.

After Trump’s victory Poroshenko and his immediate circle decided that Ukraine needed to act fast and Poroshenko sought to meet Trump before Trump’s meeting with Putin.

According to three Ukrainian officials the task of ensuring that the Poroshenko—Trump summit happened fell to Boris Lozhkin, former head of Poroshenko’s administration who is still viewed as the eminence gris of Ukrainian politics and is known for his behind the scene deals.

According to the same sources, Lozhkin reached out to the two Trump associates from Brooklyn known for their ties to Ukraine and Russia and they worked out a deal: Trump would have a “sort of” meeting with Poroshenko. The latter would be walked into a room at the White House where Trump was sitting and they would have a small talk and a photo opportunity. Trump would promise to deliver lethal weapons in exchange for Poroshenko killing the investigation on Manafort in Ukraine.

Just several hours before the meeting the Ukrainian side believed the meeting between the two leaders would not last for more than 10 minutes as Trump did not want to antagonize Putin. One Ukrainian official connected to Poroshenko’s inner circle privately complained that the behind the scenes arrangement on the Trump-Poroshenko meeting was highly irregular.

To conceal the true purpose of the meeting the Ukrainian government used official channels for preparation of the summit.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also leaked to the media information showing that the Foundation for Support of Reforms in Ukraine, an NGO close to the government of Ukraine, retained the Washington DC-based firm BGR Government Affairs, LLC for lobbying purposes.

Under the agreement, payments to BGR were authorized from March 31, 2017, to December 31, 2017, for a total of $618,000. The sources of financing of the Ukrainian Foundation are unknown as the Foundation has not disclosed this information.

On the other hand, a document published by the US Government shows that BGR was actually retained by the “Government of Ukraine” with an address at 11 Bankova Str. 01220, Kyiv, Ukraine, which is the location of the administration of the President of Ukraine.

Sources in the government of Ukraine told that although the work on formalities of the meetings had been done through the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US Embassy in Kiev, the most important and sensitive part of the summit arrangement had been managed by Boris Lozhkin and his contacts in the Trump circle.

One source with direct access to President Poroshenko said that, through Lozhkin,“Poroshenko first tried to buy a full-fledged state visit” to DC. When that did not work, he used his trump card — he pledged to shut down the Manafort investigation in Ukraine. This helped him get a “sort of meeting.”

The meeting between Trump and Poroshenko took place on June 20, 2017, and lasted about 30 minutes, more than the Ukrainian side had anticipated.

However, after the meeting there was no joint press-conference and Poroshenko appeared before the journalists alone. He denied that he had discussed the shipment of Javelin anti-tank misses to Ukraine with Trump. But he confirmed that they had discussed delivery of non-lethal weapons for electronic warfare. Trump did not make any public statements on the substance of the meeting.

Almost immediately after Poroshenko’s return to Kiev, the investigation into Manafort’s activities in Ukraine under President Yanukovich was transferred from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) where Manafort was investigated for corruption, to the Special anti-corruption prosecutor’s office chaired by Nazar Kholodnitsky. Unlike NABU, Kholodnitsky office is under the tight control of Poroshenko.

On June 27, Kholodnitsky scrapped the investigation and issued a startling statement that the fact that Manafort had received $17 million from Yanukovich’s Party of Regions did not prove corruption, that there were no incriminating facts in Ukraine on Manafort, and that Manafort could not be investigated by NABU or by ACB because he was not a Ukrainian citizen.

Several members of the Ukrainian parliament from President Poroshenko’s party told that this move was the payoff for Poroshenko’s meeting with Trump.

On December 12, President Trump approved a defense budget for 2018, which included $350 million of military assistance to Ukraine including delivery of American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has long sought to boost its defenses against tanks that have rolled through eastern Ukraine during violence that has killed more than 10,000 since 2014.

Previously, the U.S. provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and has let private companies sell some small arms like rifles.

In a Facebook posting on Thursday, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko said: “I’m thankful to President Donald J. Trump and his entire team for supporting Ukraine in this important and historic decision . . . Only unity and solidarity will stop the Russian aggressor and preserve the Free World from his maniac ambitions!”

Russia, which denies US and Ukrainian claims it occupied Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region after annexing Crimea in 2014, warned late last year that the US “crossed the line” by arming Ukraine.

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