Now You Know How Weird This Whole Ukraine Thing Really Is
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Now You Know How Weird This Whole Ukraine Thing Really Is

TV Game Show Host Meets Meets Sitcom Star, Toss In an Oligarch or Two, Impeachment Hijinks Ensue

Dana Kennedy

Everyone understands a blow job.

Same goes for a botched Washington, D.C., hotel room break-in by a bunch of political operatives. Not hard to picture.

But if it weren’t for a TV star-turned-president—and we’re not talking about Donald Trump—the ballooning impeachment scandal involving Ukraine, a country few Americans could find on a map, would be so tedious and complex that it risks annoying, not galvanizing, much of the populace.

Zelenskyy is also known for working with a comedy troupe; one of his skits involves him playing piano with his penis.

Whether you love or hate Trump, the specter of his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, hysterically brandishing a sheaf of affidavits from obscure Ukrainian prosecutors with impossible-to-remember names—who may or may not have dropped dimes on Joe and Hunter Biden—in front of a bemused George Stephanopoulos on ABC News would make anyone change the channel.

Same goes for the lawyerly and lengthy whistleblower complaint. To anyone buying a burger in Cedar Rapids or riding a motorcycle in Austin, it’s way too dry and inside baseball, lacking anything on par with a stained blue dress.

In the absence of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky or even the Watergate burglars, how to focus an electorate whose opinions could sway their representatives in Congress when it comes time to vote on articles of impeachment?

Playing President on TV

Enter 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a comedian elected to the Ukrainian presidency this year to clean things up in the famously lawless country—after playing an idealistic teacher on a TV sitcom who was elected to the Ukrainian presidency to root out corruption. Zelenskyy is also known for working with a comedy troupe; one of his skits involves him playing piano with his penis.

Tom Cruise, of all people, met with Zelenskyy Monday night in Kyiv apparently to discuss possible film locations for a future movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  Footage released by Zelenskyy’s office showed the two men enjoying each other’s company.  Zelenskyy told Cruise he was “good looking” and the actor responded that, “it pays the rent.”

The U.S. impeachment inquiry stems from a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskyy. Trump critics say he asked Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on his political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, after putting a $400 million military aid package to Ukraine on hold.

The Biden controversy centers on Hunter Biden who joined the board of Burisma Holdings in Ukraine where he was paid about $50,000 a month five years ago. Trump believes that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine’s top prosecutor to kill an investigation into Burisma, an allegation that has not been substantiated, according to The Washington Post.

Much has been made of the surreal, life-imitating-art aspect of Zelenskyy’s show, “Servant of the People,” which ran for three seasons. Vasyl, the TV character, was elected with 67% of the vote. Zelenskyy himself got 73% of the vote to become the real president of Ukraine.

“Since being elected Ukraine’s president in real life last April, Zelenskyy has often made it difficult for observers to understand whether he’s as idealistic as his fictional alter ego or a cynical protector of the status quo,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

That’s an understatement.

Ukraine is one of the world’s most corrupt nations, run by mainly ruthless oligarchs enabled by the ruling elite who control the country’s considerable resources and assets. It’s the kind of place where high crimes and misdemeanors are as common as cups of coffee.

So far Zelenskyy’s been portrayed as little more than a lucky clown with the right backers who got elected just in time to find himself the unwitting catalyst for the possible implosion of the Trump presidency.

Behind the Scenes

But what if there was more? What if Zelenskyy’s boss was a Bond-esque villain, one of the richest and shadiest men in the world, a guy so tough that he crushed Russian separatists with his own paramilitary units, called 5 foot-7 Russian President Vladimir Putin a “schizophrenic dwarf,” allegedly ordered contract killings and often fed a live shark in a massive aquarium in his office to intimidate guests?

Ihor Kolomoisky

That’s Ihor Kolomoisky, the oligarch worth an estimated $1.2 billion who owns the TV network that ran Zelenskyy’s “Servant of the People,” a show that frequently made fun of and challenged oligarchs just like… Kolomoisky.

Kolomoisky’s reach is enormous—and includes the rusting steel mills of the industrial Midwest of the United States, many of which he bought up to corner the global ferroalloy market, according to The Kyiv Post.

“Court filings reveal that Kolomoisky was divvying up and fighting over the rusting U.S. steel mills with other Ukrainian oligarchs—in the same way that they fought over Ukraine’s Soviet-built industrial plants in the 1990s and 2000s,” The Kyiv Post reported. “One deal, involving Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, bled into the sale of a Warren, Ohio, steel mill.”

Trump should be paying attention to an ongoing FBI investigation of Kolomoisky that involves possible financial crimes here, including money laundering, according to The Daily Beast.

Kolomoisky also allegedly managed to move $5.5 billion from his Ukraine bank, PrivatBank, which he founded in the 1990s, to a “branch” in Cyprus before it was nationalized in 2016 after years of fraud. (One of the Ukrainian banking reform officials who pushed to nationalize PrivatBank resigned after a coffin turned up on her doorstep.)

Kolomoisky fled to Israel and Switzerland shortly thereafter. Zelenskyy often flew to visit him in Geneva and Tel Aviv, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.

“I think Kolomoisky is super-dangerous,” Jonathan Brunson, a former staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv told The Daily Beast. “He is probably one of the most dangerous oligarchs because he’s one of the ones who are willing to get his hands dirty.”

‘As Threatening as Alan Alda’

So even though Zelenskyy was portrayed in western media as a wide-eyed naif hoping to flatter the unpredictable American president during the infamous July 25 phone call into giving him financial aid for Ukraine, the reality is that Trump must have seemed about as threatening to him as Alan Alda.

Zelenskyy, who used a bulletproof Mercedes during his campaign that was registered to a business associate of both his and Kolomoisky, has denied claims that he is a “puppet” of Kolomoisky.

But it would seem as if his election was all Kolomoisky needed to triumphantly return to the motherland—which he did as soon as Zelenskyy became president.

One of Zelenskyy’s key advisers on his campaign and now in his administration is Andrei Bogdan, a former adviser to Kolomoisky.

During their first, face-to-face meeting last week at the United Nations, Zelenskyy told Trump he didn’t want to be involved in U.S. elections.

Ironically, if Ukraine ever turns on Zelenskyy, he will have himself to blame if he gets turned out of office. In yet another meta irony, Slate reported that Zelenskyy fulfilled a campaign promise earlier this month by signing a bill that allows Ukrainian presidents to be removed from office via… impeachment proceedings.

Featured image: Screengrab from the Ukranian TV comedy series, “Servant of the People,” in which Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy portrays teacher Vasiliy Petrovich Goloborodko, who is elected president of Ukraine as a reformer. (Netflix)

October 3, 2019