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19 Nov, 2019 22:25

Ukraine interfering in US elections is not a ‘Russian narrative’ but a US media one

Ukraine interfering in US elections is not a ‘Russian narrative’ but a US media one

Mainstream US media outlets and impeachment witness Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman have called stories of Ukrainian influence in the 2016 US election a conspiracy theory pushed by Russian president. Evidence shows otherwise.

Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, Vindman – a National Security Council staffer – argued that any Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election is “a Russian narrative promoted by [President Vladimir] Putin,” rejected by the entire US intelligence community.

This appears to be a reference to what President Donald Trump brought up in the July phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky – which Vindman raised alarms about – involving a “server” supposedly physically located in Ukraine and somehow involved in the alleged hack into the Democratic National Committee emails. It was unclear from the transcript of the call whether Trump was referring to the actual DNC server that US authorities were never allowed to examine, or a server from which the alleged hack originated.

Rather than being a “Russian narrative,” however, the story about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election has been widely reported in mainstream US outlets – the same ones that have pushed the “Russian meddling” conspiracy for years. It doesn't deal with the server, either, but with Ukrainian officials releasing documents to hurt Trump.

In December 2018, a court in Ukraine convicted two officials – parliamentarian Sergey Leshchenko and Director of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) Artem Sytnyk – for releasing the documents in 2016 showing payments made to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who had worked as a lobbyist for Ukraine’s previous government.

Sytnik’s release of the documents “resulted in meddling in the electoral process of the United States in 2016 and damaged the national interests of Ukraine,” said the Kiev District Administrative Court, according to the New York Times

In July this year, the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeals overruled that verdict on two technicalities – after Leshchenko argued that the statute of limitations in the case had expired and that the MP who filed the case, Boryslav Rozenblat, lacked standing. That’s according to the Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian newspaper.

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Far from promoting the narrative of Ukrainian meddling, however, when asked about it in July, Putin seemed to dismiss it as actions of individual oligarchs. He refused to speculate whether anti-Trump activities were a government effort. 

I do not think that this could be interpreted as interference by Ukraine.

It was US officials critical of the Trump presidency who seemed to agree with the Russian president over the course of the impeachment hearings – repeatedly shrugging off any suggestion that any actions by the Ukrainians might have amounted to influencing the election. 

Marie Yovanovitch, US ambassador to Ukraine recalled by Trump this spring, said she “didn’t believe the charges” against Leshchenko and Sytnyk and thought them “politically motivated” – echoing Leshchenko’s arguments. State Department official George Kent confirmed he was “aware of pressure” by the US embassy on Ukrainian authorities to drop the investigations into Leshchenko and Sytnik. He did not think this was inappropriate, though. 

Asked about an anti-Trump op-ed by Ukraine’s ambassador to Washington and social media comments by Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov, Vindman rejected the notion this was meddling, arguing that real instances of election interference were “not open public displays.” 

Rather than being clearly defined, it appears that both “election interference” and “improper” impeachable conduct are entirely in the eye of the beholder – in this case, the US officials knee-deep in the impeachment proceedings.

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