Ukrainian Political Shake-up Involves Figures in U.S. Impeachment

Ukrainian Political Shake-up Involves Figures in U.S. Impeachment

MOSCOW — Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, fired his chief of staff on Tuesday in a personnel shake-up affecting central figures on the Ukrainian side of the events leading to the impeachment trial of President Trump.

The shuffle in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, offered fresh evidence of how deeply entangled Ukrainian and American politics have become.

The new chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, negotiated last summer with President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, as Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine to start investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump politically. Mr. Yermak, who at the time was a senior presidential adviser on foreign policy, has sought to maintain good ties with the Trump administration.

The man he replaced, Andriy Bohdan, a former lawyer for the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, reportedly became chief of staff last year over Mr. Giuliani’s objections. Mr. Giuliani was at odds with Mr. Kolomoisky at the time, but later pivoted to working with Kolomoisky associates in his search for evidence against Mr. Trump’s political enemies.

Yet the shake-up appears to have more to do with Ukraine’s internal workings — specifically, a growing clash between Mr. Zelensky’s administration and Mr. Kolomoisky, a billionaire with oil, television and real estate holdings who was implicated in a major banking scandal.

Mr. Yermak’s name popped up often in the House impeachment investigation. In talks and text message exchanges with him, Mr. Giuliani and United States diplomats sought an announcement of Ukrainian investigations, including one into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family, while withholding a White House visit and military assistance.

Mr. Yermak later sought to smooth relations during the impeachment hearings. After Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified that he had told Mr. Yermak that military aid was “likely” linked to the announcement of investigations — a key accusation in the Democrats’ case — Mr. Yermak told a journalist he didn’t remember this part of the conversation. The comment bolstered Mr. Trump’s defense.

“Yermak tries to present himself as a person who can negotiate with the Americans,” Volodymyr Yermolenko, the editor of Ukraine World magazine, said in a telephone interview, a stance that could help in his new role.

Before running for office last year, Mr. Zelensky was a comedian starring in a television show on a station owned by Mr. Kolomoisky, and their relationship is seen as pivotal in Ukrainian politics. The president, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, has had to fend off allegations that he was a tool of the oligarch.

Mr. Kolomoisky has annoyed officials in Mr. Zelensky’s government by opposing a land reform measure and an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The I.M.F. deal delivered billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, though it harmed Mr. Kolomoisky’s business interests.

His allies pushed back on social media, mocking supporters of the I.M.F. deal and broad economic overhauls as “Sorosaty,” a word derived from the billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ last name. In Ukrainian, it rhymes with piglet.

“Kolomoisky is a toxic figure in the West,” Mr. Yermolenko said, and Mr. Zelensky seems to be inching toward easing his allies out of government.

One sign of this conflict came into view this month, when agents of the domestic intelligence agency searched the office of a close ally of Mr. Kolomoisky, Oleksandr Dubinsky, in relation to a scandal involving wiretapping.

Separately, Mr. Yermak and Mr. Bohdan, the Kolomoisky associate, were reportedly at odds over appointments to the Kyiv city administration. And some in the Zelensky team had grown dissatisfied with Mr. Bohdan’s handling of reform legislation in Parliament, which has become bogged down, the magazine Novoye Vremya reported.

Though the reasons for sidelining Mr. Kolomoisky may be domestic, they could also resonate in American politics. Mr. Kolomoisky has been an on-again, off-again ally of Mr. Giuliani in his efforts in Ukraine.

Last spring, they were at odds, and through an associate, Lev Parnas, Mr. Giuliani asked Mr. Zelensky to refrain from hiring Mr. Bohdan as chief of staff, according to Mr. Parnas’s lawyer. Mr. Parnas later became a key figure in the impeachment inquiry.

By December, Mr. Giuliani had swiveled to cooperating with the oligarch’s allies in a continuing effort to gather information against Mr. Biden, who is running against Mr. Trump, and other Democrats.

Among those whom Mr. Giuliani met, for example, was Mr. Dubinsky, the Kolomoisky associate whose offices were later searched by the domestic intelligence agency. It was not clear whether that search and the firing of Mr. Bohdan indicated that those who had been aiding Mr. Giuliani were being pushed aside.

On Monday, Attorney General William P. Barr said that the Justice Department would consider, but carefully vet, the information Mr. Giuliani was turning up in Ukraine and had established a channel for the president’s lawyer to provide it to a United States attorney outside of Washington.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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