Elections

Joe Biden: Ukraine and Burisma’s Sugar Daddy

No one has challenged the former vice president to account for the billions in U.S. tax dollars he pumped into Ukraine for his own personal and political gain. How did Biden’s involvement gild his largely disastrous foreign policy legacy before his latest run for president?

If Joe Biden fails to win the White House this year, perhaps he can run for president of Ukraine. After all, Ukrainians owe him—big time.

As the White House’s point man in Ukraine during Barack Obama’s second term, Biden acted more like he owned the place: threatening to withhold aid, forcing government officials to be fired, forming special agencies to portray himself as a fighter of international government corruption.

“No one in the U.S. government has wielded more influence over Ukraine than Vice President Joe Biden,” according to a profile on Biden in Foreign Policy magazine a few weeks before the 2016 presidential election. “Ukraine’s government has relied heavily on its direct channel to the U.S. vice president, and Biden’s departure will leave a gaping hole.”

For three years, capitalizing on the country’s political upheaval and armed with congressional authorization to lead yet another nation-building exercise, the vice president drove the gravy train between Washington and Kyiv. That train, laden with goodies courtesy of unsuspecting American taxpayers, got heavier as Obama’s presidency drew to a close. Ukrainian officials were so worried about losing Biden and gaining Donald Trump that they engaged in their own election chicanery in 2016.

While Biden’s son, Hunter, is the main target of the president’s defenders and some of the more fair-minded journalists, the senior Biden also deserves plenty of scrutiny for the billions in American tax dollars he doled out to a nation rife with corruption, political unrest, and no mechanism to account for how those funds would be spent. President Trump has been impeached for briefly delaying appropriated funds to Ukraine last year, yet Biden has faced no questions on the campaign trail about his key role in directing huge sums of U.S. aid to Ukraine when he was vice president.

Here are the numbers: In 2014, Ukraine received about $190 million in U.S. aid, which was the average amount for years. That figure spiked dramatically after Russia’s incursion into the eastern part of the country and Biden became the go-to guy. “Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has provided higher levels of annual assistance to Ukraine. Nonmilitary, non-humanitarian development aid totaled an average of $320 million a year from FY2015 to FY2018,” according to a recent congressional report. “In addition, the United States provided three $1 billion loan guarantees to Ukraine from 2014 to 2016.”

That’s not all. The U.S. Defense Department has allocated $1.5 billion in “security” assistance to Ukraine since 2014. The money has been spent on “additional training, equipment, and advisory efforts to build the capacity of Ukraine’s armed forces.” Our generosity doesn’t end there. Over the past five years, we’ve dedicated roughly $200 million in humanitarian aid, too.

By 2016, thanks to Biden’s close attention to the dysfunctional country’s internal affairs—he traveled there six times—Ukraine had jumped to the top 10 list of America’s biggest foreign aid recipients.

As Ukraine’s American sugar daddy, Biden had his pet projects—which also just happened to intersect with some of his familial interests. Between 2014 and 2016, nearly $75 million in U.S. aid was specifically earmarked for energy development in Ukraine.

During his trip to Kyiv in April 2014, shortly after the country’s president was ousted from office and fled to Russia, Biden expressed America’s solidarity with the crisis-torn and notoriously-corrupt country. He announced an American aid package, ostensibly to prepare the country for its upcoming presidential election, which was slated for the following month.

But the vice president did not travel alone; a team of American energy experts tagged along on the junket. According to the Washington Post, they were assigned with finding a plan to halt Ukraine’s reliance on Russian fuel.

“But the new U.S. support to be announced by Biden will focus on economic expertise, which will emerge from an assessment now being conducted by a U.S. team here on shifting Ukraine’s Russian-dependent energy supply toward one that relies more on domestic and Eastern European gas production. Over the longer term . . . the U.S. government will work with Ukraine to help the government increase domestic gas production,” the Post reported.

In a speech alongside Ukraine’s acting prime minister, Biden pledged more help in bolstering Ukraine’s energy production. “More teams are coming to support long term improvement so that no nation—let me be precise, so that Russia can no longer use energy as a political weapon,” Biden said.

That same month, Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private gas provider, hired Hunter Biden as a board member for somewhere between $50,000 and $83,000 a month.

But Biden didn’t just commit American tax dollars to his Ukrainian-based power trip. Under Biden’s direction, leaders in the European Union brokered a massive bailout for Ukraine. The veep helped negotiate a $17.5 billion aid package from the International Monetary Fund, which was approved in May 2014. There was a catch, however. In order to secure the funds, gas prices on Ukrainian consumers would increase by 50 percent with more hikes continuing into 2018.

Burisma, to repeat, is the largest private natural gas producer and provider in Ukraine.

In May 2014, globe-trotting Biden made a three-day stop in Cyprus, the senior-most U.S. official to visit the island nation in 50 years. During his visit, Biden met with the country’s president to discuss, among other items, the situation in Ukraine. Biden said that Cyprus was poised to become a “global hub for natural gas markets.”

Burisma, while based in Ukraine, is registered in Cyprus.

Biden’s generosity on behalf of U.S. taxpayers and shadow lobbying for Burisma quickly paid off. Ukraine stopped buying natural gas from Russia in 2015. By 2017, Burisma had increased its production of natural gas by roughly 50 percent. The well-connected company which now attracts dignitaries like the prince of Monaco at corporate events is rapidly expanding its energy infrastructure in Ukraine and seeking new markets around the world.

So, it looks like Burisma got its money’s worth in hiring Hunter Biden. But American taxpayers? Not so much.

Over the past few months, we’ve heard from scores of national security and diplomatic experts who insist the people of Ukraine are entitled to our resources. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) even claimed that the Ukrainian aid was necessary so that America can fight a stealth war with Russia “over there” instead of here. But there is no proof any of it is true.

And amid all the questions and all the teeth-gnashing and all the chest-thumping and all the pearl-clutching about what an treacherous president Donald Trump is for demanding some measure of accountability for how our money is being used in a country teeming with institutional and political rot—now led by a political novice and former comedian—no one has challenged Joe Biden to account for the billions in U.S. tax dollars he pumped into Ukraine for his own personal and political gain. How did his interference in Ukraine’s affairs harm America’s long-term interests? How did his involvement gild his largely disastrous foreign policy legacy before his own run for president?

Perhaps all along, we’ve been asking questions about the wrong Biden.