Russian influence pivots from ‘RT’ to ‘ANCA’, as proxy State Armenia enjoys influence unabated. Meanwhile, two Ukrainian oligarchs allegedly hire the Qatar-based Al Jazeera to fuel an information war with the Government of President Poroshenko.
By Professor Robert Martine
Once a phrase that required greater explanation to American audiences, ‘Drain the swamp’ has become ubiquitous with American policy. But, who or what comprises of the swamp? Who are these influencers that are shaping our foreign and domestic policy-making viewpoints…and how are they reaching us?
Once upon a time, these people were registered agents who operated under the well known Foreign Agents Registration Act or FARA. Yet when calls to ‘drain the swamp’ are met with actual action, those whose agendas are less than lawful go underground, finding new ways to get their message out into the realm of public debate.
An open practice that once took place outside of Congress has devolved, pivoting towards the ownership of mass-media outfits and the assertion of influence within K Street non-profits.
Make no mistake – NGOs and many mass media channels have become puppets for foreign entities and commercial bodies, most notoriously emanating from Russia and Ukraine.
On March 8th, Al Jazeera published a document entitled "A look inside the alleged multi-million-dollar lobbying contracts of one of the most influential fundraisers for President Donald Trump, Elliot Broudy of VTB Bank and the Ukrainian Brokerage Enterprise ICU (Investment Capital Ukraine)”. VTB and the ICU immediately denied the signing of a contract via Broudy, nor any contact whatsoever. The ICU further announced that lawsuits would be prepared against any source that provided Al Jazeera with such fabricated documentation.
This piece of 'fake news' spurred a larger investigation into the practices undertaken by Al Jazeera. Both the network and its purported collaborator, former Ukrainian Parliament Deputy Yuriy Karmazin’s "Institute of Law and Society" responded by abstaining from discussions regarding where they received the information that formed the basis of the article. Ukrainian media initially reacted to this story very skeptically and none of the newspapers provided it with coverage.
The reputation of Mr. Karmazin himself then came under question. This is a man that has been repeatedly accused of serving the interests of alleged Russian crony and former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.
The Veil of ANCA and the Reality of Kremlin Collusion
At the same time, the Armenian National Committee of America or ANCA took a rather ostentatious turn in support for Kremlin foreign policy, operating in influence and peddling free from Russian scrutiny.
The United States provides open support to Armenia and continues to be pressed into providing more, especially in terms of financial aid. While Armenia, through members of ANCA (the lobbying organization hosting a cast of Russian-speaking Lieutenants, many with criminal backgrounds) continues to lobby Congress in hopes of increasing support for separatist Nagorno-Karabakh and its ‘citizenry’. Simultaneously, Armenia allows Russia to finance its military, grants Russia closer physical proximity to key ally Iran and at one point, even gave former Prime Minister of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan license to announce the development of a joint Russian-Armenian military industrial complex in Gyurmi.
A movie about the Ukrainian Oligarchy, written by the Ukrainian Oligarchy
The investigative film, "The Oligarchs" first aired on May 23, 2017. Seven and a half months prior to its premiere, one of the documentary’s websites released an article that listed the main subjects of the film. The article was hosted on a website that has been actively supported by Ukrainian journalist Alexander Dubinski – the presenter of TV channel "1+1", which belongs to Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky.
"The Oligarchs" tells the story of a scheme implemented to redeem the long-frozen financial assets of fugitive President Yanukovych, which have been held in Ukraine. The authors claim that businessman Sergei Kurchenko (…a.k.a the "Yanukovych wallet") tried to resell these assets to the Deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament, Aleksandr Onishchenko and businessman Pavel Fuks. Both in turn tried to thaw the assets by influencing President Poroshenko.
All of the investigations that 1+1 and Al Jazeera undertook in Ukraine featured the ICU investment company. In fact, the network’s background investigative materials continuously focused on the apparent connections between the President and the investment company, calling ICU the "financial advisor" to Poroshenko. It is evident that ICU itself is of little interest to investigators, and in hinting at corruption, they are attempting to damage the reputation of the former Head of the NBU Valeria Gontareva.
But who is interested in using fabricated documents to try to discredit the Ukrainian President? Pieces of Al Jazeera's stories were connected to two major oligarchs - Igor Kolomoisky and Victor Pinchuk who attempted to protect their business interests by asserting their influence and sullying the reputation of their opponents.
Fake News and Fake Hearings in Washington
It is rumored that Kolomoisky and Pinchuk were behind the efforts of former Florida congressman Connie Mack IV, who arranged a September 25th “panel discussion” to discuss alleged money laundering by leaders at the National Bank of Ukraine. Two Ukrainians, a former member of parliament and a former employee at the bank, were part of the panel.
“It was a fairly routine event for Capitol Hill where lobbyists and interest groups regularly jockey for the fleeting attention of lawmakers and their aides. But the event took on added significance when two media outlets showed up to cover it. The first, Ukraine’s NewsOne television channel, described the get-together as a meeting of the ‘US Congressional Committee on Financial Issues’ and carried it live. Though there were several congressional aides among the 20 or so in attendance, no sitting lawmaker showed up.
The conservative Weekly Standard was the second media outlet to cover the event, writing about it several days later under the headline: 'The Mother of all Fake News'.”
Other news outlets picked up the story, furthering the portrayal of Mack as someone who tried to boost the importance of the event by pretending to be a current member of Congress because he wore his congressional lapel pin and referred to Congress as “we.”
Why Al Jazeera? Why RT? Why ANCA?
The people of Ukraine are used to political wars, slandering of oligarchichal groups and indeed, defamation of the government. Drawing attention to information is much more effective if the sources are from foreign broadcasters with allegedly little bias.
However it is important to draw attention to these enterprises that have been able to peddle influence in their home countries and abroad, as well as here in the United States, without, until recently (see ‘RT’ to file with FARA) indexing and subsequent scrutiny.
Aiming to expand their influence in any way possible, Qatar’s Al Jazeera is ready to collaborate with those who are willing to pay, even if their reporting is advertorial. Five European PR-agencies are cited as having offered their clients the possibility to place paid materials in Al Jazeera. According to one of the Ukrainian journalists investigated who worked closely with a correspondent of Al Jazeera's channel in Ukraine, "the Oligarchs" cost roughly $120,000 USD to produce, and was indeed sponsored.
"The manipulation of mass media, albeit an unfortunate norm in Ukraine, is a 'foreign' practice now widespread throughout the U.S. and the world. Mr. Kolomoisky has undertaken this, has jeopardized Ukrainian foreign policy by undermining the credibility of our Central Bank, our government, our collective future,” remarked Valeriya Olexivna Gontareva, Governor or Chairwoman of the National Bank of Ukraine.
“It is worth considering whether the U.S. should give the same FARA status to ‘pay for play’ outfits such as Al Jazeera or NGOs operating as mouthpieces for foreign governments such as Armenia, proxy or puppet to the Kremlin, or the Brookings institution, which sees the government of Qatar as one of its main donors,” she continued.
For now, it appears that we must address the new swamp, which has gripped Washington influence, and call to accord those who operate here with less than honorable intentions to less than a batted eye.