Map of green Ukraine on a globe

A map of Ukraine.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

President Donald Trump’s request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, is a mess of voluminous implications. It’s almost impossible to get the nation’s arms (all meanings intended) around the abuse of democratic values underlying the President’s ask.

For the Ukrainians, the attention of the president of the United States on former VP Biden’s son, Hunter, for his role as a paid corporate board member of a Ukrainian energy company must be befuddling. After all, profiting from the high government position of the father is a Trump family hallmark. That fact doesn’t make Hunter’s “job” of collecting $50,000/month from a Ukrainian oligarch at all acceptable. Just because you smell better than a skunk doesn’t mean you smell good, and it’s best to admit it.

Poor Ukraine needs the protection of the US and its weapons to fight Russian-supported separatists in its eastern territory.  Ukraine has lots of reasons to resist Russia’s aggression.  Between the two world wars, Soviet supreme leader Josef Stalin collectivized Ukraine’s farms as part of the communist revolution of the Soviet Union and industrialization of Russia. 

Stalin exported Ukraine’s wheat to Europe and sent its grain to Russia to feed industrial workers. In the mid 1930s, crops failed. Stalin believed Ukrainians were hoarding food. He sent police and party officials to confiscate harvests. According to Red Famine by Anne Applebaum, a scholar of Soviet Union history, 3.8 million Ukrainians died of starvation in one of the most fertile lands in Europe.

Much of World War II’s eastern front was fought in Ukraine. The nation lost over 10 million people to slaughter and evacuation east into Russia and west to German labor camps. The country was devastated and dependent on the Soviet Union to rebuild. 

The Soviet government constructed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in the 1970s to produce energy for war recovery and industrialization. When the reactors blew, the Soviet government hid the radioactive impact from the Ukrainian population. Ukrainians got the bad news from Sweden as the radiation drifted west over Europe and Scandinavia.

In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin grabbed Crimea, part of Ukraine, back for Russia. It had formerly been a part of the Russian empire. Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, the Communist commissar in Kiev when Germany invaded Ukraine in 1941, transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. Putin’s motives for reclaiming Crimea are various but include preserving the Crimean port for Russia’s navy in the Black Sea and securing Russian borders from NATO expansion. War over eastern Ukraine, with many Russians living there, continues.

In 2014 Hunter Biden took his seat on the energy company corporate board. In late 2015, early 2016 European nations and the Obama administration wanted Ukraine to fire its prosecutor general. They sent VP Biden to force the issue. “And they fired the son of a bitch,” VP Biden reported later.

President Trump, not known for his deep understanding of history but certainly showing deep knowledge of money and arms, played into this complicated background with his request to Zelensky in his “perfect” phone call. It’s evident that much of the U.S. Foreign Service, U.S. Justice Department, U.S. energy department, and Trump’s personal attorney had already put the squeeze on Ukraine’s highest officials. Zelensky, newly elected and committed to protecting Ukraine, says he didn’t feel any pressure.

Meanwhile, Americans will find it difficult to know whom or what to believe, as all parties are covered with at least some stink. At the very least, VP Biden should have kept himself clear of the appearance of conflict of interest in relation to his son’s role in Ukraine’s energy industry. While some argue the President’s phone call to Zelensky was trivial, many experienced U.S. government leaders say the call turned the U.S. constitution, foreign policy, and national security upside down.

Ukraine, unfortunately located in one of the worst trouble spots in the world, is, as always, stuck in the middle. This scandal isn’t a mere rabbit hole. It’s much bigger than that. It’s more like a mega prairie dog colony, a maze of dirt tunnels, covered in cow manure, spread across the vast plains of eastern Colorado.

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.

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