United States Intelligence has accused Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach of acting in the interests of Russia and attempting to interfere in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
Since 2019, Derkach has been one of several Ukrainian political figures who have pushed conspiracy narratives about former Vice President Joseph Biden, who is challenging incumbent President Donald Trump in the upcoming election in November.
Lawmakers from Biden’s Democratic Party have previously raised concerns about information Derkach reportedly provided to Republicans, but the U.S. Intelligence accusations represent the first public official recognition that Derkach’s actions constitute election interference and may advance the political aims of the Kremlin.
Derkach could not be immediately reached for comment, but has previously denied ties to foreign intelligence services.
In an Aug. 7 statement, William Evanina, director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said that the intelligence community was concerned about potential election interference by three countries: Russia, China and Iran.
While China and Iran would prefer Trump not be reelected, Russia is attempting to denigrate his opponent, Biden, and “what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment’” in the United States, Evanina said.
“This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of (Biden) when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia,” the statement reads. “For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”
According to Evanina, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center provided 20 classified briefings on election interference to stakeholders since May.
Powerful, pro-Russian MP
A lawmaker in Ukraine’s parliament since 1998, Derkach is the son of General Leonid Derkach, a former Soviet KGB officer, who led the Security Service of Ukraine in the late 1990s.
Like his father, Andrii Derkach graduated from the KGB academy in Moscow, which was later renamed the Academy of the Russian Federal Security Bureau (FSB). Until 2014, Derkach was part of the interstate delegation to the Russian Orthdox Church synod.
While he is currently an independent lawmaker, Derkach was formerly a member of the pro-Russian Party of Regions.
Since 2019, Derkach has actively promoted unsubstantiated and often debunked conspiracy theories alleging that, while serving as vice president, Biden influenced Ukraine’s domestic policy for personal gain.
The Ukrainian lawmaker even met with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, one of the most active American supporters of these theories, during the latter’s visit to Kyiv in December.
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On May 19, Derkach held a press-conference in Kyiv to leak recordings of what he said were conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He used the recordings to advance claims pushed by several Ukrainian political actors and Trump’s supporters that, in 2016, Biden forced Ukraine to remove then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin from office to help Ukrainian oil company Burisma Holdings to escape prosecution for corruption.
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From 2014 to 2019, Biden’s son served on the company’s board of directors. The younger Biden’s decision to join Burisma shortly after the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution raised eyebrows, as the company’s owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, had served as ecology minister under President Viktor Yanukovych, the corrupt leader whom the revolution ousted.
In 2016, Biden indeed told Ukrainian officials that if Shokin wasn’t removed, Ukraine would not receive $1 billion in aid from the U.S. government.
However, there is no evidence that Biden did this to help his son or Burisma, and journalists and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists have repeatedly debunked this claim. Rather, Biden was echoing a common consensus among Ukrainian civic watchdogs, pro-reform lawmakers and the country’s partners in the European Union, who alleged that Shokin was stalling investigations into key corruption cases.
Shokin was fired in March 2016.
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The recordings leaked by Derkach also did not yield any significant new information on the circumstances of the prosecutor general’s firing. Since then, Derkach has leaked several more recordings.
American election saga
Derkach told the Washington Post that he had supplied documents to Republican Senator Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Spokespersons for Johnson and Republican Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, have denied receiving information from Derkach. Nonetheless, Johnson’s committee has been actively trying to launch hearings into the Burisma allegations.
Johnson has stated he is investigating a possible conflict of interest in Vice President Biden’s actions in Ukraine. According to the Washington Post, his committee has collected documents and interviewed witnesses. Johnson is planning to release a report with his conclusions in September, a few months before the presidential election.
Democrats have warned Republicans that, by investigating the accusations against Biden, they risk laundering disinformation from Russia.
For his part, Derkach has denied having ties to foreign intelligence and characterized his actions as anti-corruption work. He also said that he is not targeting Biden as a presidential candidate.
“The purpose of my activity is pursuing the interests of Ukraine, exposing international corruption, maintaining partnership relations between strategic partners — Ukraine and the USA,” Derkach told the Washington Post.
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