When Colin Kahl came on board as Vice President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor in 2014, the situation in Ukraine was one of a few “crisis issues” that Biden and his staff were tasked with ameliorating by former President Barack Obama, Kahl told Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) Director Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast.
Less than a year after Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Biden and his team were focused on curbing corruption, helping Ukraine’s new leaders with the governance of the country and ensuring that the 2014 Minsk agreements were resolved, said Kahl, who is now co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
“A lot has been made of the corruption piece because of the impeachment inquiry and the false allegations against Biden, but [corruption] was really only one of three major baskets of activity that were going on,” said Kahl of the recent allegations against Biden, which suggest that he had asked the Ukrainian government to fire its former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin because Shokin had been investigating a Ukrainian company on which his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board.
The real problem with Shokin, Kahl explained, stemmed from the fact that there were people working within Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office who wanted to investigate corruption cases, but they were unable to do so because Shokin was marginalizing those people and pushing them out of the office. As a result, no one of significance was prosecuted for corruption during Shokin’s tenure as prosecutor general, Kahl said.
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“Shokin was clogging up the system such that corruption cases couldn’t go forward because they’d get stuck in a file in a drawer in his office,” Kahl said. “And so the sense was not only in the U.S. government, but also in the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), that Shokin had become a single point of failure. The notion of getting rid of Shokin didn’t emanate from Biden.”
Biden, Kahl and others on Biden’s staff traveled to Kiev in December 2015 to discuss the conditions for securing a $1 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. and the IMF with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Several of the conditions of the loan had to do with deterring corruption in the country, and one of those conditions was the reform of the Prosecutor General’s office, Kahl said. Biden asked Poroshenko to dismiss Shokin during that trip; three months later, Shokin resigned, and Ukraine ultimately received the $1 billion in financial assistance.
“This is not a ‘he’ story, it’s a ‘we’ story,” Kahl explained. “That is, the State Department was all in on this, the White House was all in on this, and so were the Europeans, the IMF and Ukrainian reformers. This isn’t a Biden story — this is a U.S. story.”