By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears
Two-front wars in Europe aren’t good for Germany.
Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolph Hitler don’t need to rise from their graves to make the point to the present German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. But is it her policy to pursue war against Russia in the east, and against Greece in the south, while claiming the conflicts have been forced on her by chekist Russians and chekist Greeks? The German characterization of both enemies as chekist comes from a high-level German figure who is close to the Chancellery and how Merkel thinks. In Berlin’s version of war in Europe, the new Nazis are in Moscow and Athens.
As for one of the leaders of the war party in Kiev, Merkel has privately and publicly endorsed every claim of Yulia Tymoshenko, promoting her release from prison and protecting her campaigns for war against Russia, even though – according to the high-level German source – “they [Chancellery, Foreign Ministry] have known for years that [Tymoshenko] was a crook.”
Since the civil war in Ukraine started after President Victor Yanukovich was ousted from Kiev on February 21, 2014, Merkel has repeatedly said in public that if Germany gives military support to the Kiev side, it will lead to war between Germany and Russia. This is how she said it after meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the G20 conference in Brisbane, Australia, last November: “This [Ukraine] conflict is not to be solved militarily. This would lead to a military engagement with Russia which would with certainty not be a local one.” Manipulation by Merkel’s aides of what she meant, as distinct from what she said, led to this cut and pasting in the Anglo-American press.
The Brisbane meeting was for Merkel a “turning point”, according to the Financial Times version, reported this week (February 2). According to the authorized Merkel leak, “a person familiar with the meeting”, Putin “shocked” Merkel by proposing that the Kiev government should resolve the conflict in Donbass “by buying them off with autonomy and money. A reasonable idea, perhaps, to an ex-KGB colonel. But for an East German pastor’s daughter, with a deeply-ingrained sense of fairness, this was unacceptable.”
According to the same version of the Brisbane meeting, “Merkel had asked her closest advisers to stay outside during the Brisbane meeting, on November 15 last year. ‘She wanted to be alone. . . to test whether she could get Putin to be more open about what he really wants. But he wouldn’t say what his strategy is, because he doesn’t know.’”
Merkel’s aides make it appear the chancellor is in several minds, then and now. Either she is shocked in disagreement with what Putin says is his strategy; or she is she shocked that he doesn’t have a strategy; or she is shocked that Putin keeps lying to her. The high-level German source says Merkel holds all three versions, but isn’t shocked by them.
Merkel’s public claim that Putin has been lying to her has a twisted history. It is confirmed by Merkel’s aides. But as they have been reported in the German, US and UK media, on each occasion the leak has referred to a quite different “lie”. The high German source says he doesn’t know what Putin lie Merkel is talking about. In December the New Yorker claimed that Merkel aides identified the “lie” in a telephone-call Putin and Merkel had in May, in relation to the Ukrainian presidential election and the Donbass referenda. Contradicting this is the Der Spiegel report of March 24, 2014, which claims the “lies” preceded the March, and possibly even the February events in Ukraine and Crimea. This version by a German employee of US government radio, in an American think-tank publication, claims the “lies” related to Crimea. In this Financial Times version of the Big Lie, the source of what Merkel believed of Putin came by hearsay from a “senior EU official, who has spoken to the chancellor about the issue. ‘In the process, he has lied to her several times.’ ”
German sources familiar with Merkel’s thinking say her association with Tymoshenko is something of a mystery. Reuters has reported that two days after the coup in Kiev, when Tymoshenko was released from prison by the new government, Merkel “congratulated Yulia Tymoshenko on her release and expressed the certainty that her return to mainstream politics would become one of the main factors in stabilising the situation in Ukraine.” The chancellery’s version is different. Merkel, claimed her spokesman, “welcomed Yulia Tymoshenko to freedom… The offer of further medical treatment remains on the table. Angela Merkel also expressed her conviction that the integrity of the country should be preserved. This is a very important point’, underscored the government spokesperson.”
German sources say Merkel supported Tymoshenko’s release from prison and her return to campaign for the vacant presidency — until the US Government decided on an alternative candidate – first, Vitaly Klitschko, then Petro Poroshenko. Conflict between Washington officials and German officials ensued on this point. When Victoria Nuland declared by telephone to US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in Kiev, the month before the coup, “Fuck the EU”, she meant “Fuck the Germans”. Whether Nuland included Merkel with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (right) in her epithet the German sources aren’t sure. For that story, click.
There is evidence in Berlin that Merkel was personally much too supportive of Tymoshenko than the Americans wanted. If Reuters is correct in reporting that in her post-prison telephone call Merkel said “Tymoshenko’s return to political life would also contribute to preserving the unity of Ukraine”, the Americans disagreed, strongly.
To the US Government Tymoshenko was, is a corrupt fraudster. The two indictments introduced by US prosecutors in May 2000 and July 2001, charging former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko with fraud, money-laundering, and aiding and abetting others in crime identified Tymoshenko as one of Lazarenko’s criminal associates. The second charge sheet says that “beginning in approximately December 1995, a Ukrainian company called United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), which was created on November 20, 1995, by Yulia Tymoshenko, an associate of Lazarenko’s, was designated by the Ukrainian government as one of several companies to supply natural gas to Ukraine.” Tymoshenko then set up an English front company called United Energy international Limited (UEIL), directed by a Turk on her orders, as well as a Cyprus front company called Somolli Enterprises, which the US investigators had found to be “controlled by Tymoshenko and others”.
The Tymoshenko fraud involved diverting Ukrainian state and company payments for imported Gazprom gas to UEIL, as well as to Somolli. The American indictments charge Lazarenko with abetting Tymoshenko’s theft of $140 million. She then kicked back to Lazarenko “more than $120 million” through Switzerland, Antigua, and other havens, with some of the cash reaching Lazarenko’s bank accounts in California.
Lazarenko (right) was convicted in 2009, and sent to prison for nine years. Tymoshenko was not prosecuted in the US. The FBI release, issued after Lazarenko’s sentencing, declared: “Yesterday’s sentence should send a strong message to corrupt foreign public officials—they will be held accountable if they misuse their office and try to make safe harbor in the United States… In this age of internationalization, we must diligently pursue corruption wherever it takes hold to help ensure public officials act for the benefit of their constituency, not for their own personal gain.” The FBI omitted to mention Tymoshenko. The US Government decided not to prosecute her. At the time, Tymoshenko was in her third year as prime minister in Kiev.
Tymoshenko sent $150 million through AmerBank in Warsaw, according to Polish investigations. No Polish prosecution has followed. The Polish president at the time of the gas fraud and money laundering scheme was Alexander Kwasniewski. Subsequently, he became the leading public advocate in Poland for Tymoshenko’s release. For more details, read this.
Kwasniweski, with Pat Cox, a former president of the European Commission, in Kharkiv to visit Tymoshenko in a prison hospital on November 22, 2013. They had visited her five months earlier, on June 20, and again on September 4, 2013.
A report in the Kyiv Post in September 2013 revealed the US courts were holding $250 million of Lazarenko’s proceeds, before apportioning them to a variety of claimants. One of them had been an investigator in Massachusetts who claimed 12% of the money it had traced between Tymoshenko and Lazarenko. A US court order, issued in November 2014, did not return the money to Ukraine.
By the time Lazarenko left prison in November 2012, Tymoshenko was in prison in Ukraine, convicted for her part in arranging a Gazprom gas supply contract of 2009. This time there was no mention of diverting Gazprom cash or helping herself to kickbacks. At her trial between June and October 2011 Tymoshenko was accused by Ukrainian state prosecutors of abusing her authority as prime minister during negotiations with Gazprom, and with Putin directly, in January of 2009. In the evidence accepted by the court, she had fabricated documents of the Ukrainian cabinet and had deceived Ukrainian officials whom she obliged to sign a 10-year agreement between Gazprom and Naftogaz. The price of the gas, which Tymoshenko was convicted of concealing from then President Victor Yushchenko and other officials, caused “grave damage” to Ukraine. The quantum of the damage was judged by the court to have been the equivalent of $194.6 million.
Merkel, who had been in office for six years at the time, took several months before publicly attacking Tymoshenko’s imprisonment. Privately, she arranged for a German neurologist to attend Tymoshenko in prison, producing diagnostic reports to warrant her medical evacuation to Germany. Yanukovich refused, suspecting Merkel of fabricating the medical case and preparing to back Tymoshenko for another presidential campaign. By April 2012, when Merkel had failed to extract Tymoshenko, the chancellor went public. German press reports then claimed there was surprise and opposition in Berlin to Merkel’s moves, which included blocking meetings between German and Ukrainian officials, and boycotting the Euro 2012 football tournament scheduled for Ukraine in June of 2012. Der Speigel omitted to report the US evidence of Tymoshenko’s corruption – and how much Merkel knew about it.
It was to counter the German and American-led campaigns for Tymoshenko’s release that Yanukovich then agreed to an engagement by the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice of the US law firm, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. In September of 2012 the law firm published its report. Running for 187 pages, plus another 80 pages of translated Ukrainian court documents, Skadden Arps concluded there been no selective prosecution in the case, and that “”we do not believe that Tymoshenko has provided specific evidence of political motivation that would be sufficient to overturn her conviction under American standards.” The full report can be read here.
Skadden Arps also found that “Tymoshenko’s courtroom behaviour would likely have merited a summary contempt finding under western standards.” As for Tymoshenko’s claims against Judge Rodion Kireyev, they “fail to raise significant fairness concerns on the record in this case, and the evidentiary record does not support her claim of personal bias. She has not established that Judge Kireyev’s experience, tenure, or selection violated Western standards of fairness.”
The chief author of the findings against Tymoshenko was Gregory Craig (below, right), a partner at Skadden Arps, and a former White House Counsel for Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and director of policy planning at the State Department under Madeleine Albright.
As Craig cleared Yanukovich of Merkel’s charge that Tymoshenko was the victim of “political motivation”, Nuland, then spokesman for the State Department under Hillary Clinton, attacked Craig for the very same: “Our concern is that Skadden Arps lawyers were obviously not going to find political motivation if they weren’t looking for it. Whomever — whoever commissioned this study, whatever the mandate for the study was, it was incomplete and doesn’t give an accurate picture.”
Five days after Yanukovich had been overthrown, evidence of a memorandum Craig had written in August 2012, was reported by the New York Times. Instead of the Craig original, requesting help in obtaining Ukrainian prosecution documents, reporter Andrew Kramer said a Russian translation of the memo had been found among Yanukovich’s papers in the lake at his country mansion. Kramer claimed: “It had been known that the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom had compiled a largely sympathetic report in 2012 on the government’s prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko, even though most impartial observers say it was politically motivated.” Kramer didn’t identify or quote an impartial observer. He was unaware the report had been released eighteen months earlier.
In December 2012 two other New York Times reporters had published excerpts. In the headline and lead they claimed the Skadden Arps report had concluded that “important legal rights of the jailed former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, were violated during her trial last year on charges of abusing her official power, and that she was wrongly imprisoned even before her conviction and sentencing. The lawyers, led by President Obama’s former White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, concluded that Ms. Tymoshenko was denied legal counsel at “critical stages” of her trial and that at other times her lawyers were wrongly barred from calling relevant witnesses. Those two findings suggest that she could have some success in a pending appeal before the European Court of Human Rights.”
On April 30, 2013, the European Court ruled that Tymoshenko’s pre-trial detention had been “arbitrary”, and that before she was convicted and sentenced, the jailing “had not been properly reviewed”. The court avoided reaching any judgement of the trial, conviction, sentence, or the Ukrainian appeal.
Last month the European Court released a ruling that it had struck out the case Tymoshenko had filed in August 2011, before her conviction was issued and her imprisonment confirmed on appeal. The 7-judge panel ruled on December 16. The press release which followed a fortnight ago, reveals that on May 7, 2014 the new Ukrainian Government “informed the Court that they proposed to make a declaration with a view to resolving the issues raised by the application. The Government admitted that the criminal prosecution against Ms Tymoshenko had been politically motivated and acknowledged a violation of her rights guaranteed by Articles 3, 6, 7, 8 and 13 in connection with Article 8 of the Convention, Article 18 in connection with Articles 6, 8 and 10 of the Convention, and Article 4 of Protocol No. 7.”
Two of the judges casting votes, Angelika Nussberger (below, left) and Ganna Yudkivska (right), are from Germany and Ukraine. Nussberger, who won her seat by a narrow majority of European Assembly votes in 2010, reports herself to be an expert on constitutional law in Russia and Ukraine. Yudkivska was nominated for her seat when Tymoshenko was prime minister.
The judges did not test evidence for the political motivation claim, nor of the motivation by which the political replacements of the Yanukovich regime, including Tymoshenko, had decided to settle the case within weeks of taking power, before an election had confirmed either president or prime minister. There was also no judicial finding on the allegations Tymoshenko had made in her submission, which have been dismissed for lack of evidence in the Skadden Arps report.
“The Court took note of Ms Tymoshenko’s agreement to the terms of the declaration made by the Government and found that her agreement could be considered as an implied friendly settlement between the parties. The Court therefore found no reason to continue its examination of the applications and decided to strike it out of its list of cases pursuant to Article 39 of the Convention (friendly settlements).”
Support for Tymoshenko has been disappearing in Ukraine. In the 2010 presidential election, she gained 45.5%, losing narrowly to Yanukovich with 49%. In the May 26, 2014, presidential election Tymoshenko polled 12.8% of the vote, running a distant second to Poroshenko’s 54.7%. In the October 26 election to the Verkhovna Rada, her Batkivshchyna (“Fatherland”) party was in 6th place, drawing 5.7% of the votes.
Merkel has never been asked to address publicly the corruption evidence against Tymoshenko compiled by the US government. Nor has she claimed Tymoshenko is innocent of the Ukrainian charges on which she was convicted by the Ukrainian court; only that the Ukrainian prosecution was politically motivated. A London lawyer practising at the European Court of Human Rights says: “Of course, the American decision not to prosecute Tymoshenko is politically motivated. So is the decision of the European Court of Human Rights not to proceed with a test of political motivation in the Tymoshenko case. So are the prosecutions Poroshenko and Yatseniuk have launched against a slew of their predecessors. What, if not political motivation, is driving the US and UK sanctions lists?”
German officials in Berlin, according to a German source advising them, say a military showdown between Russia and NATO isn’t likely; that Putin is bluffing; that his military forces are incapable. “Putin had his chance to bluff,” the source says, “but that was months ago. He didn’t have what it takes. So the German cycle with Russia is repeating itself; only Merkel has speeded it up. [Chancellor, then Foreign Minister Gustav] Stresemann in the 1920s to Hitler in the 1940s, from business to war. Merkel and the Germans are Russia-haters now. Let’s see who is bluffing.”