“As these events unfold, the aim of the chronology below is to provide a useful reference for the context and timeline on Ukraine, the roles of Joe Biden and his son Hunter there, and Trump and Giuliani’s efforts to persuade Ukraine to pursue investigations against them. We attempt to present an accurate picture of events, favorable and unfavorable to the players involved. Our assessments and views of the available public information are reflected in two pieces: Viola Gienger’s “Trump and Giuliani’s Quest for Fake Ukraine ‘Dirt’ on Biden: An Explainer” and our forthcoming, “The Swiftboating of Joe Biden.”
This chronology will be updated as new information becomes available.
November 2013 – Political revolution in Ukraine
“Tens of thousands of Ukrainians begin protests in central Kyiv’s Independence Square (the “Maidan”) against the government of then-President Viktor Yanukovych (a pro Russian candidate whose election was managed by Paul Manafort). The protesters’ main concern is the government’s decision to abandon a planned “association agreement” with the European Union and to instead accept assistance from Russia. The protests grew to encompass broader concerns, especially about rampant corruption in Ukraine. The movement became known as the “Maidan Revolution” or the “Revolution of Dignity,” referring to the daily indignities Ukrainians suffered as a result of government corruption and ineptitude.”
February 2014 – Pro-Russian government falls
“Yanukovych’s security forces crack down on the demonstrators, killing more than 70 civilians and spurring a political backlash. The president, who had been in office since February 2010, flees to Russia.”
March 2014 – Russian military invasion
“Russian forces invade Crimea and stage an illegal and dubious referendum and declare their annexation of the peninsula. That month, the United Nations General Assembly votes to condemn Russian actions, including the referendum.”
April 2014 – “Russian and pro-Russian forces invade the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and take control, starting a war that continues today and has killed more than 13,000 people.”
April 2014 – Hunter Biden joins Ukrainian firm Burisma
“Joe Biden’s younger son, Hunter Biden, joins the board of Burisma Holdings, the largest private oil and gas extracting company in Ukraine, controlled by founder Mykola Zlochevskiy, who had served as a Cabinet minister under former pro-Russian Presidents Leonid Kuchma and Yanukovych. Both administrations had been suspected of corruption, and once they were ousted, successor administrations pledging reforms targeted previous officials, including Zlochevskiy, for investigation. Allegations against Zlochevskiy center on the funding schemes he used to form the company in 2002. But cases against him stall in each instance.”
“An American business partner of Hunter Biden, Devon Archer, also joins the board. The company issues a press release about the Biden appointment in May (see below). The appointment draws criticism for the potential perception of a conflict of interest with Vice President Biden’s role as the White House’s point man on Ukraine. News reports later in 2014 reveal that Hunter Biden had been discharged from the Navy in February for testing positive for cocaine (clearly just months before the Burisma board appointment).”
April 16, 2014 – U.K. investigates Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevskiy
“The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office blocks accounts of Burisma’s majority shareholder, Mykola Zlochevskiy. A British court conducts a hearing on Dec. 3-5, 2014, and unblocks the accounts in a Jan. 21, 2015 judgment, (full text), finding that none of the evidence “establishes reasonable grounds for a belief that his assets were unlawfully acquired as a result of misconduct in public office.” (In September 2015, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt heavily criticizes the Office of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in a public speech for not cooperating sufficiently with and even undermining the British investigation. See below.)”
May 12, 2014 – “Burisma Holdings issues a press release saying Hunter Biden has joined its board, and that he will be “in charge of the Holdings’ legal unit and will provide support for the company among international organizations.” The release cites his then-current positions as counsel to New York-based law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP and co-founder and a managing partner of investment advisory firm Rosemont Seneca Partners, where he also served as board chairman.”
May 25, 2014 – “Chocolate and confectionary magnate/oligarch Petro Poroshenko wins the presidency in Ukraine in an election to succeed Yanukovych on a platform of turning Ukraine back to the West. Poroshenko previously had served as foreign minister and minister of trade and economic development.”
June 7, 2014 – “Petro Poroshenko takes office as president of Ukraine.”
June 19, 2014 – “The Ukrainian Parliament approves Poroshenko’s appointment of former law enforcement officer and member of Parliament Vitaly Yarema as prosecutor general.”
Aug. 5, 2014 – Ukraine investigation of Burisma
“Ukrainian Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema opens an investigation of Burisma owner Mykola Zlochevskiy on suspicion of “unlawful enrichment.” (The investigation is referenced in the January 2015 U.K. court judgment, which concludes that the Ukrainian probe might have been started as a result of a misinterpretation of the British account freeze.) Zlochevskiy’s American lawyer, John Buretta, a former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general, says in a 2017 Q&A on the Burisma website that a court in Kyiv ordered the case closed in September 2016 because no evidence of wrongdoing had been presented. While suspicions remain over how Zlochevskiy obtained his wealth and what happened to taxpayer money while he held public office, the British judge in the January 2015 U.K. judgment observed, “Allegations of corruption against political opponents appear to have been a feature of Ukrainian political life at this time.”
Oct. 14, 2014 – Ramping up Ukraine anti-corruption forces
Ukraine’s Parliament passes a law establishing the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), a priority of anti-corruption campaigners who’d helped lead the revolution and of the U.S. government (led by Biden) and other international backers of Ukraine. The bureau, which is to include a special prosecutor for certain corruption cases, was created in part because of the recognized ineffectiveness and corruption of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the country’s judiciary. The country’s anti-corruption plans also include a special High Anti-Corruption Court, which Poroshenko and Parliament slow-rolled until domestic and foreign advocates again exerted pressure over the past year. In fact, the U.S. and Europe required the Ukrainian government to fund NABU in exchange for financial aid. NABU’s early years are an uphill battle in the face of documented efforts by Parliament and the Prosecutor General’s Office to undermine its work.
NABU later becomes a target of Giuliani’s (see Aug. 14, 2016 item below).
Feb. 10, 2015 – Viktor Shokin takes office as Ukraine’s prosecutor general, replacing Yarema.
Sept. 24, 2015 – U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt excoriates Prosecutor General Shokin’s office for stymying anti-corruption investigations, including those involving Burisma
Pyatt’s speech was part of a regular drumbeat by U.S. and other Western leaders, including Vice President Biden, and a swath of Ukrainian civil society seeking to pressure President Poroshenko to force his officials, especially in the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to crack down more, not less, on corruption. “Corruption kills,” Pyatt said in the address to the Odesa Financial Forum for business leaders. “It kills productivity and smothers inspiration. Ideas are lost in its shadow. Innovation and entrepreneurship lag under the weight of bribery, back room dealing, and bullying.”
“While giving Shokin a last chance to shape up (Pyatt says, “We want to work with Prosecutor General Shokin so the PGO is leading the fight against corruption.”), the ambassador criticizes “officials at the PGO’s office” for not providing documents that were needed for the British investigation of Burisma owner Zlochevskiy and effectively allowing Zlochevskiy to transfer $23 million of what Pyatt says were Ukrainian taxpayer assets to Cyprus. In other words, Pyatt is critical of the prosecutor’s office for not aiding in investigations of Burisma’s owner, which was in line with Biden’s criticism that the office was blocking corruption investigations. Pyatt specifically called for the investigation and removal of officials who were involved in the failure to help the British authorities investigate Zlochevskiy:”
“We have learned that there have been times that the PGO not only did not support investigations into corruption, but rather undermined prosecutors working on legitimate corruption cases.”
“For example, in the case of former Ecology Minister Mykola Zlochevsky [cq], the U.K. authorities had seized 23 million dollars in illicit assets that belonged to the Ukrainian people. Officials at the PGO’s office were asked by the U.K to send documents supporting the seizure.”
“Instead they sent letters to Zlochevsky’s attorneys attesting that there was no case against him. As a result, the money was freed by the U.K. court and shortly thereafter the money was moved to Cyprus.”
“The misconduct by the PGO officials who wrote those letters should be investigated, and those responsible for subverting the case by authorizing those letters should – at a minimum – be summarily terminated.”
Full text of Ambassador Pyatt’s speech.
Oct. 8, 2015 –” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland continues the drumbeat on the need for stepped-up anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in testimony that “the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has to be reinvented as an institution that serves the citizens of Ukraine, rather than ripping them off.” She continues, “That means it must investigate and successfully prosecute corruption and asset recovery cases, including locking up dirty personnel in the PGO itself.”
Fall 2015 – Biden, along with the EU, publicly calls for ouster of Prosecutor General Shokin for failure to work on anti-corruption efforts.
“John E. Herbst, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine under George W. Bush, later testified before Congress:”
“By late fall of 2015, the EU and the United States joined the chorus of those seeking Mr. Shokin’s removal as the start of an overall reform of the Procurator General’s Office. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke publicly about this before and during his December visit to Kyiv.”
Dec. 8, 2015 – “Vice President Biden makes a speech to Ukraine’s Parliament urging the country to step up anti-corruption measures.”
“In a speech covered widely in news media, Biden implores Ukrainian lawmakers to move more quickly to fight the country’s “historic battle against corruption” and “make real the Revolution of Dignity.” (Many of the lawmakers themselves were former businessmen and suspected of corruption and therefore that much less interested in fighting graft.) He says, “The only thing worse than having no hope at all is having hopes rise and see them dashed repeatedly on the shoals of corruption…Not enough has been done yet.” Specifically citing Shokin’s Office of the General Prosecutor for lagging on corruption investigations, he continues:”
“It’s not enough to set up a new anti-corruption bureau and establish a special prosecutor fighting corruption. The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform. The judiciary should be overhauled. The energy sector needs to be competitive, ruled by market principles — not sweetheart deals. It’s not enough to push through laws to increase transparency with regard to official sources of income. Senior elected officials have to remove all conflicts between their business interest and their government responsibilities. Every other democracy in the world — that system pertains.”
“Oligarchs and non-oligarchs must play by the same rules. They have to pay their taxes, settle their disputes in court — not by bullying judges. That’s basic. That’s how nations succeed in the 21st century.”
“Corruption siphons away resources from the people. It blunts the economic growth, and it affronts the human dignity. We know that. You know that. The Ukrainian people know that. When Russia seeks to use corruption as a tool of coercion, reform isn’t just good governance, it’s self-preservation. It’s in the national security interest of the nation ….”
“The United States is with you in this fight…We’ve stepped up with official assistance to help backstop the Ukrainian economy. We’ve rallied the international community to commit a total of $25 billion in bilateral and multilateral financing to support Ukraine. It includes $2 billion in U.S. loan guarantees and the possibility of more.”
“Yesterday I announced almost $190 million in new American assistance to help Ukraine fight corruption, strengthen the rule of law, implement critical reform, bolster civil society, advance energy security. That brings our total of direct aid to almost $760 million in direct assistance, in addition to loan guarantees since this crisis broke out. And that is not the end of what we’re prepared to do if you keep moving.”
“But for Ukraine to continue to make progress and to keep the support of the international community you have to do more, as well. The big part of moving forward with your IMF program — it requires difficult reforms.”
Full text of Biden’s speech.
Jan. 21, 2016 – “Vice President Biden meets with Ukrainian President Poroshenko and discusses “the need to continue to move forward on Ukraine’s anti-corruption agenda,” according to a readout on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
Feb. 11, 2016 – “Vice President Biden speaks with Poroshenko by phone. A U.S. Embassy statement said the two agreed “that it is essential for Ukraine to continue to take action to root out corruption and implement reforms.”
“Biden later boasts about the pressure he exerted on Ukraine during that time to address corruption. In a Jan. 23, 2018, Q&A following a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, Biden touts his tough stance with Ukraine in 2016. He says he told Ukrainian leaders that the U.S. would withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees unless they fired Prosecutor General Shokin. President Trump and Rudy Giuliani have cited that boast repeatedly as proof that Biden admitted pushing for Shokin’s firing, even though Biden was calling for the prosecutor to be fired because he wasn’t pursuing corruption cases vigorously enough. In the CFR appearance, Biden makes the comments in the context of expressing his concern that Ukraine still was not getting tough enough on corruption. “I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. (Laughter.) He got fired. And they put in place someone who was solid at the time.”
“The United States and other Western nations had for months called for the ousting of Mr. Shokin, who was widely criticized for turning a blind eye to corrupt practice,” the New York Times reported at the time.”
“Steven Pifer is a career foreign service officer who was ambassador to Ukraine under President Bill Clinton and deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs under President George W. Bush. He told PolitiFact that “virtually everyone” he knew in the U.S. government “felt that Shokin was not doing his job and should be fired. As far as I can recall, they all concurred with the vice president telling Poroshenko that the U.S. government would not extend the $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine until Shokin was removed from office.”
Note: Investigation of Burisma laid dormant at the time
“Vitaliy Kasko, a former deputy prosecutor general who had worked under Shokin and resigned in frustration at his stymying of corruption investigations, told Bloomberg News (in a May 2019 interview) that the office’s probe into Burisma Holdings had been long dormant by the time Joe Biden issued his ultimatum in 2016. “There was no pressure from anyone from the U.S. to close cases against” Burisma owner Zlochevskiy, Bloomberg quoted Kasko as saying. “It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”
“Shokin was not investigating. He didn’t want to investigate Burisma,” Daria Kaleniuk a leading Ukrainian anti-corruption advocate, told the Washington Post. “And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but because he failed that investigation.”
Feb. 16, 2016 – Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin resigns, then returns to office before finally being ousted
“Ukrainian news media report on Feb. 16 that Viktor Shokin resigned as Prosecutor General after months of intense criticism for failing to pursue any major corruption cases. But wait … despite President Poroshenko’s public call that day that Shokin resign and the apparent submission of a resignation letter on Feb. 19, media cited a prosecutor in Shokin’s office on March 16 saying the chief prosecutor was back after a “long leave.” Finally, on March 29, the Parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve Poroshenko’s recommendation to dismiss Shokin.”
“The European Union issued a statement hailing his departure. The respected English-language Kyiv Post writes, “By the end of his term, he was likely one of the most unpopular figures in Ukraine.” The paper also says it “wasn’t able to find any public comments that Shokin made about [Burisma] during his 14 months in office.”
Feb. 18 and 19, 2016 – “Vice President Biden speaks by phone with Ukrainian President Poroshenko. The Feb. 19 U.S. Embassy statement says Biden again urged the Ukrainian leader to “to accelerate Ukraine’s efforts to fight corruption, strengthen justice and the rule of law, and fulfill its IMF requirements.”
April 14, 2016 – “Vice President Biden speaks with Ukrainian President Poroshenko by phone, emphasizing “the urgency of putting in place a new Prosecutor General who would bolster the agency’s anti-corruption efforts and strongly support the work of its reformers.”
May 12, 2016 – A new General Prosecutor
“Yuriy Lutsenko, who had headed Poroshenko’s political bloc in Parliament, takes office as prosecutor general, after Parliament changed the law to allow someone without a law degree and legal experience to hold the position. According to the New York Times, “Lutsenko initially took a hard line against Burisma.”
Aug. 14, 2016 – Evidence surfaces of payments to Paul Manafort
“Paul Manafort by this time was Trump’s campaign chairman, and the evidence appeared to show off-the-books payments by the discredited, pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Yanukovych when Manafort served as his political consultant. The payments were recorded in a “black ledger” of Yanukovych’s political party that was turned over to Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). On Aug. 19, 2016, days after the New York Times reported the story, Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of Ukraine’s Parliament who had been swept into office with the 2014 revolution, holds a news conference to discuss the ledger and criticize the payments to Manafort.”
“Rudy Giuliani has cited the revelations as evidence that certain Ukrainians, supported by the Obama administration at the time, were colluding with Hillary Clinton’s campaign to reveal information tainting Manafort and, by association, Trump, in order to influence the election. Giuliani in May 2019 accused Leshchenko personally on Fox News of colluding with Democrats.”
Sept. 2016 – Case against Burisma closed
“In a 2017 Q&A on the Burisma website, Zlochevskiy’s American lawyer, John Buretta, a former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general, says that a court in Kyiv ordered a case closed in September 2016 because no evidence of wrongdoing had been presented.”