Elections, Europe, New in Lobbying

Mystery group from Ukraine postpones US visit amid election meddling concerns

A delegation of Ukrainian officials have postponed their planned visit to Washington amid concerns that Kyiv is once again getting unwittingly dragged into a US election.

A mysterious non-governmental organization called the Ukrainian Guild of Activists hired Washington strategic communications firm Tricuro for $58,000 late last month to help organize the visit this week, as we first reported on Sept. 8. Participants were meant to include representatives from the National Bank of Ukraine, the Export-Import Bank of Ukraine and the Office of the Prosecutor General.

“The purpose of the visit is to build relations between these Ukraine institutions and their counterparts in Washington, DC, as well as undertake a wider public affairs program,” Tricuro’s lobbying registration said. The firm’s role is to help “identify senior targets within the U.S. Administration, Capitol Hill, think tanks, academia, finance, the media and wider Washington, DC networks with whom the delegation should engage” and “arrange high-level meetings for the delegation, providing talking points and detailed bios in advance.”

But Tricuro principal David Sowells, the firm’s sole registered foreign agent on the account, told Foreign Lobby Report today that the delegation has been postponed until after the Nov. 3 presidential election. He declined to elaborate on who is behind the NGO or its motivations (Tricuro in turn has hired two subcontractors to help on the account: Southfive Strategies CEO Jason Epstein and DC International Advisory CEO Stephen Yates).

The news comes the same day that Republicans on the Senate Finance and homeland security committees released a report probing the participation of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden‘s son Hunter Biden on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. They argue that Burisma’s $4 million payout to Hunter Biden and his business partner Devon Archer may have compromised US foreign policy; Democrats — and some Republicans — counter that the committees’ leaders, Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), are falling prey to a Russian disinformation campaign.

It’s not clear where the Ukrainian Guild of Activists falls into the equation. The NGO did not respond to a request for comment.

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Tricuro’s registration says the Guild’s “primary focus” is the fight against corruption. But several journalists who cover Ukraine have questioned its bona fides.

The Kyiv Post this week described the Guild as a “low-key organization that in the past has backed some local ecology-centered causes, including protests against developments in Kyiv.” The news outlet also noted that it “doesn’t have a public record of organizing any foreign visits or dealing with top-level government bodies.”

“The non-profit’s website appears to list the Reanimation Package of Reforms, a well-respected civic organization, as one of its partners,” the Kyiv Post wrote. “However, the listed organization has a slightly different name. According to the actual Reanimation Package of Reforms, it’s a clone created to discredit them.”

With Ukraine once again emerging as an election-year issue, the former acting ambassador to the country, William Taylor, has been warning officials to stay out of US politics lest it backfire on them. Earlier this year Democrats in the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump over his decision to withhold US aid unless Ukraine announced an investigation into Hunter Biden.

“There’s a presidential election going on here,” Taylor said last month, according to the Kyiv Post. “Don’t get involved in that election. Don’t mess with our politics… Don’t do that.”