Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas

How Two Uknown Dual Nationals Removed a U.S. Ambassador, and How Their Scheme Stinks of Putin

Part 2 of my series “Everything I Learned from the Impeachment of Donald Trump”

In Part 1, I learned how to separate fact from fiction regarding Hunter Biden, Burisma, and Rudy Giuliani.

Today I’ll detail how two associates of Giuliani appear to have co-opted the former NYC mayor into a scheme that included removing the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovich, and how her removal and other aspects of the scheme appear to support Russian interests in Ukraine.

The two Giuliani associates, Ukrainian-American Lev Parnas and Belarusian-American Igor Fruman, carried out an influence campaign that reached the highest levels of the Republican Party, donating $675,000 in 2018 to at least 14 Republicans’ campaigns, money which the FBI alleges came from foreign sources. A chief goal of that influence campaign appears to have been the removal of Yovanovich.

To me, the most incredible aspect of the secret audio recording from an April 2018 fundraiser where Trump says “take her out” in response to Lev Parnas’ assertion that Ambassador Yovanovich was bad-mouthing the President, is not Trump’s predictably vulgar reaction, but that it shows Parnas and Fruman’s plot to remove Yovanovich had already begun a full year before Yovanovich was finally removed on April 24, 2019.

After informing Trump directly of Yovanovich’s disloyalty at the fundraiser failed to get the ambassador removed, Parnas and Fruman donated heavily to Texas Republican Pete Session’s campaign. On May 9, 2018, Parnas met with Sessions, and later that day the congressman wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Yovanovich should be removed as ambassador because he had “concrete evidence” that she had “spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current Administration.” However, months went by, and Yovanovich remained in her position.

Parnas and Fruman appear to have received their big break in August 2018 when Parnas paid Rudy Giuliani (who had become Trump’s personal attorney months earlier) $500,000 to consult for Parnas’ business “Fraud Guarantee,” a company with no identifiable clients and whose name appears to have been an attempt to sanitize Parnas’ Google search results, as he had previously been accused of various frauds. Parnas quickly developed a close relationship with Giuliani: in October Parnas named the former NYC mayor the godfather of his son and in January 2019 Giuliani took Parnas as his guest to Bush Sr.’s state funeral.

Giuliani claims that he started his investigation into Ukraine because unsolicited info on the Bidens was “put in my lap.” We now know it was Parnas and Fruman who connected Giuliani in late 2018 and early 2019 to two Ukrainian prosecutors, Victor Shokin (the one removed by Biden’s ultimatum), and Yuriy Lutsenko (his successor), the latter of whom dangled supposed evidence of Biden crimes in exchange for the removal of Yovanovich.

The most outrageous quid pro quo from this whole impeachment debacle may not even be Trump’s now infamous attempt to pressure Ukrainian President Zelensky into announcing investigations into the Bidens in exchange for a White House visit and the release of military aid, but the quid pro quo made between Giuliani and Prosecutor Lutsenko whereby Ambassador Yovanovich, the career civil servant and anti-corruption crusader, would be removed from her position in exchange for allegations of Biden crimes, as shown by the following texts between Lutsenko (blue texts) and Parnas (green texts) where Lutsenko is adamant that his allegations about “B,”are dependent on the removal of “Madam” who is understood to be Yovanovich.

Lutsenko conditioning the Biden dirt Giuliani and Trump desperately craved on Yovanovich’s removal appears to have done the trick. A month later, Ambassador Yovanovich was abruptly informed that she would be recalled to the United States. With the removal of Yovanovich secured, Lutsenko recanted his Biden allegations, leading Trump to try and pressure newly elected President Zelensky into announcing the investigations into Biden himself. But who would put so much effort and money into the removal of a U.S. ambassador, and why?

I learned that the removal of Yovanovich was part of a natural gas plan Parnas and Fruman were pitching that had the potential to be of significant interest to a certain Vladimir Putin.

Global Energy Producers was founded by Parnas and Fruman in April 2018, the same month that Parnas advocated for Ambassador Yovanovich’s removal at the Trump fundraiser dinner. According to its company overview, Global Energy Producers aims to export liquified natural gas from the U.S., which would help “significantly reduce the political imbalance that some countries, most notably Russia, have exploited over recent decades.” Exporting more U.S. natural gas is in line with Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s “energy dominance” strategy, and particularly important for Ukraine: more natural gas imported from the U.S. means Ukraine has to depend less on Russian gas, weakening Russia’s leverage over Ukraine. When 2009 negotiations broke down over Russia’s use of Ukraine’s pipelines to sell its gas in Europe, Russia shut off the entire gas supply in the middle of winter causing a continent-wide crisis. However, when you dig a little deeper into Parnas and Fruman’s proposal, it appears to be at least as much about control as it is about exporting gas in-line with U.S. interests.

An excellent piece of investigative journalism by the Associated Press details how Parnas and Fruman’s natural gas proposal included some very odd quirks that included removing Ambassador Yovanovich and the CEO of the state-run natural gas company Naftogaz from their positions. The CEO of Naftogaz Andriy Kobolyev is seen by the West as a reformer and has been strongly defended by western financial institutions and the U.S. State Department (including Ambassador Yovanovich) whenever his leadership at the company has been threatened. As the CEO of Ukraine’s state gas company Kobolyev represents ground zero in the battle between the West and Putin. In an interview with Time Magazine, Kobolyev said Russia was “trying to destroy Ukraine” using “military and financial” methods, and that “Gazprom’s (the Russian gas company) behavior is partly dictated by Russia’s desire to dismantle the Ukrainian state.”

In March of 2019, Parnas and Fruman met with Andrew Favorov, a senior executive at Naftogaz, to tell him that they planned to replace Kobolyev with him, and that they also planned to replace Ambassador Yovanovich with someone more favorable to their business interests. In a May meeting shortly after the removal of Yovanovich, we see why the removal of the pair was likely so important to Parnas and Fruman’s plan: according to the Wall Street Journal, Fruman told Favorov he wanted a memorandum of understanding from Naftogaz that would authorize him and Parnas to cut deals to import liquified natural gas on the company’s behalf. Such a deal would have likely given the pair significant control over Ukraine’s natural gas imports from the U.S., and harkens back to the kind of corrupt back-room deals Ukraine is trying to move on from, deals Yovanovich and Kobolyev have spent their careers fighting against.

In addition, a company brief for Parnas and Fruman’s Global Energy Producers alleged that they would somehow gain control of gas pipelines and even Ukraine’s underground natural gas storage facilities, built specifically to help mitigate the danger of Russia cutting off the country’s gas supply.

Parnas and Fruman’s plan could have represented an absolute national security disaster for Ukraine if it were implemented. Imagine if the pair have ties to Russian intelligence, that kind of control would give Putin the ability to disrupt Ukraine’s natural gas imports from the West AND limit the ability of underground storage facilities to mitigate a shutoff of Russian gas.

Even though the plan ulitimately failed, Parnas and Fruman still managed to get a U.S. ambassador removed from her post, which I am sure was high on the Kremlin’s and the Kremlin-backed Ukrainian oligarchs’ wish-lists. Yovanovich had proven herself to be a force in advancing U.S. interests and anti-corruption efforts, and the success of a pair of unknown dual nationals in manipulating the President of the United States into removing her should be deeply concerning.

Check back next week for part 3: The Incredible Danger of a Foreign Policy Based on Quid Pro Quos of my series “Everything I Learned from the Impeachment of Donald Trump.”

Riley Schenck is a politics junkie who has worked extensively on international development projects in Mexico