October 14, 2019

A special roundtable on Ukraine and the start of the impeachment investigation in the United States filled a seminar room at IAB on October 7.

Hosted by the Harriman Institute and moderated by director Alexander Cooley, the discussion included SIPA faculty members Timothy Frye and Lincoln Mitchell as well as Dora Chomiak, a board member of Razom, a New York-based nonprofit organization that is working to support a democratic and prosperous future for Ukraine.

Frye said the ongoing scandal is unprecedented and even more egregious than Iran-contra or Watergate scandals of previous years, stressing the importance of not normalizing current happenings that threaten democratic lack of accountability and confidence. He also said that democracy has become less appealing to post-Soviet states in recent years—especially as Russian president Vladimir Putin has highlighted corruption, financial crises, and underperformance as democratic failures. For many, President Trump’s actions in office have only exacerbated this impression.

Chomiak underscored that the Soviet Union, the Maidan Revolution of early 2014, and the Russian invasion later that year must be considered while evaluating Ukraine’s actions and behaviors. She emphasized the importance of remaining sensitive to the fact that Ukrainians are functioning in the background of the revolution of dignity. She also said that too many would-be officials in Ukraine treat joining the parliament as a “revenue scheme” or “business plan” rather than genuine public service.

Mitchell observed that, from a scholarly perspective, this perceived scandal should not be decoupled from all the previous scandals that have plagued this current presidential administration. The framework that Putin was instrumental to Trump being elected in the first place, for example, must be considered during the impeachment, he said. Mitchell also said that political consulting in Ukraine by Rudy Giuliani—the former New York mayor who now serves as a personal attorney to President Trump—is extremely problematic, adding that he believes the scandal will impact the Republican party significantly.

The panelists also discussed on the problems with democracy-building industrial complex of the United States and Europe, and responded to questions about violation of rule of law in Ukraine, whether Volodymyr Zelensky is a product of the oligarch space, about Kurt Volker’s testimony against President Trump, the ‘Steinmeier Formula’ and implications of current happenings on Ukraine’s military defenses.

— Shalini Seetharam MPA ’20