“The shady arrangement between the Atlantic Council and Burisma – the gas company at the center of the ‘Ukrainegate’ scandal – is just one dubious deal out of many at a DC think tank that has become a clearinghouse for legal corruption.
With its relentless focus on corruption in Russia and Ukraine, the Atlantic Council has distinguished itself from other top-flight think tanks in Washington. Over the past several years, it has held innumerable conferences and panel discussions issued a string of reports and published literally hundreds of essays on Russia’s “kleptocracy” and the scourge of Kremlin disinformation.
At the same time, this institution has posed as a faithful partner to Ukraine’s imperiled democracy, organizing countless programs on the urgency of economic reforms to tamp down on corruption in the country.
But behind the curtain, the Atlantic Council has initiated a lucrative relationship with a corruption-tainted Ukrainian gas company, the Burisma Group, that is worth as much as $250,000 a year. The partnership has paid for lavish conferences in Monaco and helped bring Burisma’s oligarchic founder out of the cold.
(…) Even with Hunter Biden on his company’s board, Zlochevsky was still seeking influential allies in Washington. He found them at the Atlantic Council in 2017, literally hours after he was cleared of corruption charges in Ukraine.
On January 19, 2017 – just two days after the investigation of Zlochevsky ended – Burisma announced a major “cooperative agreement” with the Atlantic Council. “It became possible to sign a cooperative agreement between Burisma and the Atlantic Council after all charges against Burisma Group companies and its owner [Mykola] Zlochevskyi were withdrawn,” the Kyiv Post reported at the time.
The deal was inked by the director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia program, a former US ambassador to Ukraine named John Herbst.
Since then, Burisma helped bankroll Atlantic Council programming, including an energy security conference held this May in Monaco, where Zlochevsky currently lives.
“[Zlochevsky] invited them purely for whitewashing purposes, to put them on the façade and make this company look nice,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center, said of the Monaco event to the Financial Times.
At one such conference in Monaco, then-Burisma board member Hunter Biden declared, “One of the reasons that I am proud to be a member of the board at Burisma is that I believe we are trying to figure out the way to create a radical change in the way we look at energy.” (Hunter Biden left Burisma with $850,000 in earnings when his father launched his presidential campaign this year).
While the Atlantic Council was bringing Burisma in from the cold, the company was still too toxic for much of the business world to touch.
As the Financial Times noted, the American Chamber of Commerce in Ukraine had rejected Burisma’s application for membership. “We’ve never worked with them for integrity reasons. Never passed our due diligence,” a Western financial institution told the newspaper.
“The company just does not pass the smell test,” a businessman in Ukraine commented to the Financial Times. “Their reputation is far from squeaky clean because of their baggage, the background and attempts to whitewash by bringing in recognizable Western names on to the board.”
In fact, a year before the Atlantic Council initiated its partnership with Burisma, the think tank published a paper describing Zlochevsky as “openly on the take” and deriding board members Hunter Biden and former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski as his “trophy foreigners.” (Kwasniewski is today a member of the Atlantic Council’s international advisory board).
For Herbst, however, Burisma’s generosity seemed too hard to resist.
“If there are companies that want to support my work, if those companies are not doing anything that I know to be illegal or unethical, I’ll consider their support,” Herbst stated in reply to questions about the Burisma partnership from the Ukrainian news site, Hromadske.