Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
America was introduced to Ukraine’s politics and ambitions of its post-Soviet elites with the fall of Paul Manafort. Manafort, recently pardoned by President Trump, is a veteran political operative who advised Ukraine’s former President Yanukovych. Then, during the 2020 U.S. General Election Ukraine made the news again courtesy of President Trump’s notorious conversation with Ukraine’s leader and the Biden family and, specifically, Hunter Biden’s controversial relationship with a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma; finally President Trump’s impeachment and investigation also centered on Ukraine. The former President was accused of pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart for dirt on his adversaries. But the nefarious politics of Ukraine didn’t start with Manafort or Presidents Trump and Biden, and it certainly doesn’t end there.
Since the fracture of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin has been on a relentless path to reconstitute the former Soviet empire. Region by region, the Russian Federation uses tactics of infiltration and destabilization to destabilize to seize constructive control of Ukraine. In this regard, Russia has succeeded in co-opting the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, which are now separatist regions that declared independence from Ukraine. The two breakaway republics are now relegated to the dubious status of other rogue autonomous regions, such as Transnistria which separated from the nation of Moldova and as Georgia’s lost territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Ukraine’s separatist republics, Russian agents of influence and spies, annexation of Crimea are all part of Russian strategy to regain control of Ukraine, and most likely other states that broke free from Soviet control through destabilization and proxy-annexation.
What the world doesn’t know – yet – is that Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv – which borders Russia, is quietly falling under Russian influence through the nefarious actions of Russia’s counter-intelligence apparatus and its agents of influence. To understand the current rapidly evolving scenario, Americans need to be aware of Kharkiv’s deceased former mayor Kernes, and disgraced, sanctioned Russian developer, Pavel Fuks.
Fuks is no stranger to transnational criminal schemes and the world of post-Soviet corruption. In 2018, Fuks was questioned in connection to a $1.5 billion scheme that focused on his collaboration with “unidentified persons of a criminal organization” whose actions compromised the seizure of $1.5 billion that prosecutors said was stolen by former Ukrainian President Yanukovych.
For his part, controversial Mayor, faced prosecution in Ukraine in 2013. It was alleged that he organized abductions during the Euromaidan (demonstrations and civil unrest) in Kharkiv that year to include the unlawful deprivation of liberty (or kidnapping), torture, and the threat of murder toward a cache of protesters. Kernes was ordered to partial house arrest by the Pechersk District Court of Kyiv, but that order was rescinded after an assassination attempt on Kernes left him seriously wounded.
After the December 2020 COVID-related death of Kernes, yet another shadowy figure ascended to Kharkiv’s mayorship: Igor Terekhov. Mr. Terekhov assumed the role of acting mayor, backed by Mr. Fuks, also known by his criminal moniker, the Mercenary, former Minister of the Interior Arsen Avakov, FSB handlers, and organized criminal gangs from Russia to whom Mr. Fuks is beholden. In a major developing scandal, it is alleged that documents appointing Mr. Terkehov as acting mayor were forged when Kernes was already brain dead in Germany. Mr. Fuks is alleged to be the main organizer of this criminal scheme.
How does this all come together? It all centers on Pavel Fuks and his gang, and his influence over the Ukrainian government and political circles on behalf his Russian handlers. Fuks, a self-proclaimed tycoon who owns a major stake in Ukrnaftaburenya aka Sahalin oil and gas fields near Kharkiv, has aligned himself with a variety of criminals and FSB figures in Russia and Ukraine and in doing so has anchored a number of criminal investigations where he is the target for prosecution.
Fuks, it is alleged by many in Ukraine and abroad, is but a strategic asset for his cohorts in Russia, a cadre of criminal figures completely controlled by the Russian government’s counter-intelligence apparatus.
To this end, Obozrevatel, a Russian language Ukrainian publication, has been investigating Mr. Fuks since he relocated to Ukraine from Russia. The online publication whose owners have had a personal dispute with Mr. Fuks when he sued them to put an end to their investigation of his business dealings in Ukraine, reported:
“Ukraine is the main area of Fuks’ business. His task is to use the money of the Russian criminal circles to buy out promising Ukrainian gas and oil fields, energy companies, and other tactical assets for his Russian friends.”
And as Mr. Fuks buys up these assets, he facilitates two end games, both of which do nothing to purge Ukraine’s horrible reputation for corruption. He lines the pockets of people like the former mayor Kernes and now the acting mayor Terekhov, and he weakens the government’s position to fend off the patient and manipulative Russian government in its quest to reconstitute Soviet Russia.
If Mr. Fuks is truly a proxy for Russia’s FSB, and if his gang succeeds in securing control over Kharkiv, it is likely that Kharkiv will become no different from the separatist regions of Luhanst and Donetst, expediting the demise of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
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