Like much of East Europe, Ukrainian politics is where money, media, oligarchs and organized crime collide with the levers of government. Party allegiances are often transactional — literally sometimes blatant bribery — not philosophical. Some oligarchs that “sponsor” parties or politicians also own dominant newspapers and television networks that favorably cover their political plants.
So, imagine how the impeachment investigations are being weaponized in Ukraine, where “free press” generally means you didn’t pay a quarter for the newspaper.
Unlike Vegas, what happens in Ukraine doesn’t always stay in Ukraine. These days, the shenanigans might start in Russia, head over to Ukraine, and then end up right in your face. This week became such a time, because after days of “Ryoshobaka told Giuliani that Onyshcenko and Zlochevsky never discussed Barista with Kaleniuk or Zelensky,” blurry-eyed, polarized Americans have become easy marks for “fake news events.”
The latest story was a big one.
Some members of Ukraine’s parliament declared at a press conference on Wednesday that new investigations had been opened into Burisma, Hunter Biden and Burisma’s founder, billionaire and former minister of natural resources Nikolay Zlochevsky. Burisma is the corrupt energy company that reportedly paid Hunter Biden $50k/month as a board member while his dad, then Vice President Joe Biden, spearheaded the Obama Administration’s Ukraine policy. Their source? Confidential documents supposedly leaked from Ukraine’s top anti-corruption agency.
One of the MPs, who is from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ruling Servant of the People party but used to belong to a pro-Russia party, claimed that Hunter Biden and his “partners” had been paid a total of $16.5 million with “money raised through criminal means and money laundering.” Russia’s government-controlled Tass and Interfax news agencies claimed that Hunter Biden was being investigated for “taking millions of dollars stolen from the people of Ukraine.”
Regardless of who runs them, Tass and Interfax get to tweet just like CNN or The Washington Times. And they did. By Thursday afternoon, the Ukrainian and Russian media were on fire with news of a new Biden/Barista investigation. Before long, the blaze jumped the pond and engulfed the Conservative Twitterverse.
Now, The Punching Bag Post staff might be Conservatives, but we’re not Conservative hacks. We watched the story spread and it smelled bad to us. So, we sat on the “news” until we could confirm it.
As it turned out, there was no new investigation of Hunter Biden or Barista. But at that point, the cat was out of the bag. Conservative bloggers and pundits with big audiences had already published the fake news. Even the venerable Reuter’s news agency had been sucked in, to some extent.
The true story was more like this.
After the Ukrainian MPs staged their show, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka held his own press conference. He explained that what the leaked documents might have shown is an agency review of all old cases mentioning “Biden” and “Burisma.” But the leaked documents were not new, nor was there any new investigation.
As for the billionaire Zlochevsky, the prosecutor general explained that an existing investigation into the Burisma founder was expanded to include large-scale theft of public funds. But that case was suspended because Zlochevsky’s whereabouts were unknown.
Whether they were pawns or players — most Ukrainians would probably say the latter — the Ukrainian MPs public interpretation of the documents was far from honest. Many Ukrainians would say it’s the latter. Regardless, Prosecutor General Ryaboshapka’s bottom-line message to Washington? “The Burisma probe does not exist,” he said.
The truth in this tale is bigger than the story, and it’s exactly what readers need to know. Very powerful figures in Ukraine and Russia are exploiting the impeachment investigation, via America’s great partisan divide, for personal gain. These oligarchs are doing to us what they have been doing to the Ukrainian people for years — even though Americans know they’re going to try and do it
Corrupt foreign powers know what some Americans believe, and they pounce on beliefs that can benefit them. Now we need to be on the lookout for real fake news events.
Remember, Google is not a source — it just searches the internet for what you ask it to. The internet is not a source — it’s just an infinite piece of paper that stories appear on. Before you believe what you see or read, understand the source. Don’t assume Twitter or Facebook will.
That part is on you.