The crowds continued to grow on Maidan Square in the winter of 2014. Ukraine was undergoing a revolution with the protestors calling for the ousting of Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Journalist and activist, Serhiy Leschenko, was amongst the crowd writing in his blog “Whoever brings Yanukovych’s head on a stick to the Maidan will have the Square named after them.” His fellow activist and journalist friend, Mustafa Nayyem, was bragging he started the revolution with his Facebook posts calling for the time and place for the protests to take place.
This revolution would have more than just journalists calling for President Yanukovych to step down. It had the backing of rich oligarchs who funded weapons and training facilities. The Azov Battalion, a privately funded militia, set up shop in Kiev for training a month before the fateful day Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014. The Azov group was funded by billionaire Igor Kolomoisky, a beneficiary of early privatization economies that shaped Eastern European countries during the 90s after the dismantling of the Soviet Union.
Igor Kolomoisky would be rewarded with his own Oblast after his successful efforts to remove the Ukrainian President from power. Kolomoisky was named Governor of Dnipropetrovsk in March 2014, months before the new President, Petro Poroshenko, took office in June 2014.
Journalists, Serhiy Leschenko and Mustafa Nayyem, would be elected to the State Rada as Members of Parliament in the new Poroshenko Government.
None at the time knew on that cold February day what their future would be, but their efforts to oust Yanukovych were already achieved. At the same time the crowds chanted for freedom with their Orange revolutionary colors hidden under their winter coats, President Viktor Yanukovych was warming up his helicopter to escape the country. His staff was driving down to the Dnieper River on his 350-acre estate to dump his papers into the cold dark waters. The Mezhyhirya estate was being quietly purged of receipts, memos, and all types of Presidential recordings. Box after box was tossed into the freezing river as the blades of the helicopter whirred towards Russia where Yanukovych would make his new home on February 22, 2014.
The 2014 Orange Revolution 2.0 was a success that winter in removing Yanukovych, something the 2004 Orange Revolution could never achieve. It had permanently removed Yanukovych from the country and his threat of a Russian-friendly policy government. The country was surprised at his departure, but CCTV coverage of him loading his suitcases onto the helicopter blasted across the media the next day, ensuring this was reality.
The Presidential Palace of the Mezhyirya was abandoned overnight and citizens of Ukraine wandered over to see the extraordinary opulence of the grounds and the infamous zoo filled with exotic animals. A group of young journalists set up camp in one of the houses down near the Dnieper river and started fishing the abandoned documents out of the water. They produced a documentary about their findings and quickly started uploading scanned papers to a website called Yanukovychleaks.org.
Soon articles would begin to appear in Western media about the corruption of Viktor Yanukovych and where he laundered the money he accumulated with his corruption.
Four days after the mansion was abandoned Buzzfeed news would publish a scathing article about Yanukovych on February 26th, 2014 accusing him of receiving $40 million dollars of the infamous “Magnitsky money” theft that occurred in 2007 in Russia.
This article was extremely detailed as were other articles written by media outlets. The Organized Crime and Corruption Project Group filmed the Yanukovych leaks documentary and ran the website that uploaded the papers ran several articles about their discoveries. OCCRP and Buzzfeed’s monumental investigative work was helped along by anti-corruption activists and hedge fund employees, Bill Browder and Vadim Kleiner. These two men worked closely with OCCRP and BuzzFeed giving them flowcharts that explained the avenues where the laundered money traveled.
In less than four days, Vadim Kleiner had studied the Yanukovych leaked papers uploaded online, figured out a paper trail to no less than 10 shell companies involving six countries, and was able to communicate these findings to BuzzFeed who published their article on February 26th, 2014. Just four days after Yanukovych’s helicopter had flown over the paper-strewn Dnieper River.
Kleiner’s flowcharts detailed how money flowed from Alfa Bank in Russia to Moldova than to Estonia than to the British Virgin Islands than to UK shell companies associated with Yanukovych. It tracked the $40 million dollar money flow through ten shell companies, including two British Virgin Island LLCs owned by two Latvian men. The flowchart ends with a picture of Yanukovych looking very corrupt with his mouth turned downwards in a scowling frown.
It certainly is a convincing article until you step back and wonder how Hermitage Capital employees could determine this level of intricate money trail from clumped up wet papers still drying after their temporary home in the mud at the bottom of the Dnieper River. Is it possible Kleiner and Browder had these flowcharts ready to go from a seven-year-old crime? What was Browder’s motive to tie Yanukovych to the Magnitsky story? Was it palatable to just equate Yanukovych to an already popular narrative embedded into people’s minds? Why would Yanukovych flee to the country he supposedly was being accused of stealing $40 million dollars from? The 2007 treasury theft Sergei Magnitsky allegedly uncovered was a $230 million dollar tax rebate given to Hermitage’s stolen shell companies. Would it make sense Putin would warmly receive Yanukovych’s helicopter if he was a partner in crime to this brazen theft from the Kremlin coffers?
The shocking answer to these questions is that Hermitage’s flowcharts are all lies that were spread by BuzzFeed news. The shocking answer is that Yanukovych was not part of the stolen company scheme because Bill Browder’s Hermitage shell companies were never stolen. It was a house of cards built on a cover-up of Browder’s crimes in Russia. Bill Browder has a pattern of using a sympathetic human rights story of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, as a political tool against anyone he feels compelled to smear.
So far the $230 million dollars has been attributed to 23 countries, 17 banks, 50 LLCs, and over 50 people from across the globe, including a few hundred thousand dollars that made it into a Prince Charles renovation project. The attribution of $230 million to so many people not connected to each other has more lives than Henrietta Lacks. If you add up the amount from various articles of flowcharts given to the media by Bill Browder, the amount far exceeds the original theft.
I’m not defending whether Yanukovych is or isn’t corrupt. You don’t live in a place like Mezhyhiya without getting your hands dirty, but the accusations of his involvement in the Russian treasury theft are ridiculous.
Browder knows this but does not care. He knows if you question an accusation or an attribution you are called a Putin puppet and a victim of disinformation and the conversation is over. Browder has won the narrative and it is how the history books will be written. The President of Russia knows this as well. He talked about Browder in Helsinki but was ridiculed for his statements.
Putin recently talked about the risks Russia felt with Ukraine in the hands of those who hated Russia. Putin talked for forty-five minutes last week about the history of the divide now between Russia and Ukraine. It was full of grandiose proclamations of returning to NovoRussia and sounded completely hyperbolic until he followed through with his rhetoric a few days later. It appears the leader of Russia doesn’t care about the polls at home or even if his days as a leader may be numbered. He is determined to punish Ukraine for its turn towards the West.
For Putin, it is personal. I am not reading his mind but listening to his words.
He is the Godfather to the child of the now-jailed opposition leader in Ukraine, Victor Medvedchuk. Putin is marching young Russian men into Ukraine to kill and be slaughtered. Is his own Godchild going to choose a side between Ukraine and Russia? Have we been reduced to such stark choices?
Did it have to get to this level and if we had to reverse time could we put out a spark that started Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? No one knows the answers to such questions but we have to start with the foundation of facts. The muddiness of war is as dirty as the bottom of the Dnieper River. We as concerned citizens of the world need not sink to the level of muddying the waters more.
We need to face reality as the good, bad, and ugly. False attributions of crimes do not help in reducing tensions. We have reached the point of no return as bombs are being dropped as I type. Exposing Bill Browder’s crimes and his lies is too late. The West has tripled down on so many lies such as the Magnitsky lie, the RussiaGate lies, and yes, even many parts of the Maidan protests. Now it’s just a matter of time to witness how far Putin will burn and punish the West for his own version of history. I’m afraid no amount of mea culpas will reverse his mission for NovoRussia. Again, I am not reading his mind, but slowly realizing his statements on February 21st, 2022, exactly eight years from the coup on the Maidan, are truly what he believes and he is acting on them today.
Author of Dragon Games: Based on a True Story of Sergei Millian, The Hermitage Effect: How Bill Browder and her fiction book Buried Treasure. Lives in Massachusetts.