An email made public by the organization Wikileaks depicts Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta expressing hesitation at the idea of former president Bill Clinton meeting with pro-West Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk to support Ukraine as it struggles against a continued Russian invasion.
Pinchuk, a longtime ally of the Clintons, requested the Foundation set up a either a public or private meeting with Bill Clinton. According to Clinton Foundation Director of Foreign Policy Amitabh Desai, Pinchuk was seeking “to bring together a few western leaders to show support for Ukraine” against Putin’s invasion and the colonization of Ukrainian Crimea.
The email, reportedly sent in March 2015, is a request for a rapid response to Pinchuk; Desai makes clear he does not want to make the decision regarding whether the meeting occurs.
“Victor Pinchuk is relentlessly following up (including this morning) about a meeting with WJC [Bill Clinton] in London or anywhere in Europe. Ideally he wants to bring together a few western leaders to show support for Ukraine, with WJC probably their most important participant,” Desai writes. “If that’s not palatable for us, then he’d like a bilat with WJC.”
“Are folks comfortable offering Victor a private meeting on one of those dates?” he asks. “At this point I get the impression that although I keep saying WJC cares about Ukraine, Pinchuk feels like WJC hasn’t taken enough action to demonstrate that, particularly during this existential moment for the county and for him.”
Desai adds that he believes Pinchuk “is under Putin’s heel right now” and needs support as he continues “nurturing stronger ties with the West.”
Tina Flournoy, Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton, replies to Desai: “we’ll get back to you on this.”
In a thread no longer including Desai, Podesta responds: “No is better. Is that viable?”
Pinchuk has never been explicitly vocal against Putin, and some who know him say that his promotion of European influence in Ukraine is largely self-interest driven. “The advantage for him of Ukraine becoming a rule-of-law society is that it doesn’t matter [who the president is],” former American ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer told Tablet. Pinchuk is a businessman, and a destabilized, war-torn Russian colony is not an ideal business climate.
Instead of confronting Putin head-on, he has invested millions in “pro-West” initiatives to promote “European values,” as opposed to Kremlin values, in Ukraine. Among the most prominent of these initiatives is the Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference, bringing together some of the world’s most prominent leaders to “promote European integration of Ukraine,” according to its website. The website touts such notable Putin foes on the guest list as former Ukrainian presidents Yulia Tymoshenko and Leonid Kuchma, current Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko.
The Clintons have a long history with Pinchuk, and appear to have supported him, one of the world’s wealthiest Ukrainians, through notably shady business dealings. A Newsweek article published a month after Desai’s email notes that Pinchuk is “the largest individual contributor to the Clinton Foundation,” and that Pinchuk appears to have skirted sanctions in Iran through his corporation, Interpipe, while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Pinchuk did not suffer any major repercussions for potentially negotiating with a state sponsor of terrorism.
Taking a public stand against Putin, however, appeared a bridge too far for Podesta. It remains unknown whether a private meeting occurred between Clinton and Pinchuk, though the relationship remains publicly strong.
The email takes on a new significance in light of Hillary Clinton’s repeated attacks on her opponent, Donald Trump, for what she has called “support” for Putin. Trump has argued that the Obama administration’s indecisiveness on an international stage have allowed Putin to fill power vacuums in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere.