Ukraine company Burisma Holdings officially hired U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden as a lawyer after the company appointed him to the board of directors in April. The White House said there is no conflict of interest, even though the administration is working with Ukraine during its crisis with Russia.
Hunter Biden’s employment means he will be working as a director and top lawyer for a Ukrainian energy company during the period when his father and others in the Obama administration attempt to influence the policies of Ukraine’s new government, especially on energy issues.
There’s no indication that Hunter Biden, his father or Burisma are crossing any legal or ethical lines, although ethics experts appear divided over the implications of Hunter Biden’s new job.
However, Nikolai Zlochevsky, one of ousted Russia-backed President Viktor Yanukovych’s allies, owns Burisma. He was a member of Parliament for the Party of Regions, which was Yanukovych’s party. From The Wall Street Journal:
He served as Mr. Yanukovych’s minister of environmental protection from July 2010 and then become minister of ecology and natural resources in December 2010, key positions with influence over the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Zlochevsky was removed from the post in April 2012 and appointed deputy secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, a role he held until Mr. Yanukovych’s government collapsed in late February. During his tenure as a government minister, Burisma and entities associated with the firm received a large number of permits for oil and gas exploration in Ukraine and stepped up their output considerably, according to Ukrainian press reports.
Yanukovych is a fugitive and under US sanctions, and now Biden’s son is not only on the board of directors, but a lawyer for a company owned by Yanukovych’s ally. The US can claim there are no conflicts of interest, but it does raise a few eyebrows.
“The primary problem here is the fact that Hunter Biden has set up a financial arrangement with someone who might have business pending before this administration,” Craig Holman, an ethics expert with Public Citizen, told the AP.
Biden was in Kiev on Saturday to witness Petro Poroshenko’s presidential inauguration. He told Poroshenko the U.S. will provide Ukraine with $49 million in aid and that America stands with Kiev.
Ukraine is very important to the West and Russia. It is seen as the crown jewel of the ex-Soviet states, as most Russians believe Kiev is the birthplace of Russia. But one of the most underreported angles of the Russia-Ukraine crisis is gas and energy. Europe receives about 30% of its gas from Russia, and the majority of the pipelines run through Ukraine. After parliament ousted Yanukovych, Russia and state-owned gas giant Gazprom have continuously used gas as a political tool to gain control of Ukraine. Then Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, and Burisma leased natural gas fields in the peninsula.
Russia has accused the West, specifically the U.S., of using Ukraine to advance their interests. Mediate said this is another reason why it is not a good idea to appoint Biden to Burisma.
While it’s normal for the powerful children of powerful people to be pulled onto the boards of vast multinational corporations, the fact that Biden happened to join a Ukrainian energy company in the midst of the conflict in Crimea is probably not a good idea. First, as the Russian media quickly proved, it immediately breeds speculation about Americans attempting to secure their energy interests in Ukraine. Second, the best way to spark accusations of “conflicts of interest” is by appointing a man to your board who is, literally, the spitting image of America’s Vice President.