Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 20.11.2017
Sometimes the incongruity of events is so overwhelming that only reciting the facts will do. Insight into the significance of what happened may eventually come, but it is elusive in the moment. On November 19, Rudolf Giuliani arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine, was met at the airport by Hennadiy Kernes, and later attended the launch of a book, “Is Lenin With Us?” written by Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov. The ostensible reason for such an unusual meeting was to “improve the security sphere” in Kharkiv. Incongruous, bizarre, unexpected – but what to make of all this?
That someone who is close to the Trump administration in the United States would go to Ukraine’s second largest city just to talk about improving security there stretches credulity. Despite having no experience or qualifications in information technology, Rudy Giuliani was appointed by Trump to be his informal advisor on cybersecurity. During the US presidential election campaign of 2016, Giuliani had an uncanny knack of predicting when Russia/WikiLeaks would drop its next bombshell of stolen emails targeting Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. The ties of Giuliani to the Putin regime – which would explain him having such unexpected insight – are being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Hennadiy Kernes is a notorious figure in Ukraine. The mayor of Kharkiv, Kernes was a strong ally of former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. When Yanukovych imprisoned his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, in 2011, he found it safest to lock her up in Kharkiv. EuroMaidan protests started in reaction to Yanukovych pulling out of the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement at the end of November 2013.
Kernes backed Yanukovych's violent crackdown on Ukrainians who came out into the streets to demonstrate. Kernes used “titushky” (paid thugs) to break up demonstrations in Kharkiv, and sent busloads of them to Kyiv to attack the much larger demonstrations in the capital. When his titushky burned a Ukrainian language library in Kharkiv, Kernes made sure that city officials did nothing to stop the destruction. On 20 February 2014, the crackdown by the Yanukovych regime which Kernes supported reached a crescendo of violence, with mass shootings of protestors by snipers on Maidan in Kyiv. A day later, Yanukovych fled from his palatial Mezhyhirya residence near Kyiv, and flew by helicopter to Kharkiv. There, three fiercely pro-Putin leaders of the Yanukovych Clan – Yanukovych, Kernes, and then governor of Kharkiv region Mykhailo Dobkin – attempted to form a rival Ukrainian government. They were aided in this endeavour by the Russian intelligence services, who were hoping to repeat what happened in the Russian Bolshevik invasion of Ukraine of 1918-1920. Then, independent Ukraine in Kyiv and Russia-occupied Kharkiv were rival capitals. In 2014, however, the people of Kharkiv were mostly on the side of Ukrainian independence and the Revolution of Dignity that was ushering in a new era of hope throughout the country. The pro-Putin Yanukovych Clan/Party of Regions was soon on the run from Kharkiv. Yanukovych fled to Crimea. When a pro-Russia insurrection didn’t start in Crimea either, Yanukovych fled to Russia, where he has remained ever since, a fugitive from justice. After fleeing briefly to Russia himself, Hennadiy Kernes returned to Kharkiv and remained as mayor. How he has escaped prosecution for the crimes he committed during the Revolution of Dignity is a mystery for Ukrainians to solve.
This is the man, Hennadiy Kernes, who welcomed Rudy Giuliani to Kharkiv. Giuliani is an informal advisor to Trump. Kernes has closer ties to Putin than to the democratically-elected representatives of his own country, Ukraine. It is difficult not to see the incongruous events in Kharkiv as anything other than an arm’s length meeting of Trump and Putin, through proxies, on neutral ground. There is no chance the matter under discussion was the security of the Kharkiv region. This meeting was effectively a Trump-Putin interaction. For the moment, its purpose remains elusive.