Pre-Debate Analysis: Don’t Fall for Trump’s Conspiracy Theories on Ukraine

US President Donald Trump looks on during a meeting with then-President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine in the Oval Office of the White House on June 20, 2017, in Washington, D.C.
Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Tonight’s debate will potentially be a make-or-break moment for former Vice President Joe Biden, depending on how well he handles questions concerning his diplomacy in Ukraine as well as his son’s past business dealings in the country. ABC News broadcast an interview with Hunter Biden this morning where he admitted his decision to join the board of a Ukrainian gas company was a mistake. This, in addition to Joe Biden’s own advocacy that former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin be sacked, will dominate the debate tonight.

To be sure, neither Joe nor Hunter Biden did anything illegal, and most of the controversy surrounding the two stem from conspiracy theories pushed by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who essentially works as Trump’s personal fixer and propagandist. Joe Biden took the lead from local anti-corruption advocates in Ukraine and the rest of the European Union (EU) in calling for the dismissal of Shokin during his 2015 visit to the country.

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Shokin’s primary job was to investigate corruption, but he did very little investigating anything. It is important to note that the United States is Ukraine’s most important geopolitical ally and the EU and its financial institutions have contributed more than $16 billion in aid to Ukraine since 2014 when Russian invaded Ukraine. Comparatively, the U.S. has given no more than $513 million annually during the same period (this figure does not include military aid.) Given Ukraine’s history of wasting (and stealing) foreign aid, it is totally reasonable for Ukraine’s allies to have wanted Shokin gone.

Biden literally did nothing wrong. All he has to do is tell the truth and call Trump a liar and everyone else onstage tonight should follow suit.

If Biden’s opponents are smart, they won’t inflame Trump and Giuliani’s lies further. At most, they can say that family members should not be on boards of foreign businesses that may pose conflicts of interest for the United States. It is not illegal, but it is fair game to say it is unethical.

After that, the Democrats should unite around one main theme: How America should support its allies—in this case, Ukraine.

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To be sure, Trump attempted to blackmail Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his July phone call with demands that he investigate the Bidens for wrongdoing in the country. Ukrainian officials have long made clear the Bidens did nothing illegal. Candidates should discuss why Ukraine’s national security is important for America and what they will do to punish the Kremlin for annexing Crimea and continue to support separatists in the breakaway regions of Donbass and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.

Tonight’s debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, will be feature former Vice President Joe Biden; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former HUD Secretary Julián Castro; Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; billionaire investor and activist Tom Steyer; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

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The Root will be live-blogging the debate tonight with a focus on Ukraine. For those who want to hear from Ukrainian voices about Ukraine, please consider these voices on Twitter and their work.

Maksym Eristavi is an established journalist who travels between Prague and Kyiv and is a very informative voice on Ukrainian issues. His Twitter is @MaximEristavi.

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Maria Romanenko is the managing editor of the Ukraine-based news outlet Hromadske International, which produces news on Ukraine in English, Russian and Ukrainian. Her Twitter is @rommari.

Nataliya Gumenyuk, the head of Hromadske, is another excellent voice. Her Twitter is @ngumenyuk.

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The Kyiv Post is the premier Engish language newspaper in Ukraine. Their Twitter is @KyivPost.

Anna Myroniuk is a staff writer for the Kyiv Post and is worth a follow @AnnaMyroniuk.

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Daria Kaleniuk is the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, in Kyiv. If you want to know about anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, follow her @dkaleniuk.

Kateryna Kruk is a communications specialist and EuroMaidan activist who is a great follow when it comes to disinformation, and just an all-in-one go-to on all things Ukraine. She is @Kateryna_Kruk.

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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