Former diplomat who met with Ron Johnson is among Ukrainians hit with sanctions

MADISON – President Donald Trump’s administration slapped sanctions on seven Ukrainian officials Monday for trying to undermine President-elect Joe Biden’s candidacy, including a former diplomat who met with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson in 2019. 

Johnson, a Republican from Oshkosh, repeatedly cited information provided by Ukrainian official Andriy Telizhenko as he tried to discredit the Democratic nominee.

Monday’s sanctions against Telizhenko and others prompted Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon to say Johnson’s investigation of Biden was “based on Russian disinformation.” 

“The Senate was used to give credibility to foreign disinformation for the sole purpose of boosting Donald Trump’s campaign, and that can’t happen again,” Wyden said in a statement

Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel did not immediately respond to questions from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 

Johnson and his staff in 2019 met with Telizhenko as he chased a false conspiracy theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, attempted to interfere in the United States’ 2016 presidential campaign. Johnson’s staff initiated the contact, Telizhenko told the Washington Post that year. 

In its announcement of the sanctions, the State Department did not name Biden. But it said several of the Ukrainian individuals sanctioned in Monday’s action worked with Andrii Derkach, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and an active Russian intelligence agent, in “the coordinated dissemination and promotion of fraudulent or unsubstantiated allegations involving a U.S. political candidate.”

Derkach was a key player in Russia’s efforts to tarnish Biden with unsubstantiated allegations that while vice president, Biden sought to have a Ukrainian prosecutor fired so that he would not investigate his son, Hunter Biden. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, when his father was vice president. There is no evidence that Joe Biden did anything wrong.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach in September, calling him a longtime Russian agent and saying the step was part of a broader effort to expose “Russian malign influence campaigns and protecting our upcoming elections from foreign interference.”

The new announcement says seven individuals and four entities were part of a Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with Derkach. They include Telizhenko and former Ukrainian officials Konstantin Kulyk and Oleksandr Onyshchenko as well as a current member of the Ukrainian parliament, Oleksandr Dubinsky.

“They have made repeated public statements advancing malicious narratives that U.S. Government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

Pompeo also said the entities sanctioned on Monday are all “media front companies” operating in Ukraine — NabuLeaks, Era-Media, Only News, and Skeptik TOV. The State Department said these outlets “disseminate false narratives at the behest of Derkach’s and his associates.”

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.