Fri, 18 Sep 2020

WASHINGTON -- A Texas-based lobbying firm was hired by a company linked to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's political party to develop a plan to import U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) into Ukraine.

It is the latest known example of politically-connected people seeking to profit by delivering surplus U.S. natural gas production to Ukraine, which is trying to wean itself off Russian energy.

An attempt by two associates of Rudy Giuliani -- President Donald Trump's personal lawyer -- to export U.S. LNG to Ukraine became an element of interest in the House of Representatives impeachment hearings.

Ukraine is seeking alternatives to natural gas from Russia amid tense relations with the Kremlin.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and is backing separatists in the Donbas region.

Ukraine last month received its first shipment of U.S. LNG through Poland.

Linden Strategies, a firm with Republican ties, was paid nearly $250,000 during 2018 by the Maryland-registered shell company ITBC to develop the plan, according to a Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing made public on December 5.

ITBC is connected to Mykhaylo Sokolov, a former regional leader of Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party. He could not be immediately reached by phone. It is unclear whether Sokolov is still pursuing his LNG plans.

'The registrant (ITBC) served as a conduit for Mr. Sokolov to pay a Houston-based consulting firm, which specializes in oil and energy issues, to develop a proposal for the delivery of liquefied natural gas to Ukraine," the filing stated along with the dates of the payments to Linden Strategies.

Linden Strategies was founded by Stephen Payne, 55, who had ties to the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Payne was investigated by the House Oversight and Government Relations Committee in 2008 for allegedly soliciting donations for Bush's future library in return for meetings with officials, according to a Politico article from that time.

In a statement sent to RFE/RL, Payne said he was 'surprised' to see his firm mentioned in the FARA report because it was purely a 'commercial transaction' to sell LNG to Ukraine.

'Additionally, the funds we received from ITBC were an investment into our LNG project with very specific repayment terms, in addition to ITBC receiving a small stake in the project,' he said in the statement.

Payne did not immediately respond to questions about the status of the project and whether ITBC is still an investor.

Ukraine produced about 21 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas in 2018 while it consumed about 31 bcm, with the gap filled by Russian gas imported through third countries.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Giuliani who were arrested in October on charges of violating campaign-finance laws, met in Texas earlier this year with an executive at Ukraine's state-owned gas company to discuss LNG imports.

Those discussions did not bear fruit.

Lobbying For Tymoshenko

ITBC separately made payments of $450,000 to The Livingston Group -- founded by former Republican lawmaker Robert Livingston -- from July 2018 to March 2019 in part to lobby the interests of Tymoshenko, who ran for president of Ukraine in March and was eliminated in the first round of an election that was eventually won by Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Shortly before Ukraine's snap parliamentary elections in July, The Livingston Group sought to set up meetings or calls between Tymoshenko and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Pence, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, according to FARA filings published in October. It is unclear if those meetings and calls took place.

Part of the Livingston's Group work included the publication of an opinion piece two days before the July 21 parliamentary elections touting Tymoshenko as the best choice for prime minister.

'Put simply, there is no one in Ukraine who can match Yulia Tymoshenko in both experience and global connections,' the piece said.

Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party won a majority in the parliamentary elections, giving the president the power to appoint his own prime minister without the need to compromise with other parties.

Tymoshenko's party garnered less than 6 percent of the seats.

The Livingston Group's contact with ITBC expired at the end of July, according to the filings.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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