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What Rick Perry was doing in Ukraine | Houston Chronicle |

Robert Bensh, a Houston energy investor, spent the past two decades developing a small oil and gas business in Ukraine, operating there in relative obscurity.

Then early this year, Bensh got a call asking him to drive to George Bush Intercontinental Airport for a short meeting with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was looking for an independent assessment of the former Soviet state's energy sector.

"We met at the airport, when he was on his way back from Austin or Round Top," Bensh said, referring to the small Texas town where Perry owns a home. "I told him you have a brand new government that's open to reform and outside investment. The United States should be at the forefront to help Ukraine improve its energy security."

[...]

Ukraine's energy sector has long been criticized by international institutions as a corrupt post-Soviet cabal of oligarchs and patronage jobs, supported by the huge fees they earn for transporting Russian natural gas to western Europe. A report by the International Monetary Fund earlier this year found that executives at the state-run energy company Naftogaz had secretly diverted natural gas from households to industry, cutting into the company's revenues.

Located between Russia and Poland, with the largest land mass of any European country besides Russia, Ukraine has figured prominently in the foreign policy of American presidents going back to the late 1980s. Tensions rose in 2014 when Russia invaded and seized Ukraine's Crimea region, prompting the Obama administration to impose sanctions on Moscow - creating a diplomatic logjam that hadn't much changed when Trump selected Perry to be his energy secretary three years later.

Like cabinet members before him, the former Texas governor urged Ukrainian officials to overhaul the management of its energy sector, end the monopoly of Naftogaz and allow western oil companies to operate there to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas.

After a meeting with former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in November, Perry returned to Texas eager to get U.S. companies into Ukraine and started putting out inquiries on who in Texas knew the country's energy sector. Along with Bensh, he spoke with Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-born energy investor in Houston and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who donated $20,000 to Perry's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

After Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelensky won election in December, his administration asked Perry for energy experts who might be able to advise them, according to the Energy Department. Perry would give them the names of both Houston businessmen, along with two well-known energy experts from the consulting firm IHS Markit, Dan Yergin, a Pulitzer-Prize winning energy historian, and Carlos Pascual, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

That prompted media reports that Perry was attempting to fill Naftogaz's supervisory board with his cronies from Texas, an allegation Perry has denied.

Earlier this year, Poland's gas utility signed a deal to import 3.5 million metric tons of LNG a year from Venture Global LNG, which is developing two export terminals in Louisiana, beginning in 2023.

"The U.S. has had an interest for years in weaning Europe from its dependence on Russian natural gas," said Joe Barnes, a former diplomat with the State Department and now a fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. "With substantial U.S. LNG exports, there is the possibility of Ukraine as a potential market. It makes perfectly good sense for them and for us from a geopolitical perspective."

U.S. secretary Perry says international loan an option for Ukraine's winter fuel needs | UNIAN - May 2019 |

Trump & Giuliani Sought Profits for Cronies in Ukraine | Courthouse News |

Ukraine, a resource-rich nation that sits on the geographic and symbolic border between Russia and the West, has long been plagued by corruption and government dysfunction, making it a magnet for foreign profiteers.

At the center of the Naftogaz plan, according to three people familiar with the details, were three such businessmen: two Soviet-born Florida real estate entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Florida, Harry Sargeant III.

Sargeant, his wife and corporate entities tied to the family have donated at least $1.2 million to Republican campaigns and PACs over the past 20 years, including $100,000 in June to the Trump Victory Fund, according to federal and state campaign finance records. He has also served as finance chair of the Florida state Republican Party, and gave nearly $14,000 to Giuliani's failed 2008 presidential campaign.

In early March, Fruman, Parnas and Sargeant were touting a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov, according to two people who spoke to the AP and a memorandum about the meeting that was submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Kiev.

McCain fundraiser Harry Sargeant III accused of Iraq war profiteering | NY Times - Oct. 2008 |

[links added in articles are mine - Oui]

by Oui on Sat Oct 19th, 2019 at 06:42:18 PM EST

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