Former US envoy to Ukraine shifts testimony

Kurt Volker, the former United States special representative for Ukraine, who previously claimed that he did not see any quid pro quo in the Ukrainian actions of US president Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has now said he failed to realise that the investigations demanded by the White House were linked to former US vice president Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s chief political rival.

Speaking in a public deposition at the US House Intelligence Committee, Mr Volker claimed that he had seen a “sharp distinction” between investigating Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company infamous for its corruption and probing the former US vice president whose son, Hunter Biden, served on Burisma’s board.

“I now understand that others saw the idea of investigating possible corruption involving the Ukrainian company Burisma as equivalent to investigating former vice president Biden. I saw them as very different. The former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable,” he told congressional lawmakers in his opening statement. “In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections.”

“I did not know of any linkage between the hold on security assistance and Ukraine pursuing investigations. No one had ever said that to me — and I never conveyed such a linkage to the Ukrainians,” he stressed.

While he confirmed that he was instrumental in pushing the aides of the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to launch anti-corruption probes that he believed to be probes in general, he denied that he had been part of any scheme whose aim was to find political dirt on against the Bidens.

Mr Volker is a key witness in a series of congressional hearings in an ongoing impeachment inquiry against the US president launched by US Democrats who claim that Mr Trump linked 400 million US dollars of foreign and security aid for Ukraine to the Ukrainian government’s launching of investigations against the former US vice president who is one of the likely to Democratic candidates to face off Mr Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

“I don’t think that raising Biden [and his involvement in Burisma] and 2016 [and alleged Ukrainian interference in the previous US presidential election], which I consider to be conspiracy theories circulated by some Ukrainians, are not things we should be pursuing in our strategy towards Ukraine,” Mr Volker said, pointing to the debunked allegations which Mr Giuliani wanted to investigate.

His testimony comes after an earlier deposition he gave in October in which he claimed that he saw no evidence of Mr Trump linking the Ukraine aid to the investigations. After learning about the changed testimony of US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, however, who admitted that he had told a Ukrainian presidential aid that the security assistance would be released if Mr Zelensky announced the investigations, he called the linkage “unacceptable.”

Meantime, the Ukrainian president has told a CNN reporter that everyone in Ukraine is tired of the impeachment questions. “We have our own country. We have our independence, we have our problems and questions. That’s it,” he said.