Controversial Ukrainian politician hires pastor as lobbyist
A Ukrainian politician under investigation for treason in his country has hired a lobbyist to clear his name in Washington, according to forms disclosed to the Justice Department earlier this month.
Andrii Artemenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, met with two men close to President Trump — including his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — earlier this year to float a “peace plan” for Ukraine and Russia. The plan reportedly involved giving the Kremlin some concessions in return for U.S. sanctions being lifted.
Artemenko maintains that he was merely seeking a way to end the fighting in Crimea, which Russia forcibly annexed in 2014, but Ukrainian investigators are trying to figure out if he has been engaged in “subversive acts against Ukraine,” The New York Times reported earlier this year.
Artemenko hired a foreign agent to push back against these allegations and secure meetings with policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch for the Ukrainian lawmaker to share his ideas.
But the man representing the Ukrainian politician is not your typical lobbyist.
Dale Armstrong, an American evangelical Christian pastor from Pennsylvania, has never worked on K Street.
“I’m setting up meetings with Congress and the White House … with anyone I can. When the house is on fire, everyone grabs a bucket.”
Armstrong is the president of the Armada Network, an apostolic ministry, and international director and trustee of the American Pastors Network, which has led him to work periodically in Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries for more than two decades.
“It boils down to, strategically, he needed someone who is a recognized anti-Putin, anti-Kremlin individual, and I’ve been working three years aggressively with that,” Armstrong said from Kiev in a telephone interview with The Hill, “but [he also needs someone] who is also a man of peace, because we need to find some common ground to stop this madness. Looking at another year of daily fighting and death is unacceptable.
“To not be able to do that with the feat of being labeled a Russian spy has hindered the peace process,” he said.
The contract with Armstrong is worth $30,000 per month and set to last for three months.
Armstrong describes Artemenko as pro-West and opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including being involved with the protests that ousted his country’s pro-Russian former leader, Viktor Yanukovych.
Artemenko lived for years in the United States, Armstrong said, and owned a logistics company in Qatar that helped open a U.S. military base. These claims could not be immediately verified.
Artemenko, a far-right populist, attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and Trump’s inauguration earlier this year. He reportedly has borrowed Trump’s campaign slogan, altering it to fit his country, “Make Ukraine Great Again.”
He has been thrust to the center of the ongoing controversy over Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
A series of reports by the Times in February called the meeting between Artemenko, Cohen and Felix Sater, a Trump Organization associate who reportedly searched for business opportunities in Russia, a way to provide a backchannel for diplomatic negotiations.
Cohen told the Times that he delivered notes from a dinner meeting with Artemenko to the White House in a sealed envelope. It landed on the desk of Trump’s then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Flynn stepped down from the White House post following a report that he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about discussing Russian sanctions with the country’s ambassador to the United States.
Armstrong said Artemenko didn’t have any plans written down — and prefers the terms “ideas” and “options” to the mention of a formal plan — and has no idea what was in the envelope. Cohen later said he never actually delivered an envelope to the White House.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to get the United States involved in negotiations on how to end the conflict in Crimea.
“Anyone who has a personal opinion in Ukraine is automatically named a Russian spy,” said Artemenko in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine. “But I don’t have any connections to Russia. That’s why I’m trying to involve the Trump administration on this issue and not the Kremlin.”
Artemenko’s peace plan resulted in him getting expelled from his own political faction, the Radical Party, which had disagreed with his ideas. The stakes are high, as Ukraine has presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.
The plan included a proposal to force Russian forces out of Crimea and to then hold a referendum vote to lease the eastern Ukrainian peninsula to Russia for 50 to 100 years, according to The New York Times. The Russian government quickly brushed off the concept, saying, “We cannot rent from ourselves.”
Armstrong characterized the proposal as one that would exchange lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia for “reparations” to Ukraine in order to repair the damage the conflict in Crimea has done.
“We know that Crimea is part of Ukraine, and there should be a full withdrawal.
“At the same time, when you sit across Mr. Putin, you know that someone is going to have to make concessions — what will those concessions be? — and you hope to god he’ll make concessions,” Armstrong later said.
Artemenko, according to The New York Times, had been part of the Opposition Bloc in Ukraine that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, helped to mold for Yanukovych. Armstrong denies the characterization, emphasizing his pro-West stance. Artemenko has said he has never met Manafort.
“This Russian frenzy sucked him into this,” Armstrong said. “I don’t know what to call it … a witch hunt for anyone who could be associated with Russia or Russian espionage.”