Parnas has said he and his associate Igor Fruman used their deep knowledge of a Ukrainian government known for functioning on secret inside deals — a reputation it is trying to change — to support Giuliani’s efforts. The two face federal charges over alleged campaign finance violations.
The trove of communications released in recent days from Parnas reveal a frantic schedule of meetings, telephone calls and mobile phone messages over the past year.
The connections read like a who’s who of Ukraine’s political elite: members of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inner circle, the country’s head police officer, the chief of security services, two former top prosecutors and one of Ukraine’s richest men.
Parnas’s messages showed how he ping-ponged around the globe, jetting to Warsaw, Kyiv, Vienna, Israel, Paris and Madrid, always, he has claimed, with Giuliani’s consent and Trump’s knowledge, juggling a laundry list of tasks from the group involved in the project that he says included Giuliani; Derek Harvey, an aide to the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.); and lawyer Victoria Toensing.
The operation dismayed Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, who said that it hurt the country that is struggling to shake its past as a shady, post-Soviet backwater where prosecutions could be bought and sold and you could get whatever you wanted with the right political connections.
Political analyst Taras Semenyuk of KyivStratPro, a strategic consulting firm in Kyiv, said the American political machinations and the secret negotiations by Ukrainian officials with Parnas and others had damaged Ukraine’s reputation.
“This shows the weakness of the Ukrainian institutions, which can also be used by international partners for their own political purposes. Parnas and Fruman knew it and so they smashed this weak point,” Semenyuk said.
Parnas had a reputation for doing most of the talking on behalf of himself and Fruman, who had the high-level contacts. Parnas said they represented themselves to Ukraine officials as the path to Trump, via Giuliani.
The efforts to convince Zelensky to announce an inquiry into Biden are at the heart of the impeachment process.
The messages track Parnas’s hopes and frustrations as they rose and fell. Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani initially struggled for traction with the administration of the newly elected Zelensky, a TV comedian who won office April 21 on a mandate to end corruption and put a stop to insider deals.
Earlier in 2019, Parnas had approached Zelensky’s predecessor, then-President Petro Poroshenko, Parnas has said, only to see him voted out.
At times, Parnas showed frustration when efforts to get Zelensky officials to cooperate stumbled. Giuliani and Parnas struggled and failed to get a meeting between Giuliani and Zelensky in April and May.
When his texts to members of Zelensky’s administration went unanswered, Parnas, left hanging, responded with double question marks.
He sent “??” to a close Zelensky aide, Serhiy Shefir, on July 24, the day before Trump’s “do us a favor though” phone call with Zelensky that led to the impeachment trial. It would be Parnas’s last message to Shefir. (The week before, Trump had told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine.)
Eight days after Zelensky’s inauguration as president on May 20, Parnas was on his phone, trying to contact Shefir.
He texted Shefir asking when it would be convenient to speak but got no answer. Two question marks elicited no response.
He kept trying with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, a holdover from the Poroshenko administration.
Parnas asked him what was going on, resorting again to the double question marks when Avakov failed to respond straight away. Eleven minutes later, Avakov sent back a message that everything was normal and he and others were with Zelensky and he would speak to Parnas the next day.
At 7:30 the next morning, a frustrated Parnas erupted in a message to Avakov, apparently referring to Shefir and someone else he called “the relevant person.”
“Sergei won’t connect!!! And no message from the relevant person!!! It’s very important that we speak today!!!” he wrote. Sergei is the Russian spelling for Serhiy.
Fruman and Parnas also visited Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, an influential oligarch who is close to Zelensky, in Israel in April, requesting he set up a meeting between Giuliani and Zelensky, without success. However, Kolomoisky was still in touch with Parnas as late as September and October.
Ukraine, analyst Semenyuk said, had to escape its reputation for secret inside deals with government officials. But he said Zelensky’s administration, which has pledged to confront corruption, had inherited the problem.
“Ukraine is drawn again into U.S. internal political games, thanks to officials of the former president Poroshenko, who pursued their own goals,” Semenyuk said. “Zelensky inherited the system that was built by Poroshenko and now, whether he wants it or not, has to maneuver to avoid being used again by one of the parties of the U.S. presidential elections.”
Oleksandr Lemenov, of the anti-corruption organization State Watch, said enduring corruption made Ukraine attractive to unscrupulous figures. He saw Parnas and Fruman’s reported activities in Ukraine as improper.
“The behavior of Fruman and Parnas as representatives of Rudolph Giuliani did not surprise me personally,” he said. “We understand that there are certain circles in the U.S. who are abusing their positions.”