In 2004, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych lost his position as the result of street demonstrations known as the “Orange Revolution.” Yanukovych wanted to get back in the saddle at some point, so he looked for help. The oligarch Rinat Akhmetov suggested his friend Paul Manafort. From December 2004 to February 2010, Manafort reshaped Yanukovych’s image and that of his opponents. In February 2010, Yanukovych regained the presidency.
In February 2014 Yanukovych lost the presidency to a new round of street demonstrations called “Euromaidan.” The Russians soon expressed their dissatisfaction with the “Euromaidan” revolution by seizing Crimea and by fomenting pro-Russian uprisings in two eastern “oblasts.” The Americans and Europeans responded by wall-papering Russian leaders with sanctions and by providing economic aid to Ukraine. However, the Westerners recognized that Ukraine was a deeply corrupt country. They insisted upon the creation of a robust National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU).
Ukraine hopped to it: the legislature passed basic legislation in October 2014, then launched a search for a bureau leader in January 2015; and President Petro Poroshenko signed decrees creating the new bureau in April 2015. Funding for NABU is mandated under American and European Union aid programs and it has an evidence-sharing agreement with the Effa-Bee-Eye. However, while NABU could investigate corruption cases, the actual prosecution of those cases fell to the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). It looks like the idea was to build a fire wall between eager-beaver investigators and actual prosecutors, who could always find fault with the investigations in order to protect the corrupt.
In August 2016, NABU announced that it had discovered a previously secret document that recorded $12.7 million in payments from Yanukovych’s “Party of Regions” to Paul Manafort.
In August 2016, Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian investigative journalist who had won election to the parliament as a supporter of Petro Poroshenko, held a news conference. In it, he emphasized the importance of NABU’s so-called “black ledger,” which recorded $12.7 million in cash payments from Yanukovych to Manafort. Leschenko called for Ukrainian and American authorities to investigate Manafort. In support of his charges, Leschenko provided a sample of ledger items for six months of payments in 2012.
According to the Steele Dossier, on the day after the New York Times published its story on the “black ledger,” Yanukovych met with Russian President-for-Life Vladimir Putin. Yanukovych admitted that he had authorized “substantial kickback payments to Manafort,” but “that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this.”
A week after the Times story landed on door-steps, Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign.
Two weeks after the press conference, Leshchenko told the Financial Times that “For me, it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he [Trump] is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world.” The FT reported that Trump’s candidacy had alarmed Ukraine’s political leaders. It led them to “do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a U.S. election.” The FT reported that Leshchenko claimed that most Ukrainian politicians “on Hillary Clinton’s side.”
What to make of this information?
First, these allegations and reports have nothing to do with CrowdStrike or missing servers or any other fantasy developed by Rudy Giuliani or Donald Trump. Nor does it bear on the activities of Hunter Biden, let alone any insinuated intervention by his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden. All those things are mixed together in one of the most squalid scandals of American political history.
Second, it seems perfectly reasonable to believe that in 2016 the prospect of a Trump presidency would scare the bejeezus out of Ukrainians. President Obama had expressed his withering disapproval of Russian actions in Ukraine after the eviction of Viktor Yanukovych, but American aid came in the form of money, economic sanctions on Russia, and non-lethal military aid. Trump had expressed sympathy for the return of Crimea to Russia and had hoped for improved relations between the US and Russia. Ukraine’s leaders had every right to expect that their country—and all their chances for stealing stuff–would suffer under a Trump administration.
Third, it’s difficult to argue that individual politicians and government officials in Ukraine didn’t try to meddle in the 2016 presidential election when they insist that they did. Obviously, those interventions didn’t work and the same people later mostly tried to deny what they did.
Fourth, a lot of this stuff makes sense if we go with the original intelligence community assessment of the Russian meddling. First, they said that the Russkies wanted to sow seeds of division in America so as to discredit democracy among its participants. Later on, they amended this to say that the Russkies wanted Donald Trump elected president.
But what if the Russkies didn’t care who was elected? What if they just wanted us to fight among ourselves? As we have done. (I no longer communicate with one of my oldest friends.) “Twas a famous victory.”
 See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_in_Ukraine Probably helps if you have read Eric Ambler novels from the 1930s.
 Andrew E. Kramer, Mike McIntire, Barry Meier, “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief,” New York Times, August 14, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/15/us/politics/what-is-the-black-ledger.html For NABU’s published statement, see: https://nabu.gov.ua/en/novyny/statement-regarding-pmanaforts-appearance-party-regions-black-ledger
 Kenneth P. Vogel and David Stern, “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump backfire,” Politico, 11 January 2017. https://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/ukraine-sabotage-trump-backfire-233446
 See: Roman Olearchyk, “Ukraine’s leaders campaign against “pro-Putin’ Trump, Financial Times, 28 August 2016. : https://www.ft.com/content/c98078d0-6ae7-11e6-a0b1-d87a9fea034f On the FT, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_Times
 Leschenko is an exception, but then he gets into brawls in airport lounges and on the floor of parliament. Not a lot of back-down in that guy.
 Robert Southey, “The Battle of Blenheim,” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45178/the-battle-of-blenheim