Eugenia Dalphond reports from Washington DC
G street North West lies within a several minute walking distance from the White House and a five-minute drive from the US Congress. It runs through the downtown DC housing the world’s largest PR and lobbying firms. No wonder, the heart of pro-Yanukovych lobbying and PR in the United States is pulsating here.
Between 10th and 11th streets one can find the Podesta Group, one of the leading (meaning most expensive) lobbying and public affairs firms. Two blocks down the road, at the corner of G and 8th, there is Mercury/Clark & Weinstock, a lobbying unit of a national public affairs firm Mercury. Over the last two years, both firms have received a combined total of US$1,900,000 in fees to promote special interests of Viktor Yanukovych and his allies. The fees were received through the Brussels-based European Center for a Modern Ukraine, founded by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Kozhara and two MPs of the Party of Regions: Mr. Kahlyuzhnyj and Mr. Gieller. Although Podesta and Mercury/Clark & Weinstock de facto represent a foreign political party they have not yet registered as foreign agents. Today, Euromaidan activists representing two US-Ukraine NGOs have decided to publicize both firms’ activities and their relationship with the Party of Regions, calling on US firms to disavow any further engagement with the Brussels organization and Ukraine’s party in power.
The street protest was taking place in front of the office buildings of the Podesta Group and Mercury/Clark & Weinstock. The protest started at around 12:15 am and was scheduled to last until 2 pm, followed by similar pickets in front of the embassies of Ukraine and Russia. Around 60 Ukrainian professionals, students, and diaspora are rallying to show their indignation to the firms who represent Ukrainian government that pays for the lobbying services out of taxpayers’ pockets. The protesters who came from District of Columbia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois and Michigan are singing the anthem, chanting “Slava Ukraini” and holding multiple placards saying “Podesta Group takes blood money”, “Return bloody money”, and “Mercury stop supporting bloody regime in Ukraine”.
Myron Fedoriv, a representative of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, flew from Detroit, Michigan, to meet with US Congressmen and take part in today’s picket. He believes that publicity and face-to-face meetings with US policymakers are important to help counter the influence exhibited by US lobbyists.
Picket representatives have not been let inside the firms’ offices, but a representative of Mercury/Clark & Weinstock hastily walked outside in order to get the letter signed by two Ukrainian organizations [Razom, Inc. and UCCA]. He refused to talk to the protesters and identified himself as a mere representative of the firm, although there is evidence suggesting that he is company’s Managing Director and last year he met with Serhiy Klyuev in DC.
The pickets have been organized by the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America and Razom, Inc. The former is a non-partisan, non-profit umbrella organization with an over 70-year history of advancing Ukrainian heritage in the US and supporting democratic development in Ukraine. The latter is a newly-formed non-profit which has united Euromaidan activists via Facebook. Both organizations have been active in organizing rallies, fundraising, and political advocacy. And both are now lobbying Congressional offices for sanctions against specific Ukrainian government officials. Today’s picket demonstrates that Ukrainians in the US are seriously investigating Yanukovych’s footprint on US policymaking and are ready to counter it with action.