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Zelenskiy appoints US lawyer as adviser amid outreach to Ukrainian diaspora

Volodymyr Zelensky (Mykola Lazarenko/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has appointed an American lawyer as a new adviser with a mandate to build relations with ethnic Ukrainians living in the United States and elsewhere.

Andrew Mac, who heads the Washington, D.C., office of the Kyiv-based law firm Asters, was officially named to the position on November 5, according to a presidential decree.

In filings with the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act unit, Mac said the appointment was for an indefinite period and he would not be paid for his services.

“The registrant participates in conferences and other engagements in his personal capacity that promote ties between Ukraine and the Ukrainian-American community and American investment in Ukraine which may indirectly benefit the President of Ukraine,” according to the filing, dated November 14.

Mac’s appointment comes as Ukraine’s reputation in the United States has taken a hit during the Democratic-led impeachment hearing into whether President Donald Trump withheld military aid to the country in order to pressure Zelenskiy to conduct investigations into a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election.

Republicans have sought to defend Trump in part by casting Ukraine as one of the world’s most corrupt countries.

Mac’s role will “likely involve” speaking with Ukrainian-American media or media outlets read by the Ukrainian-American community, according to the filing with the Justice Department.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Mac said after Zelenskiy was elected president in April, he was contacted by one of Zelenskiy’s advisers, Andriy Yermak, whom he called a good friend. He said his efforts were not focused on improving Ukraine’s image among Americans, but rather on building closer ties with Ukrainians in the United States and Canada.

“The diaspora is great, but it’s an under-utilized asset,” he said. “My role is to fortify existing bridges, but more importantly to build new ones.”

“My goal is not to inform Americans where Ukraine is on the map,” he said. “I’m not hired to be a public-relations consultant for Ukraine’s global image.”

A spokeswoman for Zelenskiy did not return RFE/RL messages seeking comment. Yermak could not be immediately reached for comment.

Mac is the second U.S. lobbyist to have registered under the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act to work on behalf of Zelenskiy’s government.

In April, weeks ahead of the Ukrainian presidential election, a Washington-based lawyer named Marcus Cohen hired Signal Group Consulting, LLC, to burnish Zelenskiy’s international image and set up meetings between members of his camp and officials in Washington.

Cohen later told RFE/RL that he paid nearly $70,000 for the lobbying work out of his own pocket — and out of goodwill toward Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy initially said he did not know Cohen, but then later confirmed meeting him and said he was certain he did not request that Cohen — or anyone else — lobby on his behalf.

Andrij Dobriansky, director of communications for the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, said there were more than 1 million Americans who identify as Ukrainian.

Mac’s main role will more likely focus on promoting Ukraine as a place to do business, Dobriansky said. “Fighting the perception that Ukraine is corrupt is probably going to be part of his portfolio,” he told RFE/RL.

“President Zelenskiy’s goal is to grow the economy as he has very concrete budgetary concerns,” he added.

Ukraine is negotiating a new loan package from the International Monetary Fund. Low living standards have driven many Ukrainians to seek work abroad, in countries such as neighboring Poland.

Zelenskiy, who won the presidency on a promise to fight corruption and accelerate economic growth, met with the leaders of the Ukrainian World Congress and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress during a visit to Toronto in July.

Mac specializes in cross-border transactions involving the United States, Ukraine, and other former Soviet states, according to a biography on Asters’ website.

Asters, which is headquartered in Kyiv, includes on its client list Ukraine’s largest lender, PrivatBank, which is in the midst of a major legal and political fight involving its former co-owner, billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy.

The bank was nationalized in 2016 when international auditors found a $5.5 billion hole in its balance sheet; Kolomoisky, who has close ties to Zelenskiy, has insisted that the bank was improperly nationalized by Ukrainian regulators.

According to a 2010 interview with the Kyiv Post, Mac said he was recruited in 2002 by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and decided to stay in Kyiv longer after being “inspired” by the 2004 Orange Revolution that brought a pro-Western government to power.

In 2009, Mac was made managing partner at Magisters, a major law firm founded in Kyiv. After the Russian law firm Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev & Partners acquired Magisters in July 2011, Mac established a firm in Washington associated with the practice.

EPAM was co-founded by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s classmates from his law-school days in St. Petersburg.

Mac, born in New York City and raised in the Philadelphia area, has Ukrainian roots.