The Atlantic Council: independent think tank, or lobbyists for oligarchs?

The Atlantic Council is one of the most prominent think tanks in Washington, but it has some shady connections...

The Atlantic Council has, since 1961, been one of the most prominent independent think tanks haunting the corridors and chambers of power in Washington. It is a non profit organisation which supposedly shuns any party allegiances. Its authors and experts include senior US diplomats and politicians and its events lure the elite of NATO to Washington's rubber chicken circuit, writes Steve Komarnyckyj for EUToday.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the ex-NATO secretary, has graced them with his presence: Senior military figures from NATO countries have spoken on topics such as dissension within the alliance and Afghanistan. Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist and author, is one of its most prominent figures and, on paper at least, an outspoken critic of eastern oligarchs. The organisation gives a platform to critics of Putin and has been honoured by a ban in Russia. Its side project the DFRlab challenges disinformation on social media, although it has ironically received a donation from Facebook. Yet all is not what it seems.

The Atlantic Council may be a non profit organisation but it needs cash to keep afloat and fund its lavish events. It has received funding from dozens of governments, wealthy oligarchs and arms manufacturers. Aslund is an outspoken critic of ‘dark money’ and its corrosive impact on democracy. Yet the organisation signed a cooperation agreement with Cyprus registered Burisma Holdings on 19th January 2017.

Burisma is owned by the Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky who was an energy minister in the notoriously corrupt government of Viktor Yanukovych. He fled Ukraine in August 2014 having been accused of enriching himself by using his position as a minister to hand out fossil fuel extraction licences to his own companies. The link with the Atlantic Council was part of his plan to rehabilitate himself in the West.

Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden, pictured left, ex-US Vice President Joe Biden's son, also became part of Zlochevsky's PR drive when he was appointed to the board of Burisma in April 2014. While there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of the Bidens the appointment gave Burisma credibility and a link to Washington's Democratic elite. Zlochevsky was under investigation while Biden was a Burisma board member on an outrageous salary which at times reached $50000 USD per month. Whatever the reality Zlochevsky might have been hoping that such lavish renumeration would buy him influence in Washington.

Yet, the Atlantic Council continued to position itself as a fighter against corruption while supporting lavish annual ‘energy security conferences’ in Monaco in partnership with Burisma. More seriously, Aslund wrote a 2017 report on money laundering in Latvia arguing, laughably, that the country was no longer a centre for such a shady activity.

The report was part financed by the ABLV bank which was subsequently sanctioned by the US for, errr, money laundering and collapsed in 2018. Aslund had been ‘persuaded’ to write the report at the urging of Sally Painter of Blue Star Strategies. Painter was a long term lobbyist for Latvian banks. She had been a senior adviser to the Clinton administration and was a co founder of BBS. Like the Atlantic Council she spoke the language of ‘supporting democracy’ while under her stewardship BSS forged some dodgy links.

Aslund had himself previously published a book written in partnership with Valdis Dombrovskis, Latvia's ex prime minister who had overseen the aftermath of the collapsed Parex bank. Parex had folded in 2008 after being comprehensively looted by its owners and used for money laundering by the Russian mafia but the book blamed its fall, untenably, on other factors. Dombrovskis was portrayed as the hero of the hour rescuing Latvia's economy via an austerity programme. In reality the collapse of Parex as handled by the government impoverished Latvians and the gangsters were unaffected.

It was, however, in Ukraine that both the Atlantic Council and Blue Star Strategies played their most questionable roles.


In the run up to the Ukrainian presidential campaign, the Atlantic Council portrayed Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a youthful reformer. They lambasted his opponent Petro Poroshenko for corruption but glossed over Zelenskyy's links to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Kolomoysky, pictured right, was the co founder of PrivatBank, Ukraine's largest private bank, along with Gennadiy Bogolyubov.

The two men subsequently looted PrivatBank to the tune of almost $6bn. Yet Zelenskyy seems to have courted Kolomoysky's support and met him on several occasions, accompanied by Andriy Bohdan, his lawyer, before the election.

Bohdan was the head of Zelenskyy's presidential administration until 11th February 2020. He was also a Yanukovych era official theoretically forbidden from holding office because of his association with the corrupt ex-president's regime. Ukraine, under his stewardship, began pursuing a vendetta against ex-president Poroshenko who came to power after the Revolution of Dignity.

Zelenskyy seems to be readying the country to acknowledge the fake republics created by Russia in Donbas. This move will open up Russia's economy for businesses owned by his oligarchic sponsors. The Atlantic Council had been presenting an oligarch's servant as a reformer and have recently and far too late adopted a more critical approach of expressing reservations while still unconvincingly claiming that he pushed through reforms.

Fool me once... on 4th March 2020 Zelenskyy appointed a government headed by Denys Shmygal, who is regarded as the place man for Donbas oligarch Renat Akhmetov. The oligarchs now control Ukraine and are dictating the country's surrender to protect their interests.

The Blue Star Strategy group also poses as a champion of democracy while acting to protect oligarchic interests. In 2017 it was hired to discredit a Ukrainian NGO AntAC, which fights corruption, by another NGO National Interest. National Interest is close to a Ukrainian ‘businessman’ Mykola Martynenko who resigned as an MP in 2015 amid allegations of corruption.

He was angry at both AntAC and Ukraine's anti corruption bureau NABU for having ensured he would be investigated for money laundering. Daria Kaleniuk, the head of AntAC, commenting on Blue Star Strategies and their attack on her organisation in January 2020, noted that US lobbyists were eager for ‘dirty money’. Yup! Where there's muck there's cash as they say in England. And the AC and BSS are up to their necks in cash that may not have been laundered, but comes from some possibly very dirty sources indeed.

Read also by Steve Komarnyckyj:

The KGB enters the European Parliament

The Ghosts of Christmas Past...

Latvia, the Law and the EU - How a corrupt post communist country abused the trust of the EU

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Steve Komarnyckyj

Steve Komarnyckyj

Steve Komarnyckyj's literary translations and poems have appeared in Index on Censorship, Modern Poetry in Translation and many other journals. He is the holder of two PEN awards and a highly regarded English language poet whose work has been described as articulating "what it means to be human" (Sean Street). He runs Kalyna Language Press with his partner Susie and three domestic cats.

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