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This is a forgery. (Courtesy of Sen. Durbin’s office)
The request for comment reached Sen. Dick Durbin’s staff just after midnight on Monday. What did the No. 2 Senate Democrat have to say about a letter, over his signature, in which he appeared to dictate to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk who should be in his government? A Washington, D.C.-based reporter for Russian outlet RIA Novosti wanted to know.
The discovery of the letter appeared to be a huge propaganda coup for Moscow and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, who have argued that the government in Kiev is Washington’s puppet.
“By the time the East Coast was awake, we had messages from State and our embassies flagging the issue for us as well,” a Durbin aide told Yahoo News.
But the letter was a hoax. And not even a particularly well-executed one. Sure, Durbin’s signature was capably duplicated, but everything else, from the stationery to Durbin’s title, wasn’t quite right. His leadership post in Congress isn’t “assistant minority leader,” it’s “assistant Democratic leader.”
“This letter is a forgery and was obviously written by somebody with a tenuous grasp of the English language. We’ve referred the matter to the FBI and CIA,” Durbin spokesman Ben Marter said in a statement. CIA spokeswoman Lyssa Asbill said the agency was “aware of the fake letter” but declined to detail what kind of follow-up would come from the agency.
Marter highlighted the message’s wobbly English, but it is also laughably detailed and preposterously contends that the U.S. Senate dictates specific Cabinet appointments and who gets top corporate jobs in Ukraine.
“I concur, it is necessary to invest every effort to keep Oleksiy Pavlenko in his office of Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food. His discharge [sic] will create additional obstacles on the way of widening cooperation between the U.S. and Ukrainian agricultural companies,” the fake letter says.
“Read the letter in a Russian accent for the full effect,” one Durbin aide quipped.
The United States has in the past meddled in other countries’ internal politics, notably throughout the Cold War.
And similar efforts to portray Ukraine’s new leadership as Washington’s pawns have bubbled up in the past. In February 2014, someone leaked the audio of an intercepted telephone call between Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in which they discussed American preferences on who should be — and should not be — in Ukraine’s government.
But laying such activity at the doorstep of the Senate, even at the feet of Durbin, one of its fiercest Russia critics , wildly exaggerates the sway lawmakers have over policy.
The letter wasn’t the first in the propaganda wars over Ukraine. In September 2014, pro-Russian outlets published a bogus letter purportedly from International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde in which she rejected Yatsenyuk’s request for aid.