Why did an energy firm with big assets in Ukraine hire Joe Biden’s son?

In the span of a few weeks, an energy firm little-known inside the United States added two members to its board of directors — scoring connections to Secretary of State John Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden in the bargain.

On April 22, Cyprus-based Burisma announced that financier Devon Archer had joined its board. Archer, who shared a room in college with Kerry’s stepson, Christopher Heinz, served as national finance co-chair for the former senator’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Then, on Monday, the firm announced that Biden’s younger son, R. Hunter Biden, would join the board of directors.

Why would the company, which bills itself as Ukraine’s largest private gas producer, need such powerful friends in Washington?

The answer might be the company’s holdings in Ukraine. They include, according to the firm’s website, permits to explore in the Dnieper-Donets Basin in the country’s eastern regions, home to an armed pro-Russian separatist movement. They also include permits to explore in the Azov-Kuban Basin of the strategic Crimean peninsula, annexed earlier this year by Moscow.

It’s not clear what will happen to energy firms, like Burisma, that aim to explore and exploit potential deposits in those areas. Neither the Archer nor the Biden announcement explicitly mentions the unrest, and it’s not clear exactly when their discussions to join the board began. In an April 23 Q&A, the transcript of which appears on Burisma’s website, Archer said he had been approached “a few months ago” about the opportunity to consult for the oil company. The announcement of his directorship came less than a month after the disputed vote in Crimea to rejoin Russia.

The White House and the vice president’s office denied there was anything untoward about Biden’s appointment.

“Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the Vice President or President,” said President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney. “But I would refer you to the Vice President’s office.”

“Hunter Biden is a private citizen and a lawyer,” the vice president’s press secretary, Kendra Barkoff, said in a statement. “The vice president does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company. For any additional questions, I refer you to Hunter’s office.”

The person who answered the telephone at Biden’s office in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday cheerfully declared that Biden was traveling, that his return date was unknown, and that his assistant was also out of pocket.

An email to Burisma’s public relations department did not elicit a reply.

But Archer coyly acknowledged the potential benefits of having him on the board in the April 23 Q&A.

Question: “In the American media you are often linked to the immediate circle of the U.S. Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry and the Vice-president of the United States Mr. Joe Biden.”

Archer: “American journalists really think so (smiles). I do know them.”