Mar 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Washington lobbyists rush to aid Ukrainian government

Illustration of a K Street street sign with a running pedestrian logo
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Washington lobbying and public relation firms are offering their skills to Ukraine as Americans rally to its side amid Russia's brutal and relentless invasion, Axios has learned.

Driving the news: The latest entrant is the powerhouse firm SKDKnickerbocker, which is doing pro-bono work for the Ukrainian government, records show.

  • The firm told the Justice Department this week that managing director Stephen Krupin, a former speechwriter for President Obama and John Kerry, would help Ukraine craft remarks to the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.
  • SKDK has close ties to the Biden administration.
  • The firm did extensive work on the president's 2020 campaign. And managing director Anita Dunn was a senior White House aide during his first year in office.

The big picture: Russia's brutal invasion of its democratic neighbor has galvanized Washington, and sources tell Axios that K Street is eager to lend its services.

  • The more cynical view, expressed by some close to Ukraine's representatives in Washington: messaging experts see an excellent P.R. opportunity.
  • Axios was unable to obtain comment from Krupin.

What they're saying: A source familiar with Ukraine's U.S. lobby told Axios there's been a heavy influx of D.C. consultants offering pro-bono services.

  • President Volodymyr Zelensky's U.S. allies are appreciative but wary, according to Daniel Vajdich. He's a lobbyist who represents a Ukrainian energy trade group, as well as a Kyiv NGO aligned with the Zelensky government.
  • "Anyone being brought on needs to demonstrate how they would actually contribute. We’re all making sure that this is the case," Vajdich told Axios.
  • "Ukraine doesn’t need hacks right now."

Between the lines: The rush to work with Ukraine underscores how quickly and dramatically K Street's posture toward the country has changed.

  • The central roles Ukraine and Russia played in the Trump 2016 election allegations caused many firms to steer clear of clients in the two countries.
  • "After the Mueller investigation, doing work for entities affiliated with Russia or Ukraine presented a level of risk many firms were not willing to take," one seasoned D.C. lobbyist told Axios. "In addition to the reputational challenges, no retainer is worth a Justice investigation."
  • But that lobbyist said Russia's invasion has shifted the calculation, and his firm has for the first time blessed efforts to seek Ukrainian clients that would previously have been considered too high-risk.

The bottom line: "The new view is Russia is so aggressive and such a bad actor, we see it as a positive to take on Ukraine work," the lobbyist said.

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