A well-known American lobbyist should prevent the Ukrainian parliament from banning the Russia-affiliated church. For this, the church pays him $1,400 an hour, but it seems that itʼs not just about money — more details

Oleksandr Miasyshchev
Dmytro Rayevskyi
A well-known American lobbyist should prevent the Ukrainian parliament from banning the Russia-affiliated church. For this, the church pays him $1,400 an hour, but it seems that itʼs not just about money — more details

William W. Burke-White

flickr.com / «Бабель»

On November 9, 2023, Ukrainian member of parliament Maryan Zablotskyy reported that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate hired a well-known lawyer and lobbyist, William Burke-White, to promote its interests in the United States. Namely, for the Americans to force Ukraine to abandon the plan to ban the UOC-MP. According to Zablotskyy, the former MP and Protodeacon of the UOC MP Vadym Novinsky hired a lobbyist whose hourly work costs $1,400. There is no official confirmation of this information. Burke-White doesnʼt work alone, but with the influential law firm Amsterdam & Partners, which previously helped the governments of Turkey and Venezuela. Babel correspondent Oleksandr Miasyshchev analyzed the agreement between the UOC MP and the lobbyist and tells his rich biography.

William Burke-White is 49 years old. He is a well-known international lawyer in the USA, a law professor and deputy dean at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also a senior advisor at the law firm Amsterdam & Partners.

In 2000, he worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia. And in 2009-2011, he worked in the political planning staff of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There, Burke-White advised her on issues of Russian-American relations and helped develop a foreign policy strategy.

Burke-White is fluent in Russian. One of his higher educations is a course in Russian and American history and literature at Harvard University. In the 1990s, he briefly studied at Moscow State University, and then was a visiting researcher at Moscow University of International Relations. However, Burke-White cannot be called pro-Russian.

Previously, the lobbyist mostly wrote and spoke positively about Ukraine. In November 2013, he supported the Maidan protests, but noted that the overthrow of the government would be illegal if it did not commit crimes against the protesters. In 2014, Burke-White wrote a scientific article on the legal aspects of the annexation of Crimea, in which he predicted that Russiaʼs actions would lead to the destruction of the post-WWII world order.

On March 4, 2022, Burke-White published a column in which he condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And he assured: Putin violates international law and will be punished. Already in a month, he moderated a webinar under USAID: Council, the next generation project, which was attended by Ukrainian parliamentarians. In April 2023, Burke-White gave a lecture at Kharkiv National University named after Karazin on the probable legal mechanisms of Putinʼs responsibility.

Burke-White signed a contract with the UOC MP on October 16, 2023. The reason is a possible ban on the church by the Verkhovna Rada. The lawyer explains his motivation as follows: if the Verkhovna Rada bans the UOC MP, it will be a violation of freedom of religion in international law and human rights.

Therefore, Burke-White wants to convince the American government to force Ukraine to abandon the UOC ban. According to the contract, the lobbyist agreed to promote the interests of the church in the media, during public speeches, and among American officials and congressmen.

"The agreement involves using the influence of the US government to convince Ukraine to protect the rights of the church. Representation [of the churchʼs interests] includes conversations with US government officials to persuade the Ukrainian parliament not to ban the churchʼs activities," Burke-White explained in the document.

And he is already actively working. In the interest of the church, Burke-White appealed to:

  • White House;
  • Department of the State Administration of Religious Freedom;
  • Democratic Senator Jon Ossoffʼs office;
  • Offices of Republican Marco Rubio, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

And on October 19, he published a long article under the title "If Ukraine is truly committed to human rights, it must uphold its freedom of religion." In it, the lobbyist calls the ban a restriction of the rights of believers and assures that the UOC MP is completely separated from the Russian Orthodox Church. In the same text, he criticizes the Security Service of Ukraineʼs (SBU) suspicions against the priests, the measures taken against the UOC-MP Metropolitan Pavlo Lebid, and the expulsion of the UOC from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.

"The Ukrainian government should review this dangerous legislation, and the governments that support Ukraineʼs sovereignty should ensure that the human rights that the Ukrainian people now have do not become another casualty of this war," the lobbyist writes.

Burke-White earns $1,400 an hour. In total, the UOC has already transferred $7,000 to him — for five hours of work. This sum was received by the international law firm Amsterdam & Partners, in which William Burke-White works. Officially, the firm protects the interests of the UOC MP at the national and international level free of charge, in the form of charity.

Information about the work of Amsterdam & Partners with the church appeared on October 16 — the same day that the UOC signed a contract with Burke-White.

In addition to the UOC MP, Amsterdam & Partners officially represents the interests of under-sanctioned businessman Vadym Novinsky. Its public position is the following: Ukraine has illegally confiscated Novinskyʼs assets and is unjustifiably persecuting him because of his religious beliefs. The company is going to legally stop the "attacks" of the government.

On the twenty-fourth of October, the owner of the company, Robert Amsterdam, urged the members of the Verkhovna Rada not to vote for the ban of the UOC-MP. He also threatened them with criminal prosecution in other countries if they banned the church. Amsterdam appeared on Tucker Carlsonʼs show, where he talked about persecution and illegal persecution of believers. Instead, he called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine "divisive".

Amsterdam & Partners is not a simple law firm. It is actively engaged in political lobbying, and sometimes in controversial matters.

In 2018, it worked for the Turkish government against the exiled opposition philosopher Fethullah Gülen, for which she received $1.8 million. Lawyer-lobbyists were supposed to discredit a network of 200 American private schools linked to Gülen. For example, the company informed the state that Gülenʼs network employs a suspicious number of Turkish teachers and contractors.

In 2020, Amsterdam & Partners defended Venezuelaʼs chief inspector in the government of dictator Nicolás Maduro, Reinaldo Muñoz. The company lobbied for the easing of American sanctions against the country. US Senator Rick Scott criticized the company for this contract.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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