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Perry backers get Ukraine gas deal

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Two political supporters of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government soon after Perry proposed one of the men as an adviser to the country’s new president.

Perry’s efforts to influence Ukraine’s energy policy came earlier this year, just as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s new government was seeking military aid from the United States to defend against Russian aggression and allies of President Donald Trump were ramping up efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Ukraine awarded the contract to Perry’s supporters little more than a month after the U.S. energy secretary attended Zelenskiy’s May inauguration. In a meeting during that trip, Perry handed the new president a list of people he recommended as energy advisers. One of the four names was his longtime political backer Michael Bleyzer.

A week later, Bleyzer and his partner Alex Cranberg submitted a bid to drill for oil and gas at a sprawling government-controlled site called Varvynska. Their proposal was millions of dollars lower than their only competitor, according to internal Ukrainian government documents obtained by The Associated Press. But their newly created joint venture, Ukrainian Energy, was awarded the 50-year contract because a government-appointed commission determined they had greater technical expertise and stronger financial backing, the documents show.

Perry likely had outsized influence in Ukraine. Testimony in the impeachment inquiry into Trump shows the energy secretary was one of three key U.S. officials who were negotiating a meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian leader.