If you’re from the United States and still recovering from the 2016 presidential election, it was, frankly, jarring.
Rudy Giuliani — the controversial former mayor of New York City, Republican presidential candidate and current unofficial advisor to Donald Trump — struts off a plane in Kharkiv and into the welcoming embrace of Mayor Gennady Kernes.
Let’s ignore the fact that Giuliani is known as tough on crime, whereas Kernes, reportedly, has ties to it. Or that Giuliani was also greeted by three young women in Ukrainian folk costumes bearing the traditional Slavic welcoming gifts of bread and salt, and the look on his face was — take a glance at the photos — not something typically seen outside Cartoon Network. After all, Kharkiv is a very nice and welcoming place. And maybe, after Giuliani’s experiences in 1980’s New York, he wasn’t prepared.
But everything else about his visit is a bit of a headscratcher. Was this anything more than an international meet-and-greet?
For example, Giuliani attended a book signing by controversial Ukrainian Interior Minister (and Kharkiv native) Arsen Avakov. There he received a copy of Avakov’s new book on Lenin. The interior minister signed it “To the person from whom we are all learning.”
“[H]e lowered crime by 40 percent! He created a special response system, personal responsibility and personal incentives for local police officers,” Avakov gushed to an Interfax-Ukraine reporter after meeting with Giuliani. “This system went into effect and continues to function all around the world. We’re going to implement it a bit.”
Giuliani also got a tour of the city, and told reporters he was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness of the streets (File that under: “You’re know you’re from New York when…”). And he rode on the ferris wheel at Gorky Park, which was massively renovated under Kernes, and appeared to enjoy the view.
Now, in fairness to Giuliani, he wasn’t in Ukraine just to rub shoulders and play tourist. On November 20, the former mayor took part in the conference “Kharkiv — Security and Rule of Law.” There he recounted how the United States created the 911 emergency hotline and recommended Ukraine — and Kharkiv, in particular — unite its emergency services with one phone number. Giuliani and Kernes then signed a memorandum on the creation of an “information-situational” center unifying all the emergency services.
The former mayor also spoke about New York City’s experience using DNA evidence to investigate crimes and suggested that Ukraine open a DNA laboratory. Kernes said he would work on this issue.
What’s wrong with that? Nothing. They’re good suggestions. But did anyone really need to fly out Rudy Giuliani to prove that the 911 hotline is a good thing and DNA evidence is a useful tool for police? Surely, enough Ukrainian officials are watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation to realize that.
Consider another unusual moment: Giuliani commented on a recent, tragic car crash in Kharkiv that killed six people and had a major public resonance across Ukraine. His first recommendation was to lower the speed limit. Fair enough, but 100 kilometers per hour — at which a driver implicated in the crash was zipping along — is already far above the speed limit.
In other words, many of Giuliani’s recommendations sounded less like they came from the law-and-order ex-mayor of New York, than from Captain Obvious. The reason is actually fairly mundane: Giuliani’s company “Giuliani Security & Safety” — but not necessarily the ex-mayor personally — is consulting with Kharkiv on improving its emergency response system. Company representatives already paid a visit to the Kharkiv region in May. In other words, Giuliani appears to be on a company junket.
And what a junket it is. Of particular pleasure is the sight of Giuliani seated next to Kernes in the Kharkiv City Council. The two could hardly be more different. Giuliani made his name as a crime-fighter known for his adherence to the “broken windows theory” of criminality. Kernes, on the other hand, reportedly got his start as one of those broken windows, making money through the old “three shell game” con. He is said to have eventually become an organized crime boss — although the Kharkiv mayor denies this, admitting only that he was once jailed on fraud charges he calls fabricated.
A polarizing figure who was nearly killed in an April 2014 assassination attempt, Kernes is also famous for telling the New York Times, “Of all the mayors, my Instagram account is the best.” At its most active, the account trafficked in shirtless photos with animals à la Putin.
So while Giuliani presided over the Big Apple and may be the star of the day, Kernes can rest easy knowing he remains the king of Instagram.