Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort worked with Russian operative Konstantin Kilimnik to develop a strategy of media manipulation and propaganda to cripple the fledgling democracy in Ukraine and turn the country into a satellite state for Vladimir Putin. The Associated Press is reporting that Manafort and Kilimnik began their strategy while working secretly through the International Republican Institute (IRI).
During the first few rounds of court filings and indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Kilimnik was known only as “Person A.” It wasn’t until he earned his own indictment that the man who both Paul Manafort and Rick Gates communicated with frequently during the 2016 campaign was revealed as a Russian intelligence operative who had also worked with the pair in their efforts to damage NATO, thwart US interests, and help bring Ukraine under Russian control. Court filings are now highlighting the way that Manafort and Kilimnik worked together to develop an anti-democratic, anti-Western strategy.
At the outset of their effort, Kilimnik realized that Russia had fallen behind when it came to propaganda skills in a world of shifting media markets.
“The West is just a little more skillful at playing the modern game, where perception by the world public opinion and the spin is more important than what is actually going on. Russia is ultimately going to lose if they do not learn how to play this game.”
— Konstantin Kilimnik writing to Paul Manafort, December 2004
Working together, Manafort and Kilimnik made sure that Russia developed that skill. Manafort, who had worked for Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Angolan strong man Jonas Savimbi, and Lebanese arms merchants—in between running Republican conventions—was already an expert on media manipulation. Kilimnik helped Manafort polish his anti-democratic, totalitarian message into a pitch that would catch the ear of Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska. And Kilimnik began that work at the International Republican Institute—a nonprofit funded by the US government explicitly to support democracy and pro-Western positions.
According to the AP, Kilimnik’s work was valuable both to Putin and to Paul Manafort.
The records show Kilimnik helped conceive strategies that Manafort sold to clients, and that he served as a key liaison between Manafort and principal financial backers, including Deripaska.
Deripaska attempted to sue the AP over reports that he had loaned $10 million to Manafort—which is somewhat problematic now that Mueller’s investigation has identified the loan on Manafort’s tax forms. That $10 million appears to be in addition to another $18.9 million which Deripaska claimed Manafort and Gates “lost,” and in addition to another $7 million which he paid them for supposedly managing his investments. And it’s still not clear that any of that money matches the $12 million that Ukrainian prosecutors had identified as under-the-table payments to Manafort … before Ukraine stopped investigating Manafort out of concerns they would upset Trump.
Altogether, it seems that Paul Manafort, who is now complaining that the cost of defending himself from Robert Mueller has left him broke, took well over $35 million from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and perhaps as much as $50 million. Which leaves open the question of just what Manafort, who also stands indicted for illegal foreign lobbying, did with all that cash.
In his Ukraine work, Kilimnik became the perfect partner for Manafort. Fresh out of the military after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kilimnik moved into the International Republican Institute and became head of its Moscow office in time for the 2004 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine. But while the IRI was publically championing Ukraine’s split from Russia, Kilimnik was already working inside the organization, with Manafort, to reverse the revolution.
Manafort gave the Russians insight into how to manipulate multiparty elections and undermine democracies. Kilimnik provided Manafort with connections to the highest levels, and deepest pockets, in the Russian government. Together they build propaganda organizations, both on the ground and on the Internet, created training programs for a new generation of Russian and pro-Russian leaders, and helped organize faux-protests against NATO and the United States.
Those organizations and those skills didn’t just become the means for Russia to control Ukraine. They were the pattern for Manafort’s work with the Trump campaign. And not only did Manafort and Rick Gates continue to work with Kilimnik during the campaign, they worked with him after.
In April, Kilimnik was still playing his manipulation game, this time with witnesses involved in Robert Mueller’s case against Manafort.
“Hey. This is Konstantin,” Kilimnik wrote via the WhatsApp messenger, according to the filings. “My friend is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that?”