With research by Mark Musser*
Donald J. Trump said it was a “great honor” to be complimented by Russia’s Vladimir Putin. What’s significant is what the New York businessman has done to earn this praise. He pursued deals in the old Soviet Union and Russia and, as a presidential candidate, has hired little-known “experts” like Carter Page, an adviser to Russian gas company Gazprom.
Another curious Trump hire is Republican insider Paul Manafort, a “fixer” who has a history of doing business in the former Soviet Union. After taking a job as Trump’s delegate hunter, Manafort swiftly accused Trump’s main opponent, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), of using Gestapo-like tactics in the presidential race.
But it’s Manafort who has something to explain and answer for. He did consulting work in Ukraine for the pro-Russian candidate, Victor Yanukovych. Manafort was called “Ukraine’s Fixer” when the country was under the yoke of Moscow, the Russians were desperate to remain in control, and the people of Ukraine were crying out for freedom and ties to the West.
Interestingly, Manafort’s former business partner is Roger Stone, a former adviser to Trump who now runs a pro-Trump Super PAC. He wrote a book, popular on Russian TV, insisting that President John F. Kennedy wasn’t killed by a communist conspiracy based in Moscow or Havana, but was murdered on orders from his vice-president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
The publication Politico reported that when Stone once tried to re-establish contact with Manafort, he sent out an email to a small group of friends asking, “Where is Paul Manafort?” and wondering if he had been seen “chauffeuring Yanukovych around Moscow.”
It’s funny, but may not have been that far off the mark.
With no small thanks to what was described as Manafort’s maniacal efforts, Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine in 2010. One of Manafort’s former colleagues went so far as to say, “Yanukovych came to power through a series of elections and would never have won without Manafort’s counsel.” Indeed, Yanukovych had to overcome the Orange Revolution of 2004 which he himself provoked by allegedly trying to steal the election from Victor Yuschenko. Before the 2004 presidential election, Yuschenko was poisoned with dioxin. When Yanukovych tried to steal the election during the vote itself, this provoked the Orange Revolution in which hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians protested on the streets of Kiev. Yanukovych backed down. There was a re-election. Yuschenko won the revote.
It was after the Orange Revolution that Manafort offered his campaign services to Yanukovych. Even some Bush administration officials were puzzled by Manafort’s efforts in Ukraine, as he was working for the wrong side. Yanukovych’s political fortunes quickly recovered so that he was able to make a breathtaking comeback all the way to the highest office in the land in Ukraine in 2010. However, after four years into Yanukovych’s presidency, the people of Ukraine once again took to the streets in massive numbers protesting his corrupt activities that even made Ukrainian politicians blush. Thus, in the end, the Orange Revolution came back to negate Manafort’s accomplishments, but this time with bloodshed on the streets as some 100 people were killed and many more beaten.
The same political sentiments that created the Orange Revolution in 2004 did not disappear, but came roaring back with a vengeance when Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev with more massive protests. Yanukovych then fled his presidential post in early 2014, and was overwhelmingly impeached from office 328-0 by the Ukrainian Parliament.
When Manafort was asked why he became a political advisor for Yanukovych, he replied that he was an outstanding leader who has been mischaracterized and misunderstood by his opponents. He elaborated further: “I am not here just for the election. I am trying to play a constructive role in developing a democracy. I am helping to build a political party.” But Yanukovych was always recognized as the candidate beholden to Russia.
Before 2008, Yanukovych’s political party, called the Party of Regions, worked closely with Manafort’s team, called Davis Manafort (out of Delaware with Rick Davis), to work against Victor Yuschenko’s pro-western administration. Manafort worked closely with Rick Davis for years as they own a lobbying firm together called Davis Manafort and Freedman (out of Arlington, Virginia).
Back home in the U.S., Manafort himself wanted to chair the 2008 Republican Convention. However, he was rejected because of his reputation as a Washington insider and lobbyist. Rick Davis still became Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign manager. While Manafort did provide some political advice to the McCain campaign, he returned to Kiev to devote himself more fully to Yanukovych.
Manafort had to understand who he was dealing with and representing.
Yanukovych joined the Communist Party in 1980 at the age of 30 and never looked back. During the 1980s he worked himself up the Communist Party ladder, occupying himself in the industrial heartland of southeastern Ukraine. During the 1990s, when the former Communists throughout the former Soviet Union took control of massive state companies, Yanukovych became the governor of the Donetsk Region. From 2002 to 2004, he was the Prime Minister of Ukraine under President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004).
After the 2004 election debacle that stained Yanukovych’s political reputation, Manafort came to the rescue and worked on remaking his image. Yanukovych thus was able to become the Prime Minister again in 2006-07, and finally took the presidency in 2010, campaigning as a pro-Western government reformer riding on a white horse. It was all a big lie. Yanukovych had secretly negotiated a deal to bring the former Soviet republic back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.
Manafort is a Republican, no doubt. But his record of working for a pro-Russian ruler who was eventually forced into exile by his own people casts into doubt claims that he was at one point in his career a conservative who backed President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist foreign policy.
The work for Putin’s pawn in Ukraine does fit into the troubling pattern of pro-Russian operatives who have gathered around the candidacy of Donald J. Trump.
*Mark Musser provided the research on Manafort’s efforts in Ukraine. Mark is a part-time pastor, author, missionary and professor who lives in Olympia, Washington. His book Nazi Oaks examines the ties between German environmentalism and the National Socialist (Nazi) movement.