What could Donald Trump and the pro-Putin, ex-President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, have in common? The answer: they share the same campaign advisor, Paul Manafort. And in both cases, Manafort is trying to perform a media makeover.
Paul Manafort is a “real-world” advisor, with a real-world résumé of working for Ukrainian oligarchs: all-powerful men carrying past criminal charges on their record. One of those is Putin’s puppet Yanukovitch, who was jailed twice in his youth, first for robbery and assault and then for a drunken brawl, but yet made his way up to Ukraine’s Presidency. Another is oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who made his fortune on deals with Russian Gazprom. Back in 2013 he was charged by the U.S for a bribe scheme, arrested in Austria, but then released on a bail of 125 mill euros, the largest in Austria’s history. While Firtash denies the allegations, he is still wanted in the USA. Manafort has worked for both of them.
If it weren’t Donald Trump, such connections on a Presidential team might set off major alarms in the press.
Manafort has been exercising his craft of crisis management PR for years, bringing back to life the careers of those doomed to political death. Yanukovitch owes his comeback in Ukraine’s presidential elections largely to a makeover engineered by the American consultant.
The possibility of Yanukovitch becoming the president back in 2010 was remote. During his first election in 2003, he sabotaged votes and caused the national uprising known as the “Orange Revolution”. It was during his second presidential contest that Yanukovitch contracted Manafort. Under Manafort’s guidance, he won the political battle over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a co-leader of the Orange Revolution. He then famously put her on trial for alleged abuse of power.
Tymoshenko, ranked by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful women, easily recognized by her crown braid “Princess Leia” hairstyle, later filed a lawsuit against Manafort accusing him of complicity in a complex scheme of retaliation against her. In 2014 a federal judge dismissed the suit, saying it was outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
Let’s not underestimate Manafort’s power to redeem Yanukovitch’s doubtful presidency. Let’s also not underestimate how badly things went for Ukraine after that act of political shamanism. Three years into the presidency another heinous “Maidan Revolution” took place – and shook the world by its cruelty. More than 100 protesters were killed overnight by snipers while the ousted Yanukovitch fled to Russia and was later placed on a wanted list for “mass murder” of civilians.
Is Manafort’s scary proximity to these Ukrainian billionaires in Putin’s pocket a worry for the Secret Service? It should be.
Known in Ukraine and Russia as a strong pro from the West, Paul Manafort has catered to another Ukrainian oligarch as well – Rinat Akhmetov. Akhmetov is one of the richest men in Ukraine, who the then US Ambassador John Herbst called the “Donetsk clan godfather” and his political Party of Regions “long a haven for Donetsk-based mobsters and oligarchs.”
And it’s not only Manafort on Trump’s team that raises eyebrows among those who know the Kremlin.
Yet another Soviet connection to Donald Trump is Carter Page, as a foreign policy adviser. Page had pitched major deals for Russian Gazprom between 2004-2007 and was an investor in the Kremlin’s state-run gas company. Again, Trump takes his “faith in business” approach over policy-making experience to another level. A Wall Street investment banker as an international affairs expert? Anything is possible, we surmise, if you really aim to make America great again.
Putin has already praised Trump for being “a really brilliant and talented person without any doubt” and “an absolute leader in the presidential race”. Trump has reciprocated this sentiment, as well, his plan to move on to a new, more substantial relationship with Russia should he be elected president. Many wonder if these mutual endorsements are related to Manafort’s and Page’s alarming connections with Ukraine and Russia.
On the pages of the Economics publication Global Policy, Page characterizes contemporary US politicians as simply gravitating towards the Cold War stereotypes. He claims one doesn’t get a real grasp of what Russian relations are all about by “sitting somewhere far away in comfortable analytical offices in Washington, DC”, but rather by doing hands-on business with real energy companies, including the state-owned ones like Gazprom.
Page, who worked in Moscow until 2007, returned to New York to run his newly founded company Global Energy Capital, whose ambitious prospects were damaged by the world financial crisis. He told Bloomberg how his deal to invest $1billion in the asset of ex-soviet republic of Turkmenistan has blown and his fund never really materialized. According to Page, his business consulting on how to invest in Russian actives, indeed has suffered from the US economic sanctions towards Russia. He promises, however, that his work on the Trump campaign isn’t likely to benefit his business interests.
Ironic enough, that the self-proclaimed icon of capitalism and American uprightism takes his political lineage from a corrupted system of a former communist region. Apparently, it’s not just the former Soviet sphere breeds sketchy (alleged) billionaires who want to remake their political image and play on the world stage. Donald Trump is the natty American bowtie that binds those, watching in the Ukraine, to an ugly world where media advisors, such Manafort, have for years helped businessmen assume real power by duping confused citizens. Now Trump is confusing everybody, by playing his campaign the Soviet way with Manafort’s seedy guidance: calm and reason for the public stage, and nothing but manic power behind the curtain.