MANAFORT’S UKRAINE CONNECTION SCRUTINISED

My repost of a Financial Times article published today, August 20

 

Konstantin Kilimnik’s suspected background in Russian intelligence raises concerns over former Trump manager

ROMAN OLEARCHYK — KIEV

NEIL BUCKLEY — LONDON

When Paul Manafort, now Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, arrived in Ukraine a decade ago to advise future president Viktor Yanukovich, he relied on one man to be his ears and voice as an interpreter.

That figure was a Russian citizen, Konstantin Kilimnik. But, say several people who used to work with him, it was an open secret among the Manafort team and at a previous employer that Mr Kilimnik — as an army-trained linguist — had a background in Russian military intelligence.

At the time, the connection was deemed unimportant — Mr Kilimnik was valued for his “excellent English”, these people say.

Today, with Mr Kilimnik still close to Mr Manafort, according to people who know both men, the links have taken on new significance. As Vladimir Putin, Russian president, likes to joke, there is no such thing as a former intelligence officer.

Revelations about Mr Kilimnik threaten to deepen the controversy over Mr Trump’s sympathetic comments towards Moscow and Mr Putin on the campaign trail — giving him a reputation as the US’s first pro-Russian ticket — and over Mr Manafort’s work for Mr Yanukovich, who was toppled by Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan revolution.

People close to Mr Manafort insisted his resignation from Mr Trump’s campaign had nothing to do with adverse publicity over his Ukrainian activities. Mr Trump’s campaign directed all questions about Mr Manafort’s relationship with Mr Kilimnik to Mr Manafort.

But one person with intimate knowledge of Mr Manafort’s operations said the relationship was grounds for concern.

“It is a very real issue if you have a known Russian intelligence officer one degree of separation from Donald Trump, presidential candidate,” he said. “Konstantin Kilimnik knows Paul very well, and Paul is at Trump’s right hand.”

Although Mr Manafort has said his work in Ukraine finished in 2014, one senior parliamentarian from Opposition Bloc, the rebranded Regions party once led by Mr Yanukovich, said Mr Kilimnik continued to advise the party, but that the role might not be “formal”.

Mr Kilimnik did not answer emailed questions from the Financial Times about whether he had worked in Russian military intelligence. But, responding to a report about the alleged links on the Politico website yesterday, he blamed an orchestrated “campaign” for seeking to “push Manafort away from Trump and annihilate his chances of winning”.

“I am just a minor casualty in the US political game, which honestly has nothing to do with Ukraine or its future,” he said.

Yet Mr Kilimnik’s role as a Manafort assistant gave him rare access to some of the region’s most senior figures, from Mr Yanukovich to billionaire oligarchs and senior western diplomats.

Born in Ukraine in 1970,Mr Kilimnik served in the Russian army. His first long-term job after leaving the military was as a translator in Moscow with the International Republican Institute, the US non- governmental organisation that promotes democracy, in the early

1990s.One former IRI employee said he was hired because of his proficiency in English. But another former IRI staffer said Mr Kilimnik’s background was a cause of concern for some staff, and it was assumed he continued to inform Russian intelligence.

A decade later, his language skills led to his recruitment as an interpreter for the Manafort team advising Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, on an image makeover r.He remained with the team when it switched to advising Mr Yanukovich’s Regions party.

The interpreter was entrusted with more duties as the team helped Mr Yanukovich win the presidential electionin2010. “It was well known, I think, that he had some sort of intelligence background but that was never an issue for us because the embassy did not have much contact with Manafort’s operation,” a US official with experience in Ukraine recalled.

The Russian kept such a low profile:  there are no known photographs of him on the internet. Acquaintances describe him as highly intelligent, and a skilled political analyst.

Ukrainian politicians are now raising concerns about Mr Kilimnik’s proximity to Mr Manafort and through him, a potentiall  next US president .Volodymyr  Ariev, a pro-presidential MP, yesterday submitted a formal request for an investigation into Mr Kilimnik’s past. It came hours after Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau published copies of entries totalling $12.7mtoMrManafort in an alleged ledger of off-the-books payments from the Regions party to political advisers, pundits and campaigners.

The bureau stressed, however, that it had not established if Mr Manafort received the payments. Mr Manafort this week denied ever receiving cash payments from the party.

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