Categories
Latest News

How Paul Manafort Wielded Power in Ukraine Before Advising Donald Trump

Few political consultants have had a client fail quite as spectacularly as Paul Manafort’s did in Ukraine in the winter of 2014.

President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who owed his election to, as an Americandiplomat put it, an “extreme makeover” Mr. Manafort oversaw, bolted the country in the face of violent street protests. He found sanctuary in Russia and never returned, as his patron, President Vladimir V. Putin, proceeded to dismember Ukraine, annexing Crimea and fomenting a war in two other provinces that continues.

Mr. Manafort was undaunted.

Within months of his client’s political demise, he went to work seeking to bring his disgraced party back to power, much as he had Mr. Yanukovych himself nearly a decade earlier. Mr. Manafort has already had some success, with former Yanukovych loyalists — and some Communists — forming a new bloc opposing Ukraine’s struggling pro-Western government.

And now Mr. Manafort has taken on a much larger campaign, seeking to turn Donald J. Trump into a winning presidential candidate.

With Mr. Putin’s Russia, and its interference in Ukraine, becoming a focus of the United States presidential campaign, Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine has come under scrutiny — along with his business dealings with prominent Ukrainian and Russian tycoons.

After disclosures of a breach of the Democratic National Committee’s emails — which American intelligence officials have linked to Russian spies— both men are facing sharp criticism over what is seen as an unusually sympathetic view of Mr. Putin and his policies toward Ukraine. That view has upended decades of party orthodoxy toward Russia, a country that the previous Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

On Sunday, Mr. Trump even echoed Mr. Putin’s justification of the annexation of Crimea, saying the majority of people in the region wanted to be part of Russia, remarks that were prominently featured on state news channels in Moscow.

Photo

President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine, center, with Vladimir V. Putin, right, then Russia’s prime minister, and Dmitri A. Medvedev, left, then Russia’s president, in 2011. CreditPool photo by Sergei Karpukhin

It is far from certain that Mr. Manafort’s views have directly shaped Mr. Trump’s, since Mr. Trump spoke favorably of Mr. Putin’s leadership before Mr. Manafort joined the campaign. But it is clear that the two have a shared view of Russia and neighbors like Ukraine — an affection, even — that, in Mr. Manafort’s case, has been shaped by years of business dealings as much as by any policy or ideology.

“I wouldn’t put out any moral arguments about his work,” said Yevgeny E. Kopachko, a pollster with Mr. Yanukovych’s former party who cooperated with Mr. Manafort for years and called him a pragmatic and effective strategist. “Nobody has a monopoly on truth and morals.”

Mr. Manafort did not respond to requests for an interview. In television interviews on Sunday, though, he defended Mr. Trump’s views on Russia, saying that as president, Mr. Trump would be firm with Russia but would deal with it like any other country when doing so suited American interests.

“He views Russia as a foreign power that has its own interests at stake,” Mr. Manafort said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Until he joined Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign this year, Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine had been his most significant political campaign in recent years. He began his career in Republican politics in the 1970s and extended it overseas to advising authoritarian leaders, including Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines and Mr. Yanukovych.

Mr. Manafort, 67, is the scion of an immigrant family that built a construction business in Connecticut. A lawyer by education, he served briefly in the Reagan administration before devoting himself to politics and later to business. A review of his work in Ukraine shows how politics and business converged in a country still struggling to function as a democracy, a quarter of a century after it had gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In that world in flux, Mr. Manafort’s political strategy had echoes of Mr. Trump’s populist campaign.

Mr. Manafort’s influence in the country was significant, and his political expertise deeply valued, according to Ukrainian politicians and officials who worked with him. He also had a voice in decisions about major American investments in Ukraine, said a former spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry, Oleg Voloshyn, who also ran as a candidate in the new bloc Mr. Manafort helped form.

Photo

The Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor A. Yushchenko and his top ally, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, right, singing the country’s national anthem during a rally in 2004 at Independence Square in Kiev, the capital.CreditOded Balilty/Associated Press

He persuaded the government to lower grain export tariffs, a change that benefited agribusiness investors like Cargill, and to open negotiations with Chevron and Exxon for oil and natural gas exploration in the country.

Mr. Manafort began working in Ukraine after the popular uprising in the winter of 2004-5 that became known as the Orange Revolution. Mr. Yanukovych, then prime minister, was declared the winner of a presidential election in 2004 that was marred by fraud and overturned by the country’s highest court after weeks of protests in favor of his pro-Western rival, Viktor A. Yushchenko.

Mr. Yanukovych had relied disastrously on Russian political advisers who underestimated voter frustration. After his defeat, he turned to American experts.

Mr. Manafort had begun working for one of Ukraine’s richest men, Rinat Akhmetov, to improve the image of his companies. Mr. Akhmetov was also a prominent sponsor of Mr. Yanukovych’s party, the Party of Regions, and he introduced the two men.

Continue reading the main story

With Mr. Manafort’s advice, Mr. Yanukovych began a comeback, with the Party of Regions winning the biggest bloc in parliamentary elections in 2006 and again in 2007, returning him to the post of prime minister. At the time, Mr. Manafort called Mr. Yanukovych, a former coal trucking director who was twice convicted of assault as a young man, an outstanding leader who had been badly misunderstood in the West.

According to State Department cables at the time and later released by WikiLeaks, Mr. Manafort and his colleagues Phil Griffin and Catherine Barnes frequently pressed American diplomats in Ukraine to treat Mr. Yanukovych and his supporters equally so as not to risk being seen as favoring his opponents in the new elections. With Mr. Manafort’s help, the party was “working to change its image from that of a haven for mobsters into that of a legitimate political party,” the American ambassador at the time, John E. Herbst, wrote.

During this time, lucrative side deals opened for Mr. Manafort.

In 2008, he and the developer Arthur G. Cohen negotiated a deal to buy the site of the Drake Hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan. One partner was Dmytro Firtash, an oligarch who made billions as a middleman forGazprom, the Russian natural gas giant, and who was known for funneling the money into the campaigns of pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych. The three men intended to reopen the site as a mall and spa called Bulgari Tower, according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan by Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine. In the end, though, the project unraveled.

Photo

Violent demonstrations in February 2014 in Kiev. CreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

A separate deal also funneled Russian-linked oligarchic money into Ukraine. In 2007, Mr. Manafort and two partners, Rick Gates and Rick Davis, set up a private equity company in the Cayman Islands to buy assets in Ukraine, and invited the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to invest, according to a court filing. Mr. Deripaska agreed to pay a 2 percent annual management fee to Mr. Manafort and his partners, and put $100 million into the fund, which bought a cable television station in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine, before the agreement unraveled in disagreements over auditing and Mr. Deripaska sued Mr. Manafort. The case is still pending.

By 2010, Mr. Yanukovych’s revival was complete. He had won a presidential campaign against Ms. Tymoshenko, who was convicted of abuse of office and sent to prison.

Mr. Kopachko, the pollster, said Mr. Manafort envisioned an approach that exploited regional and ethnic peculiarities in voting, tapping the disenfranchisement of those who felt abandoned by the Orange Revolution in eastern Ukraine, which has more ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.

Konstantin Grishchenko, a former foreign minister and a deputy prime minister under Mr. Yanukovych, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Manafort had ultimately grown disillusioned with his client.

Mr. Manafort pressed Mr. Yanukovych to sign an agreement with the European Union that would link the country closer to the West — and lobbied for the Americans to support Ukraine’s membership, as well, despite deep reservations because of the prosecution of Ms. Tymoshenko.

Mr. Manafort helped draft a report defending the prosecution that Mr. Yanukovych’s government commissioned from the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in 2012.

Mr. Manafort’s role was disclosed after a document was discovered in a box in a sauna belonging to a former senior Ukrainian official. Other documents in that cache are now evidence in a criminal case against a former justice official, and could shed more light on Mr. Manafort’s role.

Photo

A portrait of former President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine was moved in April 2014 at the country’s National Art Museum. CreditJoseph Sywenkyj for The New York Times

Ultimately Mr. Yanukovych disregarded Mr. Manafort’s advice and refused to sign the trade agreement, which Mr. Putin vehemently opposed. Mr. Yanukovych’s decision led to the protests that culminated in two nights of violence in February 2014 and Mr. Yanukovych’s flight.

Mr. Manafort has said little about Mr. Yanukovych’s fall. “I don’t think he’s very happy with the outcome,” Mr. Grishchenko said.

Mr. Manafort’s chance for a comeback, however, came sooner than anyone had expected.

When the government of President Petro O. Poroshenko called snap parliamentary elections for October 2014, just eight months later, Mr. Manafort rallied the dispirited remnants of Mr. Yanukovych’s party.

He was now on the payroll of Mr. Yanukovych’s former chief of staff, Serhiy Lyovochkin. Mr. Manafort flew to Ukraine in September 2014 and set to work rebranding a party deeply fractured by the violence and by Russia’s intervention.

Rather than try to resurrect the disgraced party, he supported pitching a bigger political tent to help his clients and, he argued, to help stabilize Ukraine. The new bloc would woo everyone in the country angry at the new Western-backed government.

It was Mr. Manafort who had argued for a new name for the movement — the Opposition Bloc, or Oppo Bloc, as it was called. “He thought to gather the largest number of people opposed to the current government, you needed to avoid anything concrete, and just become a symbol of being opposed,” recalled Mikhail B. Pogrebinsky, a political analyst in Kiev.

The strategy worked. Under the new name, the Party of Regions kept a foothold in Parliament. Its new bloc now has 43 members in the 450-seat chamber.

It is not clear that Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine ended with his work with Mr. Trump’s campaign. A communications aide for Mr. Lyovochkin, who financed Mr. Manafort’s work, declined to say whether he was still on retainer or how much he had been paid.

Mr. Manafort has not registered as a lobbyist representing Ukraine, which would require disclosing his earnings, though at least one company he subcontracted, the public relations firm Edelman, did in 2008. It received a retainer of $35,000 a month to promote Mr. Yanukovych’s efforts as prime minister “toward making Ukraine a more democratic country.”

Source:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/01/us/paul-manafort-ukraine-donald-trump.html?_r=0

Categories
Latest News

Documents Show How Russia’s Troll Army Hit America

Russia’s campaign to shape international opinion around its invasion of Ukraine has extended to recruiting and training a new cadre of online trolls that have been deployed to spread the Kremlin’s message on the comments section of top American websites.

Plans attached to emails leaked by a mysterious Russian hacker collective show IT managers reporting on a new ideological front against the West in the comments sections of Fox News, Huffington Post, The Blaze, Politico, andWorldNetDaily.

The bizarre hive of social media activity appears to be part of a two-pronged Kremlin campaign to claim control over the internet, launching a million-dollar army of trolls to mold American public opinion as it cracks down on internet freedom at home.

“Foreign media are currently actively forming a negative image of the Russian Federation in the eyes of the global community,” one of the project’s team members, Svetlana Boiko, wrote in a strategy document. “Additionally, the discussions formed by comments to those articles are also negative in tone.

“Like any brand formed by popular opinion, Russia has its supporters (‘brand advocates’) and its opponents. The main problem is that in the foreign internet community, the ratio of supporters and opponents of Russia is about 20/80 respectively.”

The documents show instructions provided to the commenters that detail the workload expected of them. On an average working day, the Russians are to post on news articles 50 times. Each blogger is to maintain six Facebook accounts publishing at least three posts a day and discussing the news in groups at least twice a day. By the end of the first month, they are expected to have won 500 subscribers and get at least five posts on each item a day. On Twitter, the bloggers are expected to manage 10 accounts with up to 2,000 followers and tweet 50 times a day.

They are to post messages along themes called “American Dream” and “I Love Russia.” The archetypes for the accounts are called Handkerchief, Gay Turtle, The Ghost of Marius the Giraffe, Left Breast, Black Breast, and Ass, for reasons that are not immediately clear.

According to the documents, which are attached to several hundred emails sent to the project’s leader, Igor Osadchy, the effort was launched in April and is led by a firm called the Internet Research Agency. It’s based in a Saint Petersburg suburb, and the documents say it employs hundreds of people across Russia who promote Putin in comments on Russian blogs.

Osadchy told BuzzFeed he had never worked for the Internet Research Agency and that the extensive documents — including apparent budgeting for his $35,000 salary — were an “unsuccessful provocation.” He declined to comment on the content of the leaks. The Kremlin declined to comment. The Internet Research Agency has not commented on the leak.

Definitively proving the authenticity of the documents and their authors’ ties to the Kremlin is, by the nature of the subject, not easy. The project’s cost, scale, and awkward implementation have led many observers in Russia to doubt, however, that it could have come about in any other way.

“What, you think crazy Russians all learned English en masse and went off to comment on articles?” said Leonid Bershidsky, a media executive and Bloomberg View columnist. “If it looks like Kremlin shit, smells like Kremlin shit, and tastes like Kremlin shit too — then it’s Kremlin shit.”

Despite efforts to hire English teachers for the trolls, most of the comments are written in barely coherent English. “I think the whole world is realizing what will be with Ukraine, and only U.S. keep on fuck around because of their great plans are doomed to failure,” reads one post from an unnamed forum, used as an example in the leaked documents.

The trolls appear to have taken pains to learn the sites’ different commenting systems. A report on initial efforts to post comments discusses the types of profanity and abuse that are allowed on some sites, but not others. “Direct offense of Americans as a race are not published (‘Your nation is a nation of complete idiots’),” the author wrote of fringe conspiracy site WorldNetDaily, “nor are vulgar reactions to the political work of Barack Obama (‘Obama did shit his pants while talking about foreign affairs, how you can feel yourself psychologically comfortable with pants full of shit?’).” Another suggested creating “up to 100” fake accounts on the Huffington Post to master the site’s complicated commenting system.

WorldNetDaily told BuzzFeed it had no ability to monitor whether it had been besieged by an army of Russian trolls in recent weeks. The other outlets did not respond to BuzzFeed’s queries.

Some of the leaked documents also detail what appear to be extensive efforts led by hundreds of freelance bloggers to comment on Russian-language sites. The bloggers hail from cities throughout Russia; their managers give them ratings based on the efficiency and “authenticity,” as well as the number of domains they post from. Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s only independent investigative newspaper,infiltrated its “troll farm” of commenters on Russian blogs last September.

Russia’s “troll army” is just one part of a massive propaganda campaign the Kremlin has unleashed since the Ukrainian crisis exploded in February. Russian state TV endlessly asserts that Kiev’s interim government is under the thumb of “fascists” and “neo-Nazis” intent on oppressing Russian-speaking Ukrainians and exerts a mesmerizing hold on many in the country’s southeast, where the channels are popular. Ukraine has responded by banning all Russian state channels, barring entry to most Russian journalists, and treats some of the more obviously pro-rebel Russian reporters as enemy combatants.

The trolling project’s finances are appropriately lavish for its considerable scale. A budget for April 2014, its first month, lists costs for 25 employees and expenses that together total over $75,000. The Internet Research Agency itself, founded last summer, now employs over 600 people and, if spending levels from December 2013 to April continue, is set to budget for over $10 million in 2014, according to the documents. Half of its budget is earmarked to be paid in cash.

Two Russian media reports partly based on other selections from the documents attest that the campaign is directly orchestrated by the Kremlin. Business newspaper Vedomosti, citing sources close to Putin’s presidential administration,said last week that the campaign was directly orchestrated by the government and included expatriate Russian bloggers in Germany, India, and Thailand.Novaya Gazeta claimed this week that the campaign is run by Evgeny Prigozhin, a restaurateur who catered Putin’s re-inauguration in 2012. Prigozhin hasreportedly orchestrated several other elaborate Kremlin-funded campaigns against opposition members and the independent media. Emails from the hacked trove show an accountant for the Internet Research Agency approving numerous payments with an accountant from Prigozhin’s catering holding, Concord.

Several people who follow the Russian internet closely told BuzzFeed the Internet Research Energy is only one of several firms believed to be employing pro-Kremlin comment trolls. That has long been suspected based on the comments under articles about Russia on many other sites, such as Kremlin propaganda network RT’s wildly successful YouTube channel. The editor of The Guardian’s opinion page recently claimed that the site was the victim of an “orchestrated campaign.”

Russian-language social networks are awash with accounts that lack the signs of real users, such as pictures, regular posting, or personal statements. These “dead souls,” as Vasily Gatov, a prominent Russian media analyst who blogs atPostjournalist, calls them, often surface to attack opposition figures or journalists who write articles critical of Putin’s government.

The puerility of many of the comments recalls the pioneering trolling of now-defunct Kremlin youth group Nashi, whose leaders extensively discussed commenting on Russian opposition websites in emails leaked by hackers in 2012. Analysts say Timur Prokopenko, former head of rival pro-Putin youth group Young Guard, now runs internet projects in the presidential administration.

“These docs are written in the same style and keep the same quality level,” said Alexei Sidorenko, a Poland-based Russian developer and net freedom activist. “They’re sketchy, incomplete, done really fast, have tables, copy-pastes — it’s the standard of a regular student’s work from Russian university.”

The group that hacked the emails, which were shared with BuzzFeed last week and later uploaded online, is a new collective that calls itself the Anonymous International, apparently unrelated to the global Anonymous hacker movement. In the last few months, the group has shot to notoriety after posting internal Kremlin files such as plans for the Crimean independence referendum, the list of pro-Kremlin journalists whom Putin gave awards for their Crimea coverage, and the personal email of eastern Ukrainian rebel commander Igor Strelkov. None of the group’s leaks have been proven false.

Russia Today editor Margarita Simonyan was among the journalists whom Putin gave awards for their favorable coverage of the Crimean crisis. Via kashin.guru

In email correspondence with BuzzFeed, a representative of the group claimed they were “not hackers in the classical sense.”

“We are trying to change reality. Reality has indeed begun to change as a result of the appearance of our information in public,” wrote the representative, whose email account is named Shaltai Boltai, which is the Russian for tragic nursery rhyme hero Humpty Dumpty.

The leak from the Internet Research Agency is the first time specific comments under news articles can be directly traced to a Russian campaign.

Source: http://www.buzzfeed.com/maxseddon/documents-show-how-russias-troll-army-hit-america