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The Manafort case: consequences for Ukraine

Expert: “This situation will not cause reputational damage if we succeeded in persuading the Americans that Ukraine of the past and today’s Ukraine are different nations”
1 November, 2017 - 17:48
REUTERS photo

The Manafort case is gaining momentum in the US. And if someone thinks that it only concerns Russia, then they are wrong. After all, this case is directly connected with Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine appear in many American media these days, local experts and journalists put forward their own versions of the situation, and politicians make statements.

WHO IS PAUL MANAFORT?

From open sources, we can learn that he is an American lawyer, lobbyist, and political advisor. In 1980, Manafort became a co-founder of the Washington lobbying firm Black, Manafort & Stone. From June to August 2016, he was campaign manager for Donald Trump during the US presidential election. Previously, he worked as an advisor during the presidential campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain.

Speaking about Ukraine, after the Orange Revolution of 2004, Manafort became chief advisor to the Party of Regions and Viktor Yanukovych, in particular during the 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections, as well as the presidential election of 2010. Moreover, this cooperation took place even though the US government opposed Yanukovych because of his ties with Russia and Vladimir Putin. During the 2014 parliamentary election, Manafort co-operated with the Opposition Bloc.

WHAT MANAFORT STANDS ACCUSED OF?

On October 30, the former campaign manager was indicted on charges stemming from an investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. According to the spokesman for Robert Mueller, the US special counsel investigating Russia’s alleged meddling, the indictment contains 12 counts, including conspiracy against the US, money laundering, false statements, tax evasion, fraud and serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, the AFP news agency reports. The indictment also covers Manafort’s former business partner Rick Gates. On the morning of October 30, they both arrived to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office, where they surrendered to the special counsel Mueller.

REUTERS photo

Lobbying in favor of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions without proper registration is one of the accusations against Manafort: he is accused of laundering 18 million dollars he received in Ukraine. “In the US, it is a criminal offense that can be punished by imprisonment,” Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics (US), said in a commentary for the Voice of America’s Ukrainian service. Manafort’s lawyer declared on behalf of his client his innocence of all 12 charges. As a result, the federal court in Washington ordered Trump’s former campaign manager to home confinement. A similar order was issued for Gates.

HOW IS THE SITUATION INFLUENCING AMERICAN POLITICS?

After disclosure of official charges against Yanukovych’s former US advisor and Trump’s campaign manager, the community of experts and observers has become divided into two camps, the Voice of America’s Ukrainian service says: some speculate whether further Manafort testimony will throw a shadow on US president Trump and bolster talk about the connection between the Trump camp and the Kremlin; others note that the Manafort indictment relates exclusively to his work in Ukraine and allegedly even dispels claims about a conspiracy involving Trump and Russia.

The leader of the latter group is, of course, the US president himself: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus? Also, there is NO COLLUSION [with Russia],” US president Trump responded, as usual, on Twitter.

Some American experts point out that Manafort’s current troubles will hit hardest not Trump, but Tony Podesta, an American lobbyist who also worked for Yanukovych’s interests in Ukraine, allegedly according to Manafort’s instructions. The situation is especially sensitive because Tony Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, the former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, and before that, he was Barack Obama’s advisor.

“Some charges were dropped, in particular, regarding Russia-related conspiracy, because it does not affect the administration, or because Manafort’s and Gates’s contacts with the Russian side happened before the 2016 election campaign,” American scholar from Borys Hrinchenko University of Kyiv Professor Oleksandr Tsvietkov commented for The Day. “However, we have a new witness, also a former member of the campaign team, one George Papadopoulos, who had contacts with the Russian side precisely during the decisive periods of the election campaign. No direct evidence of the Trump campaign’s contacts with the Russian side has surfaced so far, but some members of the team did have such contacts, and investigations are ongoing. Therefore, the administration cannot return to calm so far. Before going on a two-week foreign visit, President Trump is in a state where no one can predict what further testimonies will lead to and whether accusations against other political players that are in any way associated with the Administration will surface.”

“This situation of political turmoil has spread to virtually all levels of government and, in particular, the Congress,” continued the expert. “In that latter body, the anxiety is associated with the fact that the 2018 election campaign is approaching, when the Senate and the House of Representatives are to be re-elected. Of course, for the Republican party, there is a need for an understanding between the administration and the party in order to promote their candidates. In addition, there are already questions about the presidential election of 2020, whether the president will be able or willing to run for the second term. We already see the first trial balloons going up as people try to determine whether Republican primaries among presidential candidates will occur in 2020. All these questions, of course, cannot but alarm the administration, so this turmoil complicates the situation.”

WHAT CONSEQUENCES THE MANAFORT CASE CAN HAVE FOR UKRAINE?

First of all, it should be recalled that at the height of the US presidential campaign in August 2016, certain groups of influence in Ukraine used MP Serhii Leshchenko to reveal the information that Yanukovych’s consultant Manafort had been paid 12 million dollars from the slush fund of the Party of Regions. The New York Times also wrote about it, citing evidence obtained by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. In the end, these efforts had an effect on the Trump campaign, and Manafort resigned. And already after the election, with Trump having won, he demanded to investigate the “Ukrainian trace” in the American election. “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – ‘quietly working to boost Clinton.’ So where is the investigation, A.G.? Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes (where are E-mails & DNC server) & Intel leakers!” Trump wrote on Twitter in July 2017.

Prior to this, the American publication Politico said, citing sources familiar with the situation, that Ukrainian officials meddled in the US presidential election and tried to help the Democrat candidate Clinton by collecting a dossier of damaging nature on her Republican rival Trump. According to the publication’s sources, the government of Ukraine helped the Clinton campaign to uncover the Russian connections of Trump and his assistant Manafort, which was intended to hurt his campaign.

Back during the US electoral race, The Day wrote about this situation and stressed that Ukrainian foreign policy needed “nationalization,” otherwise the Kuchma-Pinchuk family’s influence on it could lead to negative consequences for Ukraine. The ties between the Ukrainian oligarch and the Clintons were covered by the American media as well. In particular, The Wall Street Journal wrote that the leading foreign donors of the Clinton Foundation came from Ukraine, a ‘poor’ European country. For instance, 10 million dollars were sent to help the Clinton family in the 15 years until 2014.

In the end, the Ukrainian government’s bet on one candidate during the US election turned out to be the losing one, as it was not Clinton but Trump who won it, which, of course, had its negative ramifications. They seemingly diminished with time, as Petro Poroshenko had a meeting at the White House after all. And now the story continues. “For the Americans today, the most important thing is Manafort’s activities when he was not registered as a lobbyist for foreign partners. And this is a breach of law. All the materials provided will be considered in this light,” Tsvietkov said. “But we are most interested in his activities in Ukraine and how he executed his orders. Incidentally, this is associated with another figure as well. Such interest is becoming focused on the activities of George Papadopoulos, who was also associated with Manafort’s campaign to promote Ukrainian interests at that time. So far, nothing indicates a worsening attitude towards Ukraine. I think that our government’s openness and readiness to seize any opportunity of supplementing the information will contribute to the Ukrainian factor avoiding exclusively negative comments.”

There is one very important point here, which may not get much attention in the US. Manafort, according to the indictment, consulted and assisted Yanukovych and the Party of Regions (today it re-formed as the Opposition Bloc), and this was (and the Opposition Bloc remains) an openly pro-Russian party. Thus, we would be right to consider the Manafort case as part of the investigation by US law-enforcement officers into Russian meddling in the US presidential election.

The answers should also be sought in a public statement made by Russian President Putin at the height of the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine in August 2014. “We always rely on the incumbents and always support them,” Putin said. “So it was with Kuchma, too. When his presidency was ending, I directly asked him whom Russia should support in the next presidential election. He told me: ‘Yanukovych.’ I had doubts whether Yanukovych was Kuchma’s final choice, and I asked him at the final stage of the preparation of the presidential campaign. He answered that the issue was resolved. ‘We have made a decision, we will nominate Yanukovych, and I ask you and Russia to support him, in particular with media resources, to politically support him,’ Kuchma said. We did it.” Consequently, it cannot be ruled out that Manafort was sent over to Ukraine, or rather to Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, with the help of the Kremlin.

“Since the first day after Trump’s victory in the presidential election, Ukraine has been interested in reducing Manafort’s influence on the Trump Administration to zero,” director of the New Europe Center Aliona Hetmanchuk commented for The Day. “There were enough grounds for this: beginning with Manafort influencing the rhetoric of Trump the candidate on the Crimean issue and the sanctions against Russia during the campaign and ending with his advice to the White House to promote the topic of Ukraine’s meddling with the US presidential campaign as opposed to the allegations of Russia’s meddling. That well-known Trump’s tweet at the end of July, where he questioned why there was no reaction from the US attorney general to Ukraine’s efforts to sabotage his campaign – that tweet was an element of exactly the strategy suggested by Manafort. The charges against Manafort make him and, accordingly, his possible advice even more toxic for the current US administration. At the same time, these allegations can attract even more attention to Ukraine, and not necessarily in a favorable light for us. After all, one way or the other, accusations against Manafort once again show how corrupt, irresponsible, and reckless the Ukrainian political class is. Ukraine can use these allegations in its favor if it succeeds in persuading the American public that we had such a political class under Yanukovych, which is why Ukrainians came out to protest, and today things look different. The Manafort case will not cause us major reputational damage if we succeeded in persuading American leaders that reforms are taking place in Ukraine, and that Ukraine where Manafort operated and Ukraine when Manafort is being prosecuted are different nations. However, did we really succeed in it?” Actually, the question still remains open.

 In the end, the Ukrainian government’s bet on one candidate during the US election turned out to be the losing one, as it was not Clinton but Trump who won it, which, of course, had its negative ramifications. They seemingly diminished with time, as Petro Poroshenko had a meeting at the White House after all. And now the story continues. “For the Americans today, the most important thing is Manafort’s activities when he was not registered as a lobbyist for foreign partners. And this is a breach of law. All the materials provided will be considered in this light,” Tsvietkov said. “But we are most interested in his activities in Ukraine and how he executed his orders. Incidentally, this is associated with another figure as well. Such interest is becoming focused on the activities of Dan Rapoport, who was also associated with Manafort’s campaign to promote Ukrainian interests at that time. So far, nothing indicates a worsening attitude towards Ukraine. I think that our government’s openness and readiness to seize any opportunity of supplementing the information will contribute to the Ukrainian factor avoiding exclusively negative comments.”

By Ivan KAPSAMUN, Natalia PUSHKARUK, The Day
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