Kremlin on Monday accused the US of “crudely” trying to recruit Russian nationals to act as its agents, adding that this showed Washington was meddling in Russian affairs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked during a conference call to comment on a report in the New York Times which said the F.B.I. and US Justice Department had tried unsuccessfully to recruit Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska as an informer between 2014 and 2016.
“The fact is that the US in recent years is working crudely using its intelligence services, trying to recruit Russian citizens, exerting moral and other pressure on them.
“ I think these incidents in the most eloquent manner testify to the attempts to interfere in Russia’s internal affairs,” Peskov said.
Vladimir Putin and Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl dancing
Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the wedding of Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl on Saturday, in a visit that the opposition says has damaged Austria’s reputation for political neutrality.
Putin was one of around 100 guests at Kneissl’s wedding to businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in the picturesque village of Gamlitz in southeastern Austria.
The Russian leader was pictured dancing with Kneissl during the festivities. He also brought a Cossack choir to perform for the newlyweds.
Austrian opposition politicians had criticised the invitation to Putin saying it undermined Austria’s claim to be an “honest broker” between Europe and Russia, with the Green party calling for Kneissl’s resignation.
Russia has been accused of seeking to weaken and divide the EU, notably by maintaining links with populist parties in several European countries.
Hundreds of police officers were deployed for the ceremony and the road from nearby Graz airport to Gamlitz was shut in both directions for Putin’s arrival and departure.
Putin was accompanied to the airport by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and went straight on to Germany for a planned meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Among the other guests at the wedding were Kurz, of the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP) and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).
Kneissl was nominated for the post of foreign minister by the FPOe, which since 2016 has had a “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party.
Since last December, the FPOe has been in government in coalition with Kurz’s OeVP after a campaign in which both parties ran on an anti-immigration platform.
Putin’s visit comes amid reports of other Western countries becoming warier of intelligence co-operation with Austria because of suspicion that the FPOe and its Interior Minister Herbert Kickl are trying to exert influence on intelligence agencies.
Unnamed intelligence officials told the Washington Post newspaper that police raids on the BVT domestic intelligence agency in February caused particular concern.
“The alarms are going off. What happened in Austria reminds me of what autocrats would do,” one senior European intelligence official told the paper.
President Donald Trump headed into his first summit with Vladimir Putin on Monday determined to forge a personal bond with the Kremlin chief, saying only “stupidity” by prior administrations had brought US-Russian ties to their present low.Hours before the Helsinki summit, Trump was asked if he would press Putin over Russia’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 election that brought the mercurial property tycoon to power. He said only: “We’ll do just fine.”
Democrats had called for the summit’s cancellation after new revelations surrounding the alleged election meddling.
But Trump has insisted it is “a good thing to meet”, as he attempts to replicate with Putin the sort of personal rapport he proclaims with the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.
If the pair does find common ground, then the summit may take the heat out of some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts, including Syria.
But there are many points of friction that could yet spoil Trump’s hoped-for friendship with the wily former KGB spymaster.
Trump began the day’s talks by meeting Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, who has loaned his harbour-front palace for the occasion.
But first, he fired a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into alleged Russian election meddling.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.
After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cosying up to Putin while undermining the transatlantic alliance.
But over breakfast with Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.
With Washington and Moscow at loggerheads over Ukraine, Iran and trade tariffs as well as Syria, even Trump has cautioned that he is not approaching the Putin summit “with high expectations”.
The brash 72-year-old billionaire has been president for 18 months while Putin, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.
In a weekend interview with CBS News, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.
The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge from their first formal one-on-one summit with a breakthrough.
Putin, who arrived in Helsinki Monday after playing host at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, has remained tense in the run-up to the summit.
On Friday his adviser Yuri Ushakov played down expectations, saying: “The state of bilateral relations is very bad…. We have to start to set them right.”
Giving up ground?
Indeed, after the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.
Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.
Turning the tables, European Union President Donald Tusk said Trump was guilty of “spreading fake news” with his remark about foes, and warned that the trade tensions could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos”.
“Europe and China, America and Russia, today in Beijing and in Helsinki, are jointly responsible for improving the world order, not for destroying it,” he tweeted.
“I hope this message reaches Helsinki.”
Protesters have been on the streets of Helsinki to denounce the policies of both Trump and Putin. Greenpeace draped a giant banner down a church tower urging: “Warm our hearts, not our planet.”
Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in southern England.
One of the victims, Dawn Sturgess, has died and her 19-year-old son Ewan Hope told the Sunday Mirror newspaper: “We need to get justice for my mum.”
Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite US political opposition — may give up too much ground.
Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climbdown linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.
If Washington were to acquiesce in Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of US policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.
And there will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over the election scandal.
But the US leader would not say whether he would demand the extradition of 12 Russian intelligence officers who were indicted last week by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller. (The Guardian)
ANKARA (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday arrived for a visit to Russia’s increasingly close partner Turkey aimed at launching the construction of a nuclear power plant and coordinating policy on the war in Syria.Putin will hold an afternoon of talks with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the two strongmen leaders are joined on Wednesday by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a summit devoted to Syria.Putin’s visit to Turkey is his first trip abroad since he won a historic fourth presidential mandate in March 18 polls.
Putin and Erdogan — who have both led their post-imperial states out of economic crisis but also into a new era of confrontation with the West — have forged an increasingly close alliance in recent months.
Their meeting comes as ties between Russia and the West are nosediving to post-Cold War lows after the March poisoning of Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.
While EU powers have rushed to join Britain in condemning Russia and expelling diplomats over the attack on Skripal, Turkey has been much more circumspect.
Erdogan, who in 2017 held eight face-to-face meetings with Putin, has said that Ankara will not act against Moscow “based on an allegation”.
In a move that has troubled Turkey’s NATO allies, Ankara has agreed to buy S-400 air defence missile systems from Russia.
But Ankara-Moscow relations were also tested by a severe crisis from November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over Syria, a confrontation both sides are trying to put behind each other.
Despite being on different sides of the Syrian civil war, key regime backers Russia and Iran have joined with rebel-supporting Turkey to boost peace and also influence when the conflict ends.
Cooperation is also flourishing in other areas. Putin and Erdogan will from Ankara via video conference launch construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power station in the Mediterranean Mersin region.
The Akkuyu power station — a project costing over $20 billion (16 billion euros) and heavily disliked by environmentalists — was already launched once before in February 2015 but then put on hold due to the plane crisis.
Russia and Turkey are also building the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea that will allow Moscow to pump gas to Europe avoiding Ukraine and increase Turkey’s importance as a transit hub. AFP
President Trump is willing to hold a rare face-to-face meeting with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin despite growing evidence that Moscow poisoned an ex-spy and his daughter near their homes in the UK, an attack that has plunged relations between Russia and the West to their lowest point in years.
The two leaders discussed a potential meeting on a March 20 phone call, a conversation that the Kremlin and White House disclosed for the first time today. Neither the time nor the location of the potential meeting has been finalized, and it’s possible the summit won’t happen. That doesn’t make the prospect of the two men sitting down together any less jarring.
Here’s why: Meetings with a US president are a major honour for any world leader, even one as powerful in his home country as Putin. Trump was offering the Russian strongman a reward at the same time the US was working with other countries to punish Russia for the nerve agent attack on a former Soviet spy. And while it’s not odd for US presidents and Russian leaders to meet, dangling a potential face-to-face at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could make Putin conclude that he has little to fear from the US and its allies for the attack.
Video: Trump and Putin Discuss Potential Summit Meeting (Provided by Bloomberg
The potential meeting comes against the backdrop of an attack that was audacious, even for Putin. On March 4, Sergei Skripal, a former Soviet and Russian spy, was found unconscious on a bench next to his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury. Ten days later, the UK announced that it was kicking 23 Russian diplomats out of the country because London blamed Moscow for the attack. (Moscow denies any involvement in the strike, unsurprisingly and unpersuasively.)
And on March 26, the US expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers and closed a Russian consulate in Seattle. More than 20 other countries followed suit, saying they would kick out over 100 Russian spies. Even New Zealand tried to kick out Russian spies but couldn’t find any. Russia announced its own retaliation, removing 150 Western diplomats from the country on March 29 — effectively a like-for-like response.
That makes the Trump-Putin call on March 20 so striking. Trump knew America’s top ally, the United Kingdom, already responded forcefully to the Skripal attack, and he knew his administration was in the middle of a coordinated global response. It also doesn’t help that Trump called Putin to congratulate him on winning a sham election — even though his staff expressly advised him not to.
So to dangle a White House meeting in the midst of all of that makes seems, at this point, dangerously naive.
“It was bad enough that Trump didn’t raise the Skripal issue with Putin during their March 20 phone call,” Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Vox. “Now we see that he was proposing something that looks, at face value, like going back to business as usual at a moment when most of our friends and allies were trying to send the exact opposite signal.”
Putin is not America’s friend
Trump consistently says he wants a better relationship with Putin and hopes the US and Russia could work more closely together to solve global problems. Putin clearly doesn’t want that.
Consider the following:
According to the US intelligence community, Putin personally ordered an influence campaign during the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win.
Russia works against the United States in Syria by propping up Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Russia reportedly provides weapons and other assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan, even though the US military currently helps Afghan forces fight the insurgent group.
Moscow helps North Korea avoid sanctions on its economy, but the Trump administration uses sanctions as a central component of its “maximum pressure” strategy on Pyongyang.
That, of course, is not all. But these examples alone show that Trump likely shouldn’t cavort with Putin at the White House. The fact that Trump won’t call Putin out by name for any of them is as mysterious today as it was during the 2016 campaign. (Vox .com)
Russian President Vladimir Putin has seemingly put his country on a war footing by telling businesses that they should be ready to switch production to military needs at any time.
Putin’s words come just the day after he said his nation should aim to overtake the West in terms of military technology.
Putin was speaking at a conference of military leaders in Sochi on Wednesday (22 November) at a time when western leaders have become more suspicious of a militarily resurgent Russia.
“The ability of our economy to increase military production and services at a given time is one of the most important aspects of military security,” Putin said according to The Independent.
“To this end, all strategic, and simply large-scale enterprise should be ready, regardless of ownership.”
Although Russian military spending remains at record levels, 3 trillion roubles, or 3.3 per cent of GDP this year, just under its spending last year, Putin said that Russia needs to aim to be better than the rest of the world.
“Our army and navy need to have the very best equipment — better than foreign equivalents,” he said, according to AFP. “If we want to win, we have to be better.”
Russia’s military has been modernised since the 2008 Georgian war and it has dumped outdated Soviet equipment used by its troops.
Over the next two years, the Kremlin will spend 2.8 per cent of GDP on defence, although this is still comparatively dwarfed by the Nato budget, which is more than three times larger, The Independent reported.
Part of Russia’s new arsenal is the Iskander-M, a new short-range ballistic missile that is nuclear capable and can reach hypersonic speeds.
Capable of striking Baltic countries and Poland, a report in Popular Mechanics noted that the Iskander-M has been designed to attack land targets with a reported 635kg warhead.
Russia has been criticised in recent years for its annexation of Ukraine and repeated military exercises and army build-up on Nato’s western border near the former Soviet states.
The nation was accused of violating the airspace of European countries, including the UK, and engaged in cyber espionage, hacking the governments of Denmark and Germany by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday.
Although Russia has denied conducting any cyberattacks, May said: “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing and you will not succeed.
“Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of western nations to the alliances that bind us.” (International Business Times)
“He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did,” Trump said of Putin, speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One as he traveled to Hanoi, the second-last stop of his Asia trip.
“Every time he sees me, he said: ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it,” Trump said, noting that Putin is “very insulted” by the accusation. Trump called the accusation an “artificial barrier” erected by Democrats — once again casting doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia did try to interfere in the election to help Trump win.
Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting while they were in Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, but the two spoke informally several times on the event’s sidelines and reached an agreement on a number of principles for the future of war-torn Syria.
But Trump made clear that the issue of Russian meddling in the election hovers over the leaders’ relationship and said it jeopardized their ability to work together on issues including North Korea’s escalating nuclear program and the deadly conflict in Syria.
“Having a good relationship with Russia’s a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way,” Trump told reporters. “People will die because of it.”
Trump danced around the question of whether he believed Trump’s denials, telling reporters that pressing the issue would have accomplished little.
“He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” said Trump.
“Well, look, I can’t stand there and argue with him,” he added later. “I’d rather have him get out of Syria, to be honest with you. I’d rather have him, you know, work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing about whether or not – cause that whole thing was set up by the Democrats.”
Trump’s suggestion that he may believe Putin over his own nation’s intelligence community is certain to re-ignite the firestorm over the issue of election meddling. Meanwhile, a special counsel investigation of potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides so far has resulted in two indictments for financial and other crimes unrelated to the campaign, as well as a guilty plea. Congressional committees have also been interviewing campaign and White House staff.
Earlier Saturday, the Kremlin issued a statement saying the leaders had reached agreement on a number of principles for the future of civil war-torn Syria now that the Islamic State group has largely been pushed out. Among the agreements’ key points, according to the Russians, were an affirmation of de-escalation zones, a system to prevent dangerous incidents between American and Russian forces, and a commitment to a peaceful solution governed by a Geneva peace process.
The Kremlin quickly promoted the agreement as the White House stayed silent. Trump told reporters that the deal was reached “very quickly” and that it would save “tremendous numbers of lives.” And he praised his relationship with Putin the two “seem to have a very good feeling for each other and a good relationship, considering we don’t know each other well.”
Snippets of video of from the summit in the sea-side city of Danang showed Trump and Putin shaking hands and chatting, including during the world leaders’ traditional group photo. The two walked together down a path to the photo site, conversing amiably, with Trump punctuating his thoughts with hand gestures and Putin smiling.
Journalists traveling with Trump were not granted access to any of the APEC events he participated in in the picturesque tropical seaside city Saturday.
White House officials had worked quietly behind the scenes negotiating with the Kremlin on the prospect of a formal meeting. The Russians raised expectations for such a session and Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Asia that it was “expected we’ll meet with Putin” to discuss issues including ramping up pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic weapons program.As speculation built, the two sides tried to craft the framework of a deal on the future of Syria that Trump and Putin could announce in a formal bilateral meeting, according to two administration officials not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.
Though North Korea and the Ukraine had been discussed, the two sides focused on trying to strike an agreement about a path to resolve Syria’s civil war once the Islamic State group is defeated, according to officials. But the talks stalled and, minutes before Air Force One touched down in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters the meeting was off.
Trump will be attending a state dinner in Hanoi Saturday night. On Sunday, he’ll meet with the country’s president and prime minister before heading to his last stop: The Philippines. (Time)
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Siberian getaway dominated his homeland’s news agenda over the weekend, his torso already earning plaudits from the tabloid press, as well as comparisons to fictional adventurer Indiana Jones.
The politician’s topless photos of his fishing trip to Tuva was reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s “indomitable adventurer and conqueror of hearts,” Moscow tabloid, Moskovskiy Komsomolets wrote Sunday.
The images, released by the state-run TV channels, harkened back to 2007 when Putin first famously strode around the same rural idyll, baring his chest by the Siberian lakeside.
Putin’s most memorable photo ops (Photos)
“Russians were able to arrive at the conclusion that in the 10 years passed since the analogous photo shoot, their president has not changed a bit and is totally capable to plow on like a slave on a row ship,” the paper wrote, referencing an odd phrase Putin himself used to describe his dedication to his work.
“This was not merely idle sunbathing in good weather,” state-run NTV declared, noting that Putin tried to cram the “maximum amount of adventure in nature” during his three-day break.
“Putin showed his excellent physical form,” Russia’s Defense Ministry channel Zvezda, declared, noting that the president fished shirtless while knee-deep in water, before then taking a swim in it, despite the temperature rising no higher than 17 degrees Celsius.
“That is for real men,” local tourism organiser Mikhail Klimov told state news channel Rossiya 24. “It is great that our president yearns for precisely such a break. You can sense it by his mood, see it in his eyes that all this is close to his heart—nature, the outdoors, fishing, freedom. We Siberians cherish this dearly too.”
When he did decide to put on a shirt sporting the Russian army’s merchandise label, Putin earned the praise of pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, commending him for “advertising not only domestic tourism but also a national brand for clothes.”
Some of the footage came from a Go Pro camera mounted on Putin’s diving suit, in which, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, the president chased prey in the water for two hours. The leader was now “going for the hearts of all voters,” the Moskovskiy Komsomolets predicted, referring to the upcoming March 2018 presidential elections in Russia.
Putin has not yet announced if he will run for the presidency for a fourth time next year when his current term runs out. The vast political establishment in Russia is touting no candidate as a potential successor. (Newsweek)
MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin believes that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base broke international law and have seriously hurt U.S.-Russia relations, Russian news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying on Friday.
The Russian leader, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, regarded the U.S. action as “aggression against a sovereign nation” on a “made-up pretext” and as a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, was cited as saying.
The United States fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase earlier on Friday from which it said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched this week.
Moscow had been hoping to cooperate with new U.S. President Donald Trump to jointly fight the Islamic State militant group in Syria, a move it was banking on to improve battered U.S.-Russia ties which are languishing at a post Cold War low.
But the U.S. action caused consternation in Russia, angering the Kremlin and pro-Kremlin lawmakers who suggested it had dealt a significant blow to any hopes of doing business with Trump.
“Putin views the U.S. strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and on a made-up up pretext,” Peskov was cited as saying.
“Washington’s step will inflict major damage on U.S.-Russia ties.”
Peskov was also quoted as saying that Russia did not believe that Syria possessed chemical weapons and that the U.S. move would inevitably create a serious obstacle to creating an international coalition to fight terrorism, an idea that Putin has repeatedly pushed.
Russia would now call for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the matter, the RIA news agency cited Viktor Ozerov, the head of the upper house of parliament’s defence and security committee, as saying.
No Russian citizens had been hurt in the strikes, another lawmaker said, while Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the upper house’s international affairs committee, said it looked like Trump may have been bounced into approving military action by the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.
“One way or another, Russian cruise missiles are continuing to strike terrorists and American ones government troops who are heading the war against the terrorists,” Kosachev wrote on social media.
“I fear that with these approaches the hoped-for U.S.-Russian anti-terrorism coalition in Syria … is breathing its last before it is even born.” (REUTERS)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.
Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.
“We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”
Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.
The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort’s ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.
In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”
“I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.”
Deripaska became one of Russia’s wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin’s interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.” In response to questions about Manafort’s consulting firm, a spokesman for Deripaska in 2008 — at least three years after they began working together — said Deripaska had never hired the firm. Another Deripaska spokesman in Moscow last week declined to answer AP’s questions.
The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin’s interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort’s work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of Manafort’s work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there. The Moscow office never opened.
Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have ever been filed in the case.
FBI Director James Comey, in confirming to Congress the federal intelligence investigation this week, declined to say whether Manafort was a target. Manafort’s name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine. No one mentioned Deripaska.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign, even though as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman he led it during the crucial run-up to the Republican National Convention.
Manafort and his associates remain in Trump’s orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump’s inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.
Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort’s firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska, but he was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort’s firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump’s presidential campaign.
Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 that he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department,” according to the documents. He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” but he did not identify the firm. Manafort also said he was employing unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.
Deripaska owns Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide in the agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing industries, and he runs one of the world’s largest aluminum companies. Forbes estimated his net worth at $5.2 billion. How much Deripaska paid Manafort in total is not clear, but people familiar with the relationship said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars and continued through at least 2009. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly.
In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building “long term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.
Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.
For the $10 million contract, Manafort did not use his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort. Instead, he used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address of his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV’s address was listed as Manafort’s home, also in Alexandria. Manafort sold the home in July 2015 for $1.4 million. He now owns an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, as well as other properties in Florida and New York.
One strategy memo to Deripaska was written by Manafort and Rick Davis, his business partner at the time. In written responses to the AP, Davis said he did not know that his firm had proposed a plan to covertly promote the interests of the Russian government.
Davis said he believes Manafort used his name without his permission on the strategy memo. “My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described,” Davis said. He took a leave of absence from the firm in late 2006 to work on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Manafort’s work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.
Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.