Yesterday the New York Times revised its revelation on who Manafort gave Trump campaign polling data to, shifting it from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to two Ukrainian clients of his: Rinat Akhmetov and Serhiy Lyovochkin.
Both backed former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, and both find themselves frequently accused of supporting pro-Russian political movements in Ukraine.
But who are they, really? And why would Manafort use his former Russian intelligence associate Konstantin Kilimnik to share information with the two?
Akhmetov rose to prominence in the violent world of 1990s Donetsk, the eastern Ukrainian city that’s now ruled by Russian proxies. The Donetsk region is home to coal mines that belch out slag heaps across the landscape. Stalin decided to build dozens of steel mills in the area. After the Soviet collapse, gang wars erupted over control of these lucrative factories.
The violence peaked in the mid-1990s, with a parliamentarian assassinated in a hail of gunfire on the tarmac of the city airport. Akhmetov became head of the city soccer team – and owner of a number of industrial assets – after the team’s previous chairman was blown up in the stadium.
But by the time Manafort came onto the scene in the early 2000s, things had calmed down and Akhmetov’s company – System Capital Management – was looking for a PR project that could wash away its murky past and help prepare it for Western IPOs.
That public offering never happened, but Manafort remained in Ukraine as Akhmetov groped for a way to revive the political fortunes of his patron and hometown boy, Viktor Yanukovych.
Manafort helped package Yanukovych for his victory in the 2010 election, while also managing outreach to western diplomats and officials hesitant over the future president’s alleged ties to the criminal underworld and to Russia.
Akhmetov’s businesses in Ukraine’s east depended on supply from Russia to stay alive, while under Manafort’s guidance, Yanukovych played to the region’s proximity to Russian culture and Russian-language dominance in a bid to garner votes for his 2010 victory.
But by the time Manafort transferred data to Kilimnik and onwards to Akhmetov and Lyovochkin, the political situation had changed: Yanukovych was gone and Akhmetov had lost control of his Donetsk business empire to the war, and was playing a different game of balancing between government-controlled Ukraine and his Russian-backed separatist-controlled home.
Akhmetov hasn’t appeared in public since screaming at protestors outside his mansion in early 2014, but reporting has shown that he backed political initiatives Manafort worked on after the 2014 revolution.
Lyovochkin, younger than Akhmetov by a few years and from an elite Kyiv background, comes from a different generation of post-Soviet powerbrokers.
His father Volodymyr was a colonel in the Soviet Interior Ministry, and after Ukrainian independence rose to a position overseeing the portion of the country’s prison system responsible for carrying out punishments.
But in a country where the mafia and the state are often blurred (and where a former convict like Viktor Yanukovych could eventually be elected president), that position gave the elder Lyovochkin political influence.
The younger Lyovochkin rose through the 2000s as an associate of Yanukovych and other related politicians. Republican operatives Roger Stone and Michael Caputo cameoed in Ukraine in 2007 working on a campaign for Volodymyr Litvin, a politician that Lyovochkin was advising, while Caputo had earlier worked off and on in the country.
In 2006, Lyovochkin began to work directly for Yanukovych, becoming his chief of staff after the 2010 presidential election.
Manafort’s summer trial revealed that Lyovochkin bankrolled Manafort’s work to the tune of at least $40 million during this time. Much of the work focused on the illegal international lobbying campaign that was part of Manafort’s downfall, in which he pushed for the European Union and U.S. to overlook the Yanukovych government’s numerous sins in favor of signing agreements with Ukraine that would inch the country westwards.
But Yanukovych refused to sign the agreements in fall 2013, precipitating mass protests, a revolution, and war that led to the geopolitical standoff between the U.S. and Russia which the Kremlin appears to have tried to end by meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Lyovochkin resigned from the Yanukovych government after the first assault on protestors, sparking theories about his own involvement, while he has maintained that he quit because he supported Ukraine’s western integration.
After the revolution, Lyovochkin brought Manafort back to Ukraine to work on a new party that would serve as a successor to Yanukovych’s spent political force. Given the war with Russia, that project – called Opposition Bloc – hasn’t gone very far.
The Ukrainian also appeared at Trump’s inauguration, paying D.C. lobbyist Sam Patten $50,000, which he then funneled to the inaugural committee in exchange for four tickets – one for Lyovochkin, one for Kilimnik, one for Patten, and another for an unnamed Ukrainian.
Lyovochkin still owed Manafort millions, which the now-convicted felon reportedly tried to recoup by showing off his access to Trump campaign data.
Correction: This article has been updated to show that Michael Caputo and Roger Stone worked for a Ukrainian politician in 2007, and not 2005 as previously written. We regret the error.
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