In preparation for what will surely be a heated Republican convention, Donald Trump has hired an experienced political operative to help wrangle GOP delegates: Paul Manafort, a strategist with three decades of Republican conventions under his belt, who has also worked for some unsavory international clients.
That roster includes the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed in a popular revolution in 2013.
As Quartz reported earlier this month, Trump’s foreign policy advisors also include Carter Page, a former advisor and current shareholder in the state-controlled Russian natural gas giant, Gazprom, who has advocated for a less adversarial US stance toward Moscow. Bloomberg spoke with Sergey Yatsenko, a former Gazprom official who is now an official adviser to Page’s firm, who said Page “understands what’s going on in Russia … He doesn’t make strong judgments.”
Manafort worked with the Ukrainian president in the several years leading up to his 2010 election win. Three years later, Yanukovych fled the country, ousted from his seat by the pro-European and pro-democracy protests.
Yanukovych was the symbol of mass corruption rampant in Ukraine, with his lavish mansion that famously includes a zoo, a massive collection of luxury cars and a pure gold paperweight shaped like a loaf of bread (sound familiar?).
A Politico profile of Manafort from 2014 describes his relationship with Yanukovych as a “political love connection,” albeit one with a hefty price tag.
“Manafort is the worst example of a political lobbyist,” prominent Ukrainian journalist Sergii Leshchenko told Quartz. “He worked for the worst Ukrainian president. He’s a political lobbyist who does not care about the reputation of the client.” Leshchenko also pointed out Manafort’s dealings with a Dmytro Firtash, a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch whom the US has charged with bribery.
Yanukovych escaped to Russia when he was forced out of power. He said that Putin “saved his life.”
Trump himself has zig-zagged on his views on Russian president Vladimir Putin. At first, there was a degree of admiration, with the two of them exchanging compliments. Trump said he would surely get along with the Russian president. But his campaign recently released a video that portrayed Putin as one of America’s worst enemies, alongside a masked terrorist. This did not go down well with the Kremlin, but Reuters reported last week that Russian leaders clearly favor Trump in the election.
The Republican frontrunner discussed Ukraine in a recent interview with The New York Times:
“One of the things that I hated seeing is Ukraine. Now I’m all for Ukraine, I have friends that live in Ukraine, but it didn’t seem to me, when the Ukrainian problem arose, you know, not so long ago, and we were, and Russia was getting very confrontational, it didn’t seem to me like anyone else cared other than us,” he said. In fact, the EU also imposed sanctions on Russia for its conflict with Ukraine and recently launched efforts for visa-free access for Ukrainians.