Part of the blame for the political crisis in Ukraine, which has provided a pretext for the Hitlerian moves on Ukraine by Russia, can be assigned to an American. His name is Paul J. Manafort, and his contribution to the crisis was helping Viktor Yanukovych convince a majority of the Ukrainian electorate that he was someone he was not. In short, Manafort helped the corrupt and autocratic Yanukovych lie his way to electoral success.
The 2004 Presidential Campaign in Ukraine
In the last part of 2004, Yanukovych – with the help of a few rich and powerful friends – tried to steal the Ukrainian presidential election. The brazen effort caused a backlash, with a large contingent of Ukrainian citizens rebelling against this subversion of democracy. The resulting Orange Revolution led to a court decision overturning the election, requiring a new vote. In the election that followed, Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions were decisively defeated.
The Yanukovych who ran in the 2004 election has been described as a typical Soviet-style boss, the kind used to giving orders, being shown deference, and telling people how they should think. He certainly looked the Soviet boss with his bouffant hairstyle, “funeral black suits and white shirts.”[Page 2006] His true nature was evident in speeches in which he employed prison slang, learned when as a young thug he had twice been convicted of armed robbery and grievous bodily harm.[Blomfield 2007] As expected from a Soviet boss, the ads for Yanukovych and his party were uninspired. They “featured Yanukovych lecturing to the camera, as if gleaned from a Communist-era newscast.”[Levy 2007b]
In the 2004 presidential campaign, the real Yanukovych was on display: a man with the mentality of a political boss in an autocratic political system, a friend of Russia, and a man with cynical values common among kleptomaniac political leaders in many other countries formed out of the Soviet Union.
Enter Paul Manafort
Manafort began his work as a political consultant for Yanukovych and the Regions party in 2005. He was brought to Ukraine by one of the oligarchs, a steel and coal tycoon by the name of Rinat Akhmetov, to help him improve his image [Page 2006; Boudreaux 2010]. He was soon thereafter engaged to assist Akhmetov’s favorite politician and his party to recover from their 2004 disaster.
|Viktor Yanukovych (left) and Paul Manafort|
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Manafort is the type of guy you have seen if you have spent any time around politics and the politically powerful. He is one of the slick guys in fancy suits whispering something obviously significant to someone who looks important. He is one of the heavy-lidded, tight-lipped behind-the-scenes political operators, the political pros, who make a very good living operating in the shady nooks and crannies of democracy. And for many years, Paul Manafort was among the most successful of them, assisting in the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Bush the first, and Bob Dole. He also worked in the White House for President Ford in the 1970s.
According to a recent Politico article, Manafort was a “famously discreet operative” who was a principal in two high-powered political consulting firms. The first firm was Black, Manafort, and Stone, founded in 1982, with associates such as Lee Atwater. It had a lobbying arm, pushing the interests of clients such as Bethlehem Steel and the Tobacco Institute; also it provided campaign assistance to conservative Republicans such as Phil Gramm and Jesse Helms. This firm was high-flying and hard-charging in the 80’s and early 90’s when a Republican president was in office. It merged with another in 1996. [Burns and Haberman 2014; Edsall 1985; A Political Power Broker, 1987]
Before it merged, the firm was criticized for its consulting work for foreign clients such as Ferdinand Marcos. Also, Manafort, a principal of the firm, was showered with negative publicity in the late 80’s for using his connections at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help a client obtain $43 million for a questionable project, the rehabilitation of dilapidated housing in Seabrook, New Jersey. [Shenon 1989]
After Black, Manafort, and Stone disappeared in a merger, Manafort became the principal in another lobbying and political campaign firm. The other principal was Rick Davis, who had been the deputy campaign manager for Bob Doyle’s 1996 presidential campaign. The new firm, Davis Manafort, had both lobbying and political campaign accounts. In the middle of 2008, Rick Davis became campaign manager for John McCain. [Meier 2008] Apparently, the firm, though still a legal entity, has not been functioning in recent years. [Burns and Haberman 2014]
While still managing his political consulting firm, Manafort was a campaign consultant for Yanukovych and the Regions Party during the 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections in which the party won a plurality of seats each year. He also was a Yanukovych adviser in the 2010 presidential election, which Yanukovych won. One Russian newspaper estimated that he had been paid a million dollars for his work from 2005 through 2007.[Khmara 2007 ] In a recent Politico article, a former associate of Manafort estimated that earnings for his work with Yanukovych and his party “ran into seven figures over several years.” [Burns and Haberman 2014]
What did Manafort do for Yanukovych to earn these large payments? He worked his public relations magic to make the Soviet-style politician a new man – or at least to appear to be a new man. He softened Yanukovych’s image and made his acceptable to a wider range Ukrainian citizens. He created an image for a man and a party that helped them take power in Ukraine.
According to Burns and Haberman , Manafort’s role in Ukrainian elections from 2006 to 2010 was to shape Yanukovych’s big-picture messaging; coach him to speak in punchy, American-style sound bites; and manage teams of consultants and attorneys. Writing about the 2006 parliamentary elections, Jeremy Page  described in The Australian the influence of the American “spin doctors” on Yanukovych:
[T]heir influence is unmistakable. He [Yanukovych] has abandoned the funereal black suits and white shirts he wore for the 2004 campaign in favour of blue or grey suits with co-ordinated shirts and ties.
He has given up addressing supporters in prison slang, and now speaks in Ukrainian as well as Russian. His wife, who accused Mr Yushchenko's supporters of being high on ''psychotropic'' oranges, has been conspicuously silent.
He still says that he opposes joining NATO, but now backs EU integration.
''Ukraine must become a bridge between Russia and Europe'', is his new catchphrase. But importantly, he has made between 40 and 50 trips around Ukraine since January, meeting tens of thousands of voters.
''He's still the same guy, one Western diplomat said, ''but he is behaving like a real politician.''
A Ukrainian political observer wrote about the impact of “political mercenaries” in Ukraine, describing the changes in Yanukovych’s following the 2004 debacle:
Already leading up to and after Ukraine’s 2006 parliamentary election, journalists noticed how Yanukovych’s mannerisms changed. He was increasingly well dressed in conservatively political attire, well groomed and polished. He smiled warmly and spoke on message although he never got rid of his malapropisms….All the buffing and polishing was attributed to Manafort. [Rachkevych 2012]
Clifford Levy [2007b] covered Yanukovych’s 2007 election campaign for the International Herald Tribune and New York Times. He observed that Yanukovych was showing “a deft new touch that has helped transform him from arch-villain of the Orange Revolution (at least in the eyes of the West) to arguably the country's most popular politician.” Levy [2007b] wrote that Yanukovych presented himself as “an anticorruption reformer who wanted to move Ukraine closer to the west.” [IHT 2007] He continued:
Yanukovich still has the bulk of a retired linebacker, but he has largely shed the coarse mannerisms that he picked up as an ex-convict turned party boss in the political free-for-all after the Soviet Union's demise.
On the stump this week, Yanukovich has repeatedly declared that he is the only politician who can bring stability to a nation weary of political turmoil.
''I understand your dreams,'' he told supporters at a rally, before echoing a line from former President Bill Clinton. ''I feel your pain, and I share in your desire to make Ukraine a land of opportunity.''
He added, ''I want you to know who I am, not who my opponents try to say that I am.''
The changes that the American consultants bring to a relatively unsophisticated political culture can be seen in Yanukovich's television commercials…. they have a buoyant American sensibility, with Yanukovich strolling through sunny neighborhoods, surrounded by smiling Ukrainians of all ages. [IHT 2007]
A British reporter covering the 2007 Ukrainian elections for The Daily Telegraph, a London paper, described the “US-style spin” evident in the Kanukovych campaign:
Three years after his attempt to steal the presidency in the elections that prompted Ukraine's pro-Western Orange Revolution, Mr Yanukovych has undergone a makeover as dramatic as the revival of his political fortunes
…the once avowedly pro-Russian prime minister has ditched the bouffant hairstyle favoured by Soviet apparatchiks, taken to playing tennis with the US ambassador, begun speaking in Ukrainian rather than Russian and has even pledged to take his country into the European Union.
Even his past has been spun. Twice convicted as a teenager for armed robbery and grievous bodily harm, the old Yanukovych had the KGB expunge his criminal record and refused to discuss it in public.
Today, the new Yanukovych is happy to talk about his past, telling questioners about growing up in a broken family. He was not a criminal, he insists, but a victim of poverty. [Blomfield 2007]
|Yanukovych entering Parliament to be Sworn in as President|
In a story about the 2010 presidential campaign, Levy again noted the Western-type campaign and behavior of Yanukovych. He wrote:
Under the tutelage of an American political consultant with ties to Senator John McCain [Manafort], Mr Yanukovych has put the Orange Revolution on trial in recent weeks. He has echoed another American politician, by asking Ukrainians whether they feel better off now than they did five years ago.
“Do we want to keep living as we have lived these five years?” he asked. “When you know the answer to that, then you will know how to vote.”
Mr. Manafort’s influence was apparent on Mr. Yanukovych’s visit this week in Dneprodzerzhinsk. His old style tended toward rambling speeches that seemed more suited for Politburo meeting than a campaign rally. But throughout his day, he spoke in short, crisp sentences that rarely strayed from this theme of the Orange Revolution’s failures.
Most journalists writing about the 2006, 2007, and 2010 Ukrainian elections give great credit to Manafort for the victories of Yanukovych and the Party of the Regions. A confidant of Yanukovych, a member of parliament by the name of Boris Kolesnikov, told a Financial Times reporter that Manafort’s team had made “a major impact” on the strategy and style of the “the rough-spoken former truck driver.” [Olearchyk 2010] A former Manafort partner gave him even more credit for the electoral successes: “Yanukovych came to power through a series of elections and would have never won without Manafort’s council.” [Burns and Haberman 2014]
Of course, the political campaigns in Ukraine did not take place in a vacuum, and the failures of the Orange Revolution, and the unpopularity of its leaders, contributed to Yanukovych’s successes, as did unwavering support of many Russian-speaking Ukrainian’s living in the Eastern part of the country. Nevertheless, Manafort made it possible for Yanukovych and his party to take advantage of the situation by presenting a new, softer, modern image – dressing the corrupt Soviet autocrat is the fine clothes of an honest democrat.
Why Did Manafort Help Yanukovych?
Why did Manafort, a conservative Republican, agree to help a candidate with, at best, questionable ethics, morals, and values (evidenced by efforts to steal the 2004 presidential election) and an orientation toward Russia? Unsurprisingly, he has never explained his motives, but several of his former colleagues think that Manafort “truly believed in the now-deposed politician’s capabilities as a leader and doubted that his competitors – widely seen as more pro-western – had more productive aspirations for the country.” In their piece, Burns and Haberman  refer to the Manafort-Yanukovych relationship as a “political love connection” and say the two developed a “real and close relationship.”
|Manafort at the 2010 Yanukovych Inaugration|
An American ad man whom Manafort brought in to help with the 2010 Ukrainian presidential campaign told Burns and Haberman  that Manafort was “obsessively focused on the race.” He is quoted as saying, “There was no hour of the day or night when he was not available to respond to an email.” Another Manafort friend described his drive in this election as “maniacal.” Apparently the work for Yanukovych was more than simply "another job" to him.
Manafort rarely spoke to the press about his political work in Ukraine (or anywhere else), but he did talk briefly to Levy in 2007:
Manafort … said Thursday that he would not discuss his advice to Yanukovich or how much he is being paid. But Manafort said he believes that the prime minister is an outstanding leader who has been badly misunderstood.
''The West has not been willing to move beyond the Cold War mentality and to see this man and the outreach that he has extended,' said Manafort, 58, who favors monogrammed dress shirts and has the looks of a network anchorman.
Hoping to undercut Yanukovich’s more polished campaign, his opponents have charged that oligarchs like Akhmetov are simply buying a better candidate.
“They are just packaging him in a new cover and educating him in some techniques to use,” said Hryhoriy Nemyria, a Tymoshecko adviser. “It’s the same Soviet and post-Soviet political culture, which always favors a monopoly of political power, hatred of the political opposition and eternal distrust of the media and civil society. This has not disappeared.”
Manafort said such criticism was unfair, and he emphasized that his vision for Ukraine extended far beyond Sunday.
''I am not here just for the election,'' he said. ''I am trying to play a constructive role in developing a democracy. I am helping to build a political party.'' [Levy 2007]
In 2010, he spoke briefly again with Levy, who was covering the Ukrainian presidential election for the New York Times. He provided, essentially, a talking-point sound bit:
Mr. Manafort declined to discuss in detail his relationship with Mr. Yanukovych, but he acknowledged that he was pursuing a classic anti-incumbent strategy.
“Despite the great expectations from the Orange campaign promises of five years ago, the world and the people of Ukraine see that Tymoshenko has failed,” Mr. Manafort said. [Levy 2010]
He gave another interview to a Wall Street Journal reporter [Boudreaux 2010], talking about the successful tactics of the Yanukovych campaign. He said, “Tymoshenko tried to portray herself as the leader of democratic forces. Yanukovych ran as the leader of the forces of change. He kept the focus of that message, on the fact she’d had her chance and botched the job. And he made that case.”
|Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych's main political opponent, in prison, 2011|
|Yanuokovych's Mansion and Related Treasures|
Manafort after Yanukovych
According to Burns and Haberman , Manafort became an advisor to Yanukovych after he was elected president of Ukraine in 2010. He also became involved in business projects in Eastern Europe.
At this time, Manafort’s current work and location are unknown. Burns and Haberman  reported that in early March, not long after Yanukovych abandoned his opulent multi-million dollar mansion to flee Ukraine, Manafort’s former colleagues did not know his whereabouts, and he did not respond to messages sent to half a dozen email accounts linked to him, nor did he answer calls to phone numbers at his Virginia and Florida addresses. However, a couple of March twitter messages -- true or not -- placed Manafort in an expensive hotel in Kiev.
In one of his few newspaper interviews after starting his work in Ukraine, Manafort said that in his work there he wanted to “play a constructive role in developing a democracy.” To do so, he helped a corrupt thug take power, thereby steering a nation into a crisis that not only hurts its citizens, but threatens to destabilize the world. Manafort’s actions in Ukraine suggest that where ever he is and whatever he is doing now, he is making lots of money, justifying his work in lofty phrases, and showing no concern for its consequences.
“A Political Power Broker.” 1989. New York Times, June 21, p. A19.
Blomfield, Adrian. 2007. “Commentary: Ukraine’s prime minister turns to US-style spin.” The Daily Telegraph (London), September 29, p. 18.
Boudreau, Richard. 2010. “Candidates sought guidance from American consultants.” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9. Accessed here: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748703630404575053850989810346
Burns, Alexander and Maggie Haberman. 2014. “Mystery Man: Ukraine’s Political Fixer.” Politico, March 3. Accessed at http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/paul-manafort-ukraine-104263.html
Edsall, Thomas. 1985. “Partners in Political PR Firm Typify Republican New Breed.” Washington Post, April 7, p. A8.
Khmara, Irina. 2007. "A million dollars for Manfort. Americans replace Russian spin doctors in Ukraine." Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Moscow), August 22. Accessed here: http://www.unian.info/politics/62556-a-million-dollars-for-manafort-americans-replace-russian-spin-doctors-in-ukraine.html
Levy, Clifford. 2007. “American strategists shaping Ukraine race; Political makeover buoys prime minister.” International Herald Tribune, September 27, p. 3.
Levy, Clifford. 2007b. “Image repair perks up Ukrainian’s prospects; American aids a once-reviled leader.” International Herald Tribune, Oct 1, p. 1.
Levy, Clifford. 2010. “Toppled in Ukraine but nearing a comeback.” New York Times. January 15, p. A4.
Meier, Barry. 2008. “In McCain Campaign, a Lobbying Labyrinth.” New York Times, May 25, p. 22.
Olearchyk, Roman. 2010. “U.S. political advisers add polish to Ukraine election candidates.” Financial Times (U.S. edition), January 28, p. 5.
Page, Jeremy. 2006. “American spin doctors turn Ukraine’s Orange Revolution into Blue.” The Australian, March 29, p. 10.
Rachkevych, Mark. 2012. “Political mercenaries bad for Ukraine.” Kyiv Post, Sept. 26. Accessed here: https://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/political-mercenaries-bad-for-ukrainian-democracy-313516.html
Shenon. Philip. 1989. “Bush consultant peddled influence at H.U.D., he says.” New York Times, June 21, p. A1.