US Senate Intelligence Report: 3 main takeaways regarding Ukraine
The fifth and final volume of the bipartisan Senate-led report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, released on Aug. 18, has found that the Russian government engaged in concerted efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The report sheds new light on the “counterintelligence threat” posed to the U.S. during President Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, highlighting the role played by Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who is currently serving his 90-month prison sentence for conspiracy and fraud under home arrest.
Manafort previously worked for the Party of Regions of ousted ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, which ties his case directly to Ukraine.
The Senate report says many of Manafort’s affairs involving “Russian influence actors” were mediated via Konstantin Kilimnik, a political consultant who holds dual Russian and Ukrainian citizenship.
The shady liaison’s name appears more than 800 times in the report, which further refers to Kilimnik as a “Russian intelligence officer.”
Kilimnik, currently based in Russia, was widely believed to be “Person A” in Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, an individual whom the FBI has linked with the GRU, Russia’s premier military intelligence unit. A previous report by the House intelligence committee in 2018 on Russian Active Measures has no mention of Kilimnik, showcasing the lack of emphasis placed on him in previous considerations.
Kilimnik has already denied having any ties to Russian intelligence and is yet to comment on the Senate’s most recent findings.
According to the report, Manafort’s work for Russian government-aligned interests can be traced back to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following their introduction in the early 2000s, Deripaska facilitated Manafort’s entry into the world of Ukrainian politics by introducing him to key “pro-Russian” oligarchs in Ukraine, such as Rinat Akhmetov, Borys Kolesnikov and Serhiy Lyovochkin.
According to the report, Manafort then remained on the Ukrainian political scene as a lobbyist and adviser to the now-defunct Party of Regions, utilizing Kilimnik as his right hand man.
“In pursuing these relationships, Manafort conducted influence operations that supported and were part of Russian active measure campaigns, including those involving political influence and electoral interference.”
U.S. intelligence concurs that, by the time Manafort joined the Trump campaign team in 2016, he was “owed millions of dollars by oligarchs in Ukraine for past political consulting work and sought to collect on this debt.”
This put Manafort in a compromising position, in which he reportedly “sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik”.
The document further elaborates that the information passed on to Kilimnik consisted of polling data indicating that Hillary Clinton had a negative reputation, according to the testimony of Sam Patton, Manafort’s associate and a former political consultant for the Ukrainian political party Opposition Bloc.
“The Committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign. Taken as a whole, Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kiliminik and associates of Oleg Deripaska, represented a grave counterintelligence threat,” the report concluded.
However, the Committee admitted that they are not aware of what Kilimnik did with the sensitive information from the Trump campaign because his communication with Manafort and other individuals connected to Russian influence operations remained veiled under impenetrable security practices.
The Donbas question
The report also mentions the peace plan for eastern Ukraine that Manafort attempted to concoct with the help of Kilimnik in 2018, according to the FBI. The plan, which Kilimnik claimed had the Kremlin’s support, would engineer a comeback for the exiled fifth president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.
The plan would merge Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts into one autonomous republic inside Ukraine, with Donetsk-native Yanukovych as the prime minister of the new republic’s government.
“A key driver that will bring back the dynamics into the peaceful settlement process can be an initiative of the President of the United States Donald Trump proposing to create the (Autonomous Republic of Donbas) and involve Mr. Yanukovich (sic) into the peaceful settlement process; This initiative then can be raised by representatives of the United States during their contacts with their Russian counterparts. In case of agreement of Russia and Mr. Yanukovich such initiative will make it possible to quickly develop a road map for settlement of the conflict and approve it soonest at a Normandy format meeting,” Kilimnik reportedly wrote in a draft of the peace proposal.
Kilimnik and Manafort proceeded to gather polling statistics inside Ukraine to determine the potential of this plan. The results showed that Yanukovych was not a viable political figure anymore. The plan eventually fell apart.
Manafort stayed in touch with the Trump Campaign after 2016 through Trump himself, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and others.
Alongside an attempt to bring back and exonerate Yanukovych, Kilimnik was involved in promoting a “narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections,” according to the intelligence report.
After media reported on Manafort’s dodgy past in Ukraine, Kilimnik began the process of damage control by launching a smear campaign against the Ukrainian government.
The report notes that Kilimnik was the initiator of circulating media that accused the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko of “falsifying the black ledger” — a document recording the Party of Regions’ illegal, off-the-books payments, including to Manafort — against Trump’s campaign and Manafort.
Kilimnik used active Ukrainian political players, such as Serhiy Lyovochkin, to release statements into the press that suggested Ukrainian interference in the election. One such opinion article, authored by Lyovochkin and published by U.S. News & World Report, advanced Kilimnik’s narrative by insinuating that Trump had no Russia ties and that the case was largely manufactured by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.
“Kilimnik used an alias Twitter account registered under a false persona to push… false information, much of which centered on efforts to discredit the Russian investigations and assert that Ukraine, not Russia, had intervened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the Senate-led report states.
An additional comment from Senator Ron Wyden, a Democratic representative, in the report concluded the following:
“The report includes information on the role of other Russian government proxies and personas in spreading false narratives about Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election. This propaganda, pushed by Russian intelligence officers and other Russian proxies, was the basis on which Donald Trump sought to extort the current government of Ukraine into providing assistance to his reelection efforts and was at the center of Trump’s impeachment and Senate trial.”