Konstantin Kilimnik, the Ukrainian born, Soviet military trained linguist was Paul Manafort’s “man in Kiev”. He is “Person A” in the Van der Zwaan court filings, we now know, and has bragged about being the one who helped changed the GOP platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention, resulting in a softened stance towards Russian.
Kostya, or “KK”, as he is also known, now joins Manafort in being indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. They both are accused of tampering with witnesses by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Manafort has been sent to jail in Virginia while awaiting trial, while Konstantin is in Moscow, according to the indictment.
Kilimnik, 48, is called “Manafort’s Manafort” by colleagues and has been Manafort’s aid, protege, and fixer for more than a decade. The two men met in 2005. Manafort wanted to do business in Russia and Ukraine; KK was working for the International Republican Institute. As The Atlantic points out, Manafort needed a reliable interpreter.
Manafort hardly understood a word of his prospective clients’ languages. “Paul is the smartest political guy I know, but he couldn’t order a glass of water,” one of his former staffers told me. So he grew reliant on Konstantin Kilimnik, a Soviet-born native who could render idiomatic English and translate the cultural nuances of the region that might elude outsiders. Manafort would describe him to others in his office as “my Russian brain.”
Kilimnik had learned to speak Swedish and English at a Russian military school, in addition to the Ukrainian and Russian he was already fluent in, Politico reports, and his background with GRU (Russian military intelligence) was not a secret.
After the dissolution of the Communist-controlled country, Kilimnik bounced around a bit, doing freelance translating, until eventually landing a job in 1995 in the Moscow office of the International Republican Institute. The nonprofit group, which has branches around the world, works with political parties and candidates to bolster the democratic process — a mission viewed with suspicion in post-Communist Russia.
Kilimnik did not hide his military past from his new employer. In fact, when he was asked how he learned to speak such fluent English, he responded “Russian military intelligence,” according to one IRI official, who quipped, “I never called [the Russian military intelligence agency] GRU headquarters for a reference.”
KK never attempted to dissuade his colleagues of their assumptions regarding his Russian military intelligence background, Politico explains.
It soon became an article of faith in IRI circles that Kilimnik had been in the intelligence service, according to five people who worked in and around the group in Moscow, who said Kilimnik never sought to correct that impression.
“It was like ‘Kostya, the guy from the GRU’ — that’s how we talked about him,” said a political operative who worked in Moscow at the time. “The institute was informed that he was GRU, but it didn’t matter at the time because they weren’t doing anything sensitive.”
He was fired from IRI in 2005 after he was discovered to have been moonlighting with Paul Manafort. His job as Manafort’s right hand man would become his primary gig. Whispers, rumors, and suspicions of Russian involvement have followed him and those who are not willing to dissemble call him a Russian spy.
Paul Manafort, with Konstantin by his side, was hired by Oleg Deripaska to take on Viktor Yanukovych as a client and stop the democratic revolution that had erupted in Ukraine in 2004. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and one of the richest men in Russia who benefited from the corruption under Yanukovych, put Manafort and his side-kick Kilimnik in a position to shape post-Soviet politics in the region and restore Yanukovych to power.
Even before Yanukovych was elected as Ukrainian president in 2010, Manafort leveraged his power to create business opportunities. Deripaska invested millions in a private-equity fund created by Manafort, a venture that would ultimately fail. Oleg named Kilimnik, in addition to Manafort, Rick Gates, and others in a lawsuit trying to win back his lost millions.
It was Konstantin who Paul Manafort emailed two weeks after being brought on as Donald Trump’s campaign manager in an apparent attempt to leverage his new gig into a way of making things right with Deripaska, “to get whole” as he said in one of his emails. KK assured him that their friend OVP (Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska) had seen the news of Manafort’s role, The Atlantic reported in October 2017.
“Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD,” Kilimnik responded in April, referring again to Deripaska. (“Victor” is a Deripaska aide, the source close to Manafort confirmed.) “Frankly, the coverage has been much better than Trump’s,” Kilimnik wrote. “In any case it will hugely enhance your reputation no matter what happens.”
Even after Manafort resigned as campaign manager and Mueller’s investigation tightened around Manafort, Kilimnik stayed loyal. In February, according to the indictment, when Manafort attempted to contact witnesses and sway their testimony regarding his lobbying work in Ukraine, Kilimnik assisted him.
The Kilimnik indictment may be of special significance, Time reports.
Renato Marriotti, a former federal prosecutor, said this indictment has potential to be politically significant, because it is the first one where a Russian and an American have been indicted together, the strongest evidence yet for potential cooperation between the two parties. “We have an indictment of a Russian and an American working together for the first time,” he said. “This is an indictment of the former chair of the Trump campaign for conspiring with a suspected Russian intelligence operative. I think there’s been a narrative for a while that they’re waiting to find collusion … conspiracy seems very similar to collusion to me. Thats about as close of an analogue as you’re going to find in the law.”
The Atlantic explains that Special Counsel Mueller has laid out a case that “Person A”, Konstantin Kilimnik, had connections with Russian intelligence while he was communicating with Paul Manafort during his stint as campaign manager.
But Robert Mueller has begun to state them as fact. Or rather, in two separate fillings, he has referred to an unnamed colleague of Manafort’s, identified only as “Person A,” with “ties to Russian intelligence.” In a brief Mueller submitted to a U.S. District Court in the course of pressing his case against Manafort, he went one step further. Citing FBI special agents, the special prosecutor described Person A’s ties to Russian intelligence as “active” through the 2016 presidential election.
The author of The Atlantic article sums it up bluntly: “Donald Trump’s campaign chairman had a pawn of Russian intelligence as his indispensable alter ego.”