3 Disturbing Questions About the Meeting Between Paul Manafort and the Russian Intelligence Officer

John Reeves
8 min readSep 8, 2020
Paul Manafort Photo by VOA

On July 28, 2016, Konstantin Kilimnik flew from Kyiv to Moscow and met for five hours with the former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was living in Russia after fleeing his country in 2014. After the meeting, Kilimnik urgently needed to discuss a sensitive and potentially lucrative proposal with his colleague, Paul Manafort. He sent an email later that day to Manafort with the subject line “Black caviar.”

Black caviar was a reference to the time that Yanukovych gave a black caviar jar to Manafort worth roughly $30,000 to $40,000. In the email, Kilimnik told Manafort he had several important messages to discuss and that he would like to meet in person. “It has to do about the future of [Yanukovych’s] country,” Kilimnik wrote, “and is quite interesting.” Manafort responded to Kilimnik’s email within minutes and they agreed to meet in New York City on Tuesday, August 2, 2016.

The topics of Russia and Ukraine dominated the coverage of the U.S. presidential campaign in the days prior to that August 2nd meeting. On July 27, Donald Trump stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Then on Sunday, July 31, Trump said in an interview with ABC News, “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.” To many observers, this remark appeared to be a Kremlin talking point, and was a glaring departure from the traditional position of both parties on Crimea.

Some observers wondered if Paul Manafort, then Chairman of the Trump Campaign, was responsible for Trump’s increasingly pro-Russia policy positions. Manafort formerly operated a consulting business in Ukraine from 2004 to 2016, serving both Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, and his work helped elect Yanukovych president of Ukraine in 2010. The Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to Vladimir Putin, also employed Paul Manafort for several years.

Kilimnik passed through U.S. customs at New York’s JFK airport at 7:43 p.m. on August 2. He met Paul Manafort at the Grand Havana Room, a private bar at 666 Fifth Avenue, a couple blocks away from Trump Tower, at…

John Reeves

Author of “A Fire in the Wilderness: The First Battle Between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.”