Manafort tried to get the U.S. military kicked out of Central Asia to help Russia

The convicted felon pushed to get the U.S. evicted from its military base in Kyrgyzstan.

We learned this week that Paul Manafort tried to help Russia by getting the U.S. military kicked out of Kyrgyzstan. (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX WONG / GETTY)
We learned this week that Paul Manafort tried to help Russia by getting the U.S. military kicked out of Kyrgyzstan. (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX WONG / GETTY)

Paul Manafort’s been having a rough week.

On Tuesday, he was convicted of eight separate counts of tax and bank fraud, facing potentially decades in prison. Then, on Wednesday, a Russian media report revealed that Manafort had spent time working with a now-sanctioned Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, to further Moscow’s interests in Central Asia — namely, by getting the U.S. booted from the final military base Washington had in the region.

The report, in Project, fleshed out details of a relatively unknown chapter of Manafort’s life: what happened after his employer, former Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, failed to land the presidency following Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution. According to journalists Maria Zholobova and Roman Badanin, Manafort landed on his feet by working closely with both Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik, a colleague whom Special Counsel Robert Mueller recently said was an active Russian intelligence source throughout the 2016 campaign.


While Manafort and Kilimnik worked closely in Ukraine, rehabilitating Yanukovych’s image — and eventually helping Yankuovych win the 2010 presidential election, a few years before he was ousted in the 2013-14 EuroMaidan Revolution — it turns out they had another project on behalf of Deripaska: Kyrgyzstan. Specifically, getting close to Kyrgyzstan’s ruling Bakiyev family — and even pushing to evict the American military from the Manas Base, which served as a logistical hub for American operations in Afghanistan. 

As one of Kilimnik’s colleagues told Project, one of their tasks in Kyrgyzstan was “to promote the idea of closing the U.S. military base” at Manas. Added another former colleague of Manafort, Manafort and Kilimnik traveled to Kyrgyzstan “to strengthen Russia’s position.”

Central issues

At the time, Manas served as the United States’ only remaining military base in Central Asia, following Uzbekistan’s move to evict the Americans in 2005. (The Uzbekistani government had ejected the Americans from their military installations after Washington called for an independent investigation into a government-led massacre against protesters in 2005.) With the Americans at Manas, Kyrgyzstan also had the lonely status of being the only country hosting both American and Russian military bases on its territory.

But with a new government in Kyrgyzstan — protesters had ousted Kyrgyzstan’s Soviet-era autocrat in 2005, installing Kurmanbek Bakiyev as the country’s new president — Manafort’s team apparently wanted to capitalize on the country’s new direction, and re-direct Kyrgyzstan’s military footprint back to Russia.


While we don’t know the details, it’s clear Manafort and Kilimnik failed entirely to wrest the base from the Americans. The United States remained at Manas for nearly another decade, only leaving in 2014. (A 2009 agreement later changed the base’s name to the “Manas Transit Center.”)

However, Manafort’s move coincided with two other post-Soviet programs that recently came to light — both of which pushed to strengthen Moscow’s hand in the region.

According to the AP, while he was working to evict the United States from Manas, Manafort was also pitching projects to Deripaska, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s close associates, to “bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly” to the Kremlin in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Manafort’s proposed work would “undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.”

At the same time, as Adam Weinstein wrote last year for Task and Purpose, Manafort presumably acted as an adviser for organizers of an anti-NATO protest in Crimea. The 2006 protest, which saw protesters fling rocks and gas bombs at U.S. Marines, ended up helping cancel a joint NATO-Ukraine military exercise. Wrote Weinstein, “Ukrainian officials and some former U.S. diplomats I’ve spoken to are convinced that Manafort knew about, and possibly helped plan, the anti-American protests.”

Bank crisis

There is, however, another element to Manafort’s work in Kyrgyzstan worth examining. Shortly after Manafort began in Kyrgyzstan, former GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole joined the board of Kyrgyzstan’s AsiaUniversalBank (AUB). The bank at the time was a notorious hub for allegations of money laundering. As Global Witness, a transparency watchdog, noted, Dole joined the bank’s board despite the the fact that the Russian Central Bank had already warned Russian banks about the risk of doing business with AUB.

“I remember being disgusted by how cheap U.S. politicians were.”

Global Witness pointed to Kyrgyzstan’s work with APCO, a Washington-based PR firm contracted with the Kyrgyzstani government, as the reason for Dole’s decision to join AUB. Dole also served as a senior counselor at APCO at the time.


“I remember being really awed by the appearance of [a] senior U.S. politician on the board of AUB, which we all knew was a money laundering operation,” Edil Baisalov, a chief of staff to former Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva, told ThinkProgress. “I remember being disgusted by how cheap U.S. politicians [were] on sale.”

But the new revelations about Manafort point to another possible route for Dole joining the bank. Manafort served as an adviser to Dole during the latter’s 1996 presidential run — and Dole’s law firm, Alston & Bird, reportedly received over a half-million dollars in the 2000s to lobby on behalf of Deripaska.

Dole did not respond to ThinkProgress’ request for comments.

Regardless of how Dole ended up at AUB, the Kyrgyzstani bank would later play a key role in allegedly funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to those connected to the family of Bakiyev, who was himself ousted in bloody protests in 2010. (Bakiyev was “the most unpleasant foreign leader I had to deal with in my years as secretary,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates once said.) Wrote Global Witness, “In the most egregious example, the shareholder of one U.K. company [involved in AUB’s scheme] was a Russian man who had actually died some years before the company was registered.”

In fact, one of the shell companies linked to AUB was the Belize-based Neocom Systems Limited. Another person tied directly to Neocom? Manafort, who, according to a well-known Ukrainian journalist, once signed an invoice billing Neocom for $750,000 for 501 computers.

Of course, it’s unlikely Manafort will ever be able to spend any of that money moving forward. His next trial begins in just a few weeks — one with far more substantial evidence of his graft, and with a potential jail sentence much lengthier than the one he faced this week.