BISHKEK (TCA) — A team of Russian investigative journalists has reported that U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, worked in Kyrgyzstan in 2005 to promote the Kremlin’s geopolitical interests — including the closure of a U.S. air force base at Bishkek’s Manas airport that was the main logistics hub for NATO forces in Afghanistan, RFE/RL reports.
Manafort’s work as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine led to his conviction on tax-evasion and bank-fraud charges on August 21 in a U.S. federal court. He faces a separate trial in September on charges that include failing to register with the U.S. government for work as a “foreign agent.”
Project, an independent group of Russian investigative journalists, published a report on August 22 claiming Manafort worked more extensively in former Soviet republics than previously revealed.
Maria Zholobova, a co-author of the report, told RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service that she had confirmed from several sources that Manafort worked in Kyrgyzstan together with his former fixer, Konstantin Kilimnik, in 2005.
The report claimed Kilimnik was working in the Central Asian republic for then-President Kurmanbek Bakiev.
It also said travel costs for Manafort and Kilimnik were paid by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Deripaska, a metals tycoon and close ally of President Vladimir Putin, was placed on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list in April for profiting from his association with the Kremlin and Russia’s “malign activities” around the world.
A representative of Deripaska told Project that neither he nor his company, BasEl, ever financed Kilimnik.
The representative also told Project that the “private investment relations of Deripaska and Manafort, whose existence is not disputed, have never been aimed at achieving political goals.”
Zholobova said her sources included a former colleague of Kilimnik as well as a former member of Manafort’s team from Ukraine.
“I heard about Kyrgyzstan — they went there to strengthen Russia’s position,” the former team member in Ukraine was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Project quoted a former colleague of Kilimnik as saying that one of the tasks in Kyrgyzstan for Kilimnik and Manafort was “to promote the idea of closing the U.S. military base” at Manas International Airport near Bishkek.
Bakiev announced plans to close the base in 2009, but he was overthrown in a 2010 uprising before the closure was implemented.
The U.S. transit and logistics center continued to operate until 2014, when it was closed by the government of President Almazbek Atambayev.
Feliks Kulov, Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister from 2005-2007, told the Kloop.kg news website that he did not meet with Manafort nor Kilimnik while he was in office.
Alikbek Dzhekshenkulov, Kyrgyzstan’s foreign minister from 2005-2007, told RFE/RL that he’d never heard of Kilimnik or Manafort while he was at the post.