An influential American think tank chief helped Paul Manafort advocate for his Russia-friendly Ukrainian client, according to an email Manafort sent that surfaced in federal court filings Friday.
The scholar, Matthew Rojansky, heads the non-partisan Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, which focuses on American relations with Russia and Ukraine. The Wilson Center, which Congress established 50 years ago, is considered one of Washington’s most influential think tanks.
In an email, Manafort claimed one of its scholars coordinated with him on an op-ed about his client Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russia Ukrainian strongman who had imprisoned his top political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko.
A Wilson Center spokesperson provided the following statement to The Daily Beast: “The Wilson Center's Matthew Rojansky is one of the country's top experts on Russia, Ukraine and the region and heads the Center's Kennan Institute, which is dedicated to improving American understanding of the former Soviet Union through research and exchange. The article in question, and all of the Center's work, is the product of independent thought and analysis.”
The email in question was sent by Manafort on April 21, 2013, and was part of the new charging document released by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on Friday. Manafort, whose middle name is John, is identified as “PJM.” The recipient is only identified as “SL.” In the email, Manafort detailed work he and his team had been doing for Yanukovych, focused on the European Union’s preparation to sign an association agreement with Ukraine. Manafort noted that the American consultants working with him had been highlighting the release of Yuriy Lutsenko, a Tymoshenko ally who had been imprisoned along with her.
“This week we directed the efforts of a number of positive news articles that appeared in several prominent publications and in the digital media space,” he wrote. “These articles were done in tandem with key efforts we have been focusing on to emphasize the positive progress Ukraine has made on several key issues.”
Manafort then listed four articles: two press releases, a piece published by the now-defunct organization Center for the Study of Former Soviet Socialist Republics, and an op-ed by Rojansky titled “Will Ukraine Seize Its EU Chance?” The op-ed was published on CNN’s Global Public Square blog.
The article discussed Yanukovych’s pardon of Lutsenko, and noted that the continued incarceration of Tymoshenko would hinder Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with Europe. It also called on Yanukovych to release her, while praising his government for “a wide range of reforms.”
“Freeing Tymoshenko would not only underscore Kiev’s political commitment to fulfilling the conditions set by Brussels, but would also endow with much greater credibility a wide range of reforms already undertaken by the Yanukovich government, including a new criminal procedure code, prison reforms, and new protections for NGOs,” Rojansky wrote.
Under Rojansky’s leadership, the Kennan Institute has faced turmoil. A host of former Ukrainian alumni of the Center’s programs wrote an open letter in February of this year lambasting Rojansky and calling his organization “an unwitting tool of Russia’s political interference.”
“We are deeply concerned by the Kennan Institute’s growing pro-Kremlin policies, lack of democratic procedures and unprofessional communication with Kennan Institute alumni in Ukraine,” they wrote.
It noted that the Institute hosted a concert featuring musicians who praised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and gave an award to billionaire Alfa Bank head Petr Aven. The Institute later shuttered its Kyiv office.
In a statement released in March of this year on the closure of the Institute’s Ukraine office, Wilson Center CEO Jane Harman praised Rojansky’s work.
“Our programming on Ukraine has been balanced, professional, and of lasting value,” she wrote. “Moreover, our activities in Washington have promoted a broader understanding of Ukraine in the United States. We are proud to be voted #1 in the world in regional expertise by our peers. The Kennan Institute, under the able leadership of Matt Rojansky, is a huge reason for this accolade.”