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Apr 02 2018

The Russian Connection: Secret Flights of Russian Oligarchs

Back in March of last year, we reported on a story about a private jet that belongs to a Russian oligarch shadowing Donald Trump. The owner of the plane is Dmitry Rybolovlev an ultra wealthy fertilizer producer who lives in Monaco. He is closely connected to Trump through Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and a windfall sale of a uninhabited mansion that he bought from Trump to hide his assets during his contentious divorce. It is now being reported that a another oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is also banned from entering the US, made a landing in August of 2016 at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. The owner of that jet is Oleg Deripaska, founder of Basic Element, a Russian industrial group with interests in aluminum, energy, construction, agriculture and more.

The jet arrived within hours of a meeting in nearby Manhattan between Paul Manafort, then chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik spent over a decade as Manafort’s translator and fixer in Ukraine. Weeks earlier, Manafort had emailed his old associate and told him to extend an offer of “private briefings” to Deripaska, according to The Washington Post.

Congressional investigators looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election are now probing the relationship between Manafort, Kilimnik, and Deripaska, according to two people familiar with the matter. The jet’s brief trip to New Jersey raises fresh questions about the relationship between the three men during the 2016 presidential campaign. Deripaska is believed to have close ties with the Kremlin. Kilimnik has been widely reported to be the unnamed person identified in court filings by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office this week as having ties to Russian intelligence — a relationship Kilimnik has long denied. [..]

The relationship between Manafort, Deripaska and Kilimnik has drawn the renewed interest of Robert Mueller’s investigators as that investigation focuses its attention on the Trump campaign’s cooperation with Russia to sway the 2016 election for Trump.

Three days before the his meeting with Manafort, Kilimnik wrote in an email to the Trump campaign chairman that he had “met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago,” a reference to Deripaska’s previous loans to Manafort. “We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you,” he wrote.

“I need about two hours because it is a long caviar story to tell,” he added.

Manafort said he and Kilimnik discussed the Trump campaign and the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee during the August 2, 2016 meeting. Kilimnik, meanwhile, said they did not discuss the campaign, but talked about “current news” and “unpaid bills.”

Last year, The Washington Post reported that Manafort emailed Kilimnik, beginning in April 2016, offering to give Deripaska “private briefings” about the Trump campaign. Former intelligence officials told Business Insider that the offer was likely part of Manafort’s effort to resolve his financial dispute with Deripaska.

“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort reportedly wrote to Kilimnik on April 11, 2016.

“Absolutely,” replied Kilimnik. “Every article.”

“How do we use to get whole,” Manafort responded. “Has OVD operation seen?”

Investigators concluded that “OVD” was a reference to Deripaska’s full name: Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska.

Kilimnik reportedly told Manafort in a later email that he had been “sending everything to Victor, who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.” Victor was a senior aide to Deripaska, according to The Atlantic.

“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.”

On July 7, 2016, Manafort wrote to Kilimnik, “If he needs private briefings, we can accommodate,” according to The Post.

That’s not all there is to this story. In September, 2017, on his way to a summit at the United Nations in NYC, Trump made an unscheduled stop at his Bedminster, NJ resort. The press was kept away and there was a “lid” on the media until 6 PM that day. Coincidentally, the very next day Deripaska’s jet landed at a nearby municipal airport and remained for two days. This also coincided with Donald Trump, Jr. dropping his secret service protection. A day later, it’s reported that Manafort has been under FISA surveillance and that he’s about to be indicted.

We don’t know if Deripaska was on board, as he is banned from entering the US, or if any meeting took place between whoever was on the plane and the Trump administration or family members.

Curiouser and and curiouser.