McCain, Manafort, and The Ukraine

In October of 2008, Sarah Palin was mocked as being too far-fetched by foreign policy media elites for predicting that if Obama won the presidency, Putin’s Russia’s might indeed invade Ukraine. "Saturday Night Live" had fun with Palin by lampooning her statement when she said one could see Russia from Alaska. 

Yet late last week, Palin got the last laugh when Putin invaded the Ukrainian Crimea, “Yes, I could see this one from Alaska. I'm usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as ‘an extremely far-fetched scenario’ by the ‘high-brow’ Foreign Policy magazine. Here’s what this ‘stupid’ ‘insipid woman’ predicted back in 2008: "After the Russian Army invaded the nation of Georgia, Senator Obama's reaction was one of indecision and moral equivalence, the kind of response that would only encourage Russia's Putin to invade Ukraine next."

On Tuesday this week, quick to capture some political capital that Palin earned over the weekend, John McCain gave a 20-minute sermon on the Senate floor about President Obama’s feckless foreign policy actions with regard to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. McCain preached that Obama is ignorant of who Putin really is, “He does not understand his ambitions. He does not understand that Vladimir Putin is an old KGB colonel bent on restoration of the Soviet empire.” McCain also complained that Obama ridiculed Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign for claiming that Russia was America’s biggest geopolitical foe. 

McCain further reminded his Senate audience that even during his own presidential campaign in 2008 he prophesied of a future crisis in Ukraine with Russia. In August of 2008, Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in which the Kremlin ‘defended’ and gave autonomy to the pro-Russian areas of Ossetia and Abkhazia that were supposed to be under Georgian control.  On the heels of the crisis, McCain therefore warned that the Russified enclave of the Ukrainian Crimea might become the next target on Putin’s list. McCain’s statements came in September 2008, before Palin made her comments in October.

While McCain’s campaign prophecy has since come true in dramatic fashion, there is a very soft underbelly to this entire story that leaves the senator’s slam-dunk prediction completely compromised.  All the while that McCain was talking up Ukraine as being a potential future hot spot on the Russian geopolitical horizon, Republican insider and political strategist Paul Manafort was deeply entrenched in Kiev.  He was advising a Soviet apparatchik with strong Ukrainian-Russian mafia ties by the name of Victor Yanukovych; the very man who would become Ukraine’s president in 2010, the very same man whom Ukrainians sent packing out of the country in 2014 through an incredible three-month long protest against his authoritarianism and corruption. 

Before 2008, Yanukovych’s political party, called the Party of Regions, worked closely with a lobbying firm called Davis Manafort (out of Delaware) comprising of Rick Davis and Paul Manafort.  In 2008 Rick Davis became McCain’s presidential campaign manager. Paul Manafort worked closely with Rick Davis for years as they own a lobbying firm together called Davis Manafort and Freedman (out of Arlington, Virginia).  Back home in the U.S., Manafort himself wanted to chair the 2008 Republican Convention, but was rejected because of his heavyweight lobbyist reputation as a Washington insider.  Manafort ran Bob Dole’s Republican Convention back in 1996. While Manafort still did provide some political advice to the McCain campaign, he returned to Kiev to devote himself more fully to Yanukovych.

With no small thanks to what was described as Manafort’s maniacal efforts, Yanukovych was elected president of Ukraine in 2010. One of Manafort’s former colleagues went so far to say, “Yanukovych came to power through a series of elections and would never have won without Manafort’s counsel.”  Indeed, Yanukovych had to overcome the Orange Revolution of 2004 which he himself provoked by trying to steal the election from Victor Yuschenko. With Manafort at the helm, Yanukovych’s political fortunes quickly recovered so that he was able to make a breathtaking comeback all the way to the highest office in the land in Ukraine. 

However, in the end, the Orange Revolution came back to negate Manafort’s accomplishments.  The sentiments that created the Orange Revolution in 2004 did not disappear, but came roaring back with a vengeance when Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev with massive protests. 

Instead of the more peaceful Orange Revolution, this time, more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured -- capped off with Russia’s invasion of the Crimea.  Not surprisingly, Rick Davis is currently distancing himself from Manafort.  He claims he has not worked with Manafort in years.

That may be, but the connections between Yanukovych and Republican campaign insiders does not end at Manafort’s doorstep.  Vin Weber, Mitt Romney’s  foreign policy advisor in 2012, also lobbied for Yanukovych through the European Center for Modern Ukraine. For the year 2013, Vin Weber reported that he received $280,000 from the ECMF for his services. The ECMF was launched in January of 2012, designed to ‘progressively’ help Yanukovych’s falling political image. The president of the ECMU, Leonid Kozhara, belongs to Yanukovich’s political party. The ECMF is funded by the Party of Regons.

Even though Weber was the past chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization that grants money to NGOs for the sake of promoting democracy across the world, his record in Ukraine demonstrates a forked tongue.  Yanukovych’s party was supported by many of those on the far left in Ukraine, including many communists.  Yanukovych himself is both very autocratic and pro-Russian, and was considered by many to be a stooge of the Kremlin. More than likely, the ECMF was the brainchild of Manafort

Thus, when McCain recently boasted he and Romney were right about the Russians regarding Ukraine, his assertion rang hollow. The very political advisors who were involved in their own respective presidential campaigns were also lobbying for Victor Yanukovych – the same man whose autocratic style and massive corruption aided and abetted a blowup in the Crimea. 

McCain should have perhaps left the glory to Sarah Palin last Friday about her accurate prediction.  By wanting to get a piece of the action, McCain has just exposed himself and Romney to the political misdeeds of the very crony campaign insiders who are at the heart of perhaps the biggest international crisis to hit the 21st century to date.  Worse, once again, conservatives like Sarah Palin are compromised by Republican insiders ‘expert’ political strategies where surefire touchdowns become devastating interceptions so that even when they win they lose again.

Mark Musser is a pastor/missionary who spent 7 years in the former Soviet Union, including 6 years in Kiev, Ukraine.  Mark is contributing writer for the Cornwall Alliance, which is a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to bringing a balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development. Mark is also the author of two books, Nazi Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust and Wrath or Rest: Saints in the Hands of an Angry God, a commentary focusing on the warning passages in the book of Hebrews.