KYIV -- Before he became the victor in Ukraine’s 2014 snap presidential election, businessman Petro Poroshenko was scrambling to put together a winning campaign.
That's when his top strategist met with Paul Manafort, RFE/RL has confirmed.
"We had a meeting, yes, but no relationship" with Manafort’s team, Poroshenko spokeswoman Darya Khudyakova confirmed to RFE/RL by phone on August 8.
The confirmation stands in contrast to an official statement sent to RFE/RL from Poroshenko’s administration on August 2, which read: "Petro Poroshenko’s team has never cooperated with Manafort, nor with his people. Proposals came from them among others, but they were not even considered."
RFE/RL inquired about the meeting between the teams of Manafort and Poroshenko after an email surfaced this month ahead of Manafort’s trial, which is playing out in a U.S. district court in Alexandria, Virginia.
The email in question discussed pitching work to someone named "P. P.," a common nickname used to describe Poroshenko.
Manafort faces a litany of charges related to financial crimes and money laundering that stem from his work in Ukraine for former President Viktor Yanukovych.
The possibility of Manafort-Poroshenko cooperation surfaced again when Manafort’s former business partner and right-hand man in Ukraine, Rick Gates, testified in court on August 7 that their company had done consulting work for Poroshenko in 2014.
Gates also complained that a $1 million payment for the work was "significantly past due" and "Manafort was quite upset the money had not been sent." It is unclear if the payment was for work he did for Yanukovych or Poroshenko.
'I Met Him And Listened To His Strategy'
Khudyakova declined to give further details about the meeting and directed RFE/RL to then-Poroshenko strategist Ihor Hryniv, who she confirmed had met with Manafort.
Hryniv could not immediately be reached for comment. But he did speak about his meeting with Manafort to Ukraiynska Pravda, telling the Ukrainian news outlet that the two had discussed cooperating on Poroshenko’s presidential campaign. He claimed the plan never came to fruition.
"Manafort was trying to offer his services and his strategy for Poroshenko’s campaign, and I met him then [in 2014] and listened to his strategy," Hryniv said. "But after these three hours, the conversation with him ended."
According to Hryniv, Manafort very much wanted to work on Poroshenko’s campaign and had come prepared with an elaborate strategy, polling numbers, and projections. But Manafort "did not understand that the country changed after the Maidan," Hryniv added.
Hryniv said Manafort’s ideas were suitable for the strategy he masterminded as Yanukovych’s political consultant in 2009-2010, but not for the post-revolutionary period of 2014.
'Ready To Take On This Project'
It is a March 31, 2014 email to Gates from Tad Devine that shows how serious Manafort’s team was about joining up with Poroshenko.
The email was one of more than 400 released ahead of Manafort’s trial by his lawyers, who accused Special Council Robert Mueller’s team of trying to introduce evidence that is irrelevant to the case.
Devine, a former Bernie Sanders campaign strategist who also worked with Manafort in Ukraine, writing Yanukovych’s 2010 victory speech, attached to his email to Gates a draft agreement for Manafort’s firm to work on Poroshenko's campaign.
"This proposal anticipates that we will spend a lot of time between now and the election on the ground in Kyiv," Devine wrote.
Devine said a strategy similar to one they had used in Serbia would likely work well for Poroshenko in Ukraine.
"A powerful introduction of PP could resonate in Ukraine the way our campaign in Serbia resonated with voters," Devine wrote. "Our slogan in Serbia was 'A Future to Believe In,' which is probably something that people in Ukraine are looking for and desperate to likewise achieve."
Gates replied that same day, telling Devine, "we are ready to take on this project."
While it remains unclear exactly what, if anything, Manafort's team did for Poroshenko in the run-up to the presidential election, it is known that Manafort, Gates, and Devine went on to work for the Opposition Bloc as of June 2014, designing the former Party of Regions party's strategy ahead of that autumn's parliamentary elections.
According to a PowerPoint file included in the documents released by Manafort's lawyers, that strategy involved several points that current President Poroshenko and his pro-Western government deem to be pro-Russian. For instance, the idea of federalizing Ukraine, something that the Kremlin has long pushed for.