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Manafort Bid to Run Poroshenko '14 Campaign Rejected as Too Divisive

FILE - Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves U.S. District Court after a hearing, May 23, 2018, in Washington.

The campaign strategist for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's 2014 election bid says Paul Manafort's offer to guide the nascent political campaign was rejected because it would have further divided Ukrainians in the wake of deadly clashes of the Maidan revolution that ousted pro-Kremlin leader Viktor Yanukovich, Manafort's former boss.

Questions about Manafort's role in the current Ukrainian president's election surfaced during questioning at Manafort's trial, which is under way in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Manafort, who briefly chaired President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, is facing charges of violating tax laws and laundering money that stem from his work in Ukraine under Yanukovych.

Manafort's former business partner and deputy in Ukraine, Rick Gates, who also worked for Trump, recently testified that Manafort was assisting Poroshenko shortly after Yanukovych was ousted in the populist revolution.

FILE - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a meeting of the country's Security and Defence Council in Kyiv, May 2, 2018. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service)
FILE - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a meeting of the country's Security and Defence Council in Kyiv, May 2, 2018. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service)

On Wednesday, Poroshenko's former campaign spokeswoman Darya Khudyakova denied any relationship with Manafort, saying, "We had a meeting, yes, but no relationship" with Manafort's firm.

Ukrainian legislator Ihor Hryniv, who served as Poroshenko's 2014 campaign strategist, said Manafort initiated the meeting with Poroshenko's team immediately after payments from the ousted Yanukovych regime stopped.

"I did not know him prior to the meeting and did not try to get such a meeting," Hryniv told VOA's Ukrainian service on Friday.

"Manafort offered his services in early March," Hryniv added. "I believe he wanted to stay in Ukraine and work here. He understood that Poroshenko was the winning candidate, which was almost clear at this point, so he bet on the favorite. It is very easy to help when your candidate's rating is 55 percent, not 4 percent."

That strategy that Manafort offered Poroshenko's team, Hryniv said, would have further divided a country still recovering from a bloody mass uprising that toppled the Russia-backed regime and brought a pro-Western government to power.

"In brief, Manafort's strategy was [for Poroshenko] to position himself as the candidate from the west and try to push his competitor out further to the east, and then gain the momentum and use the votes of western Ukraine to win," Hryniv said.

"Our strategy of choice, to the contrary, was to promote unification of Ukraine," he added. "To pull it together and ensure that the candidate had support of the whole country. This was the winning strategy for the first round."

Hryniv refuted the earlier allegations that Manafort could have worked for the campaign without pay, as Gates' testimony implied.

"I would like to see Manafort working free of charge," Hryniv said.

To this day, eastern Ukraine and the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea remain occupied by Russian-backed forces, and citizens are still battling the corruption that the Euromaidan demonstrations sought to purge.

This story originated in VOA's Ukrainian service. Oksana Lihostova and Myroslava Gongadze contributed reporting from Washington.