Adapted from Chapter 1 “All Decided in the Back Room” of The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America
Today many news watchers have commented on Michigan Governor Whitmer’s fierce sign-language translator who boldly signed out the Governor’s disdain for the White supremacists who were arrested by the FBI for their role in a plot against her. An incident in Ukraine during its Orange Revolution in 2004. In some ways, that incident was the tipping point that led to the revolution and set off the chain of events that led to The Black Ledger and the 2016 Russian interference campaign against US elections.
In 2004, when Viktor Yanukovych first ran for president of Ukraine, his Party of Regions was caught attempting to rig the vote count by Western election observers. Russia had been involved in it all, helping Yanukovych stuff ballot boxes and intimidate voters and election monitors. Worse, Yanukovych’s opponent Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin weeks before the election. These efforts to rig the election failed. As a news anchor went on television to announce a Yanukovych victory, the sign language interpreter defiantly signed: “I address all deaf viewers. Yushchenko is our President. Do not believe the Electoral Commission. They are lying.” The event was a turning point.
Armed with data from Western election monitors, Yushchenko and his political ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, sent orange-clad supporters en masse on to the Maidan, the central square of Kyiv, to protest the announced election results. The political upheaval that followed was called the Orange Revolution. Protestors on the Maidan forced a new, fair election that Yanukovych lost. Yushchenko was elevated to the presidency and Tymoshenko became prime minister of Ukraine.
Discovery of Russia’s deep involvement in Ukraine’s 2004 election, and their interference on behalf of the Party of Regions, created what one report called “severe blowback” for Russia.
The Orange Revolution would be key to the future of Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine. Putin would order Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to prevent further “color revolutions” and to rehabilitate Viktor Yanukovych by hiring Paul Manafort.
On June 23, 2005, Manafort and his partner Rick Davis sent Deripaska a strategy memo for what Manafort called “our program.” It was to be a broad system of political, lobbying, and legal efforts to restore the Party of Regions to prominence in Ukraine. The memo outlined a strategy to “subtly influence the perceptions” of the West to provide “an acceptable explanation for actions by governments not totally in concert with Western thinking.”
The memo outlined the purpose of the plan:
to create . . . the protections needed to ensure the avoidance of Orange Revolutions becoming acceptable in the West. The key is to understand the West and to use their tools to deal with the specific problems in ways that the West believes is in concert with them. Rather than attacking the West, the correct strategy can be created to embrace the West and in so doing restrict their options to ferment [sic] an atmosphere that gives hope to potential advocates of a different way.
Manafort was confident of the plan’s success in Ukraine and argued in his memo this method could be used beyond Ukraine: “We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitments to success.” The plan was approved.
Manafort would succeed. Yanukovych would be elected President in 2010. After 2010, Yanukovych would move to control Ukraine via a bribery-and-influence scheme paid for with $4 billion in Russian funds skimmed from the natural gas that powered Ukraine. That scheme was recorded in the Black Ledger. After Yanukovych was deposed during the EuroMaidain revolution in 2014, Russia sought to recover its position in Ukraine via the election of Donald Trump. But for one moment in 2004, a sign language translator played a huge role on Ukraine’s national stage.
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