Billionaire Oleg Deripaska is at the middle of the central crime of Trump-Russia. Is he a spy, the conspiracy’s mastermind or a double agent?

Showdown at Pikalevo

The 2009 global liquidity crisis ground Russian manufacturing to a near-halt. In Pikalevo, Russia, workers at the local aluminum refinery had gone unpaid for weeks. Oleg Deripaska, the plant’s 41-year-old owner, was inside and expecting word of a guest. Just months earlier, the oligarch had been named Russia’s richest man by Forbes – worth $28 Billion. Now he was facing financial ruin and a visit from the (then) Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Putin strode into town, media in tow, and into a meeting with the owners. He accused them of “ambition, incompetence and pure greed,” in a dramatic dressing down that was later broadcast on national TV.

“These are real people, and if you can’t [reopen the factory], we’ll do it without you,” he continued.

Putin then passed around contracts which committed the owners to pay the late salaries from their own pockets. That’s when he noticed a hold-out.

“Deripaska, have you signed?” The then 56-year-old Prime Minister stared at the oligarch.

Deripaska must have known that his boss was in no mood for negotiation. Despite the pretense of private ownership, Russia remains an oligarchy. Deripaska may be the aluminum king but like all the owners of Russia’s biggest companies, Putin exerts ultimate control over him.

Deripaska made his way to where Putin was seated at the front of the room, leaned his 6-foot frame over the table and signed using Putin’s pen, only to be further humiliated when Putin asked for his pen back.

The showdown in Pikalevo makes clear how Deripaska has survived as Putin’s closest oligarch for over two decades. His is a loyalty forged out of expediency.

Deripaska should have gone broke over this crisis, but Putin was there to facilitate a $50 Billion loan from the state bank, Vneshtorgbank (VTB). Putin uses access to money and loans from VTB as a way to control his oligarchs.

Contract negotiations, Kremlin-style

Putin’s secret agent

Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska has until recently run Russia’s global aluminum company ‘Rusal’ and the investment company ‘Basic Element.’ At 51 years old, he is still spectacularly wealthy (worth $3.5 Billion), Jewish and the father of two children. The oligarch is divorced and is dogged by rumours of a wild sex life. While his marriage didn’t fare so well, his loyalty to Putin seems unshakeable.

Deripaska is known as “Putin’s oligarch” and is often sent on state missions which exist outside the bounds of traditional diplomacy or legality – often on one of his private yachts or planes in order to ensure secrecy. “I don’t separate myself from the state,” he told the Financial Times in 2007.

The next year in 2008, Deripaska and his best friend, Nat Rothschild, were spotted on the deck of his yacht with British business secretary Lord Mandelson and shadow chancellor George Osbourne. The resulting scandal in the UK newspapers was huge and went on for years. What emerged was a pattern of buying influence through luxury vacations, which Deripaska continues until today.

The Russian magnate has a knack of turning politicians into puppets. Buying political influence abroad helps the oligarch in two ways. It gives him leverage against other oligarchs and Putin domestically, but it is mostly self-serving. In one 2012 trip with Rothschild and Lord Mandelson, Deripaska clinched a $500 million deal with Alcoa, America’s largest aluminum manufacturer.

It’s hard to tell where business ends and organized crime begins in Russia. They are one and the same thing, allowing the elite to get away with almost anything. Deripaska denies he has ties to organized crime but authorities have investigated him for money-laundering, murder, illegal wiretapping, bribery, extortion and racketeering. When the U.S. banned him from entering the country, Putin gave him a diplomatic passport to get around the travel ban. he has spent millions and lobbied the U.S. government for years to reverse the ban.

Deripaska, his companies or direct associates have been linked to intelligence operations which allegedly disrupted elections in at least four of Russia’s neighbouring states. In December, Russian intelligence agent Alekseyevich Boyarkin was linked to Deripaska in a plot to interfere in Montenegro’s 2016 election.

The oligarch is not a spy, nor does he work for Russia’s military intelligence, yet somehow wherever he goes, spies seem to follow. That could mean one of two things: He plays a role in state-run military intelligence operations or the GRU is freelancing for him. One exiled oil oligarch says both are possible if you think of the Kremlin as being run by mobsters. “The criminal gang in the Kremlin can sometimes call on the services of the GRU,” Mikhail Khodorkovsky told the BBC.

Either way, Deripaska’s involvement with the GRU and its political interference arm may have gained him inside knowledge of the operation to hack the DNC in 2016. The very crime for which Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 GRU officers last July.

Deripaska’s proximity to power and his ties to military intelligence has also made him an attractive prospect for U.S. intelligence recruiting for over a decade.

Oleg Deripaska has emerged as the central figure in 'Trump-Russia' but is he Vladimir Putin's secret agent, the mastermind or a confidential source?

Flipping Oleg

In 2014, The Justice Department began a documented two-year effort to recruit Deripaska as an informant as part of “Operation Outreach”. Intriguingly, it was former MI-6 spy Christopher Steele – the famous author of the dossier that bears his name – who approached DOJ to suggest potentially flipping Deripaska.

It wasn’t the first time Deripaska worked with the FBI. In 2009, the FBI enlisted the oligarch for an attempted rescue of Bob Levinson, the American held hostage in Iran. The mission didn’t succeed but Deripaska got enough information out of the Iranians to get what he wanted out of the deal: A legal U.S. visa.

The recent effort to flip Deripaska began in earnest in September 2015. The Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr met Deripaska to ask about Putin’s ties to organized crime. Deripaska reportedly rebuffed the advance but by the beginning of 2016, the oligarch’s rehabilitation was underway.

We know this because the FBI helped Deripaska get another U.S. visa in February 2016. The oligarch was “encouraged” by the “softening of the agency’s stance,” according to emails released by Republican lawmakers. “We reckon that the forthcoming OVD contact represents a good opportunity for the USG,” Steele texted Ohr. Deripaska’s initials are OVD.

Keep in mind, this was all happening at the same time Christopher Steele was writing his dossier. As it turns out, Steele had worked for Deripaska in 2012. While it’s unclear if the two men were in direct contact, Deripaska was sending Steele messages through his U.S. lobbyist, Adam Waldman. Was Steele working for Deripaska? No one can say for sure but FBI Director Christopher Wray refused to discuss it in an unclassified setting when Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked him at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in February last year.

Later in February 2016, Deripaska was the subject of a U.S. inter-agency meeting. Prior to the meeting, Steele shared sensitive documents which showed Putin was exerting pressure on the oligarchs and that “Deripaska was not a tool,” according to Steele.

Contacts between Steele, Deripaska, Waldman and Ohr, continued almost all the way up to the election. The last contact was in September 2016, when Ohr and Steele showed up unannounced at Deripaska’s New York apartment.

“We think Russia is colluding with the Trump campaign, and we think Manafort is the key guy,” a knowledgeable source told David Ignatius of the Washington Post.

According to the source, Deripaska responded: “I hate Manafort, and I’m suing him.”

That may have been true but it was also an artful dodge because we now know Deripaska was receiving regular updates from Manafort throughout 2016. It’s equally noteworthy Deripaska was in New York in September 2016, two months before the election, under a mile away from Donald Trump, his kids, Michael Cohen and Felix Sater on a visa provided to him because of the efforts of the FBI.

Oleg Deripaska has emerged as the central figure in 'Trump-Russia' but is he Vladimir Putin's secret agent, the mastermind or a confidential source?
Paul Manafort prepares to go on live TV as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.

In Trump, Manafort saw a way out

Deripaska met Paul Manafort through Rothschild. The two billionaires hired Manafort in 2004 to help suppress a popular uprising in Ukraine. Deripaska teamed up his new American operative with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Soviet soldier with ties to the GRU. The two men worked side-by-side for the next 11 years in Ukraine, Georgia, Kryzghstan and the U.S., always with a pro-Putin agenda.

Manafort inked a lucrative a $10 million a year contract with the oligarch in 2005 to “influence politics, business dealings and news coverage to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.” That work allegedly continued through 2009. Deripaska’s spokespeople deny all these contacts and allegations.

Manafort’s directive was to get a president elected who would be more inclined to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Along with Kilimnik, Manafort’s American deputy Rick Gates and pollster Tony Fabrizio, Manafort remade the image of pro-Putin Victor Yanukovich and helped engineer his election as President in 2010. Manafort and Kilimnik stayed on as Yanukovich’s advisers until he was ejected from power in 2014 by the Maidan revolution.

Barely two years later, this same cast of political tricksters would turn their attention to the US elections, and what would soon become the single biggest scandal of all time.

After the revolution, Manafort faced an uncertain future. His work in Ukraine had rendered him unemployable, and his finances were in bad shape as the result of a court fight with Deripaska over a failed investment scheme worth $16 million.

By 2015, Manafort was down and out. His wife had discovered he was cheating. He was broke and ended up in a rehab facility in Arizona. It may have been the desert air or group therapy, but Manafort left that rehab center with a clear focus: Donald Trump.

Manafort had known Trump for decades and owned an apartment in Trump Tower, yet the prevailing narrative is that he needed his friend Thomas Barack to get him in contact with the Republican candidate. Barack came through and Trump hired Manafort, for no pay.

Oleg Deripaska has emerged as the central figure in 'Trump-Russia' but is he Vladimir Putin's secret agent, the mastermind or a confidential source?
A rare photo of Konstantin Kilimnik (far left) and Paul Manafort (table center) from Ukraine in 2006

From the start, Deripaska was tracking Manafort

Manafort had barely been on the job at the Trump campaign for two weeks when he got word to his old patron Deripaska via Konstantin Kilimnik.

“I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?” Manafort asked Kilimnik.

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

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

“Frankly the coverage has been much better than Trump’s,” Kilimnik quipped. “In any case, it will hugely enhance your reputation no matter what happens.”

Throughout those early days, Manafort kept Deripaska abreast of what was going on via Kilimnik. At one point Manafort shared internal campaign research with the oligarch via Kilimnik and at another time offered Deripaska regular briefings on the campaign.

In an interview with Radio Free Europe, Kilimnik confirmed Trump was a regular topic of their email correspondence. “We discussed a lot of issues, from Putin to women,” Kilimnik told Radio Free Europe. “Of course we discussed Trump and everything,” he said.

Kilimnik fled Kyiv as soon as he was indicted on Obstruction of Justice charges for attempting to convince witnesses to back Manafort’s cover-up story. He now lives in a gated community north of Moscow, out of the reach of the Special Counsel.

Deripaska’s involvement in Trump-Russia is no longer just conjecture. His history with Manafort, Kilimnik and Rick Gates, combined with emails and other evidence directly implicating him, along with his history of running destabilizing influence campaigns, reveals he was not only connected to the GRU at the time the DNC was hacked, but he was also tracking every move Manafort made as Trump’s campaign chair. And now we also know he was tapped into Julian Assange as well.

Finding Julian

Deripaska’s associates visited Julian Assange of WikiLeaks at least twelve times between 2013 and 2017. Paul Manafort alone visited Assange three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The last visit came in March 2016, while he was working for Donald Trump and a month before the GRU successfully hacked into the DNC servers. Manafort also attempted to secure Assange’s release on a visit to Ecuador.

The other Deripaska associate to visit Assange was the oligarch’s American lobbyist Adam Waldman, who visited Assange nine times in 2017. One of those visits came just days after Waldman was spotted with Deripaska at the oligarch’s hotel Aurelio in Lech, Austria. Video of Waldman and his wife at a bar with Deripaska was shot by Deripaska’s former mistress who until recently was imprisoned in a Thai jail.

Waldman claims Assange is a client and that at the time, he was attempting to negotiate the WikiLeaks founder’s a possible release with the DOJ. Waldman – like many D.C. lobbyists – is the very definition of ‘conflict of interest’ in a town where everyone is conflicted, but having Deripaska, Assange and Manafort as clients at the same time is a feat few would attempt.

Even if Waldman were solely acting for Assange, it’s suspicious that his outreach to the WikiLeaks founder, only began after Manafort’s had ended. Mysteriously, both men tried to secure Assange’s release. Why was Deripaska so invested in this relationship? Was he worried he’d be implicated if Assange was indicted? It does appear Assange has been indicted under seal.

Mastermind, secret agent or confidential source?

No matter how you look at it, Oleg Deripaska is the central figure connecting all aspects of the main crime of Trump-Russia. The oligarch is the only known person with access to the three identified nodes of the WikiLeaks operation: the GRU, Manafort’s campaign tenure and Julian Assange, at the time of the crime.

Was Deripaska a source for Christopher Steele’s dossier? We don’t know the answer, but there can be no doubt about his loyalty to Putin.

Lat month Deripaska used a million-dollar lobbying effort to convince U.S. senators to exclude his companies from sanctions. While he placed some of his Rusal shares in trust with VTB, the moves were mostly viewed as window-dressing as he still indirectly controls the majority of shares, only without the pressure of sanction bearing down on the company’s bottom line.

Deripaska remains unindicted.

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