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Tue Mar 19, 2019, 10:26 AM

Indicted Oligarch Dmytro Firtash Praises Paul Manafort, Says Trump Has Third-Grade Smarts

The Ukrainian mogul, a background presence in the story of Russian influence in U.S. elections, praised Manafort’s savvy but dismissed Trump in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Betsy Woodruff
03.19.19 4:08 AM ET

VIENNA, Austria—An indicted Ukrainian oligarch who faces years in an American prison joked about President Donald Trump’s intellect and distanced himself from Paul Manafort’s business dealings in an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with The Daily Beast at his palatial corporate offices in Vienna.

Dmytro Firtash is a Ukrainian oligarch-in-exile who controls much of the country’s natural gas distribution. He also befriended Manafort, did business with Russia’s state-owned gas behemoth, and became a target of Barack Obama’s Justice Department. He’s been a constant presence in the background of the story of Russian influence in the American elections—but now, he says American influence on Ukraine is the real story.

In recent years, Firtash has found himself at the heart of Ukrainian political fights with geopolitical consequences. The mogul, whose estimated net worth was $500 million in 2014, made his fortune after the Soviet Union’s collapse. He told The Daily Beast he moved from Ukraine to Moscow in the early days after the USSR fell to expand his food business. After making a deal with a group of Turkmen he met at the Rossiya Hotel—a now-demolished structure he described as “Soviet nice”—he traveled to Turkmenistan to try to get them to pay up. According to Firtash, the Turkmen told him they had very little cash but lots of gas. And since Moscow was not centrally managing the gas industry, they weren’t sure how to distribute and sell it. Firtash said that’s how he got started as a gas trader—squeezing his foot into a door that opened to fabulous wealth, extraordinary political power, and, ultimately, indictment.

His gas work also resulted in thick business ties with the Kremlin, including a 50-50 partnership with Russia’s state-backed Gazprom to sell gas in Ukraine. Russia-watchers often cite this as evidence Firtash is a Moscow front. Firtash, meanwhile, claimed Gazprom courted his business because they wanted his expertise in the Central Asian gas trade.

Because of his work in the gas industry, Firtash also met a man who would become one of the globe’s most notorious thugs: Semion Mogilevich, a Russian mob boss who has spent years on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Before he was poisoned in the U.K., ex-Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko claimed Putin and Mogilevich had a “good relationship,” as Business Insider detailed.


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