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Exclusive: First photos emerge of shadowy Manafort aide tied to Russian intelligence

New photos of Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort's top aide in Ukraine.

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Jun 11 2018, 1:07pm

KIEV, Ukraine — Konstantin Kilimnik, the shadowy Russian political operative indicted Friday by special counsel Robert Mueller, has led such an intensely secretive life that no photograph of him has ever emerged in public.

Until now.

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Two photos of Kilimnik, a longtime aide to President Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort, have surfaced on a publicly available Russian social media account apparently used years ago by Kilimnik’s wife. VICE News confirmed with three people who know Kilimnik that it's him in the pictures.

One of the pictures was first published Saturday by the Russian-language service of the BBC. The agency didn’t say that it had independently verified the picture’s authenticity.

Kilimnik and Manafort were both indicted Friday for obstruction of justice by Mueller, who is probing Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election. Kilimnik, 48, has been widely reported to be the unnamed “Person A” in the Mueller team’s court filings described as having links to Russian military intelligence.

Read: Paul Manafort, a mysterious Russian jet, and a secret meeting.

While Manafort was already facing up to 100 years on charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and foreign lobbying violations, Friday marked the first charges against Kilimnik — and the first time Mueller’s team used his name in a court filing.

Kilimnik, who has strenuously denied any ties to Russian intelligence, spent years as Manafort’s right-hand man and translator in Ukraine when the future Trump campaign chief was a top adviser to Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Kilimnik and Manafort stayed in touch after Yanukovych’s government collapsed in chaos in 2014 and Yanukovych fled to Russia. The two operatives met twice in the U.S. at the height of the American presidential campaign, and sent messages back and forth even after Manafort was indicted.

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But despite months of intense public scrutiny, Kilimnik managed to keep his face hidden from the media — a remarkable feat in the age of Facebook and Twitter.

Maintaining that anonymity had to involve some effort and focus.

During an interview in Kiev last year, Kilimnik joked in front of this reporter that an acquaintance who casually snapped his photograph should keep it secret — or risk being killed by Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.

“Don't show that picture. If you show that picture, I will kill you, the KGB will kill you...the GRU will kill you as well,” he said.

Kilimnik didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

Spies and social media

The photographs of Kilimnik were posted on the Russian social networking site Odnoklassniki, commonly known as OK.ru. They appear on a profile apparently set up by Kilimnik’s wife, Ekaterina.

Their authenticity was affirmed by three people who’ve met Kilimnik, including a longtime acquaintance of both Kilimnik and his wife, and by this reporter after in-person interviews with him in 2017. Kilimnik mentioned his wife during both meetings.

Ekaterina Kilimnik’s profile photo shows the tanned couple sitting on a ledge and smiling, with Konstantin’s arm draped over her shoulder. The caption identifies the man as “Kostya,” a common Russian shortening of Konstantin, and says the photo was taken in Turkey in June 2007. According to OK.ru’s timestamp, the image was uploaded that November.

Konstantin and Ekaterina Kilimnik, via Ok.ru.

A second picture, published on Jan. 7, 2008, shows Konstantin and Ekaterina wearing sunglasses on a snowy mountaintop. The caption reads: “2000 meters closer to paradise.”

Konstantin and Ekaterina Kilimnik via OK.ru.

Besides her name and photographs, the profile identifies Ekaterina Kilimnik as a 48-year-old graduate of Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry who lives in Moscow. Kilimnik himself in an interview last year confirmed that his wife was from Moscow and said she worked in the medical field. The couple had recently been spending more time in Kiev, where they own property, he said, adding that they both enjoyed the slower pace of life in Ukraine.

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The last time Ekaterina logged into the account was April 15, 2011, according to OK.ru’s tracking data.

Smooth operator

In Kiev and Moscow, Kilimnik is a man widely talked about but rarely seen. Those who know him call him a smooth operator with many connections in Russian and Ukrainian political, business and journalism circles. Intelligent and articulate, Kilimnik loves good wine and craft beer, and dresses in designer clothes.

One Western analyst who positively identified the photographs after years of regular contact with Kilimnik told VICE News he was certain the man he’d been speaking to was a Russian intelligence agent.

“I never had any doubts, it was so obvious for me,” the analyst said, adding that his only real question was whether Kilimnik was “a double agent” working for “Russia and the USA.”

Christopher Miller is a journalist based in Kiev.

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