Kostya didn’t join us, he’d said something about having to be at another meeting, and since Paul and I were both Americans figured we could manage on our own. “Your friend is a powerful little dude,” Manafort told me.
He didn’t elaborate but did go on to say how taxing he felt it was for Kostya to have to sit through, and often mediate, the endless meetings between warring factions within OB. What did he mean by “powerful”? The oligarchs who were, in essence, the shareholders of the party paid Kostya more deference than the waitstaff at the Hyatt was paying us.
The way I read this was that, after so many years as a functionary interpreting what Manafort was saying to party sponsors, leaders, and hacks alike, he had himself become part of the legend. I saw how Lyovochkin looked at him, and later I would see others look at him in just the same way. He had become, as some media accounts would later refer to him, “Manafort’s Manafort.”
One morning a week or so later, I was returning from a brisk, autumnal jog across the crests of the hills that ring Kyiv, still soaking in the kaleidoscope of reds, browns, tans, and greens and the smell of wet birch when I noticed a van idling outside my building. More quietly than usual, I buzzed myself into the podyedtz (entrance hall) and started walking up to my first-floor apartment when I noticed four or five burly men standing outside my place knocking.
It was too late to turn back so I continued walking past them, intending to climb at least out of sight. One followed me and leapt a few stairs ahead of me, stopping me with a hand on the shoulder. A few questions, he said in Russian, which I pretended not to speak.
I said in English that I worked for USAID, all the while putting on the most dimwitted expression I could manage. It worked, and he gave up. When I got a few floors above them I summoned the elevator, and when it came, directed it back to the ground floor, my thumb pressed against the Door Closed button.
Descending, one of the thugs noticed me and with another gave chase. I made it out the front door a good 15 steps ahead of them and sprinted up the hill and back into the park. Having been running for an hour beforehand, I had an advantage against men in blue jeans and bulky leather coats who were probably hungover to boot. Once I was certain I had shaken them, I called Kostya.
In the steadiest voice I could muster, I asked, “What the fuck?!?!”
Don’t worry, he said, it’s probably all just a misunderstanding, we’ll fix it.
Somehow I doubt it was a misunderstanding. There had been an earlier visit by a man identifying himself to me as a plainclothes cop looking for a pair of Georgians, whom he alleged were living in my apartment. No Georgians here, I assured him. He took down a statement, which he had me sign.
That, I wrote off at the time, as a misunderstanding, but what had just happened seemed like an aborted kidnapping attempt. Why would someone want to take me? To do what, I couldn’t bring myself to speculate, but I was pretty sure it had to do with my work. Oddly, I did not insist on moving.
Kostya spent the better part of those weeks caretaking Manafort, leaving me to channel my creative energies with Sunshine, who turned out to be a talented video maker, and a pamphleteer we called Michael. We shared an office with Manafort, a block off the Maidan, but our workflows were pretty different. Sometimes our paths would cross.
Rick Gates was Manafort’s loyal lieutenant—to a point, anyhow. We would sometimes swap copy in the office and look at what the other had written and make a suggestion or two out of courtesy. Once we were looking at a direct-mail piece that had a photograph of a babushka, an old village woman, on the cover. Manafort heard us talking and walked by, glancing at the final proof. “Looks like a witch,” he said. To me, she looked like a pensioner. Still, they changed the photo to a less witchy-looking babushka.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/story/kostya-and-me-how-sam-patten-got-ensnared-in-muellers-probe