Russian President Vladimir Putin was waiting on a “wink” from former U.S. President Donald Trump to seize parts of Ukraine—years before Russia launched a full-scale invasion—according to a new interview.

Written correspondence between former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and Kremlin aide Konstantin Kilimnik discussed Putin claiming part of Ukraine, saying that a “wink” from the Republican former president was needed to “make this work,” former Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann has said.

Speaking with PBS’ Firing Line and host Margaret Hoover, Weissmann said this was “such a clear indication of what Vladimir Putin was trying to do.”

Weissmann was one of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s top deputies during investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which resulted in the Mueller Report. Following its publication, in August 2020, the Senate Intelligence Committee found that the Kremlin launched an “aggressive, multifaceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”

Paul Manafort, who headed Trump’s campaign for a few months in 2016 and was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges, worked with Russian and Moscow-backed Ukrainian figures, including Kilimnik, according to the report, which identified him as a “Russian intelligence officer.”

“Kilimnik and Manafort formed a close and lasting relationship that would endure to the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond,” the Senate Intelligence Committee report said. Manafort “discussed with Kilimnik a peace plan for eastern Ukraine that benefited the Kremlin,” the report said. The pair pursued “the pro-Russia Ukraine peace plan Kilimnik had first raised with Manafort” in August 2016 after the election, according to the report.

“Manafort’s high-level access and willingness to share information with individuals

closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services, particularly Kilimnik, represented a grave counterintelligence threat,” the report read.

Trump has repeatedly weighed in on how he would handle the ongoing war in Ukraine, saying he could end the war within 24 hours.

Last month, Trump signaled that he would have “made a deal” for Moscow to claim parts of Ukraine, had he been in power when the Russian invasion took place.

Saying Russia is “going for everything,” Trump told host Sean Hannity in early March that Putin “would have never done it” if the former president was still in the White House.

“That’s without even negotiating a deal,” Trump continued. “I could have negotiated.”

“At worst, I could have made a deal to take over something, you know, there are certain areas that are Russian speaking areas, right, like, but you could have worked a deal. And now Ukraine is just being blown to smithereens.”