The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
WASHINGTON, D.C. – We need a new term to describe Donald Trump’s leadership style, modeled on his idol Vladimir Putin of Russia.
People in the United States probably still think of Russia as a Socialist-Communist country. But it’s not. Not since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1989.
I’m told from intelligent campground visitors who have been there lately that you can’t even mention socialism in Russia anymore, or sociology for that matter. OK you can’t mention sociology on the radio in Alabama either, but that’s something to think about.
There really is no other way to describe what’s going in Russia now other than to call it a capitalist dictatorship. Yes it’s authoritarian in nature. But it’s not about supporting the proletariat or the workers with jobs and health care anymore. It’s all about the amassing of huge mounds of money by those at the top and their business partners, most of them so-called Oligarchs, which Google defines as “very rich businessman with a great deal of political influence.” Of course many of them are also decedents of the old oligarchs, back in the days of the Russian Monarchy, and the economy operates as an oligarchy, what is defined as “a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.”
Clearly this is what fascinates The Donald about Russia and Putin, and his power to jail and kill critics.
While most of the media coverage of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of political and business ties to Russia focuses on what happened last year during the campaign, and will not even address or attempt to answer the question of whether Russian spying, hacking and blogging fake news all over social media actually affected the outcome of the election, there are a couple of other stories that need to be told to take this corrupt relationship back even further.
Just look at what had been going on under everybody’s noses at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel for many years.
Now we find out that the entire Republican leadership has been in bed with those same Russian oligarchs for years, not just Trump last during year during the campaign.
In a little noticed story, my old paper, The Dallas Morning News, recently ran a column challenging the notion that simple party loyalty is behind the Republican effort to withhold criticism of Trump and their refusal to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“Perhaps it’s because they have their own links to the Russian oligarchy that they would prefer go unnoticed,” the writer says.
Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.
During the 2015-2016 election season, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard “Len” Blavatnik contributed $6.35 million to leading Republican candidates and incumbent senators. Mitch McConnell was the top recipient of Blavatnik’s donations, collecting $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund under the names of two of Blavatnik’s holding companies, Access Industries and AI Altep Holdings, according to Federal Election Commission documents and OpenSecrets.org.
Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC and his Florida First Project received $1.5 million through Blavatnik’s two holding companies. Other high dollar recipients of funding from Blavatnik were PACS representing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at $1.1 million, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at $800,000, Ohio Governor John Kasich at $250,000 and Arizona Senator John McCain at $200,000.
In January, Quartz reported that Blavatnik donated another $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee. Ironically, the shared address of Blavatnik’s companies is directly across the street from Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in New York.
Len Blavatnik, considered to be one of the richest men in Great Britain, holds dual citizenship in the U.S. and the U.K. He is known for his business savvy and generous philanthropy, but not without controversy.
In 2010, Oxford University drew intense criticism for accepting a donation of 75 million pounds from Blavatnik for a new school of government bearing his name. Faculty, alumni and international human rights activists claimed the university was selling its reputation and prestige to Putin’s associates.
Blavatnik’s relationships with Russian oligarchs close to Putin, particularly Oleg Deripaska, should be worrisome for Trump and the six GOP leaders who took Blavatnik’s money during the 2016 presidential campaign. Lucky for them no one has noticed. Yet.
Oleg Deripaska is the founder and majority owner of RUSAL, the world’s second largest aluminum company, based in Russia. Len Blavatnik owns a significant stake in RUSAL and served on its Board until November 10, 2016, two days after Donald Trump was elected.
Deripaska controls RUSAL with a 48 percent majority stake through his holding company, EN+ Group, and the Russian government owns 4.35 percent stake of EN+ Group through its second-largest state owned bank, VTB. VTB was exposed in the Panama papers in 2016for facilitating the flow of billions of dollars to offshore companies linked to Vladimir Putin and is under sanctions by the U.S. government.
Deripaska has been closely connected to the Kremlin since he married into Boris Yeltsin’s family in 2001, which literally includes him in the Russian clan known as “The Family.”According to the Associated Press, starting in 2006, Deripaska made annual payments of $10 million to Paul Manafort through the Bank of Cyprus to advance Putin’s global agenda.
Len Blavatnik’s co-owner in RUSAL is his long-time business partner, Viktor Vekselberg, another Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin. Blavatnik and Vekselberg hold their 15.8 percent joint stake in RUSAL in the name of Sual Partners, their offshore company in the Bahamas. Vekselberg also happens to be the largest shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus.
Another oligarch with close ties to Putin, Dmitry Rybolovlev, owns a 3.3 percent stake in the Bank of Cyprus. Rybolovlev is known as “Russia’s Fertilizer King” and has been in the spotlight for several months as the purchaser of Trump’s 60,000 square-foot mansion in Palm Beach. Rybolovlev bought the estate for $54 million more than Trump paid for the property at the bottom of the crash in the U.S. real estate market.
The convoluted web that links Putin’s oligarchs to Trump’s political associates and top Republicans is difficult to take in.
Trump and Putin have a common approach to governance. They rely heavily on long-term relationships and family ties. While there have been tensions between Putin and Deripaska over the years, the Kremlin came to Deripaska’s rescue in 2009 when he was on the verge of bankruptcy by providing a $4.5 billion emergency loan through state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB), where Putin is chair of the advisory board.
VEB, known as President Putin’s “pet bank,” is now in crisis after sanctions applied by Europe and U.S. in 2014 have isolated it from the international banks that were the sources of its nearly $4 billion in hard currency loans that, according to Bloomberg, mature this year and in 2018.
Russia’s international currency reserves are near a 10-year low, which has put further pressure on the president of VEB, Sergey Gorkov, to find sources of international rescue capital. Notably, it was Gorkov who met secretly with Jared Kushner in December at Trump Tower. Kushner’s failure to report the meeting with Gorkov has drawn the attention of the Senate intelligence committee that now wants to question Kushner about the meeting.
So the question for Republicans such as Luther Strange, now running wall to wall campaign ads paid for with massive amounts of cash from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel in the special election down in Alabama, is this: So you want to represent the people of Alabama and you are willing to take dirty Russian money to beat Judge Roy Moore and Doug Jones?
Guess I will have to catch Mr. Strange around the Capitol building next week when Congress returns to Washington and ask him in person, on video. We also need his response to the question of what were the details of his deal with Governor Robert Bentley to delay his investigation as Attorney General. A special prosecutor appointed by Strange’s successor found Bentley guilty and removed him from office.
Dirty money. Dirty politics. How can that be good for anybody? Anywhere?
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.