Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Trump and Putin, a mutual admiration society

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Trump does have business interests in Russia, so he has a vested interest in staying on Putin’s good side, but it seems to go beyond that. Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum both point out the extraordinary way that Trump has made the GOP a Russian ally.

Josh Marshall at TPM:

Let me start by saying I’m no Russia hawk. I have long been skeptical of US efforts to extend security guarantees to countries within what the Russians consider their ‘near abroad’ or extend such guarantees and police Russian interactions with new states which for centuries were part of either the Russian Empire or the USSR. This isn’t a matter of indifference to these countries. It is based on my belief in seriously thinking through the potential costs of such policies. In the case of the Baltics, those countries are now part of NATO. Security commitments have been made which absolutely must be kept. But there are many other areas where such commitments have not been made. My point in raising this is that I do not come to this question or these policies as someone looking for confrontation or cold relations with Russia.

Let’s start with the basic facts. There is a lot of Russian money flowing into Trump’s coffers and he is conspicuously solicitous of Russian foreign policy priorities.

I’ll list off some facts.

1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here’s a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration …

Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

3. One example of this is the Trump Soho development in Manhattan, one of Trump’s largest recent endeavors. The project was the hit with a series of lawsuits in response to some typically Trumpian efforts to defraud investors by making fraudulent claims about the financial health of the project. Emerging out of that litigation however was news about secret financing for the project from Russia and Kazakhstan. Most attention about the project has focused on the presence of a twice imprisoned Russian immigrant with extensive ties to the Russian criminal underworld. But that’s not the most salient part of the story. As the Times put it,

“Mr. Lauria brokered a $50 million investment in Trump SoHo and three other Bayrock projects by an Icelandic firm preferred by wealthy Russians “in favor with” President Vladimir V. Putin, according to a lawsuit against Bayrock by one of its former executives. The Icelandic company, FL Group, was identified in a Bayrock investor presentation as a “strategic partner,” along with Alexander Mashkevich, a billionaire once charged in a corruption case involving fees paid by a Belgian company seeking business in Kazakhstan; that case was settled with no admission of guilt.”

Another suit alleged the project “occasionally received unexplained infusions of cash from accounts in Kazakhstan and Russia.”

Sounds completely legit.

Read both articles: After his bankruptcy and business failures roughly a decade ago Trump has had an increasingly difficult time finding sources of capital for new investments. As I noted above, Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks with the exception of Deutschebank, which is of course a foreign bank with a major US presence. He has steadied and rebuilt his financial empire with a heavy reliance on capital from Russia. At a minimum the Trump organization is receiving lots of investment capital from people close to Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s tax returns would likely clarify the depth of his connections to and dependence on Russian capital aligned with Putin. And in case you’re keeping score at home: no, that’s not reassuring.

4. Then there’s Paul Manafort, Trump’s nominal ‘campaign chair’ who now functions as campaign manager and top advisor. Manafort spent most of the last decade as top campaign and communications advisor for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian Ukrainian Prime Minister and then President whose ouster in 2014 led to the on-going crisis and proxy war in Ukraine. Yanukovych was and remains a close Putin ally. Manafort is running Trump’s campaign.

5. Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you’re not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the US President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russian political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

6. Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump. As Frank Foer explains here, this fits a pattern with how Putin has sought to prop up rightist/nationalist politicians across Europe, often with direct or covert infusions of money. In some cases this is because they support Russia-backed policies; in others it is simply because they sow discord in Western aligned states. Of course, Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, not only in the abstract but often for the authoritarian policies and patterns of government which have most soured his reputation around the world.

7. Here’s where it gets more interesting. . .

Continue reading.

Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Today brings one of the weirdest stories of any recent presidential campaign: Hillary Clinton’s campaign has essentially accused Donald Trump of being a pawn of the Russians. Not in hints; not from an unaffiliated Super PAC; not in a deniable statement from an arms-length surrogate; and not in vague “doesn’t put America first” terms. Friday’s release of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, says Clinton’s campaign manager, “was done by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” And Trump intervened to change the Republican platform last week in a way that “some experts would regard as pro-Russian.”

Believe it or not, though, that’s not the weirdest part of this story. The weirdest part is (a) Clinton’s campaign might be right, and (b) this is not really getting an awful lot of attention from the media.

Let that sink in: the Clinton campaign has explicitly accused the Russians of being on Team Trump and suggested that Trump might be on Team Russia. And although the media is covering it, it’s not the top story anywhere. Seriously. WTF does it take these days to lead the news?

In a nutshell, here’s the evidence. A few months ago, when the DNC’s email was hacked, outside experts immediately said it looked like it had been done by the Russians. Here’s the New York Times:

Researchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyberoperations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year….Evidence so far suggests that the attack was the work of at least two separate agencies, each apparently working without the knowledge that the other was inside the Democrats’ computers.

….The experts cited by Mr. Mook include CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that was brought into the Democratic National Committee when officials there suspected they had been hacked….Officials at several other firms that have examined the code for the malware used against the Democratic National Committee and the metadata of the stolen documents found evidence that the documents had been accessed by multiple computers, some with Russian language settings.

Eventually the email cache ended up in the hands of Wikileaks, which published it on Friday. “The release to WikiLeaks adds another strange element,” says the Times, “because it suggests that the intelligence findings are being ‘weaponized’ — used to influence the election in some way.” Other similar stories include this one from theWashington Post and this one from Defense One. Beyond that, Russian media has become conspicuously pro Trump over the past year.

So that’s the evidence that Russia is backing Team Trump. But what about the evidence that Trump is on Team Russia? This is a little trickier, but it turns out Trump has an impressive number of pro-Russian views:

  • The Washington Post: Trump didn’t bother much with the Republican platform, but on one topic he pulled out the heavy artillery: against the advice of virtually all conservative foreign policy analysts, he insisted on gutting a plank that said the US should provide weapons to Ukraine. Also: for many years, Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, was a lobbyist for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Putin former president of Ukraine.
  • The New York Times: A few days ago, Trump told David Sanger and Maggie Haberman that he might not defend the Baltics if Russia invaded them. He also suggested that the US had little moral authority to condemn human rights abuses in other countries—a decidedly unusual view for someone running on an extreme nationalist platform.
  • The Wall Street Journal: Trump has also suggested that NATO should reorient itself from defending Europe against Russian aggression and instead place more emphasis on Middle Eastern terrorism.
  • Josh Marshall: “Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom.”
  • Slate: Trump has teamed up with Russian investors frequently on projects, and for years has lavished a surprising amount of praise on Vladimir Putin.
  • The Washington Times: Trump has been unusually sanguine about Russia’s intervention in Syria. “Let Russia fight ISIS, if they want to fight ‘em,” Trump said last year. “Why do we care?” . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, Hillary Clinton has aligned herself with Benjamin Netanyahu and pledged support for whatever he chooses to do, but Russia is a country with more expansionist ambitions and a bigger army—and has more impact on our European allies. I would worry more about a Russian connection (particularly with an impulsive person like Trump) than I do about an Israeli connection (particularly with a more thoughtful and policy-oriented person like Clinton).

UPDATE: All signs point to Russia as being behind the DNC hack.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2016 at 8:28 am

Posted in Democrats, Election, GOP

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