What Russians Does Trump Know and When Did He Know Them?
“…we’re doing a lot of projects there where we’re bringing money back. So in a certain way, it’s kind of a natural hedge when you go global.” That was Eric Trump, son of republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, on CNBC back in February. He was speaking about real estate investment in New York, and how foreign investment in American real estate was a good for the Trump bottom line. That investment was slowing following the collapse of oil prices, which hit the Russian economy hard. The sweet spot in crude oil prices for the Russian economy is between $75 and $100 per barrel. The Russian economy relies almost exclusively on oil and gas production, opposite America’s largely consumer-based economy.
Nothing special in that, except an illustration that Trump is always playing both sides against the middle. It also reveals a very special and intimate relationship between Trump and Russia. There are growing indications that the relationship goes all the way to ex-KGB leader and strongman Vladimir Putin. Whether that relationship crosses the line to something damaging to the United States and in particular its electoral process remains to be seen. It is, however, time to start asking some very serious questions of Trump and his people about the nature of that relationship and whether it has already interfered with the current election. More importantly, the nation needs to know how that relationship will affect US jobs, security and the economy under a President Trump
It is no secret that in the Press, at the very least, that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are very cozy, trading compliments, while Putin has openly discredited Clinton. Trump called Putin a genius. But how does that translate to potential policies by Trump? Recent comments on withdrawing from NATO, which sent a chill through US allies in Europe, and which could also potentially threaten Israel’s security, mirrors anti-NATO rhetoric by Putin and affiliates in Russia.
One of those affiliates is Aras Agalarov, a real estate billionaire, dubbed the Trump of Russia. Trump has had an interest in Russia and Moscow since the late 1980s, where he and his family have made frequent trips and are well known there. Trump maintains an interest in building apartments and luxury condos in Moscow, tapping into a class of extraordinarily wealthy Russians. His ultimate goal is to build a Trump tower there.
Aras Agalarov was born in 1955 in Baku, Azerbaijan in the former Soviet Union. He was decorated as an outstanding Russian citizen by Putin in 2013. That same year Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant was held in Agalarov’s Crocus City Hall in Moscow. It was there that Trump met with a close Putin advisor, Vladimir Kozhin, Putin’s adviser on military and technical cooperation. Initially Putin was to attend, but sent a gift with Kozhin at the last minute. This was at a time when tensions between Russia and the US were growing over Ukraine.
The same month Trump was hosting his pageant, the now ousted Ukrainian leader Victor Yanukovych was pursuing closer ties with Russia, much to the chagrin of US and her NATO allies. That tension boiled over to massive protests and violence in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev and ultimately to civil war. Russia aided and supplied the Yanukovych backed rebels, including, according to all the available evidence, the BUK Missile system that downed a civilian airliner in July 2014, killing all 298 aboard. That conflict was ultimately about Western and Russian competition over Ukrainian and Crimean gas and oil reserves.
The mostly state-owned Russian firm Gazprom figured prominently in that struggle. Gazprom’s CEO, Alexey Borisovich Miller served directly under Putin for many years. His appointment to the top spot in the company was engineered specifically by Putin. Carter Page, Trump’s foreign policy adviser, worked in Moscow for three years for Gazprom, a Russian oil giant that is largely state owned. Last month Page spoke in Moscow at a Russian business school. Trump’s main campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was an adviser to Victor Yanukovych. The ties between Russia and candidate Trump run deep.
It is clear there is a relationship here, and in the context of a presidential election, it should raise concerns over potential influence. Evidence for that influence appears to be growing. Trump’s foreign policy statements appear to parallel or are very sympathetic to Russian strategic interests, and come very close to undermining US strategic interests and security. In a letter dated April 1796, Thomas Jefferson in his First Inaugural address in 1801, spoke of “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations–entangling alliances with none, I deem the essential principles of our government, and consequently those which ought to shape its administration.”