Just a reminder, Trump relatively recently had this say about his Russian endeavors—
Which may well be true, but Russia, and Russians, sure have plenty of investments in his properties and affiliated businesses.
And, for the record, any lack of direct investment by
Medici wannabe’s the Trumps in Russia is not for lack of trying :
In 1986 Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin sat next to Donald Trump at a New York lunch and they talked about Trump Tower. “One thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government,” the tycoon recalled in his book Trump: The Art of the Deal. Trump flew to Moscow at Dubinin’s invitation to discuss the hotel project with the Soviet tourism agency.
But this diary is not to point out Trump’s stupefyingly factitious claims, or establish that the financial ties between Russia’s criminals and oligarchs are prolific, and massive. (For more on that, q.v. this wonderful work by The Moscow Project).
Rather, this diary focuses on how extensive and long-standing Trump’s arrangements with the Russian government have been, even before Putin effectively merged the Russian ship of state with organized crime.
The above-cited passage about Trump’s lunch meeting with the Soviet ambassador occurred at a time when Putin was not in any way an upper-echelon figure in the KGB, or Kremlin politics, as Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy describe in exhaustive detail in a 2013 article for The Atlantic:
In 1996, Vladimir Putin and a group of friends and acquaintances from St. Petersburg would gather in an idyllic lakeside setting — barely an hour and a half north of the city. The location, on the Karelian Isthmus between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga, was only an hour and 20 minute’s drive to the Finnish border, in an area that has variously been part of the Swedish Empire, the tsarist Russian empire, independent Finland, the Soviet Union, and now Russia. This was a wonderful place for Mr. Putin to reflect on the twists and turns of fate and Russia’s evolving borders over the centuries. It also put Mr. Putin far away from the Russian center, Moscow.
Putin had built a dacha, a weekend house, in this locale not long after he returned to St. Petersburg from his KGB service in Dresden, East Germany, but it had burned down in 1996. He had a new one built identical to the original and was joined by a group of seven friends who built dachas beside his. In the fall of 1996, the group formally registered their fraternity, calling it Ozero (Lake) and turning it into a gated community…
What they had in common was the archetypical Petersburg mentality that they were outsiders to the Russian capital. They were the outsiders looking from afar, watching all the mistakes made by Russian politicians in Moscow in the 1990s, yet generally powerless to change things…
Putin was doubly or triply an outsider in the St. Petersburg Ozero group and the Soviet nomenklatura (those who occupied state administrative positions). His family was never part of the intelligentsia. Putin was not part of the traditional structures of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In many respects he was an outsider even within the KGB. He was not a KGB “golden boy” like his contemporary Sergei Ivanov — who later served as defense minister and deputy prime minister under Putin. The latter enjoyed early postings to Helsinki and London and always seemed to be on a fast track as he rose through the academies and ranks of the KGB. In contrast, Vladimir Putin did not reach the upper echelons of the institution until he suddenly secured a political appointment to head the Federal Security Service (FSB) in 1998…
Putin was an outsider even to Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika (restructuring or transformation). He was posted in Dresden during the critical period when Gorbachev took the helm of the USSR. Gorbachev was elected head of the CPSU in May 1985; Putin received his orders to relocate to Dresden that August. He remained there until after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and returned to Soviet Leningrad early in 1990. (emphasis added)
At the time Yuri Dubinin was dining in Trump Tower, discussing possible ventures with serial business failure Trump, Putin was operating on the outskirts (literally) of Soviet intelligence and politics (again from Hill and Gaddy’s Atlantic piece):
In an interview she gave shortly after Putin was appointed prime minister in 1999, Russian analyst Lilia Shevtsova described him as “an outsider who previously served in St. Petersburg. … He has not had the time to develop the personal relationships and the network of allies within the bureaucracy of the security services…
Putin was one of a generation of young recruits, a cohort of outsiders, brought into the KGB by chairman Yury Andropov in the 1970s. Andropov’s career had been made in the CPSU, not the security services…
Andropov left the KGB in 1982 to become leader of the USSR. After Andropov’s sudden death in February 1984, tensions between this group of recruits, which was widely referred to as the Andropov levy (or Andropov draft), and older KGB insiders increased. Vladimir Putin’s recruitment to the KGB in 1975 as part of this general group compounded his sense of being an outsider.
Putin’s assignment to Dresden put him even further outside mainstream structures. He was also outside the USSR — during the crucial years of perestroika, 1985 to 1989, Putin could only look in from afar. Those back home, including people who would later sit in Putin’s inner circle, like erstwhile President Dmitry Medvedev, were caught up in the heat of the dramatic political, social and cultural events of this period….
Putin is not a protagonist in Leon Aron’s detailed history of this period. He hardly features in the book at all. Putin appears only fleetingly at the very end, in the epilogue, when Aron discusses the imperial nostalgia and themes of restoration in the 1990s that overturned the spirit of glasnost. Putin is referred to as the president who puts back the plaques and statues to Andropov and other KGB luminaries. Vladimir Putin is not in Leon Aron’s book in part because he simply was not there on the “road to the temple.”
Putin was an outsider to perestroika. He played no role in glasnost. He did not participate in the debates. He may not even have read all that much about them. While he was a witness to revolution in the GDR, Vladimir Putin was barely even a bystander to what many referred to as a “spiritual revolution” at home in Russia and the Soviet Union.
Putin was far away, in every sense, from Moscow’s dealings with Trump in the 1980’s, but these dealings continued, and almost two decades before Putin succeeded in installing Trump in the White House, the interface of a) Trump’s need for cash to prop up his always failing business, b) his political ambitions, and c) the Kremlin’s endless efforts to find avenues to infiltrate the US government and economy, was evident:
….by 1997, [Trump] was back on the Russia file, bonding with rising political star General Alexander Lebed.
The two met at Trump Tower, where, according to a New Yorker article, Lebed lauded Trump’s Moscow hotel plans as “a litmus testing paper” for American capital flowing to Russia.
Basking in the praise, Trump gave Lebed, a former boxer, a copy of his book. After the meeting, the New York tycoon said what he really liked about the Russian.
“Does he look as tough and cold as you’ve ever seen? This is not like your average real-estate guy who’s rough and mean,” Trump said. “This guy’s beyond that. You see it in the eyes.”
Trump’s trip to Moscow that year again came up dry, but he was smitten with the country and its hard-nosed leaders more than ever. Entertaining his first White House run in 2000, he wrote in a new book of his fascination with Russian power.
“What I don’t understand is why American policymakers are always so timid in dealing with Russia on issues that directly involve our own survival,” he said, pointing to his experience of Lebed, “a really tough guy” who he predicted would one day lead Russia…
Trump backed out of the 2000 race, and Lebed died in 2002 in a helicopter crash. By then, ex-KGB officer Putin was the country’s president, and Trump’s eyes turned to the vast sums of money newly rich Russians were moving out of the country.
It seems the Trump organization, and Trump himself, were a portfolio of assets Putin inherited from his Kremlin predecessors, and Trump seems to have viewed Russia as a partner in helping seize the White House. Since it’s hard to imagine Trump having that much imagination, or capacity for strategic planning, we might speculate that his Soviet handlers early on suggested and promoted the notion that Trump consider political aspirations, and, playing to Trump’s ego, hinted he of course should only go straight to the top.
In other words, it’s unlikely, to the point of farcial, that Trump and the Kremlin formulated a scheme to put him the White House because he felt slighted by President Obama at the White House Correspondent’s dinner, as a popular pundit narrative would have us believe:
If several media and political pundits are to be believed, President Donald Trump sits in the White House today as the result of several hours one warm April evening nearly six years ago: the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
When Trump was first toying with furnishing the Oval Office to his tastes, Bill Clinton was in office, George W. Bush was a GOP contender, and Barack Obama was running an unsuccessful bid to unseat Bobby Rush from his Chicago district House seat (which Rush holds to this day).
But it gets even weirder, and Trump’s efforts to take an official role in US dealings with the Kremlin even extend further back than that:
Donald Trump, in the mid-1980s, aggressively pursued an official government post to the USSR, according to a Nobel Peace Prize winner with whom Trump interacted at the time.
“He already had Russia mania in 1986, 31 years ago,” asserts Bernard Lown, a Boston-area cardiologist known for inventing the defibrillator and sharing the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with a top Soviet physician in recognition of their efforts to promote denuclearization. Lown, now 95 and retired in Newton, Massachusetts, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Trump sought and secured a meeting with him in 1986 to solicit information about Mikhail Gorbachev. (Gorbachev had become the USSR’s head of state — and met with Lown — the year before.) During this meeting, Lown says, the fast-rising businessman disclosed that he would be reaching out to then-President Ronald Reagan to try to secure an official post to the USSR in order to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal on behalf of the United States, a job for which Trump felt he was the only one fit…
Lithuania-born Lown, who today is professor of cardiology emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health, had been the subject of considerable media attention shortly before he first heard the name Trump. In October 1985, he and Yevgeny I. Chazov, the personal physician of the Kremlin’s senior leadership (including Gorbachev), were chosen to share the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a group they co-founded in 1980 that had grown to include more than 150,000 members in 49 countries. And in December 1985, shortly after collecting their Nobel medals in Oslo, Lown joined Chazov for a meeting at the Kremlin with Gorbachev, who unexpectedly had come into power that March, making Lown one of the first Westerners to spend time with him.
It wasn’t long after Lown returned to the United States that he learned about Trump. “I get a call from New York and it was a Wall Street broker who was a friend of Trump’s,” Lown recalls, declining to name the individual. “He says, ‘Trump would like to see you,’ and I said, ‘Who is Trump?’ I had no idea.”
That is, Trump was actively monitoring events involving Soviet politics, and trying to somehow insinuate himself in diplomatic and security dialogue at the highest levels (having no background in any of it, of course, and no record of any sort of achievement that would lead to being considered for such a role, but it’s not like that ever deterred Trump).
The Kremlin didn’t come looking for Trump in 2011; he went to them as early as 1986, if not before. And his motive appears to be not only taking money he needed to simply avoid bankruptcy, but to set himself as a player, a power broker on the world stage.
He was, and remains, the textbook example of a useful idiot (полезные дураки).