At the American Interest, James S. Henry examines Trump’s Russian connections. It’s an unnerving read. Whatever his relationship with Putin, Trump “has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russian/former Soviet Union (FSU) network of outright mobsters, oligarchs, fraudsters, and kleptocrats. Any one of these connections might have occurred at random. But the overall pattern is a veritable Star Wars bar scene of unsavory characters, with Donald Trump seated right in the middle.”
Henry faults other investigations for their piecemeal approach, which “often misses the bigger picture: the global networks of influence and finance, licit and illicit, that exist among business people, investors, kleptocrats, organized criminals, and politicians, as well as the “enablers”—banks, accounting firms, law firms, and havens. Any particular component of these networks might easily disappear without making any difference. But the networks live on. It is these shadowy transnational networks that really deserve our scrutiny.”
The background is the “privatization” of Soviet wealth: “from 1992 to the Russian debt crisis of August 1998, the West in general—and the U.S. Treasury, USAID, the State Department, the IMF/World Bank, the EBRD, and many leading economists in particular—actively promoted and, indeed, helped to finance one of the most massive transfers of public wealth into private hands that the world has ever seen.” The transfer benefitted “a tiny elite of former state-owned company managers and party apparatchiks” who were able “to acquire control over a vast number of public enterprises, often with the help of outright mobsters.” Putin rode a wave of reaction to these liberalizing policies to the top, where he’s been ever since.
The whole process was a disaster for ordinary Russians, but “for many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, and for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization, the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its rawest.” Outflows from Russian and other former Soviet states “arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed.”
Henry doesn’t think that Trump and Putin are “evil twins, exactly” but they have a common source: “they are both byproducts of the same neoliberal policy scams that were peddled to Russia’s struggling new democracy.”
Henry devotes most of his long article to intricate reconstruction of Trump’s business and personal dealings with shady Russians. It is, as I say, an unnerving read.