Blog Politics

It’s Time To Take Trump’s Ties With Russia Very Seriously

November 12, 2016

Now that the dust has settled on the election, I’ve spent the last couple days trying to predict what a Trump Presidency will look like.  I’ve noticed that a number of Trump’s key proposals have disappeared from his site, and he’s made a number of flip flops from his more worrying positions which in my opinion is a good thing. However, the closer that I look at his ties with Russia, the more I’m disturbed.  Perhaps it was the mainstream media’s failure at viewing Trump as a serious candidate, maybe everyone was just too glassy eyed about a Hillary presidency, maybe allegations about Russia’s involvement felt like just like campaign hyperbole, whatever the reason is irrelevant now that the election is over and Trump is still standing. I believe we need to start taking Donald Trump’s ties to Russia very seriously.

17 US intelligence agencies issued a joint statement and concluded that Russia was involved with hacking the emails, that news came and went without any significant ripple in the pool. A day after the election, Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst denied allegations of Russian interference in the election, however he also was quoted to the Guardian as saying “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks.” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency “there were contacts” with influential people in the President-elect Trump’s circle. For the life of me I don’t understand why this doesn’t seem to bother anyone else.  You have a foreign government, one that we’re essentially in a “proxy-war” with in Syria, openly interfering with our election and there isn’t a peep.  Trump’s ties aren’t just quotes here and there, there is significant documentation of legitimate political connections to Russia.

Trump SoHo

In just the last year, Trump has amassed a substantial amount of debt.  According to Bloomberg, Trump’s debt has ballooned up to $650 Million dollars.  The Wall Street Journal has suggested that most, if not all US banks have refused to work with him, so he has been going to German bank Deutsche Bank AG for all of his loans.  The New York Times echoes Trump’s difficulty for attaining US credit in one of their articles. At one point, Mr. Trump was responsible for about $900 million personally before his businesses were restructured. Several bankers on Wall Street say they are simply not willing to take on what they almost uniformly referred to as “Donald risk.”

Trump was hit with a lawsuit when buyers of units in Trump SoHo, a 46-story luxury condominium-hotel in Lower Manhattan, claimed that they had been defrauded by false claims made by Mr. Trump regarding the financial stability of his struggling project. The case was settled in November 2011, Trump agreeing to refund 90 percent of $3.16 million in deposits, while admitting no wrongdoing. Besides the fraud accusations, a separate lawsuit claimed that Trump SoHo was developed with the undisclosed involvement of convicted felons and financing from questionable sources in Russia and Kazakhstan. The Manhattan district attorney’s office was investigating whether the fraud alleged by the condo buyers broke any laws, according to documents and interviews with five people familiar with it. The buyers initially helped in the investigation, but as part of their lawsuit settlement, they had to notify prosecutors that they no longer wished to do so. So as a result, the criminal case was eventually closed.

Trump was paid $14 Million to move his Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow and according to Donald Trump Jr. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets, We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”  Donald Trump has had a 30 year relationship with Russia, even in his book, The Art of the Deal he wrote that he visited Moscow for the first time in 1987 to explore building a hotel in partnership with the Soviet government. Trump’s tax returns would likely show just how deep his connections to and dependence on Russian capital are, so in other words, we will never see Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Carter Page

In March, Carter Page was hired on as one of Donald Trump’s foreign-policy advisers. According to his own bio he was an “adviser on key transactions for Gazprom.” Gazprom is the gigantic oil and natural gas company owned by the Russian government. Now it would be very unusual to be involved with Gazprom at such an extremely high level that Page was at without being in alignment with Putin’s policies. Page wrote an opinion piece for the Russian state-controlled news agency Sputnik where he denounced what he saw as the United States’ “complete disregard for Russia’s interests,” as well as criticizing the U.S.-imposed sanctions. David Kramer, who was responsible for Russia and Ukraine at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, called Page’s speech in Moscow and recent comments by Trump on the possibility of lifting sanctions against Moscow “deeply unsettling.”

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016. Manafort was also an advisor for Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine in the mid 2000s.  Yes, the same Viktor Yanukovych who’s election in 2004 was marred by so much massive corruption, voter intimidation and direct electoral fraud that it led to the Orange Revolution.  Yes, the same Viktor Yanukovych who’s refusal to sign the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement in favor of the more pro-Russian Eurasian Customs Union that led to the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014. The Party of Regions also signed a collaboration agreement with United Russia, Putin’s political party in Russia in 2009. Manafort isn’t just a guy giving good campaign advice, we’re talking about a guy who’s specifically trying to sway the national politics of a country on behalf of another.

During this time frame, Manafort was allegedly paid $12.7 million dollars according to handwritten ledgers recovered in the Party of Regions headquarters by Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Only a few days after that story came out in August, Manafort resigned from The Trump campaign as the story began to gain traction.  It’s unclear how much influence Manafort had (or still has) on Trump’s campaign overall, but it’s also worth noting that the Trump campaign gutted the anti-Russian language in the GOP’s official platform that pledged support for Ukraine earlier this year at the GOP convention.

Aleksandr Dugin

A few months ago, I was flabbergasted at how many people jumped on the train and praised Putin.  Putin is essentially a dictator in every way except for the title. According to Amensty and Human Rights watch, Putin is presiding over the worst era for Russian human rights since the Soviet Union. Our own Vice President has called Putin a dictator. However, the White House quickly backpedaled afterward for obvious reasons. I’ve heard a few people over the last few days argue that it would be good if we had closer ties with Russia, the problem with that is that Russia’s long term goals aren’t closer ties with the United States, but they are more specifically the destabilization of the United States. Aleksandr Dugin is a Russian political scientist that allegedly has ties to Vladimir Putin and has openly supported Donald Trump. He’s somewhat famous for his essay, The Fourth Political Theory as well as his book The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia.

Dugin’s central thesis of his Fourth Political Theory is that the three great ideologies, liberalism, fascism and communism have suffered a loss of legitimacy. Dugin declares that what is needed is a new, fourth political theory which fuses certain elements of each of the three prior ideologies to create something new. This new ideology is sometimes referred to as National Bolshevism or neo-Eurasianism. It’s far right, extremely fascist and walks hand in hand with the geopolitical unification of Eurasia and the former USSR while also rejecting Atlanticism. In his 1997 book The Foundations of Geopolitics, Dugin outlines the steps that must be taken to achieve this. Dugin does not focus primarily upon military means as a way of achieving Russian dominance over Eurasia; rather he advocates a fairly sophisticated program of subversion, destabilization, and disinformation spearheaded by the Russian special services, supported by a tough, hard-headed use of Russia’s gas, oil, and natural resource riches to pressure and bully other countries into bending to Russia’s will.

In 2014, Dugin has called on Putin to intervene militarily in Ukraine “to save Russia’s moral authority” and many are seeing him as the driving force behind Putin’s interest in the Ukraine.  In fact, he’s been calling for the annexation of Crimea as far back as 2008, during Russia’s war with Georgia. As a side note, he also called for the death of Ukrainians which subsequently lost him his job at the Moscow State University.  The big question is, is Putin buying into these ideas?  There are obvious similarities between Dugin’s and Putin’s narratives: anti-westernism, expansionism and the rejection of liberal democracy among them, but all of those have been ingrained in Russian politics for the past hundred years as well. If you ask Putin, he would deny any public alignment with any specific ideology to avoid appearing predictable. However, if you ask Dugin, he claims he is, or at least there is some sort of overlap. In an interview for Russian internet TV, Dugin was quoted,

“My discourse rules, my ideas rule. […] Sure, there are wide circles, layers of people between me and the power structures. [These people] dilute […] my condensed idea of Eurasian geopolitics, conservative traditionalism and other ideals which I defend and develop, to which I dedicate a lot of my work – they create a diluted version of these. Eventually, this version reaches the power structures and they draw upon it as something self-evident, obvious, and easily accessible. […] That’s why I think that Putin is increasingly becoming Dugin. At any rate, he pursues a plan that I elaborate, in which I invest my energy, my whole life. […] In the 1990s, my discourse seemed mad, eccentric […] today our ideas are taken for granted.”

Obviously, Dugin speaking about himself and his own influence shouldn’t be taken at face value. However, given Putin’s reputation for crushing ideological opposition, The Kremlin clearly perceives Dugin’s ideas as useful in some way by allowing them to be regularly present in the public sphere. Furthermore, Dugin obtained funding from The Kremlin to establish the Eurasian Youth Union in 2005. It was one of several pro-Kremlin, anti-Ukrainian youth movements that were created to oppose the “colour revolution” in Russia. If you read Dugin’s 1997 book, The Foundations of Geopolitics, you cannot deny that some of his ideas are surpassing possibility and feeling more inevitable.  John Dunlop provides an large overview of Russian Eurasianist geopolitical goals that I’ll quote a couple below.

Ukraineshould be annexed by Russia because “Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness, its certain territorial ambitions represents an enormous danger for all of Eurasia and, without resolving the Ukrainian problem, it is in general senseless to speak about continental politics. Ukraine should not be allowed to remain independent, unless it is cordon sanitaire, which would be inadmissible.”

United Kingdom: “an extraterritorial floating base of the U.S.” is to cut off and removed from Europe (p. 221). Brexit seems like a convenient coincidence here. It’s even more interesting that there are allegations that Russia is secretly funding The UK Independence Party.  Although, Nigel Farage has dismissed such claims.

Japan: In relation to Japan, he emphasizes, “the principle of a common enemy [that is, the United States]” will prove decisive (p. 234).  As in the case of Germany, Japan is to be offered an imperial Grand Bargain.  Dugin recommends that the Kuriles be restored to Japan as Kaliningrad is to be restored to Germany (p. 238) Coincidentally, a few days ago Russia Today posted a poll teasing the idea.

Baltics: Dugin proposes that Estonia be recognized as lying within Germany’s sphere.  A “special status,” on the other hand, should be accorded to both Latvia and Lithuania, which suggests that they are to be allocated to the Eurasian-Russian sphere.  Poland, too, is to be granted such a “special status” (p. 372).

United States: Within the United States itself, there is a need for the Russian special services and their allies “to provoke all forms of instability and separatism within the borders of the United States (it is possible to make use of the political forces of Afro-American racists)” (p. 248). “It is especially important,” Dugin adds, “to introduce geopolitical disorder into internal American activity, encouraging all kinds of separatism and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all dissident movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thus destabilizing internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics…” (p. 367).

NATO: “The task of Moscow is to tear Europe away from the control of the U.S. (NATO), to assist European unification, and to strengthen ties with Central Europe under the aegis of the fundamental external axis Moscow-Berlin. Eurasia needs a united, friendly Europe” (p. 369). In advocating such a path, Dugin appears to be influenced by the writings of the European New Right who, from the 1970s on, argued for “the strict neutrality of Europe and its departure from NATO” (p. 139). The basic principle underlying the Moscow- Berlin axis, Dugin writes, will be “the principle of a common enemy [that is, the United States]” (p. 216).

Trump On NATO

So it’s quite clear that NATO is a gigantic dam holding back Russia’s geopolitical desires when it comes to Europe at least according to Dugin and Neo-Eurasianist thought.  Coincidentally, one of the very few specific things Trump has discussed in detail is his stance on NATO. Earlier this year, The New York Times asked Trump about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States(Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) that are among the more recent entrants into NATO. When asked if they were attacked, Trump said that he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” Trump’s comments on NATO were shocking to foreign policy experts and puzzled me at first, but not for the same reasons his comments on Obamacare or cybersecurity do. Trump’s comments on NATO were oddly specific instead.  Most of the time, Trump answers a question like a college freshman who didn’t do any of the homework and was suddenly called upon in class. This time, Trump knew that there was a fly in the soup in that many members of NATO were not following the 2% commitment.  The 2% commitment is a pledge for all NATO countries to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. As of right now, only 5 of the 28 countries are fulfilling that commitment.

NATO’s strength operates on Credible Commitment which means that it’s only as effective as the how believable everyone’s commitment is.  Essentially, if the only thing holding Putin back from making a grab for the Baltic states is his belief that NATO countries will retaliate, then they have to remain believable. If countries start to waver, especially the largest contributor, Putin can easily call their bluff. That unwavering characteristic is what made NATO so effective since 1949. Republicans and Democrats have been universal in their support for NATO since its inception. Trump toying with the idea of stepping back is dangerous and completely unheard of in American politics. As soon as you get into a transactional approach, that completely undermines the strength of collective defense.

If you proposed that Putin is influencing Donald Trump on NATO, I would tell you that this isn’t the first time Putin has cozied up to a foreign leader and then that leader has challenged US policy toward Russia. In 2009, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was openly challenging U.S. policy toward Russia and echoing Putin’s views on issues from NATO expansion to Kosovo to missile defense.  It was discovered later in a Wikileaks dump that Belusconi had financial ties deep into Russia.

In July, Mitch McConnell quickly tried to reassure the United States’ commitment to NATO. “NATO is the most important military alliance in world history. I want to reassure our NATO allies that if any of them get attacked, we’ll be there to defend them.” A few days later, Chuck Todd Asked Trump what he thought of McConnell’s opinion of his stance on NATO and Trump replied, “He’s 100 percent wrong. Okay?”

It almost seems like Donald Trump knows exactly where the crack in NATO’s dam is and has decided to pick at it, and the only person who’s going to profit is Vladimir Putin.