By Russell Bruce
Having wrecked havoc across Europe from west to east, Putin’s man in the White House is back in the States having concluded the next phase of his mission to make America the great irrelevance in international relations. There is always an opposite to what farts out of the Trump mouth.
For America First read America Last.
Or is there some cunning plan that the rest of us in the real world fail to discern? What is blindingly obvious is Europe is in a bear trap between the Russian bear and the orange grisly with the funny implanted comb over. Europe has got above itself through the EU becoming the world’s largest economy, albeit it is a construction of sovereign states.
In the dying days of the Soviet empire the Warsaw Pact countries found a way to return to the European fold with both US and European encouragement. Russian global influence was declining and sending the tanks into east European countries was no longer an option. Now under Putin Russia is fighting back against those losses and the tanks are rolling once more.
It is no secret that the Russians back any political party or movement in Europe that is capable of destabilising democracy and encouraging the rise of far right parties. The only party the Russians have directly financed is Marine Le Pen’s Front National.
The BBC reported “In 2014, the National Front took Russian loans worth €11m (£9.4m). One of the loans, for €9m, came from a small bank, First Czech Russian Bank, with links to the Kremlin.
“The negotiations over the loan coincided with Russia’s annexation of Crimea. EU governments condemned the annexation. Marine Le Pen publicly took the opposite view, leading some to question whether the loans were a quid-pro-quo.”
After Crimea came Russian military involvement in Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine was becoming rather too close to Western Europe and Russia began sending disguised military in unmarked military uniforms into Ukraine as far back as 2014. The Ukrainian military in November 2014 reported intensive movement of troops and equipment from Russia into the separatist-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine.
Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych held various senior government roles in Ukraine becoming 4th President in 2010 until 2014, when he was deposed and fled to Russia. His power base was eastern Ukraine where he had previously served as Governor of Donetsk Oblast, an area were fighting continues with Russian backed separatists.
Russia was expelled from the G8 group of wealthy countries as a consequence of its annexation of Crimea. Donald Trump recently suggested Russia should be readmitted to the G8.
What might any of this have to do with Trump’s Russia love in? Trump’s Russian connections run deep. He first came to the attention of Russia as a person of interest as far back as 1987.
For now lets stick to the Ukraine connections. In an outstanding piece of investigative journalism the Financial Times published a long and detailed article on the ill-fated Trump Toronto in their weekend section on 12th July [paywall]. The FT worked on this investigation for 10 months.
The FT wrote that VEB, a Russian bank whose chairman at the time was Vladimir Putin, financed the $850m sale in 2007 of the Zaporizhstal steel mill in eastern Ukraine. According to the FT the sale was to offshore companies actually owned by the Russian state.
Alex Shnaider, the Russian Canadian billionaire backer of Trump Toronto, which was behind schedule, invested “another $40 million in the project” in 2010. The article alleges this may have come to Shnaider from the sale proceeds of the Zaporizhstal steel mill.
The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2017, “VEB, a Russian state-run bank under scrutiny by U.S. investigators, financed a deal involving Donald Trump’s onetime partner in a Toronto hotel tower at a key moment for the project, according to people familiar with the transaction.”
Back in 2007 Donald Trump and Alex Shnaider had broken ground wielding golden shovels in a typical Trump publicity shoot, implying both had a stake in the construction project. Like much with Donald Trump there is more smoke and mirrors than actuality. The Trump Organisation claims their role in the project was limited to licencing the Trump brand and managing Trump International Hotel and Tower Toronto until June 2017.
The hotel was sold in 2017 and Mariott International took over the management of the hotel. The Trump branding was removed from the building, one large letter at a time.
Given that Trump has a history of going bankrupt, making it difficult to obtain finance from regular US banks, Trump’s more limited role in the project has, at least, some degree of credibility.
Search for smoking Kalashnikovs
Like all ‘developers’ and operators of high value property the Trump Organisation attracts new Russian money from those who have profited from acquiring former Soviet state assets at low prices. It is a wealth creation model that has nothing to do with building a business through normal commercial activity.
Money from Russian oligarchs has flowed into London and other Western capitals and the Trump share is but loose change compared to total volume.
That then raises the question as to why Trump is so put out about Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian links to the Trump campaign? There is no question over the hacking of Hilary Clinton’s emails nor that it would suit Putin to deal with Trump as President rather than the experienced Mrs Clinton.
What is certain is that the search for smoking Kalashnikovs will go on.
Trump’s whirlwind European tour
Trump doesn’t like NATO and berated leaders for not spending enough on defence. He plans to double US military spending and we should ask whom he now perceives to be the enemies he is arming against given his “Europe is our foe” remark?
Next insult Angela Merkel move to London and tell the world what a wonderful Prime Minister Boris Johnson would make. On the back of his performance as Foreign Secretary any rational observer would conclude Boris is unfit for any office of state.
Merkel, and May whom he likes to undermine then hold her hand, are women so he thinks nothing of being dismissive of them or walking in front of the Queen. Even a woman in her 90s is not immune from his boorish behaviour.
Then Trump at an international news conference. certain to be screened across the globe, metaphorically picked up his Kalashnikov and aimed it at his own security services and backed his pal Vlad who had assured him he had not interfered in the US election. Talk about stranger than fiction or its modern replacement – fake news.
Back home in the US of A all hell broke out over Trump’s comments. He will be well pleased, that is his way.
Then a hurriedly arranged press conference when Trump decided the intelligence service was right about Russia and he had confused would with wouldn’t. Well that’s Trump clear then.
Rounding the trip off with the Helsinki Russia love-in leaves Trump soaked in more controversy than the media have column inches to fill.
There is though a subtle gender difference between our American visitors. First Lady, Melania Trump, always immaculate, appeared in an array of expensive and ever changing outfits. Some might see her role as the trophy wife of an irrational President but unlike her husband she acted with dignity throughout the visit. Also unlike her husband she does not believe children should be separated from their parents.
A Brexit weak UK fits Trump’s and Putin’s aims
Down at Westminster the irrationality of Brexit plays out with hour-by-hour changes and reversals that were not in the ‘plan’ of the day before. Brexit weakens European cooperation and fits a Russian and Trump plan to hurt their joint foes. What roll might Russia have played in helping promote the issues that gave rise to the Leave vote in England and Wales?
Nigel Farage and Arron Banks had early contact with the Trump campaign and maintain their links with the US far right to this day. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign guru, has recently been taking an increasing interest in UK politics.
Brexit Britain fits Russian interests in undermining Europe, splitting off one of its larger economies. It remains a stretch to think of this in terms of possible collusion but the joint ambition to undermine Europe and hard Brexiteers determination to side with Trump America are a warning that not all is as it is meant to appear.
Here is a video from Robert Reich describing the way Trump creates diversion The fog of Trump Now, are many of these tricks not ever more visible in the UK of the 21st century?
Make use of comments to mention things Trumpish now more to the fore in UK politics.