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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trump and Russia

Franklin Foer writes at Slate:
Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populistsacross Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documentedtransfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who profited“personally and handsomely” from Russian energy deals, as an American ambassador to Rome once put it. (Berlusconi also shared a 240-year-old bottle of Crimean wine with Putin and apparently makes ample use of a bed gifted to him by the Russian president.)

There’s a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO. He’s been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. Joe Biden warned about this effort last year in a speech at the Brookings Institution: “President Putin sees such political forces as useful tools to be manipulated, to create cracks in the European body politic which he can then exploit.” Ruptures that will likely multiply after Brexit—a campaign Russia’s many propaganda organs bombastically promoted.
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported Trump comments that undoubtedly thrilled Putin:
Donald J. Trump, on the eve of accepting the Republican nomination for president, explicitly raised new questions on Wednesday about his commitment to automatically defending NATO allies if they are attacked, saying he would first look at their contributions to the alliance.

Asked about Russia’s threatening activities, which have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing if those nations have “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

“If they fulfill their obligations to us,” he added, “the answer is yes.”
Mr. Trump’s statement appeared to be the first time that a major candidate for president had suggested conditioning the United States’ defense of its major allies. It was consistent, however, with his previous threat to withdraw American forces from Europe and Asia if those allies fail to pay more for American protection.
At TPM, Josh Marshall notes that the Trump-Russia connection is disturbing at least.
All the other discussions of Trump's finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.
Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. Here's a good overview from The Washington Post, with one morsel for illustration ...
Since the 1980s, Trump and his family members have made numerous trips to Moscow in search of business opportunities, and they have relied on Russian investors to buy their properties around the world.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
... 
Here's where it gets more interesting. This is one of a handful of developments that tipped me from seeing all this as just a part of Trump's larger shadiness to something more specific and ominous about the relationship between Putin and Trump. As TPM's Tierney Sneed explained in this article, one of the most enduring dynamics of GOP conventions (there's a comparable dynamic on the Dem side) is more mainstream nominees battling conservative activists over the party platform, with activists trying to check all the hardline ideological boxes and the nominees trying to soften most or all of those edges. This is one thing that made the Trump convention very different. The Trump Camp was totally indifferent to the platform. So party activists were able to write one of the most conservative platforms in history. Not with Trump's backing but because he simply didn't care. With one big exception: Trump's team mobilized the nominee's traditional mix of cajoling and strong-arming on one point: changing the party platform on assistance to Ukraine against Russian military operations in eastern Ukraine. For what it's worth (and it's not worth much) I am quite skeptical of most Republicans call for aggressively arming Ukraine to resist Russian aggression. But the single-mindedness of this focus on this one issue - in the context of total indifference to everything else in the platform - speaks volumes.