When Donald J. Trump took a run at building a tower in Moscow in the middle of his 2016 presidential campaign, it was the high point of a decades-long effort to plant the “Trump” flag there.
The role his former lawyer Michael D. Cohen played in the endeavor entered the spotlight again on Thursday after he pleaded guilty to misleading Congress. But the effort was led in large part by Felix Sater, a convicted felon and longtime business associate with deep ties to Russia.
.. To get the project off the ground, Mr. Sater dug into his address book and its more than 100 Russian contacts — including entries for President Vladimir V. Putin and a former general in Russian military intelligence. Mr. Sater tapped the general, Evgeny Shmykov, to help arrange visas for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to visit Russia
.. For months, the felon, the former Russian intelligence officer and Mr. Trump’s lawyer worked to land the deal, speaking with a Putin aide, Russian bankers and real estate developers. But by July 2016, with Mr. Trump having secured the Republican presidential nomination and accusations of Russian election interference heating up, the project was abandoned, and neither Mr. Cohen nor Mr. Trump traveled to Moscow.
.. His effort in 2016 was only the latest episode in a long, sporadic quest dating to the 1980s. But as the Trump brand became increasingly common, emblazoning hotels and commercial towers around the world, a Russian equivalent never quite came together — even after Mr. Trump secured trademarks in the country and sent emissaries, including his children, to scout for deals... One deal that almost got off the ground in 2005 — a Moscow tower on the site of a former pencil factory — was also pitched by Mr. Sater.. Mr. Sater, who sometimes carried a business card identifying him as a “senior adviser” to Mr. Trump, pursued Russian deals throughout the 2000s. On one visit in which he was accompanied by Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, he arranged for Ms. Trump to sit in Mr. Putin’s chair during a tour of the Kremlin, he said in emails to Mr. Cohen... One of his contacts was Mr. Shmykov, who worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and early 2000s while serving in Russian military intelligence, according to documents and online research. Mr. Shmykov, who is 62, has a profile on a Russian social media site that says he attended the Academy of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, which trains intelligence personnel... Mr. Shmykov declined to answer questions, but directed a reporter to photos of his time in the military, including one in which he appears with Mr. Sater, saying, “In these photographs are answers to all your questions.”.. Mr. Sater had been exchanging emails and phone calls with Mr. Cohen about resurrecting plans for the tower. The two men were friends, and Mr. Sater seemed almost giddy as he explained to Mr. Cohen how he would use his connections to “get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”