If the Russian president could design a candidate to undermine American interests—and advance his own—he’d look a lot like Donald Trump.
Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France,well-documented transfusions 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.)
.. “At least he’s a leader.” And not just any old head of state: “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an A.”
.. Donald Trump’s interest in Russia dates back to Soviet times. In fact, there’s extraordinary footage of him shaking hands with Mikhail Gorbachev.
.. As it turns out, this Gorbachev wasn’t really the Soviet leader but an impersonator called Ronald Knapp. Trump was lavishing praise on the winner of a look-alike contest.
.. Five separate times Trump attempted Russian projects, hotels, apartments, and retail on the grandest scale. In one iteration, he promised an ice rink, a “members club,” and a spa, for “the finest residences in Moscow.” Another project he described as “the largest hotel in the world.” His gaudy style appealed to Russian nouveau riche, and he knew it. “The Russian market is attracted to me,” he once boasted.
.. Each time he traveled to Moscow for a high profile visit, he attracted press attention and his stature increased. (After one trip, he bragged about a meeting where “almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”) This elevated profile ultimately attracted investors. Russians helped finance his projects in Toronto and SoH
.. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., bragged. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
.. Such mercantilist motives likely undergird Trump’s ornate praise of Putin, too. Having a friend in the Kremlin would help Trump fulfill his longtime dream of planting his name in the Moscow skyline—a dream that he pursued even as he organized his presidential campaign. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment,” he once said. “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
.. One of the important facts about Trump is his lack of creditworthiness. After his 2004 bankruptcy and his long streak of lawsuits, the big banks decided he wasn’t worth the effort. They’d rather not touch the self-proclaimed “king of debt.”
.. This sent him chasing less conventional sources of cash. BuzzFeed has shown, for instance, his efforts to woo Muammar Qaddafi as an investor. Libyan money never did materialize. It was Russian capital that fueled many of his signature projects—that helped him preserve his image as a great builder as he recovered from bankruptcy... One lawsuit would later describe “Satter’s proven history of using mob-like tactics to achieve his goals.” Another would note that he threatened a Trump investor with the prospect of the electrocution of his testicles, the amputation of his leg, and his corpse residing in the trunk of Sater’s car... What was Trump thinking entering into business with partners like these? It’s a question he has tried to banish by downplaying his ties to Bayrock and minimizing Sater’s sins. (“He got into trouble because he got into a barroom fight which a lot of people do,” Trump once said in a deposition.) But he didn’t just partner with Bayrock; the company embedded with him. Sater worked in Trump Tower; his business card described him as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.”.. Trump described the scope of their ambitions: “[T]his was going to be Trump International Hotel and Tower Moscow, Kiev, Istanbul, etc., Poland, Warsaw.”.. Kriss alleged a primary source of funding for Trump’s big projects: “Month after month for two years, in fact whenever Bayrock ran out of cash, Bayrock Holdings would magically show up with a wire from ‘somewhere’ just large enough to keep the company going.” According to Kriss, these large payments would come from sources in Russia and Kazakhstan that hoped to hide their cash. Another source of Bayrock funding was a now-defunct Icelandic investment fund called the FL Group, a magnet for Russian investors.. These projects are simply too ambitious, too central to his prospects, for Trump to have ignored the underlying source of financing. And it was at just the moment he came to depend heavily on shadowy investment from Russia that his praise for Putin kicked into high gear.In 2007, he told Larry King, “Look at Putin—what he’s doing with Russia—I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done—whether you like him or don’t like him—he’s doing a great job.”.. Eighteen months after he departed government, he journeyed to Moscow and sat two chairs away from Putin at the 10thanniversary gala celebrating Russia Today. In Politico, an anonymous Obama official harshly criticized Flynn: “It’s not usually to America’s benefit when our intelligence officers—current or former—seek refuge in Moscow.”