This week, the Trump administration further eased its pressure on Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminum company, less than four months after sanctions on it and its notorious leader were imposed. Even as the White House seems willing to inflict pain on American farmers and consumers with its trade wars, Russian aluminum workers are apparently worthy of special protection.
.. Rusal is controlled by Oleg Deripaska, a member of Mr. Putin’s inner circle. As the Treasury Department acknowledges, he has been investigated for
- money laundering and accused of
- threatening the lives of business rivals,
- illegally wiretapping a government official and
- taking part in extortion and racketeering.
.. There are also allegations, made public by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, that Mr. Deripaska
- bribed a government official,
- ordered the murder of a businessman and
- had links to a Russian organized crime group. During the 2016 presidential campaign,
- Paul Manafort, then Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, tried to offer Mr. Deripaska private briefings about the campaign.
.. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said he is considering lifting the sanctions altogether because they are punishing the “hardworking people of Rusal.” But Mr. Mnuchin has it backward. If he was truly concerned about Rusal’s 61,000 employees, he would not relent until the company fully washed its hands of Mr. Deripaska and the corrupt regime the aluminum giant serves.
.. Behind Mr. Deripaska’s estimated fortune of as much as $5.3 billion, there stands a great crime. During the “aluminum wars” of the 1990s, when that economic sector was consolidating in the chaotic privatization that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, the young metals trader was suspected of ties to gangsters as he seized control of huge Siberian smelters. According to testimony by a gang member in Stuttgart, Germany, part of Mr. Deripaska’s value to the group were his links to Russia’s security services. While his rivals were killed off or fled Russia, Mr. Deripaska somehow emerged as the director general of Rusal, a company that reported revenues last year of nearly $10 billion. But suspicions that the oligarch has had links to organized crime have denied him a visa to enter the United States.
.. they must do its bidding, which in Mr. Deripaska’s case meant spending more than $1 billion, through his holding company, on new infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia
Mr. Deripaska has embraced his role, stating that he does not separate himself from the Russian state.
.. Manafort tried to pitch him a plan for an influence campaign to “greatly benefit the Putin government.”
.. “Rusal’s own website says that it supplied military material to the Russian military that was potentially used in Syria.”
.. Mr. Deripaska’s holding company, hired a $108,500-a-month lobbyist to continue to negotiate with the Treasury Department. The firm he chose, Mercury Public Affairs, is the firm Mr. Manafort paid $1.1 million to lobby members of Congress on behalf of Ukraine and its then-president, Viktor Yanukovych
.. Led by David Vitter, a former Republican senator from Louisiana, Mercury has sought to enlist support from ambassadors of France, Germany and Australia, among others.
.. emanding more time to reduce the oligarch’s ownership stake in En+ from 70 percent to below 50 percent. In a July 24 filing with the Justice Department, Mercury outlined a host of calamities that might be unleashed if sanctions aren’t eased
- The global aluminum market might suffer significant disruptions with “severe collateral damage to United States interests, allies”;
- En+ might have to entertain a potential acquisition by “Chinese and/or other potentially hostile interests”; or
- Mr. Deripaska might just hang on to his majority stake.
.. The specter of a fellow traveler with gangsters dictating terms to the United States government is yet another sign of the Trump administration’s inexplicable capitulation to Russia.
.. July 16 summit in Helsinki, at which President Trump and President Putin met privately for more than two hours.
We don’t know what they discussed, but given the stakes on both sides, there’s a good chance that the discussion touched on the subject of the sanctions the United States has imposed on Russia’s biggest aluminum company.
Legendary CIA analyst and political activist Ray McGovern joins Richie. www.raymcgovern.com Ray reflects on Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, both mens insistence that there was no collusion before the election, the indictment of 12 Russian spies for alleged election hacking and more. This is unmissable. Ray also chats about the appalling treatment of journalist Sam Husseini, who was forcibly removed from the press conference by hired goons, moments before it started.
.. he also suggested that this spending should eventually reach 4% of GDP. The latter proposal is a non-starter, not only because of the budgetary sacrifices it would entail, but also because it would create significant military imbalances on the continent. At 4% of GDP, Germany’s military budget would be around €40 billion ($46 billion) more than that of France.
Trump’s 2% demand is neither unfounded nor unprecedented: previous US presidents have also called on European countries to increase their defense spending. In 2014, NATO member states that were not spending 2% of their GDP on defense committed to do so by 2024.
.. it is in Europe’s interest to take responsibility for our own security. Both external and internal threats are spreading, and they are becoming more and more interconnected.
A paradigmatic example is the war in Syria: the horrible humanitarian tragedy that has afflicted the country’s population for more than seven years fueled a refugee crisis that shook the foundations of the European Union.
.. Increasing military spending will be largely unproductive unless we do it “Europeanly.” The EU’s total military budget is already second only to that of the US, and almost four times larger than Russia’s.
.. the US must not forget that other NATO member states have upheld their commitment to mutual defense and have internalized US priorities.
.. the only time that Article 5 has ever been invoked was after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US. And soon thereafter, NATO led the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan – the longest mission in the Alliance’s history.
.. Paradoxically, while his administration demands that we Europeans take charge of our security, it consistently strives to undermine every joint defense project that we pursue.
.. Trump also objects to measures to boost the European defense industry, because they will make Europe less reliant on US exports. But, again, it makes no sense to insist that Europe become more self-sufficient while at the same time pushing it to become more dependent on American-made arms, equipment, and technology.
.. Rather than persist in his undiplomatic and unilateral crusades, Trump would be wise to treat the EU as the friend it has always been to his country
The financial cost alone to the United States will top $3 trillion, according to the estimates of the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, or about $24,000 per American household. Some 4,400 American soldiers died in Iraq, along with approximately 500,000 Iraqis, according to a survey and academic study.
The war helped trigger the Syria war, the genocide against the Yazidi and Middle East Christians, the rise of the Islamic State, the strengthening of Iran and a broader Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East that will claim lives for years to come.
.. I have a grim feeling in my belly, a bit like I had in the run-up to the Iraq war, that we have a president who is leading us toward reckless, catastrophic conflict.
Actually, toward three reckless conflicts.
The first is not a bloody one: It’s a trade war.
.. The second conflict that Trump is hurtling toward is with Iran.
.. Unless he chooses some face-saving compromise, it looks as if Trump will pull out of the Iran nuclear deal by May 12.
.. The risk is that Iran responds by restarting its nuclear program. This would lead to soaring tensions, the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, a risk of Saudi-Iranian conflict and a danger of war between the United States and Iran.
Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, whom Trump has nominated to be secretary of state, is very smart — and very hawkish on Iran. Moreover, Trump is considering replacing his national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, with John Bolton, who is not a mere hawk so much as a pterosaur.
.. The final risk, of course, is a war with North Korea. We may have a reprieve for a couple of months if Trump’s face-to-face with Kim Jong-un goes ahead, but I think Americans are too reassured by the prospect of a summit meeting.
.. The basic problem: There’s almost no chance that North Korea will agree to the kind of verifiable denuclearization that Trump talks about.
.. Trump’s snap decision to accept Kim’s invitation to meet underscores the risk of a mercurial president leaping into actions — which is one of the reasons we got into the mess in Iraq.
.. The temptation to fire missiles at North Korea or Iran may also be particularly great for a president seeking to distract from a Russia investigation or an outspoken porn actress.
.. Kori Schake, who worked in the Bush White House during the Iraq war, notes that Trump sometimes has spoken about North Korea the way Bush administration officials did about Iraq, and she adds: “I worry that President Trump could lead to war on the Korean Peninsula or against Iran, or by miscalculation in a number of other places where adversaries misread his intent. The president considers his unpredictability advantageous, when it is more likely to have explosive consequences.”