A group of transparency advocates on Friday posted a mammoth collection of hacked and leaked documents from inside Russia, a release widely viewed as a sort of symbolic counterstrike against Russia’s dissemination of hacked emails to influence the American presidential election in 2016.
Most of the material, which sheds light on Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as ties between the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the business dealings of oligarchs and much more, had been released in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere, sometimes on obscure websites. There were no immediate reports of new bombshells from the collection.
But the sheer volume of the material — 175 gigabytes — and the technical challenges of searching it meant that its full impact may not be felt for some time. The volume is many times greater than the total known material stolen by Russian military intelligence from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign nearly three years ago.
At first glance, the Georgian war ten years ago this month and the global financial crisis that erupted the following month seem unrelated. But this is to neglect the deeper currents driving the confrontation in the Caucasus.
The absorption of post-communist Europe into the West was not simply a matter of velvet revolutions. What Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, called “new Europe” – the post-communist NATO allies and European Union members – depended on hundreds of billions of dollars in investment. The loans came from the same European banks that helped fuel the US real-estate boom and inflate the even bigger housing bubbles in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain. The most extreme real-estate inflation in the world between 2005 and 2007 was on NATO’s Eastern frontier in the Baltics.
.. But it was not only the Soviet Union’s former satellites that benefited from the debt-fueled global boom. The authority and power of Putin’s regime, too, was (largely) a function of globalization – specifically, the huge surge in oil prices. In 2008, it seemed that Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom, benefiting from unprecedented growth in emerging-markets demand, led by China, might soon become the world’s largest corporation.
.. The EU insists on the innocence of its model of integration. The goal is peace, stability, and the rule of law, not geopolitical advantage, its senior representatives guilelessly maintain. Whether or not they truly believe it, the EU’s new post-communist members saw it differently. For them, NATO and EU membership were part of an anti-Russian package, just as they had been for West European countries in the 1950s.
.. Although Ukraine, too, applied for NATO membership in 2008, it did not provoke Russian intervention. But the war in Georgia split the Ukrainian political class three ways, between those who favored alignment with the West, those who favored Russia, and those who preferred a policy of balance. These tensions were further exacerbated by the impact of the financial crisis.
No part of the world economy was hit harder by that crisis than the former Soviet sphere. When global lending imploded, the most fragile borrowers were cut off first. Followed closely by a collapse in commodity prices, it dealt a devastating shock to the “transition economies.”
.. As one of the world’s largest oil and gas exporters, Russia was one of the worst affected. But after the humiliation of the financial crises of the late 1990s, Putin had seen to it that Russia was armed with substantial dollar reserves – the third largest after China and Japan. Reserves of $600 billion enabled Russia to ride out the storm of 2008 without external help.
The same was not true of its former satellites. Their currencies plunged. Interest rates soared. Inflows of foreign capital stopped. Some found themselves turning to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help.
In fact, the impact of the 2008 crisis split Central and Eastern Europe. The political leadership of the Baltic states toughed it out, accepting savage austerity to continue on their path toward euro membership. In Hungary, the governing parties were discredited, opening the door to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s illiberal regime.
.. But no country in the region was strategically more important, more fragile politically, or worse hit economically than Ukraine. In a matter of weeks, Ukraine was dealt a devastating one-two punch by the war in Georgia and the financial crisis. This opened the door to the successful presidential candidacy of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych in 2010
and set in train desperate financial negotiations with the IMF, the EU, and Russia, culminating in the crisis of 2013. Given current talk of trade wars, it bears recalling that it was an argument over Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU that led to Yanukovych’s overthrow and an undeclared war with Russia.
.. The events of August and September 2008 taught two painful and deeply disconcerting lessons. First, capitalism is prone to disasters. Second, global growth did not necessarily strengthen the unipolar order. Truly comprehensive global growth breeds multipolarity, which, in the absence of an overarching diplomatic and geopolitical settlement, is a recipe for conflict.
Today all eyes are on Asia, the rise of China, and its growing influence across Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America. But Putin’s Russia continues to be a spoiler. So we should not forget the Georgian crisis of August 2008, when it first became obvious how dangerous the new global economic dispensation might become.
With a lineup of prayer meetings, humanitarian forums and religious panels, the National Prayer Breakfast has long brought together people from all over the world for an agenda built around the teachings of Jesus.
But there on the guest list in recent years was Maria Butina, looking to meet high-level American officials and advance the interests of the Russian state, and Yulia Tymoshenko, a Ukranian opposition leader, seeking a few minutes with President Trump to burnish her credentials as a presidential prospect back home.
Their presence at the breakfast illuminates the way the annual event has become an international influence-peddling bazaar, where foreign dignitaries, religious leaders, diplomats and lobbyists jockey for access to the highest reaches of American power.
The subculture around the breakfast was thrust into the spotlight last week with the indictment of Ms. Butina, who was charged with conspiring to act as a Russian agent. Her goals, prosecutors said, included gaining access to the breakfast “to establish a back channel of communication” between influential Russians and Americans “to promote the political interests of the Russian Federation.”
.. Ms. Butina’s spy-thriller-like tactics hint at the more widespread, if less sensational, international maneuvering that pervades the prayer breakfast, and the lucrative opportunities it creates for Washington’s corps of lobbyists and fixers, according to more than half a dozen people who have been involved in peddling access around the event.
.. Ahead of Mr. Trump’s first appearance at the breakfast last year, some of the people said, foreign politicians clamored for tickets, with some offering to pay steep fees to get into the event and the myriad gatherings on its sidelines.
One lobbyist, Herman J. Cohen, offered what he billed as an exclusive invitation to last year’s breakfast, and three days of meetings around it, to an African leader for $220,000.
.. “It’s an opportunity,” Mr. Cohen said of the event. “If I go to the prayer breakfast, I have a good chance of maybe shaking the president’s hand or talking to him for two minutes.”
“In a way, it bypasses protocols,” he added, “but in a way, it is taking advantage of people being present in the same venue.” Such invitations to foreign leaders, he said, are “very useful to them back home.”
.. Some describe the gathering as similar to the World Economic Forum, except that Jesus is the organizing principle. The eclectic guest list has included the Dalai Lama, the Rev. Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, the singer Bono and the former Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, as well as the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
.. With its relative lack of diplomatic protocols and press coverage, the prayer breakfast setting is ideal for foreign figures who might not otherwise be able to easily get face time with top American officials, because of unsavory reputations or a lack of an official government perch, according to lobbyists who help arrange such trips. They also contend that it is easier to secure visas when the breakfast is listed as a destination.
.. “You can’t just invite wonderful, exciting, great people,” said Mr. Hall. “Jesus, when he went to dinner, he went to dinner with everybody.”
During the presidential campaign, Michael D. Cohen got a Google alert for a breaking story: “Russian President Vladimir Putin Praises Donald Trump as ‘Talented’ and ‘Very Colorful.’”
For most American politicians, that article in December 2015 would hardly have been welcome news. But Mr. Cohen, whose role as personal lawyer and fixer for President Trump has been firmly rooted in the transactional world of his boss, saw opportunity. He emailed an old friend who had been talking about seeking Kremlin support to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, and sent him the article.
“Now is the time,” Mr. Cohen wrote. “Call me.”
.. Mr. Trump values few things more than loyalty, but secrecy is one of them. For years, to keep the circle of people involved as small as possible, he chose to have Mr. Cohen serve as his legal attack dog from a perch inside Trump Tower in Manhattan instead of having outside counsel deal with his problems, according to two people familiar with their relationship.
.. In private, Mr. Cohen has compared himself to Tom Hagen, the smooth consigliere to the mafia family in the movie “The Godfather.”
.. The lawyer seemed to relish his reputation as Mr. Trump’s “pit bull” and embraced an aggressive — some say bullying — approach to solving problems.
.. he never got a senior administration job, which people who know him say he expected
.. Another payment that the F.B.I. is said to be investigating, for $150,000, was made by American Media Inc., the parent company of The National Enquirer.
.. Mr. Trump, who was from Queens, and the Bronx-born Mr. Pecker viewed themselves as outsiders looking in at an elitist Manhattan establishment.
.. Several people close to A.M.I. and Mr. Cohen have said that the lawyer was in regular contact with company executives during the presidential campaign, when The Enquirer regularly heralded Mr. Trump and attacked his rivals.
.. A.M.I. had shared Ms. McDougal’s allegations with Mr. Cohen, though the company said it did so only as part of efforts to corroborate her story, which it said it could not do.
.. The Times reported that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was looking into a $150,000 donation to Mr. Trump’s charitable foundation from a Ukrainian billionaire that was solicited by Mr. Cohen during the 2016 campaign.
.. Mr. Mueller has examined Mr. Cohen’s postelection role in forwarding to the administration a Ukraine-Russia peace proposal pushed by a Ukrainian lawmaker.
.. Mr. Cohen wasted no time, arranging for Mr. Trump to sign a letter of intent for the Moscow tower deal. But the project seemed to stall in the coming months.
Rather than let it go, Mr. Cohen reached out directly to Mr. Putin’s press secretary in January 2016, asking for assistance. Later, he asserted that his effort was unsuccessful.