Do Trump’s Murky Financial Ties to Russia Connect to Money Laundering?

Investigators have only begun to follow the money.

aluxum/Getty

By Bill Buzenberg

Federal investigators continue to dig into Russia’s cyberattack on the US election and the Trump administration’s possible involvement—but as bad as that intrusion and collusion may be, Trump’s opaque financial dealings could prove even more perilous for the president.

Trump has blazed a decades-long trail of questionable financial dealings with Russian sources that could provide investigators with the grist they need for legal action. A wide array of Russian oligarchs with links to Vladimir Putin have invested tens of millions of hard-to-explain dollars in Trump properties. And Trump professes never to know who these people are or where they got the big bucks for their mostly cash deals.

Money laundering is the process of taking proceeds from criminal activity (dirty money) and making them appear legal (clean). Although the news didn’t make much of a splash during the 2016 campaign, Trump paid a $10 million fine to the U.S. Treasury in 2015 for his bankrupt Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City because it failed to meet anti-money-laundering requirements. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Regulators said the casino failed to establish and implement an effective anti-money-laundering program, failed to implement an adequate system of internal controls, and failed to properly file currency transaction reports or keep other required records.”

It is already a matter of public record that several Trump-affiliated businesses and associates are connected to alleged Russian money-laundering operations.

Many of Trump’s business dealings involve Deutsche Bank or the Bank of Cyprus—both known for their connections with Russian oligarchs. Deutsche Bank is also Trump’s biggest lender; he owes the bank some $300 million, as first reported by Mother Jones‘ Russ Choma and David Corn. The Guardian reported that Deutsche Bank paid $630 million in fines for failing to prevent $10 billion in Russian money laundering between 2012 and 2015.

The Bank of Cyprus is also well known as a money-laundering haven for Russian oligarchs. Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has invested heavily in the Bank of Cyprus (some $424 million in 2014, giving him an 18% stake) and he was once vice-chairman of the bank, according to the Guardian. Ross presided over deals that raise questions about his tenure at the bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs.

Ross shared his vice-chairman post at the bank with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally.

Mother Jones

The Trolls Who Came In From The Cold

A laptop computer and a newspaper show reports about the arrival of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to Russia, at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport, in June 2013.
A laptop computer and a newspaper show reports about the arrival of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden to Russia, at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, in June 2013.

By Viktor Rezunkov

ST. PETERSBURG — Last May, Tatiana N decided she wanted a higher salary than the average journalist can expect.

After responding to an advertisement in the popular HeadHunter job-search website, she became a Kremlin-paid Internet troll. Tatiana — who, like others interviewed for this story, asked that her last name not be used — worked out of a 2,500-square-meter warehouse in the suburbs of St. Petersburg.

The job paid 40,000 rubles a month, significantly more than the 25,000-30,000 most journalists make. But it came, she said, “with pain.”

Tatiana joined a round-the-clock operation in which an army of trolls disseminated pro-Kremlin and anti-Western talking points on blogs and in the comments sections of news websites in Russia and abroad.

The operation, Internet Research, is financed through a holding company headed by President Vladimir Putin’s “personal chef,” Evgeny Prigozhin.

“So you write, write, write, from the point of view of anyone,” Tatiana, 22, says.

“You could be [posing as] a housewife who bakes dumplings and suddenly decides: ‘I have an opinion about what Putin said! And this action by Vladimir Vladimirovich saves Russia.”

The roughly 400 employees work 12-hour shifts and are split into various departments. Some focus on writing up themes and assignments, others concentrate on commenting, and others work on graphics for social media.

The daily assignments — shown in a document first published on March 11 by independent St. Petersburg newspaper My Region — are usually drawn directly from pro-Kremlin media and go into sometimes excruciating detail about the message the bloggers and commenters are supposed to relay.

One assignment instructed trolls how to frame the February 27 assassination of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov: Either it was orchestrated by Ukrainian oligarchs to frame Russia and harm Moscow’s relations with the West, or it was carried out by Nemtsov’s supporters as a “provocation” ahead of opposition protests.

Lena N, another former employee, says she stopped working at Internet Research after refusing to blog the company line about Nemtsov’s killing.

“It was necessary to bring people to believe that the killing of Boris Nemtsov was a provocation before the march and a murder carried out by his own [supporters],” she says.

Radio Free Europe

War Comes to Ukraine

The Consequences of the Crash in Donetsk

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Maxim Zmeyev / Courtesy Reuters)

By Alexander J. Motyl in Foreign Affairs

Yesterday afternoon, by most accounts, pro-Russian separatists shot down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. The attackers ostensibly thought that the Boeing 777 was a Ukrainian plane about to enter Russian airspace. Soon after the attack, Igor Girkin, the self-styled commander of the Donetsk People’s Army, bragged on his website that “We just shot down an AN-26 plane near Torez; it’s scattered somewhere around the Progress mine. We warned them not to fly in ‘our sky’.” Soon after, RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency, seconded Girkin’s claim.

After it became apparent that the plane was not Ukrainian, Girkin erased his post and Aleksandr Borodai, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, tried to put the blame for the attack, which killed 295, on Ukrainian authorities. Later in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that it was “unquestionable that the state over whose territory this took place is responsible for this terrible tragedy.”

The atrocity comes three days after Russian militants shot down a Ukrainian transport plane flying over Krasnodon district in Luhansk province and one day after a missile — which Ukrainian authorities believe was fired by Russia — brought down a Ukrainian SU-25 jet over Donetsk province.

This week also saw a major escalation of Russian military involvement in Ukraine; in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 13, about 100 Russian armored personnel carriers and other vehicles crossed from Russia into Luhansk province in Ukraine. Unlike earlier Russian deployments into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, these carriers were openly adorned with Russian insignia and flags. The flow of Russian tanks and soldiers into the area has since continued, and Ukrainian authorities estimate that up to 400 additional “little green men” (a term coined during the Crimea invasion for Russian troops without insignia) have infiltrated into eastern Ukraine’s Donbas.

Until yesterday, that escalation had gone relatively unremarked in Western media. But now, no matter who fired the missile, things are set to change. The downing of a civilian plane may conceivably qualify as a war crime, inasmuch as it entailed the unwarranted militarily destruction of a civilian target. At any rate, it was certainly an atrocity and an act of terrorism. And if Girkin — an ethnic Russian who hails from Russia and who, by some accounts, is still an officer in the Russian military intelligence service, which would make him officially subordinate to Russia’s president — really was involved, Putin might arguably be politically responsible for the crime.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

NATO Commander Says He Sees Potent Threat From Russia

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said Wednesday that the Russian troops near Ukraine were poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice.

Credit Armend Nimani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — NATO’s top commander said on Wednesday that the 40,000 troops Russia has within striking distance of Ukraine are poised to attack on 12 hours’ notice and could accomplish their military objectives within three to five days.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia told Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany on Monday that the Kremlin was beginning to withdraw troops from the border area near Ukraine.

But the NATO commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said in an interview with The New York Times that so far only a single battalion, a force of 400 to 500 troops, was on the move and that NATO intelligence could not say whether it was actually being withdrawn.

“What we can say now is that we do see a battalion-size unit moving, but what we can’t confirm is that it is leaving the battlefield,” said General Breedlove, of the United States Air Force. “Whether that movement is aft to a less belligerent configuration or returning to barracks, we do not see that.”

General Breedlove said that the Russian force that remained was a potent mix of warplanes, helicopter units, artillery, infantry, and commandos with field hospitals and sufficient logistics to sustain an incursion into Ukraine.

Read more at The New York Times.

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Russian Revisionism

Putin’s Plan For Overturning the European Order

An armed man stands outside the cabinet of ministers building in Simferopol in Crimea, March 3, 2014. (Thomas Peter / Courtesy Reuters)

Russia’s willingness to violate Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty is the gravest challenge to the European order in over half a century. The conflict pits a vast nuclear power against a state equal in size to France, an autocratic regime against a revolutionary government. The Russian intervention in Ukraine raises questions about the security guarantees that the West made to Ukraine after the country gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, and it flies in the face of many Europeans’ belief that, in recent years, a continental war has become all but impossible. The end result may be the emergence of a third Russian empire or a failed Ukrainian state at the center of Europe.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine should not be understood as an opportunistic power grab. Rather, it is an attempt to politically, culturally, and militarily resist the West. Russia resorted to military force because it wanted to signal a game change, not because it had no other options. Indeed, it had plenty of other ways to put pressure on Kiev, including through the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian city in which the force is based; playing with gas prices; demanding that Ukraine start paying off its government debt to Russia; and drumming up anti-Ukrainian sentiment among Ukraine’s sizable Russian population. Further, senior American figures had already noted that the Ukrainian crisis could not be solved without Russia, and European leaders had expressed their unhappiness about a new (and unfortunate) law that Ukraine’s transitional government passed soon after it was formed, which degraded the status of the Russian language. In other words, resorting to force was unnecessary.

It was also dangerous: Ukraine is a big country, and its public, still in a revolutionary mood, is primed to fight for a patriotic cause. Moscow’s intervention will provoke strong anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine and will perhaps bring what’s left of the country closer to the EU and NATO. Military intervention in Ukraine also risks unleashing a real humanitarian crisis within Russia. According to Russian sources, nearly 700,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia over the last two months. Around 143,000 of them have asked for asylum. A war in Ukraine could triple these numbers. Finally, it is easy to foresee that Moscow’s use of force will increase Russia’s political isolation. It has already resulted in some economic and political sanctions, which could be a knockout punch to Russia’s stagnating economy. By some estimates, the direct costs to Russia of a war in Ukraine could reach over three percent of Russian GDP (over $60 billion).

Yet Putin decided to throw caution to the wind. Anger is one of his reasons for doing so. Putin was defeated twice in Ukraine: first during the 2004 Orange revolution, which brought to power a pro-Western coalition led by Yulia Tymoshenko, and second during the recent protests, which booted President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician, out of office. Moscow had bet on Yanukovych and had tried to hold him hostage to its own interests. For example, it pressed him to refuse to sign an Association Agreement with the EU (his failure to sign was what first sparked the protests in Ukraine) and loaned Ukraine nearly $15 billion, thus making the country dependent on Russia. But it was really Putin who became hostage to the increasingly unpopular Yanukovych and his hapless cronies. When Yanukovych lost power, Putin suddenly and unexpectedly lost his strategic partner. Putin’s escalation, at least in part, is an attempt to cover up the failures of his Ukraine policy.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

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Is the U.S. Backing Neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

Exposing troubling ties in the U.S. to overt Nazi and fascist protesters in Ukraine.

U.S. Senator John McCain, right, meets Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and Oleh Tyahnybok in Kiev, Ukraine, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013.
Image via Business Insider

As the Euromaidan protests in the Ukrainian capitol of Kiev culminated this week, displays of open fascism and neo-Nazi extremism became too glaring to ignore. Since demonstrators filled the downtown square to battle Ukrainian riot police and demand the ouster of the corruption-stained, pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich, it has been filled with far-right streetfighting men pledging to defend their country’s ethnic purity.

White supremacist banners and Confederate flags were draped inside Kiev’s occupied City Hall, and demonstrators have hoisted Nazi SS and white power symbols over a toppled memorial to V.I. Lenin. After Yanukovich fled his palatial estate by helicopter, EuroMaidan protesters destroyed a memorial to Ukrainians who died battling German occupation during World War II. Sieg heil salutes and the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol have become an increasingly common site in Maidan Square, and neo-Nazi forces have established “autonomous zones” in and around Kiev.

An Anarchist group called AntiFascist Union Ukraine attempted to join the Euromaidan demonstrations but found it difficult to avoid threats of violence and imprecations from the gangs of neo-Nazis roving the square. “They called the Anarchists things like Jews, blacks, Communists,” one of its members said. “There weren’t even any Communists, that was just an insult.”

“There are lots of Nationalists here, including Nazis,” the anti-fascist continued. “They came from all over Ukraine, and they make up about 30% of protesters.”

One of the “Big Three” political parties behind the protests is the ultra-nationalist Svoboda, whose leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” After the 2010 conviction of the Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk for his supporting role in the death of nearly 30,000 people at the Sobibor camp, Tyahnybok rushed to Germany to declare him a hero who was “fighting for truth.” In the Ukrainian parliament, where Svoboda holds an unprecedented 37 seats, Tyahnybok’s deputy Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn is fond of quoting Joseph Goebbels – he has even founded a think tank originally called “the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center.” According to Per Anders Rudling, a leading academic expert on European neo-fascism, the self-described “socialist nationalist” Mykhalchyshyn is the main link between Svoboda’s official wing and neo-Nazi militias like Right Sector.

Read more at AlterNet

This is outstanding reporting by Max Blumenthal.

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The Russian Stronghold in Ukraine Preparing to Fight the Revolution

Lawmakers and worried citizens in the pro-Russia Crimea consider their options

A Ukrainian woman holds a Soviet flag during a rally in the industrial city of Donetsk, in eastern Ukraine, on Feb. 22, 2014

The busload of officers only began to feel safe when they entered the Crimean peninsula. Through the night on Friday, they drove the length of Ukraine from north to south, having abandoned the capital city of Kiev to the revolution. Along the way the protesters in several towns pelted their bus with eggs, rocks and, at one point, what looked to be blood before the retreating officers realized it was only ketchup. “People were screaming, cursing at us,” recalls one of the policemen, Vlad Roditelev.

Finally, on Saturday morning, the bus reached the refuge of Crimea, the only chunk of Ukraine where the revolution has failed to take hold. Connected to the mainland by two narrow passes, this huge peninsula on the Black Sea has long been a land apart, an island of Russian nationalism in a nation drifting toward Europe. One of its biggest cities, Sevastopol, is home to a Russian naval base that houses around 25,000 troops, and most Crimean residents identify themselves as Russians, not Ukrainians.

So when the forces of the revolution took over the national parliament on Friday, pledging to rid Ukraine of Russian influence and integrate with Europe, the people of Crimea panicked. Some began to form militias, others sent distress calls to the Kremlin. And if the officers of the Berkut riot police are now despised throughout the rest of the country for killing dozens of protesters in Kiev this week, they were welcomed in Crimea as heroes.

For Ukraine’s revolutionary leaders, that presents an urgent problem. In a matter of days, their sympathizers managed to seize nearly the entire country, including some of the most staunchly pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine. But they have made barely any headway on the Crimean peninsula. On the contrary, the revolution has given the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea their best chance ever to break away from Kiev’s rule and come back under the control of Russia. “An opportunity like this has never come along,” says Tatyana Yermakova, the head of the Russian Community of Sevastopol, a civil-society group in Crimea.

On Wednesday, just as the violence in Kiev was reaching its cadence, Yermakova sent an appeal to the Kremlin asking Russia to send in troops to “prevent a genocide of the Russian population of Crimea.” The revolution, she wrote in a missive to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is being carried out by mercenaries with funding from Europe and the United States “with only one goal in mind: the destruction of the Russian world.”

Read more at TIME

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Ukraine’s Leader Flees the Capital; Elections Are Called

In Kiev on Saturday, opposition members, including Vitaly Klitschko, top right, celebrated as Ukraine’s Parliament voted to remove President Viktor F. Yanukovych from office hours after he abandoned his office to protesters and denounced what he described as a coup. Reuters

KIEV, Ukraine — Abandoned by his own guards and reviled across the Ukrainian capital but still determined to recover his shredded authority, President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Saturday to denounce what he called a violent coup, as his official residence, his vast, colonnaded office complex and other once impregnable centers of power fell without a fight to throngs of joyous citizens stunned by their triumph.

As President Yanukovych’s nemesis, former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, was released from a penitentiary hospital, Parliament found the president unable to fulfill his duties and exercised its constitutional powers to set an election for May 25 to select his replacement. But with both President Yanukovych and his Russian patrons speaking of a “coup” carried out by “bandits” and “hooligans,” it was far from clear that the day’s lightning-quick events were the last act in a struggle that has not just convulsed Ukraine but expanded into an East-West confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War.

In the capital, protesters carrying clubs and some wearing masks were in control of the entryways to the presidential palace Saturday morning, and watched as thousands of citizens strolled through the grounds, gazing in wonder at the mansions, zoo, golf course and enclosure for rare pheasants, set in a birch forest on a bluff soaring above the Dnieper River.

“This commences a new life for Ukraine,” said Roman Dakus, a protester-turned-guard, who was wearing a ski helmet and carrying a length of pipe as he blocked a doorway at the palace. “This is only a start,” he added. “We need now to make a new structure and a new system, a foundation for our future, with rights for everybody, and we need to investigate who ordered the violence.”

Read more at The New York Times

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Use Force to Save Starving Syrians

By DANNY POSTEL and NADER HASHEMIFEB. 10, 2014

Daniel Zender

DENVER — THE Syrian people are starving. According to the United Nations, about 800,000 civilians are currently under siege. In areas around the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and in parts of the capital, Damascus, no food, medical supplies or humanitarian aid can get in, and people can’t get out. Many have already died under these “starvation sieges” and hundreds of thousands teeter on the brink, subsisting on grass and weeds. In Damascus, a cleric has ruled that under these conditions, Muslims are permitted to eat normally forbidden animals like cats, dogs and donkeys.

This is not a famine. Food is abundant just a few miles away from these besieged areas. Military forces — mainly the army of President Bashar al-Assad, but in some cases extremist anti-Assad militias — are preventing food and medicine from reaching trapped civilians. In addition to starving, many people in besieged areas have been stricken by diseases, including polio, but can’t get medical treatment because doctors can’t get through.

This moral obscenity demands action by the international community. Any armed group that prevents humanitarian access — whether the Syrian regime’s forces or rebel militias — should be subject to coercive measures.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, has denounced the international community’s failure to prevent starvation as “absolutely scandalous” and is now calling for “much stronger action.”

Read more at The New York Times

Without Notice, Putin Dissolves a News Agency


MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin exerted new control over Russia’s state news media on Monday, dissolving by decree one of Russia’s official news agencies, RIA Novosti, along with its international radio broadcaster as he continues a drive to strengthen the Kremlin’s influence at home and abroad.

Dmitry K. Kiselyov, a Kremlin backer, was appointed the head of a new news agency.

The decision shutters a decades-old state-run news agency widely viewed as offering professional and semi-independent coverage, while putting a reconstituted news service in the hands of a Kremlin loyalist. Since returning for a third time as president last year, Mr. Putin has taken several steps that critics have denounced as a strangulation of political rights and open debate, concentrating power in an ever tighter circle of allies.

The decree comes at a time when Russia has become increasingly assertive on the world stage, most recently in the tug of war with the European Union over political and economic relations with Ukraine, a country with deep historical and cultural links that Mr. Putin and others here believe bind it to Russia, not the West.

The Kremlin’s intense lobbying and strong-arming of Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, have been a principal grievance of the hundreds of thousands who have poured into the streets in the last two weeks. The reorganization of Russia’s state news media occurred only days after a meeting between the two leaders — and unconfirmed rumors that they had reached a secret deal to forge a strategic partnership — served to intensify the protests.

Mr. Putin’s presidential chief of staff, Sergei B. Ivanov, said the decision to close the news service was part of an effort to reduce costs and make the state news media more efficient. But RIA Novosti’s report on its own demise said the changes “appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.” Its executive editor, Svetlana Mironyuk, the first woman to lead the agency, appeared before her stunned colleagues and apologized for failing to preserve what she called the best news organization ever built by state money, according to a video recording of the meeting.

Read more at The New York Times