July 30, 2016 by AK
The media is anxious to find evidence of Trump’s deals with Russian oligarchs to prove Putin’s influence over the candidate. Since Russian oligarchs are but Putin’s puppets – so the logic goes – the man in the Kremlin can either order them to stop doing business with Trump, or demand that Trump reward him, Putin, for letting these oligarchs deal with Trump in the past.
Now Michael Crowley of politico.com is telling the story of Trump selling a Florida mansion to a Russian billionaire who is neither a friend nor an ally of the Kremlin, much less a puppet. A rare kind of Russian billionaire: one who does not owe his wealth to the Kremlin or the mafia. Moreover, one who has been based outside of Russia for more than 15 years. One who divested most of his Russian assets in 2010 and would be more appropriately called one of Monaco’s or Geneva’s, rather than Russia’s, richest men.
Crowley fails to mention the elephant in the room: the Russian government’s attack on Uralkali – the potassium producer Dmitry Rybolovlev controlled as the majority shareholder – which began in 2008 and forced him to sell his holdings to a consortium of Kremlin-friendly oligarchs in 2010. Moscow was using a 2006 incident as a pretext for an “investigation” although it had already cleared Uralkali of negligence. The New York Times reported from Moscow in December 2008:
Yet the Uralkali affair stands out for illustrating with rare clarity the willingness of the authorities to use whatever means necessary to obtain these assets, including subjecting companies to questionable investigations that they have little chance of resisting, financial analysts here say…
The new investigation carries echoes of the case that has come to define Mr. Putin’s tenure — the government’s forcible takeover of Yukos, once the country’s biggest oil company.
Crowley skipped over the whole Uralkali drama: in his account, Rybolovlev was only “criticized” for the 2006 accident and the Russian government does not like him much:
Rybolovlev is not usually described in media accounts as a close ally of the Russian leader, and Kremlin officials have publicly criticized him over a 2006 industrial accident at a Uralkrali mine. “He’s not very well received here in Russia,” an unnamed adviser to the Russian government told the New York Times in 2013.
It is not a minor, insignificant omission: the events of 2008-10 are evidence that Rybolovlev cannot be an ally of the current Russian regime. If you fear the government will take away your business and it ends up forcing you to sell it, chances are you won’t be “usually described in media accounts as a close ally” of the man leading that government. It’s an understatement little different than a lie.