Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Trump-Russia Relationship Explained

Sean Iling of explains the roots of the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia through the eyes of Seva Gunitsky, a politics professor at the University of Toronto.

Gunitsky, who was raised in Russia, has followed the evolving relationship between Donald Trump and Russia for more than a decade. He says the prevailing narrative about Putin interfering in the American election in order to undermine democracy is wildly overstated.

Putin is happy to sow confusion and distrust in America’s system, of course, but to assume that’s the basis of this operation is to overlook a much simpler motive: money.

Gunitsky: "Again, this doesn't start with the election; it starts with Russian oligarch money pouring into Trump's real estate and casino businesses. Many of them Trump has been working with for years, well before he developed any serious political ambitions. And we’re not talking about small change here; we’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars. Possibly even enough to keep Trump out of another bankruptcy."

"We know because they’ve told us. We can talk about specific cases in a minute, but Donald Trump Jr. has already admitted the importance of Russian money to their business ventures. He said publicly in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." It doesn’t get much clearer than that."

"I think you're absolutely right that he (Trump) has no strong ideological commitments. We've seen that painfully over and over during the last few months. But if his financial interests are tied up with Russian oligarchs, who in turn are tied up with the Kremlin and thus have parallel interests, then Trump’s “consistency” (on Russia and Putin) becomes much more explainable."

"And if we emphasize this financial angle a bit more, it also makes a lot of sense that he would not want to release his tax returns. Because that would expose just how deeply embedded he is with Russian money."

"I think the idea of parallel interest is key here, that the Russian intelligence service, once they saw what Trump was doing, quickly latched on in order to push their own agenda, which was very similar to the Russian oligarchy agenda. And it's hard to even separate the two because, as you probably know, in Russia the distinction between political power and economic power is very fuzzy."

"There’s a tendency here, in part because of our Cold War inertia, to see Putin as this creature with his tentacles in every part of the country. And I think that may be overstating the case just a bit. He's been in power for 17 years, the people who support him are starting to itch a little bit, and he has to keep them happy. They're not happy about sanctions; they're not happy about restrictions on their financial dealings."

"If they have financial leverage over Trump, and they clearly do, then why wouldn’t they want him to become president of the United States?"

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