Trump And The World

Donald Trump's Long History With Russia

Donald Trumpsky?
Donald Trumpsky?
Michael Kranish

WASHINGTON, DC — President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that he has "NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!"

Trump, however, has a long history with Russia, trying repeatedly to build luxury properties in Moscow, holding a beauty pageant there, and benefiting from heavy investments from Russians in his properties around the world.

It is not possible to verify whether Trump has no current deals or loans with Russian entities because he has refused to release his tax returns. But a look at Trump's record since the 1980s shows that he and his family long have been interested in trying to do business there. The connection became a matter of curiosity during the 2016 presidential race. A Russian official was quoted saying his government had been in contact with Trump's campaign, and the candidate repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin while urging the country's leaders to hack into his opponent's emails.

The connections go back 30 years.

Trump first visited Moscow in 1987 in an effort to make real estate deals. As he told it in a Playboy interview, two Russian fighter planes accompanied his jet to the airport, and he had insisted on having two Russian colonels fly with him. He stayed at the National Hotel, overlooking the Kremlin, and said that the Soviets wanted him to build two luxury hotels. The Soviet ambassador had visited Trump in New York City and said his daughter had "adored" Trump Tower and suggested a Moscow version, according to a Newsweek account of the visit published at the time. Trump visited a number of potential sites around Moscow.

Trump said he told Soviet officials that he didn't know how to arrange financing because the government owned the land. Trump said he was told: "No problem, Mr. Trump. We will work out lease arrangements."

Trump said he responded: "I want ownership, not leases." The Soviets said they would create a committee of seven government representatives and three Trump associates to resolve problems.

Trump said in the 1990 interview he was "very unimpressed" with the Soviet system, which he called "a disaster." "What you will see there soon is a revolution," he added. He said his "problem" with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was that he was "not a firm enough hand."

Trump did not wind up making a deal, but he soon tried again.

In 1996, Trump sought to build luxury condominiums in Moscow, but the deal never happened. Trump tried again in 2005, signing a deal for a possible Trump building in a converted pencil factory, but this also failed to materialize.

The Trumps were undaunted. Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Russia six times in an 18-month period, starting around 2006, to try to make deals. His father seemed convinced it would happen.

"Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment," the senior Trump said in 2007. "We will be in Moscow at some point."

The following year, Donald Jr. appeared at a real estate conference in which he said the company had tried to invest in Russia, and acknowledged 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."

The Trump company sold condos to Russian investors, and the senior Trump received $95 million for a Palm Beach mansion in 2008 from Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, more than twice the $41 million of Trump's original purchase price, according to property records.

"The closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida," Trump said last July. "Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions ... I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, okay?"

Trump's ambition to build in Russia was still unfulfilled, and he made another effort in 2013. He traveled that year to Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant at the 7,300-seat Crocus City Hall. Trump sent a tweet in search of Russia's leader: "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?"

Putin did not attend the pageant, but Trump used the occasion to visit with Russian officials and seek out real estate opportunities. He spoke with a developer named Aras Agalarov, who said he talked with Trump about developing adjoining towers in Moscow. Trump sounded sure he would strike a deal, tweeting: "TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next."

During his time promoting the pageant in Moscow, Trump lavished praised on Putin, and the Russian leader responded with a "friendly letter" to him, Agalarov told The Washington Post last year. Agalorov's son, Emin, visited Trump in New York after the mogul announced his presidential bid, and he said Trump criticized the U.S. government "for not being able to be friends with Russia."

Trump's friendly view toward Russia escalated during the campaign. In July, Trump encouraged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. "I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

U.S. intelligence agencies subsequently said that Russia, under Putin's direction, was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails as part of an effort to undermine Clinton and help Trump. The emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta were also hacked and released, much to Clinton's embarrassment. Podesta wrote in The Post that he believed he was the "direct target of Russian hacking."

In September, Trump lavished praise on Putin, saying he is "a leader far more than our president has been." Asked to explain, Trump said, "He does have an 82% approval rating ... I think when he calls me brilliant , I'll take it as a compliment, OK?"

Trump's statements highlighted his tendency to value those who stroke his ego, and his admiration for leaders who project power - two attributes of which Moscow seemed to be well aware.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told state-run Interfax news agency that his country had "contacts' with Trump's campaign. "Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage," Ryabkov said. The campaign denied such talks.

Ryabkov did not say who Russia talked to. Trump's onetime campaign-manager Paul Manafort, managed an investment fund for a Putin ally, and he was cited in a corruption probe in Ukraine, where investigators were looking into illegal payments from a pro-Russia party that had hired Manafort when he was a political consultant. Manafort denied any wrongdoing and said he never received improper payments. He also said he had nothing to do with weakening of the Republican Party platform language that suggested US military support for Ukraine.

Trump's national security adviser, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who led "Lock Her Up" chants about Clinton — sat next to Putin at a 2015 dinner. Flynn told The Post last year that he gave a paid speech at an anniversary party for the RT television network in Moscow, a network on which Trump later appeared.

Trump stood by his warm words for Putin and Russia at his Wednesday press conference, even as he acknowledged that "I think it was Russia" that hacked DNC emails. Addressing an unverified memo that said Russia had collected compromising material about him — which he called "fake news' — Trump said he believed Russian denials that they had not collected such information. He followed that by welcoming Putin's friendship.

"If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability," Trump said.

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.

• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.

👮🎮  IN OTHER NEWS

Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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