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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

A campaign theme: America first, with Russia a close second

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin Credit: AP / Alexei Druzhinin

Politics, commerce and cyberspying keep pushing Eastern Europe in general and Vladimir Putin’s Russia in particular into the U.S. presidential spotlight, creating controversy in both major parties.

Shortly after Hillary Clinton announced for president last year, questions arose whether Bill Clinton’s role at the family foundation conflicted with her past role as secretary of state.

Those questions involved the Russian government takeover of a Canadian mining company several years ago. The new entity, Uranium One, came to control a fifth of uranium production capacity in the United States.

At different times: Company bigs contributed millions to the foundation; Hillary Clinton’s State Department was among the agencies that signed off on the deal; and the ex-president got $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a bank promoting the company’s stock.

Fast-forward to last week.

Ukraine corruption probers said they had found a handwritten ledger of secretive payments from a pro-Russian political party. They said it included the name of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and the figure $12.7 million.

Manafort represented the party’s top candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, who was prime minister before fleeing to Russia in 2014 amid violence, scandals and repression.

On Friday, The Associated Press revealed that Manafort had run a covert Washington lobbying operation for Yanukovych’s party. Manafort quit the Trump campaign hours later.

The entanglements go beyond uranium and Ukraine.

Russian hackers are implicated in the recent release of Democratic Party emails. Last month Trump, who has business interests in Slavic nations, said he hoped Russian intelligence services also hacked Clinton’s emails.

So was a candidate really urging Russian espionage in an American election? Trump claimed he was joking.

During the primaries, Trump endorsed Putin’s military intervention in Syria. During the convention, his campaign made sure the party platform wouldn’t propose weapons for the current Ukraine regime to fight Russian and rebel groups.

Only four years ago, GOP challenger Mitt Romney called Russia this country’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe.” President Barack Obama responded that the Cold War ended 20 years earlier.

But by 2014, with Russian soldiers in Ukraine, Clinton publicly accused Putin of seeking to “re-Sovietize Russia’s periphery” and called him “a tough guy with a thin skin.”

Against that tense backdrop, Trump’s daughter Ivanka was in Croatia last week with her friend Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife — who’s now reportedly dating Putin.

President Gerald Ford famously and mistakenly asserted in 1976 that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”

The USSR is long gone. But the region’s murky place in U.S. foreign policy survives, and looms large in this election.


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