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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Money, influence at root of a wider U.S.-Russia story

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to the media after his annual televised call-in show in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Credit: AP

The nation’s true collective stake in this Russia uproar cries out for definition.

Surely the Democratic Party is especially interested in seeing officials find that the Donald Trump campaign was somehow involved with Russian hacking and meddling in the 2016 election.

Party loyalists make suspicion a drumbeat. Intelligence agencies speak of Moscow’s dark intentions. Hacking staggered one party, the losing one. Trump, who speaks ill of so many, never trash talks Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Propelled further by Trump’s stormy and defensive public behavior, investigations of the intrigue drive a big news narrative in Washington, D.C.

But whatever probers may or may not eventually find out about the campaign, there’s a bigger context — one that goes beyond party rivalry and beyond any Cold War revivalism.

This bigger picture involves money, commerce and policy influence — which would be true no matter who won the presidency last year. For one thing, there are the U.S. sanctions imposed.

It should be remembered that the interests of Putin and of those we often lump together as “the Russians” are not necessarily the same. Big anti-corruption protests there this month illustrated this.

Leading dissident Alexei Navalny posted on a blog earlier this month: “I want to live in a modern democratic state and I want our taxes to be converted into roads, schools and hospitals, not into yachts, palaces and vineyards.”

After the Soviet Union collapsed a quarter century ago, big businessmen took over assets from the former Communist republics and began investing their wealth overseas, in U.S. real estate and other ventures.

That’s how some wealthy émigrés came to live in Trump Tower. Nine years ago, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son and business associate, said in Moscow: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Even Trump’s legal business transactions have the potential to inform his administration’s Putin policy, which has implications for NATO, terrorism, the war in Syria, oil politics and the European Union.

In June 2013, Trump tweeted: “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?”

Four years later to the week, he was facing as president some serious and lethal business in Syria, where U.S. forces shot down one of the government’s air force jets on Sunday.

Putin’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said this week the U.S. action “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.”

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the U.S. is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Pentagon replied: “We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened.”

One relevant question is how Trump & Co. may reconcile his Putin tilt, and his transactions in private life, with America’s foreign relations.

The answer may have nothing at all to do with the Democrats, but plenty to do with defining the national interest.


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