Tag Archives: Putin

Putin’s Plaything, TFG

I started gathering the links and quotes in this post in response to a friend who has long been skeptical of any substantial connection between ex-pres Agent Orange and the Russian government and financial system.  She didn’t believe Russia had been involved with T winning the 2016 election, and had pooh-poohed the Mueller investigation, making all that clear many times.  What got me to dig into the evidence of their entanglement up to this point, though, was that she insisted Putin wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine if he were still president, and that Biden’s “weakness” was to blame.  This is a typical right-wing talking point that I found very odd coming from someone who is not remotely a supporter of TFG– so much so that I felt I had to counter it, and wanted to be sure I had a solid basis to do so.

Since then, we’ve had the revelations about top Republicans who were briefly willing to get rid of That Man after his incitement of the January 6 insurrection, showing that even his biggest enablers were quite aware of the deeply corrupt, lawless nature of his conduct.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell famously said, “The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us,” by way of impeachment.  House Speaker Kevin McCarthy asked about the 25th Amendment and said he would recommend that the president resign, fuming, “I’ve had it with this guy.”  Here’s one of many sources for those damning statements (to both the speakers and their subject).  https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2022/04/21/the-democrats-are-going-to-take-care-of-the-son-of-a-bitch-for-us-00026822

And yet, here we are, with those same legislative power brokers swearing they will vote for him again if he runs in 2024.  (And secretly hoping he does not run, I’m sure, so that they don’t have to actually do that.)  It still behooves us to understand the deep ties between this man who cares about nothing but money and power and the regime that is causing so much horror and suffering to its neighbor and thus to much of the world.  Neither appears to be going away anytime soon, but the more their crimes can be exposed, the better chances we have to defend against further destruction.

I thought I had a fair understanding of these matters, but it turned out that there were still some shockers.  In particular, it was quite a surprise to find out that he wanted to be the ambassador to the Soviet Union way back in the ’80s!  He had the idea that since he was such a fantastic negotiator, he should go there to negotiate nuclear disarmament.  Although this sounds like his usual self-aggrandizement and his assumption that he knows more about everything than anybody else, there may have been a teensy smidgen of altruism in there somewhere– buried under the towering edifice of ego.

I first read about that here:
https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-has-made-putin-gop-s-problem-ncna1291965
‘He sought not only to become a plenipotentiary ambassador to Moscow in 1985 (true story, according to Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Bernard Lown), but he’s also been unabashed about his desire to build a Trump Tower there for decades….’
‘His litany of transgressions involving Putin and Russia is too lengthy to list here, but many would argue his 2018 Helsinki trip, during which he repeated an authoritarian trope calling the free press the true “enemy of the people,” and a joint press conference with Putin, where he threw U.S. intelligence agencies under the bus in favor of Putin’s word over theirs, was his worst.
‘At the time, Sen. John McCain of Arizona called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in recent memory,” and said Trump had “abased himself … abjectly before a tyrant.” Unfortunately, that behavior has continued on to the present day.’

… and followed up here:
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/politics-news/donald-trump-angled-soviet-posting-1980s-says-nobel-prize-winner-1006312/
‘The Post‘s Lois Romano asked Trump for specifics about how he would approach a U.S.-Soviet deal, and recounted how he demurred (using terms familiar to those who followed the 2016 presidential campaign): “‘I wouldn’t want to make my opinions public,’ he says. ‘I’d rather keep those thoughts to myself or save them for whoever else is chosen. … It’s something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate and not the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past.’ He could learn about missiles, quickly, he says. ‘It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. … I think I know most of it anyway. [Bolds are mine.] You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation.’

So it seems that over and above his interest in making money through business dealings with Russia, he had interest in the Soviet Union/Russia itself over many years.

There is quite a lot about his connections to Russian oligarchs and organized crime figures.  Here is one source, which also explains a little of how those oligarchs got where they are.  Teri Kanefield is a lawyer who has been posting analyses of the Jan. 6 prosecutions, among other things.  (For some reason the fonts came out weird in this blog entry of hers– that’s not usual.)  I recommend following her to get some understanding of the way the Justice Department works, the way democracy works in general, and what we can do to keep it functioning.

The Renewed Relevance of the Great Fox-Trump-Putin Love Affair

‘The Trump-Putin love affair begins with Semion Mogilevich. Mogilevich got his start as a young man in the Soviet Union scamming his fellow countrymen who wanted to emigrate. He offered to sell their assets & send them the money, but instead, he pocketed their money. His victims had left the country so they couldn’t do anything. By the mid-1980s, he had millions and needed to launder it. (Money laundering just means putting illegally obtained money through a few complicated transactions to hide the origins of the money.)

‘Mogilevich knew it made no sense for a young man in the Soviet Union to have millions—so in 1986, he sent his operative to buy 6 luxury condos in Trump Tower. Foreigners, by this time, discovered that money could easily be laundered through US luxury real estate.

‘It should have occurred to Trump that a man in the Soviet Union hadn’t come by $6 million in cash legally—but he asked no questions. He permitted anonymous buyers to purchase his condos, so he was a magnet for dirty money. He personally attended the closing of Mogilevich’s condos.

‘During the Soviet regime, the government owned all resources and industries. When the Soviet Union broke up, the Russian Federation was established as a constitutional republic with a president and parliament chosen by free elections. But democracy never took hold. Before rule of law was in place, there was a wild rush to control the nation’s industries and resources. A few people became billionaires (by stealing what belonged to the people). Democracy never took hold. Leaders were picked by the new billionaires.

‘Thus Russia went from communism to oligarchy.

‘One of the new billionaires was Mogilevich, who was soon at the top of the Russian mafia and on the FBI’s Ten Top Most Wanted List (for a scam in Pennsylvania). As the oligarchs’ wealth grew (mostly through scams) they looked for ways to launder the money….

‘By the late 1990s, Trump was considered uncreditworthy and bankrupt. He owed $4 billion to more than 70 banks, and showed no inclination or capacity to repay the money.

‘Basically, Trump needed money and the Russian bandits had money they needed to launder. It was a match made in heaven.

‘Russians, through shell companies, bought his condos and propped him up. In 2002, after Trump went belly up in Atlantic City, he was bailed out by Bayrock, a real estate development company with ties to Mogilevich. Bayrock moved into Trump Tower. Felix Sater, a convicted Russian mobster and money launderer, was senior advisor to the Trump Org. and partnered with Bayrock.

‘Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought a house from Trump, paying $55 million more than Trump paid (a way to pump money to Trump).

‘In 2006 Russians financed building Trump SoHo & gave Trump 18% of the profits, though he did nothing.

‘“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” said Trump Jr.’

*************************************************************

Discussion of the Trump Jr quote can be found here: https://www.businessinsider.com/donald-trump-jr-said-money-pouring-in-from-russia-2018-2 *  ‘”In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. said at a New York real-estate conference that year. “Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”‘

There’s lots more in Kanefield’s post, including a discussion of the history of autocracy in the US.  She refers to Heather Cox Richardson, a historian who links present events to the past and makes them far more understandable, and whose posts I read nightly.  (Right now it seems we are largely reliving the 1870s.)

Last but not least:

https://www.newsweek.com/second-trump-term-would-not-have-stopped-putin-invading-ukraine-opinion-1682807

‘Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine therefore rests, in no small part, on the fear that Ukraine could join said alliance and annihilate its long standing hold over Eastern Europe. Trump was, at best, outwardly indifferent to Ukraine joining NATO. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, openly told Ukraine not even three months ago that membership was essentially theirs for the taking. If anything, it is precisely because Biden took this stronger stance that cuts against Russian interests that Putin felt he had no choice but to take Ukraine by force now, before it enjoyed a powerful shield of protection from the United States and Western Europe.

‘…Lest we forget, we indisputably know that Trump held up military aid to Ukraine as he sought to extort the president thereof into kickstarting an investigation into President Biden’s son. In point of fact, it’s the reason Trump was impeached, for his first time. Ukraine, like most everything else in Trump’s life, was never more than a tool to further his own interests.’

*The New York Times broke the story about McConnell and McCarthy, I think. If you are able to access it, it’s worth a look: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/21/us/politics/trump-mitch-mcconnell-kevin-mccarthy.html

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Ukraine; Advice for Would-Be Emperors

The Great Gate of Kiev by Victor Hartmann, the painting Mussorgsky had in mind

 

I started this on March 1— Chopin’s birthday, by the way— with a lot of thoughts about the war in Ukraine that have since been expressed ad nauseam in a range of publications, like the parallels with the Iraq war. You’ve heard all that already, so I’ll move on.

As I sit here with a yellow flower for Ukraine pinned to my shirt, worrying, I’m also wondering what’s happening in the other war zones in the world. Has there been any improvement in getting aid to starving kids in Yemen? Are things any better with the horrors in Ethiopia? How are people managing in Syria, since we’ve turned our attention away from there? And Afghanistan— we know how bad that is. Perhaps our witnessing of the destruction in Ukraine, in real time on the screens we carry with us, will help us remember the suffering going on elsewhere. And maybe do something about it.

I’m not Ukrainian, but I’m kind of a cousin and neighbor. My mother’s family came from far eastern Slovakia, just west of the border with Ukraine. It’s quite possible that I have relatives who actually live and/or work in Ukraine right now. The woman I have apparent memories of from the 19th century, Delfina Potocka, was born in Podolia, which then was part of Poland but now is in Ukraine.

I am hyper-aware of the long history of Russia taking over these regions and even declaring that independent countries no longer exist, as it did with Poland a couple of centuries ago. Vladimir Putin appears to be driven by a vision of recreating that old imperial Russia, and I feel that my Slovak relatives, along with the Poles and the Hungarians and the Lithuanians and the Azerbaijanis and the rest, all have targets on their backs. I feel almost that I have a target on my own back— even more so knowing that Putin will try to crush the LGBTQ+ community. There is no reason to expect that he will stop at any other border if he is allowed to take Ukraine.

The situation is changing by the hour, and by the time you read this, lord only knows where we will all be. 


There has been a lot of discussion of Putin’s mental health. I referred to him as a madman the other day and got some pushback. Let me explain, though. I didn’t mean that his behavior was necessarily irrational, though people who knew him when he first came to power say he is very different now and may not be all there anymore. Taking the premises he started with into account, his current path is logical and part of a very long-range plan, even though right now it’s clear that he’s bitten off more than he can chew. 

However, I submit that the whole idea of invading a country one wants to control with such brutal tactics, destroying human lives, infrastructure, farmlands, everything in the process, is intrinsically insane. It’s the old saw about “destroying the village to save it.” I’ve never understood how these despots think. Assad is perhaps the ultimate example— he wants to remain the ruler of Syria, but he’s left so little of the country intact, what is there to rule? Wouldn’t it have been better to leave the people alive, with their homes and factories and farms, and rule over a prosperous and proud nation? What has he gained?

Putin seems to be going in a similar direction, with his own country as well as the coveted one being brought to its knees economically and perhaps morally. He may well be able to hang on to his position, but he could have had so much more.  Compared to his long, insidious, cunning takeover of Russia, this venture has been shockingly ill-conceived.  Only a leader isolated from reality and surrounded by nothing by yes-men could have expected that Ukrainians would immediately capitulate and even welcome his troops with flowers.  I can’t help but think of George W. Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner.

I mean, that is insanity.

 

My advice to these would-be emperors is very simple, sure-fire, and unlike war, not particularly expensive. It’s also something they would never consider.


It is this: Be nice.

Think about it. Say you’re a dictator with a big country of your own, but you are feeling threatened by nations a bit off to the west of your border. You want a buffer between you and them, and the nice big juicy country next door looks awfully tempting. You could try beating them into submission, but suddenly you realize that you don’t have to.

The neighbors share a similar culture with yours, and some of them even speak your language, so it’s easy to get started. You’re kind of ticked that they split off from your empire a few decades ago, but you decide to be magnanimous and look past that. “Brothers and sisters,” you proclaim, “let us begin a new era of friendship and cooperation!”

They’re a little skeptical, but they like the new trade deal you propose. You start a big cultural exchange program, too, and send your best musicians and dancers to tour the place. Your soccer teams play each other. You go on like this for quite a while, flattering, ingratiating, and investing. At every moment you make it clear that you have the greatest possible respect for their majestic nation and history, and that you would never, never do anything to threaten their sovereignty and self-determination, so that they don’t get interested in rebelling. All the while you’re pursuing joint ventures that make their smaller economy more and more dependent on yours.

You wanted their land, their stuff, and their loyalty. You get access to all of that without firing a shot.

In a few years, the neighbors are every bit as entwined with your side of the border as they had been when they were part of your empire. They have no reason to join other alliances against you, since associating with you has brought so many advantages. Your people enjoy the fruits of both country’s labors, and you do very nicely with what you skim off the top. War would have drained your coffers, but instead you’ve made a profit. You settle into your cushy palace and name yourself President for Life, and nobody minds. You have all the power you could possibly want. Someone could still put poison in your tea, but you’re relatively insulated because wealth and influence are spread around, and those who have them have good reasons to leave your regime in place.

I’m serious. I bet this would work, and unless you truly enjoy blowing things up and massacring families, it would be a lot more fun and a lot less stress. I’m pretty sure that something like it has even been done at times, though I can’t remember where it might have been. It would be completely reasonable, even to someone who cares only about himself, completely compatible with self-interest.

It’s just not how human minds work, at least not the power-hungry ones.


Ukrainian pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk played with the New Mexico Philharmonic on February 26. The planned program included Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto #2, but it was changed at the last minute to Prokofiev’s first piano concerto, Prokofiev having been born in the Donetsk region of what is now Ukraine.

Maestro Roberto Minczuk introduced the program along with Gavrylyuk. Although Minczuk is from Brazil, he has distant family in Ukraine, so he is feeling deeply connected with the horrors there. The two gave a heartfelt talk about the situation and the program they had chosen. They mentioned that there had been a cancellation at Carnegie Hall and Gavrylyuk had been asked to play there, but he had said, “No, I’m playing with the New Mexico Philharmonic that day.” So now I love him all the more.

The audience went berserk. We whooped and hollered, and someone in the back of the hall yelled “VIVA UKRAINE.” The orchestra members were wearing blue and yellow ribbons. It was A Happening.

The concert began in an unusual way, with a set of piano solos. Gavrylyuk started with Kocsis’ complex and difficult arrangement of Rachmaninov’s haunting “Vocalise.” Then he played the end of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” with an incredibly powerful rendition of the “Great Gate of Kiev” theme that I swear they must have heard in Moscow. Not that it was so terribly loud, but every molecule in his body was totally focused on producing this resounding effect, and the hundreds of people in the hall seemed to be one organism all concentrated on the stage.

Here’s a little bit of the flavor of the Mussorgsky. It’s nothing like the experience that blew me away in my seat in the second row, but you’ll get the idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyMiIAwUHcU “The Great Gate of Kiev” is getting a lot of play these days.

As far as I could tell, the whole audience stayed fired up throughout the rest of the concert. But then, as I was walking out, I heard a woman ask her companion how she’d liked the show. “I thought it was long and boring,” replied the other woman. “I kept falling asleep.” I could not imagine that.

The fantastic Steinway that Gavrylyuk played, the best I’ve ever heard, was picked out just a few months ago by the Russian expat pianist Olga Kern, who has adopted Albuquerque and located her piano competition here. She has a special relationship with Rachmaninov, and I’ve been practicing some of his work myself lately. It’s complicated.

By the way, there is no actual Great Gate of Kiev. It was only a painting of a proposed structure that was never built, and was intended to commemorate Tsar Alexander II’s escape from an assassination attempt in 1866.  The Russian eagle tops the cupola.  Like I said, it’s complicated.

VIVA UKRAINE.

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