Analysis

Trump's Campaign Caught in Intricate Web of Ties Between Russian Money and West

The accounts revealed by The New York Times show Trump's inner circle has links to Putin's comrades, but Russian oligarchs’ influence in West is much wider.

Wall art in Vilnius, Lithuania of Trump (right) kissing Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Ints Kalnins, Reuters

The revelation that Paul Manafort, campaign manager of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, may have received $12.7 million for services rendered to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, is a second stage of Russian involvement in the American election campaign.

Last month's uproar was over documents stolen from the Democratic Party’s computers, most likely by hackers working for Russian intelligence, and posted online with the help of Wikileaks.

Now actual financial ties have been revealed between political figures in the United States and oligarchs of the post-Soviet empire.

The “black ledger” found in Kiev containing the off-the-book accounts of the Regions Party which ruled Ukraine until two-and-a-half year ago, documents tens of millions of dollars funneled through a secret fund, from oligarchs seeking party leaders’ good graces, to Ukrainian and foreign operatives.

Chip Somodevilla, AFP

These accounts amount to just one tiny segment of an intricate web of connections, woven since the early 2000s, among political figures and business people in Russia, Ukraine, other former Soviet republics, and power-players in the West.

Everything has changed hands among them, from shares in large companies, multi-billion dollar energy contracts, ties to centers of power and influence, and fat retainers for lobbyists, lawyers and publicists.

The report Monday in the New York Times about a central figure in the Republican presidential campaign is further proof of what many have been saying for weeks – that Trump’s inner circle is closely involved with the post-Soviet power circle headed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The alleged payments to Manafort are just a small part of the picture.

Investigative journalists and the Democratic Party’s researchers are burrowing away, trying to discover before the election the sums and sources of funds that rescued Trump at least twice from bankruptcy, when no American bank would go near him.

It was almost certainly Russian money – with strings attached. But not only Trump is at risk here.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who moved for years between her political roles as senator and secretary of state and her personal status as First Lady and head of the Clinton’s family foundation, did a lot of business with the Russians. Is there anything that can come out which will harm her before November, too?

Not only should American candidates worry about what may be hidden in Russian account books. The oligarchs’ influence has spread to just about every government in the West. The most famous example is former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who since his retirement has become a super-lobbyist for Russia’s energy consortium Gazprom.

But what hides beneath the surface and seems to link serving politicians in key roles is potentially much more interesting, and explosive.

Anyone who has done business in that part of the world, or gone on vacation with oligarchs in resorts in places like Belarus and Azerbaijan, where rulers hold the keys to the national economy, may appear in other “black ledgers.”

The group includes quite a few members of Israel's political system as well, including government ministers, one of them in a particularly senior and sensitive position.