Trump's Ties to Russia May Run More Than Surface Deep

Donald Trump stepped in it, majorly, when he blithely suggested that if Russian hackers would reveal Hillary’s lost emails, they would be “greatly rewarded” by the American media. It added fuel to a fire that began when he brought in Paul Manafort to be a major player in his campaign.

The Guardian has delved further into Trump’s connections with Russia, through some of those who seem to be traveling in his orbit, currently.

The party platform written at the convention in Cleveland last week removed references to arming Ukraine in its fight with Russia, which has supported separatists in eastern Ukraine. Trump’s links to Russia are under scrutiny after a hack of Democratic national committee emails, allegedly by Russian agents.

Frank Mermoud also has longstanding ties to Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who in 2010 helped pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych refashion his image and win a presidential election in Ukraine. Manafort was brought in earlier this year to oversee the convention operations and its staffing.

Three sources at the convention also told the Guardian that they saw Phil Griffin, a longtime aide to Manafort in Kiev, working with the foreign dignitaries programme. “After years of working in the Ukraine for Paul and others, it was surprising to run into Phil working at the convention,” one said.

The old saying about smoke and fire comes to mind. After coming under a lot of pressure for his statements about Clinton’s emails, Trump backtracked, saying he was only being “sarcastic.” Misstatements and unfortunate slips of the tongue happen, but for someone seeking to lead the nation, with the ties that he has, the change to the party platform that was made, and the events of the day, it can’t simply be ignored.

The change to the platform on arming Ukraine was condemned even by some Republicans. Senator Rob Portman described it as “deeply troubling”. Veteran party operative and lobbyist Charlie Black said the “new position in the platform doesn’t have much support from Republicans”, adding that the change “was unusual”.

Unusual, indeed.

Russia isn’t above hacking. That was proven with cyber-attacks on French, Greek, Italian, and Latvian elections. The assumed goal was to damage western democracy. There was also an incident in 2014 when Russian malware was discovered in Ukrainian election software.

What a coup if meddling from outside entities could damage a U.S. election?

Analysts suggest three primary motivations for the email dump, quite probably overlapping: doing harm to the US political process to undermine its credibility; doing harm to Hillary Clinton (WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no friend of hers); and boosting Trump, who has heaped praise on Putin and broke from Republican policy by suggesting that the US would not automatically come to the aid of Nato allies and saying he would consider recognising Crimea as Russian territory.

At this point, Assange is saying there is no Russian involvement, but he also says that there are more leaks that involve Hillary Clinton. When those will be revealed, if ever, is unknown.

At this point, with his past (and current) enmeshments, Trump would be seen as a more Russia-friendly candidate. He’s repeatedly praised Putin and has suggested abandoning NATO allies, in favor of giving Russia a bigger role on the world stage. For a nation with ambitions to strengthen holds in territories like the Ukraine and Georgia, having an administration installed within the highest offices of the U.S. political system that is more interested in late night tweeting and being surrounded by B-list celebrities and fawning cult members is an agreeable prospect.

Trump has ties with Russia as far back as 1987, when he sought to build hotels and condos in Moscow. As recently as 2013, he traveled to the region, with hopes of meeting Putin to discuss potential projects.

Putin could not make the meeting in 2013, but sent a note and gift.

While Trump didn’t get to meet Putin on the trip, he did collect a reported $14m from Aras Agalarov, a Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire property developer and close Putin associate, and other business figures for bringing Miss Universe to Agalarov’s 7,500-seat Crocus City Hall.

Back in 2008 Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr, told a New York Russian real estate investors conference that a “lot of money [is] pouring in from Russia”. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” he added.

A lot of the money was destined for the 46-storey Trump Soho hotel and condos project on Spring Street, which was partly funded by group of questionable Russian and ex-Soviet state billionaires. The building was embroiled in a Manhattan district attorney investigation into fraud alleged by buyers, until Trump and his partners settled out of court. There had been plans to build a replica building in Moscow. It never happened.

A lot has been reported about Manafort’s questionable ties. He has made millions through consulting work with people like Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash and Oleg Deripaska. These are major pro-Russia oligarchs.

Much of Manafort’s relationship with Firtash was exposed in a 2011 racketeering lawsuit that was later dismissed. It described Manafort as aiding the mogul in moving his wealth out of Ukraine and into overseas assets. Firtash is currently under indictment in the US, and Deripaska is banned from entering the country due to ties with organised crime.

Manafort’s relationship with Deripaska has recently suffered as the mogul is suing Manafort in the Cayman Islands for allegedly disappearing with $19m of his money. Manafort also worked for Yanukovych and helped guide the pro-Russia candidate to victory in the 2010 Ukranian election; Yanukovych was subsequently overthrown in 2014 and is now exiled in Russia.

Should we be worried?

I’m going to say yes. Anytime there are people with these ties to foreign powers that have interests that do not align with our nation’s or our allies’ best interests, people need to sit up and pay close attention.

Trump’s connections to Putin don’t end with Manafort.

One of Trump’s foreign policy advisors is the pro-Putin Carter Page, an investment banker with ties to a Kremlin-controlled gas company called Gazprom. He has been very outspoken in his criticism of America’s treatment of Putin’s Russia.

We’re not at a place where we can directly link Trump to Russia, or to any plot to throw the election in his favor, but all the facts on hand should be enough to warrant serious consideration.

But should Trump win the election, Polyakova said: “We would definitely have a closer relationship with Russia and it could endanger western security interests. I would expect a lot of appeasement when it comes to Ukraine and Syria.”

That’s one more Trump factoid that should keep people awake at night.