The Democrats Used to Love Russian Oligarchs
The massive leaking of the so-called “Paradise Papers” detailing the myriad ways corporations and individual billionaires hide their money in tax havens around the world, provided news organizations a chance to make the case for reining in global capital. Unlike the 2015 leak of the so-called “Panama Papers,” which detailed the offshore tax evasions of a sleazier class of capitalists, the “Paradise” disclosures reveal how the world’s public sectors are starved for funding by billionaires and corporations from “the high end of town”—the Lords of Capital that make up the “international oligarchy” whose spreading influence is “the major issue of our time,” in the words of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Nearly 100 news media groups agreed to join with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to expose how the oligarchs avoid their responsibility to share in the cost of civilization, while simultaneously dictating the terms of life for most of the planet’s people. The New York Times is part of this network, but instead of following the money wherever it leads, the paper chose, in the bulk of its own reporting, to make the Paradise Papers an extension of its Russiagate obsession.
To kick off the project, the Times highlighted Twitter and Facebook investments by Yuri Milner, an alleged recipient of “hundreds of millions of dollars in Kremlin funding” who has ties to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner; and dealings by Wilbur Ross, Trump’s commerce secretary whose money is invested in a shipping company “with business ties to a Russian oligarch facing sanctions and [with] President Vladimir V. Putin’s son-in-law.”
The Wilbur Ross story has been at the center of the Times coverage of the Paradise Papers ever since, solidifying the public’s impression that the Russian oligarch connection to the U.S. is mainly a Republican affair—or, more specifically, the result of relatively recent machinations within Donald Trump’s circles. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the Democrats that have been in “collusion” with Russian oligarchs since the birth of that class out of the rubble of the Soviet collapse. And it was during the brief “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations, between 2009 and 2012 under President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the most recent deals between American and Russian capitalists were consummated.
Donald Trump and his crowd arrived very late on the Russian scene, after relations between Moscow and Washington had been poisoned, and never got a chance to wheel and deal with ruling oligarchic circles—which is why the Trump team’s Russian interlocutors turned out to be so marginal, sleazy and ultimately useless. The party was over when Trump’s people arrived on the Moscow scene; they met with hustlers, self-dealers and wannabes.
Hillary Clinton and other Democrats, on the other hand, took advantage of the “reset” that she and Barack Obama had initiated. In 2015, the New York Times headlined “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” detailing how Clinton’s State Department and other U.S. and Canadian agencies had signed off on a 2012 deal that gave a Russian company control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. During that same period, the chairman of the Russian company kicked in $2.5 million to the Clinton Foundation, and former president Bill Clinton “received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting” the uranium company’s stock, according to the Times.
During the thaw in U.S.-Russian relations Tony Podesta, the lobbyist brother of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, won the contract to represent the then president of Ukraine, Viktor F. Yanukovych, who would later flee to Russia after U.S.-backed Nazi’s ran him out of office. Podesta is now one of the rare Democratic targets of Robert Mueller’s Russiagate investigation. However, it was logical that a “pro-Russian” politician hire a Democratic lobbyist to represent his interests in Washington under a Democratic president. Indeed, Democratic-identified lobbyists got most of the Russian contracts during the “reset” period, and Democratic businesses had the inside track on whatever deals were available. Had the reset occurred under President George W. Bush, Republican lobbyists and firms would have had the advantage—as is well understood in Washington.
Is it any wonder that Trump turns an even redder shade of orange when he demands an investigation into Clinton’s “Uranium to Russia deal”? The Donald was totally outclassed by a Democratic apparatus with far more experience in navigating the Kremlin.
The Democrats were there at the birth of the Russian mafia-oligarchy, clucking and cooing like godmothers. Bill Clinton and platoons of Wall Street advisors guided the dissolution of the Russian state and redistribution of public assets among the new class of gangster-owners. They openly backed the drunken quisling Boris Yeltsin for president in 1996, and were assured by the nouveau gangster capitalist class of continued subservience to Washington. To this day, the U.S. government (and the New York Times) treats fallen Russian oligarchs like political prisoners, and exiled mafia as allies, and has installed an oligarch-run regime in Ukraine. They hate Putin because he “tamed” the most unpatriotic elements of Russian oligarchy, and put his country on an independent international path.
The Democrats don’t hate oligarchs. How could they, when the United States is a world-strangling oligarchy, home to six of the planet’s eight wealthiest men, three of whom—Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—own more wealth than the bottom half of the entire U.S. population: 160 million people. Russia’s oligarchs are bums compared to the Lords of Capital of the United States.
But Washington does deeply resent the loss of their special relationship with the Russian oligarchy. Putin’s success in domesticating his country’s mafia allowed Russia to reassert its national interests and, in the process, to resist Barack Obama’s (Democratic) global military offensive, centered in Syria, beginning in 2015, and to forge a working partnership with China, which has reclaimed its ancient status as the center of the world economy. These are the events that will shape our world for the rest of this century.
Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]