To Rus­sia with love: Trump’s dreams of Krem­lin might

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

In 2013, Don­ald Trump ap­peared poised to con­quer a new fron­tier: Rus­sia. His Miss Uni­verse beauty con­test was tak­ing place in Rus­sia’s cap­i­tal and he thought it would seal a con­nec­tion with its pres­i­dent, Vladimir Putin. “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?” the now US-pres­i­dent elect tweeted. The meet­ing never took place, though Putin sent a close aide with a gift for the Amer­i­can.

It was just an­other false start in three decades of ef­forts by Trump to crys­tal­lize ties with a coun­try that has long cap­ti­vated him - for its real es­tate devel­op­ment po­ten­tial, but also for its steely, no-non­sense lead­ers. Trump wrote in his book, “The Art of the Deal”, that his at­trac­tion to the then-Soviet Union be­gan in 1986, when a lunch with Soviet am­bas­sador Yuri Du­binin turned into an in­vest­ment op­por­tu­nity.

“Du­binin’s daugh­ter, it turned out, had read about Trump Tower and knew all about it,” Trump re­called. “One thing led to an­other and now I’m talk­ing about build­ing a large lux­ury ho­tel, across the street from the Krem­lin.” He trav­eled with his then-wife Ivana to view po­ten­tial sites in Moscow the following year. “It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­pe­ri­ence,” he wrote. “I was im­pressed with the am­bi­tion of the Soviet of­fi­cials to make a deal.”

‘Tough and cold’

Noth­ing came of it, and over the next decade Trump was bogged down in the bank­rupt­cies of his At­lantic City casi­nos. But by 1997, he was back on the Rus­sia file, bond­ing with ris­ing po­lit­i­cal star Gen­eral Alexan­der Lebed. The two met at Trump Tower, where, ac­cord­ing to a New Yorker ar­ti­cle, Lebed lauded Trump’s Moscow ho­tel plans as “a lit­mus test­ing pa­per” for Amer­i­can cap­i­tal flow­ing to Rus­sia. Bask­ing in the praise, Trump gave Lebed, a for­mer boxer, a copy of his book. Af­ter the meet­ing, the New York ty­coon said what he re­ally liked about the Rus­sian. “Does he look as tough and cold as you’ve ever seen? This is not like your av­er­age real-es­tate guy who’s rough and mean,”Trump said. “This guy’s be­yond that. You see it in the eyes.”

Trump’s trip to Moscow that year again came up dry, but he was smit­ten with the coun­try and its hard-nosed lead­ers more than ever. En­ter­tain­ing his first White House run in 2000, he wrote in a new book of his fas­ci­na­tion with Rus­sian power. “What I don’t un­der­stand is why Amer­i­can pol­i­cy­mak­ers are al­ways so timid in deal­ing with Rus­sia on is­sues that di­rectly in­volve our own sur­vival,” he said, point­ing to his ex­pe­ri­ence of Lebed, “a re­ally tough guy” who he pre­dicted would one day lead Rus­sia. Trump backed out of the 2000 race, and Lebed died in 2002 in a he­li­copter crash. By then, ex-KGB of­fi­cer Putin was the coun­try’s pres­i­dent, and Trump’s eyes turned to the vast sums of money newly rich Rus­sians were mov­ing out of the coun­try.

‘Look at Putin’

In 2005, he went into busi­ness with New York de­vel­oper Bay­rock Group, led by two im­mi­grants from the for­mer Soviet Union. They signed a deal to develop a Trump Tower in the Rus­sian cap­i­tal that went nowhere. Mean­while, they built the 46-floor Trump Soho lux­ury apart­ment tower in New York City, and other Trump-brand de­vel­op­ments in Florida. The pri­mary fi­nanc­ing source and the mar­ket­ing tar­get, were both Rus­sian money, in­clud­ing an Ice­land-regis­tered in­vest­ment firm iden­ti­fied in later law­suits as “in fa­vor” with Putin.

Trump was not im­pli­cated in the law­suits, but in a de­po­si­tion he bared his view of the sit­u­a­tion. “Rus­sia is one of the hottest places in the world for in­vest­ment. We will be in Moscow at some point,” he said. Again eye­ing the White House in 2007, Trump be­gan singing Putin’s praises. “Look at Putin - what he’s do­ing with Rus­sia,” he told CNN. “Whether you like him or don’t like him - he’s do­ing a great job in re­build­ing the im­age of Rus­sia and also re­build­ing Rus­sia, pe­riod. For­get about im­age.” Af­ter Trump sold the Palm Beach, Florida es­tate Maison de L’Ami­tie to Rus­sian bil­lion­aire Dmitry Ry­bolovlev for a record $95 mil­lion in 2008, his name be­came big­ger in­side Rus­sia, and he en­ter­tained jour­nal­ists from Moscow. “I re­ally like Vladimir Putin. I re­spect him. He does his work well. Much bet­ter than our Bush,” Trump told them. By 2011, Trump be­gan plan­ning a se­ri­ous White House chal­lenge. For him, com­par­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to Putin was a way of stand­ing out.

‘So weak’

In his new po­lit­i­cal tract, “Time to Get Tough: Mak­ing Amer­ica #1 Again,” he praised Putin for “his in­tel­li­gence and no-non­sense way.”“I re­spect Putin and the Rus­sians, but can­not be­lieve our leader al­lows them to get away with so much,” he wrote. “Hats off to the Rus­sians.” By 2013, the year of the Miss Uni­verse con­test in Moscow, Trump had an­other deal to build a Trump Tower by the Krem­lin. It didn’t hap­pen, but his praise of Putin stepped up. He lauded Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times telling Wash­ing­ton how to make peace in Syria. “He is lec­tur­ing to our Pres­i­dent. Never has our Coun­try looked so weak,”Trump tweeted. —AFP

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