From Rus­sia, with love, to Trump’s cam­paign

Cam­paign ad­viser Carter Page worked as a banker in Rus­sia “There’s a lot of mis­per­cep­tions in the pub­lic un­der­stand­ing”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - CONTENT - −Zachary Mider

In March, Carter Page trav­eled to a Phoenix sub­urb to hear Don­ald Trump ad­dress a rally. News re­ports fo­cused on pro­test­ers who were ar­rested try­ing to block a road, but Page says all he saw was a crowd of en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port­ers, many of them se­nior cit­i­zens, wait­ing in the hot sun for a chance to hear the can­di­date speak. He says the dis­so­nance re­minded him of what he’s seen in Rus­sia, where he’s worked fre­quently for more than a decade. “The three pro­test­ers who blocked the road, vs. the 20,000 peo­ple who were pos­i­tive and en­thu­si­as­tic,” he says. “There’s a lot of mis­per­cep­tions in the pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of things.”

Page, 44, has spent years do­ing deals in Rus­sia and Cen­tral Asia, and he has close ties to Gazprom, the state-run nat­u­ral gas com­pany. As a banker at Mer­rill Lynch, he helped the com­pany on some of its largest trans­ac­tions and also helped it court in­vestors in New York and Lon­don.

Now he’s among the ad­vis­ers Trump re­cently named in in­ter­views with the Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times. Page says his busi­ness back­ground gives him a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive than “peo­ple from afar, sit­ting in the com­fort of their think tanks in Wash­ing­ton.” In es­says, many for the Bri­tish jour­nal Global Pol­icy, Page is a re­li­able de­fender of Rus­sian in­ten­tions and char­ac­ter­izes U.S. po­si­tions as trapped in a Cold War mind­set. That meshes with Trump’s ap­proach to­ward Moscow. The can­di­date has de­scribed Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin as a “strong leader” and floated the idea of scal­ing back the U.S. com­mit­ment to NATO. “I think I would have a very good re­la­tion­ship with Putin,” Trump said last year.

Page, a grad­u­ate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served as a re­search fel­low to the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee and worked in the Navy’s nu­clear af­fairs and in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions branch at the Pen­tagon in the early 1990s. In 1994 he earned a mas­ter’s de­gree in na­tional se­cu­rity stud­ies from Ge­orge­town. He started with Mer­rill in 2000 and helped open its Moscow of­fice in 2004. When he left in 2007, Page says, many of Gazprom’s top of­fi­cials at­tended his go­ing-away party.

One for­mer Mer­rill banker in Rus­sia, Bernie Sucher, says Page “has a nu­anced and sub­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the in­ter­play of pol­i­tics and en­ergy.” Other for­mer col­leagues are less com­pli­men­tary. Sergey Alek­sashenko, a Mer­rill ex­ec­u­tive in Rus­sia while Page was there and now an out­spo­ken Krem­lin critic, de­scribes Page as a ju­nior banker with lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of the coun­try. “I could not imag­ine Carter as an ad­viser on for­eign pol­icy,” Alek­sashenko says.

Page says he took a buy­out from Mer­rill Lynch in 2008 to start his own in­vest­ment and ad­vi­sory busi­ness, Global En­ergy Cap­i­tal. Plans for a $1 bil­lion pri­vate eq­uity fund for in­vest­ing in Turk­menistan evap­o­rated in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis; he’s mostly done ad­vi­sory work, coun­sel­ing for­eign in­vestors on buy­ing as­sets in Rus­sia. Page, who got an MBA from New York Univer­sity while he was at Mer­rill, also earned a Ph.D. in Near and Mideast Stud­ies from SOAS, Univer­sity of Lon­don. He says his ca­reer as a for­eign-pol­icy ex­pert has oc­ca­sion­ally suf­fered from skep­ti­cism over his busi­ness ties to Rus­sia and his fa­vor­able view of its lead­er­ship. “It is a ques­tion I get so fre­quently,” he says. “There’s a very neg­a­tive con­ven­tional wis­dom that these are all crooks and bad guys.”

In some of his deals, Page has worked with Sergey Yat­senko, a for­mer deputy chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer at Gazprom. “He un­der­stands what’s go­ing on in Rus­sia,” Yat­senko says. “He doesn’t make strong judg­ments.” One project, ac­cord­ing to Yat­senko, in­volved de­vel­op­ing nat­u­ral-gas-pow­ered ve­hi­cles in Rus­sia, pos­si­bly in partnership with Gazprom. The deal was put on hold af­ter the U.S. and Europe im­posed trade re­stric­tions in 2014 fol­low­ing Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from Ukraine. Gazprom, led by a for­mer Putin aide, is among the com­pa­nies tar­geted by the sanc­tions. “So many peo­ple who I know and have worked with have been so ad­versely af­fected by the sanc­tions pol­icy,” says Page, who is also an in­vestor in Gazprom. “There’s a lot of ex­cite­ment in terms of the pos­si­bil­i­ties for creat­ing a bet­ter situation.”

The bot­tom line A Trump for­eign pol­icy ad­viser worked as a banker for Mer­rill in Moscow and re­mains an in­vestor in Gazprom.

“There’s a very neg­a­tive con­ven­tional wis­dom that these are all crooks and bad guys.” —— Carter Page

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.