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”
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