Save Oleg the Oligarch

I have yet to see a bumper sticker or poster advocating on behalf of Oleg Deripaska or other Russian oligarchs.  Where is the swelling of public support for removing sanctions from Russian oligarchs and Russian companies? Isn’t it just incredible why some things happen?

Isn’t it confounding that the US government would spend time thinking about how to remove sanctions from Deripaska or even define a process for removing them? Why do it? And why now?

It is hard not to see the lifting of sanctions as a favor based on the long-standing business relationship between Deripaska and Paul Manafort, who has worked as an advisor and investment manager for Deripaska and as a campaign manager for Trump.  US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin was in charge of financing the Trump campaign, and he is the one authorizing the changes that benefit Deripaska and other Russians who have been Republican donors.

As I wrote previously about the Russian hacking during the election, the Russians seem to know us better than we know ourselves.  That is, they are under no illusion as to how our system works.

“Oleg Deripaska understands better than most Russian oligarchs how money buys influence in Washington,” said Michael R. Carpenter, a former National Security Council official during the Obama administration who is now senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. “It seems like he’s now using that knowledge to try to save his skin.”

From a November 4, 2018 New York Times article.

Deripaska has a British Lord in his employ and many others lobbying for him.  Apparently it is working.

If you want to learn more about Russians in power, read Red Notice, a terrific book by Bill Browder that tells Browder’s own tale as an investor in Russia in the 1990s who ended up on the wrong side of Putin and his cronies.  It explains how the oligarchs amassed wealth and power following the break-up of the Soviet Union.  When Putin came to power, he established the principle that the oligarchs worked for him and he got a healthy chunk of their wealth. Those were the only terms under which the oligarchs could keep a still sizable portion of their wealth and influence. Browder would not accept those terms and tried to make others in Russia aware of what was going on.

Browder was also a key figure in the passing of the Maginsky Act, named after an associate of Browder’s who was detained and killed in Moscow. The US law brought sanctions on the oligarchs restricting their ability to move money to the US and to enter the country. He believed it was the only way to bring some justice to the oligarchs.

Now, under Trump, the government is figuring out how to unwind the sanctions, at least for Deripaska and perhaps other Russians. The Democrats passed a bill in the House to stop the Treasury Department from ending the sanctions but it was defeated in the Senate. The Treasury Department lifted the sanctions on the Sunday a day before our own government shutdown was set to end.

Leonid Bershidsky writes for Bloomberg:

But two things are now clear: the terms on which a wealthy Russian can expect to have U.S. sanctions on their assets lifted, and how those assets can avoid being sanctioned, even if their owner is. 

Oleg’s business is more and more our business, which is a political system that big money can buy.

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