Trial Balloon for a Coup?
Yonatan Zunger

The back-channel oil pact with Trump, I think, was for Carter Page to get not 19 percent of Rosneft, as the Steele dossier said, but the brokerage fee on the 19 percent, in exchange for Trump eliminating sanctions on Russia. Page’s company, Global Energy Capital, specializes in brokering this kind of deal. Well, not this kind. A 19.5 percent share of Rosneft, which was sold in December, was worth 10.2 billion euros. The sale was through a series of obscure shell companies. Only one, in Switzerland, has been identified, and that was a small ($300 million) part of the whole. The rest?

Well, shares worth this much money (minus the brokerage fee and a few partners) makes a nice slush fund for Putin, and he’s got wars to finance. The Steele dossier apparently got the slice of the pie wrong about the possible Rosneft bribe offer, although it did identify the source of the information as someone close to Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft.

Oleg Erovinkin was not only Sechin’s right hand man, but a former general in the FSB, the Russian secret service, and the go-between for Putin and Sechin. Alas, Sergei Erovinkin died of a “heart attack” at the age of 61 in December, after the sale. This was established at the FSB morgue, so we know we can trust that.

We can assume that many things in the Steele dossier were wrong. It was a collection of memos from different sources. Some stories were made up, fantasies. Some were exaggerations. And some, perhaps, got a detail wrong. When Putin looked at the 35-page dossier he would have been extremely sensitive to an item about Rosneft, Trump and a bribe. Erovinkin was his man. He may not have been the leak himself, but maybe he talked to someone and was overheard. Or maybe he talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to Steele. Either way, bad.

So now we can reason backward: Putin and Sechin, or one of their agents, dangled the brokerage fee in front of Carter Page in July, who we were told last summer had nothing to do with Trump. To be clear: In March 2016, Trump listed Carter Page as one of his “foreign affairs advisors.” Since then the Trump people have walked that way that back. On January 11, 2017, Sean Spicer said in response to repeated questions, “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign..”

Back in July, a Russian official assured The New York Times that Carter Page had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. And Trump’s people emphasized it even then. A Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had even more serious ties to Russia. He resigned from the campaign, but bounced back after the election. Manafort was, among other things, a lobbyist for the pro-Russian president of a Ukraine faction. But Manafort was not part of the Rosneft deal, and as far as we know Carter Page wasn’t either, ultimately.

If there was a deal, we can assume it was contingent on Trump’s election, followed by getting rid of the sanctions against Russia. That would have led to Trump’s coy references about Russia.

If there was a deal, Page would not get a commission until sanctions are gone, of course, and maybe not even until Exxon starts drilling in the Arctic, a deal the Russians say is worth $500 billion. (Apparently, Exxon has the technology to tap the Arctic reserves and Rosneft doesn’t.) And no rush, with oil prices low.

Question: does Tillerson get part of the cut or just take his profit from Exxon. If Sessions has to rule on this, will he get something too? What about the EPA and regulations about drilling in the Arctic? The State Department surely is crucial in making all this work, thus is might be part of the plan to replace as many old-timers as possible. (Nice move with the immigration ban, to stir things up and encourage people to quit.)

And Mr. Comey at the FBI, who received the Steele dossier last summer but decided not to investigate, and who sent Congress the letter about Hillary emails being discovered in Anthony Weiner’s computer? Comey has been asked to stay on at the FBI, and we might guess that he has many many things to do beside investigate obscure Russian involvement in American government. It all sounds too much like a spy novel, doesn’t it. Or a failed democracy.