Crackpot Dome

[This riff is based on the hard reporting of others and info from Rosneft’s own web site.] Once upon a time, Vladimir Putin needed money. Being an autocrat can get expensive, and, as Anthony Quinn said at the conclusion of Sheik Auda’s great speech in Lawrence of Arabia, “I am a river to my people.” The obvious way to meet those obligations — sell off 20% of Russia’s most valuable asset — the State-run publicly-traded oil company, Rosneft. (That’s about $12 billion US. If you need to pay off a million here . . ., a million there . . ., after a while it adds up to real money.) It couldn’t be done without someone friendly in the White House who would get rid of those nasty sanctions and who would otherwise find ways to make it easier for Americans to do business in Russia. Donald Trump was the most likely suspect, since for years he fantasized about building a Yoodge, Byootiful hotel in Moscow, and Putin knew that. So he dealt primarily with Donald — helping him get elected, in return for which, Donald would grease the skids for the Rosneft sale, and, out of gratitude, Putin would give him (or at least one of Trump’s offshore companies) a piece of that action. That act of gratitude (if it in fact happened) would have paid for itself since, once the sale became known, the value of Rosneft stock skyrocketed. Of course, Putin is no fool: he knew Trump was still viewed as a long shot so he brought the Clintons into the deal through a shell company that had been founded by Bill’s old pal, the late Marc Rich. The only problem from Putin’s point of view is that now that Rosneft has become embroiled in the scandal, its market price is coming back to earth, though it is still far higher than its pre-sale value. To conclude, there might have been a scandal no matter who was elected but the motives would have been as different as the species of snakes roaming around inside the heads of Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.

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