Escort films Russian deputy prime minister on a yacht with oligarch connected to Paul Manafort

The Bell

Aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska will now firmly be the main suspect in Russian collusion

Photo: YouTube

1. Escort films Russian deputy prime minister  on oligarch’s yacht

What happened

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny has published (Russian, subtitles in English) a set of videos featuring deputy prime minister Sergey Prikhodko at a private meeting with the aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska ont his luxury yacht off the coast of Norway. The videos were taken and put on Instagram by an escort in 2016.

  • Deripaska, #21 on the Russian Forbes’ list with a fortune of $5.3 billion, is the owner of the aluminium monopoly U.C.Rusal (listed in Hong Kong). He was perhaps the most cited Russian oligarch in the Western media in 2017, due to his connection to Paul Manafort. He avoids discussing his role.
  • The aluminium tycoon had troubles with the U.S. long before 2014 and has spent millions trying to solve them. Now, he’s also a target for the British MI-6, which is questioning his  London $8 billion IPO last year.
  • Prikhodko has been a shadowy but influential figure in the Russian government since the 1990s, a long-time Putin aide on international affairs. Now he is chief of staff under prime minister Dmitry Medvedev as his deputy.
  • Navalny believes that the meeting between Deripaska and Prikhodko may be the link between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. So do some media.

What we think

There’s no doubt that the oligarch and the deputy prime minister were really there on the yacht with the escortsi. Most of the Russian media, including those that claim they’re independent, didn’t quote the investigation due to its sensitivity. A former diplomat, early in his career, Prikhodko was in charge of the international agenda at Boris Yeltsin’s government. The potential role of Prikhodko and Deripaska in communications between Trump office and the Russian government still remains unclear and this investigation may give interesting leads.

Deripaska was until recently married to Polina Yumasheva, daughter of the first Russian president Boris Yeltsiyn’s head of administration and son in law Valentin Yumashev, and the marriage has provided him deep ties to the Kremlin. That may have changed since his recent divorce.

Why the world should care

Deripaska will now firmly be  the main suspect in Russian collusion.

2. Putin aide lures Russian entrepreneurs home from London

What happened

Boris Titov, the presidential сommissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights, (yes, we have such a position in the presidential administration) met in London with exiled business executives who fled Russia after facing criminal charges. After the meeting, Titov announced he had a list of Russians eager to return home after the charges were dropped. A poll of the participants by The Bell showed that the vote was not unanimous.

  • For years, London was the main destination for any Russian businessman who had trouble with the law at home, be the charges groundless or not. . In recent years, however, the UK has become a less comfortable place for exile. Taxes are rising, attitudes toward Russians are deteriorating, and the newly imposed unexplained wealth orders are a real threat to  their properties.
  • Boris Titov is not only the сommissioner for entrepreneurs’ rights, but also a candidate in the 2018 presidential election. olls say he’ll get no more than 0.3% of the vote, but the real goal of the campaign, as Titov frankly declares (Russian), is to promote his economic program for Vladimir Putin’s next term. His idea is to  stimulate the economy with massive government spending.
  • Titov’s idea to bring  Russian business people home matches the government’s effort to return Russian funds held abroad. Titov said he passed the list to Vladimir Putin. But the Kremlin’s official reaction was chilly. “The best guarantee [for such entrepreneurs] is the current legislation of the Russian Federation, and in this case it is not the privilege of the president,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
  • There were 40 Russians at the meeting, and Titov’s list eventually included 16 people as wishing to return, most of them hardly known even to experienced business reporters. The Bell has reached four people on the list, and two  said they had no intention to return to Russia, but wanted their criminal charges to be dismissed so they could visit. .

Why the world should care

Seems that the only power that can drive Russian money back home from the West is new sanctions. Entrepreneurs who wish to return their funds to Russia are rare.

3. Wall Street plunge makes limited impact on Russia. It’s the sanctions that matter

What happened

We have long expected the record-breaking fall of the U.S. stock market, which eventually started last Friday. The impact of the crash in Russia was limited, as the market there only follows the news on new sanctions.

  • The Moscow Stock Exchange index only lost 4.5% since last Friday, while the Dow Jones fell 8.8%.
  • The ruble fell 3% since February 2.
  • Analysts, however, started reviewing (Russian) their forecasts on Russian currency after the U.S. Treasury Department said in a report to the Congress that new sanctions against Russian sovereign debt will have negative effects on global financial markets.
  • Previously, the banks expected ruble to lose 10% until the end of 2018, now they consider that the Russian currency will be stable throughout the year.

Why the world should care

If you invest in Russia, the news on Western sanctions is the most important thing to follow.

4. Falcon Heavy launch sparks thinly veiled jealousy in Russian space authorities

What happened

Elon Musk launched the SpaceX super heavy-lift vehicle, and the Russian space enterprise Roscosmos, which is actually Musk’s major competitor, is really jealous.

  • The launch was a “nice trick”, said the Roscosmos spokesman on the day after the launch. He linked the launch to the upcoming Tesla board meeting. “They need to adjust their business somehow. Things are bad for Tesla, after all. Everyone knows that,” he said.
  • Russia has long been  the leader in commercial space launches, but in 2017 SpaceX (even not taking other US competitors into account) has taken over the lead (Russian) at 16:15.
  • SpaceX’s main competitor, Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s United Launch Alliance, still uses Russian engines to power their Atlas V rockets. SpaceX was lobbying for a ban on it.

Why the world should care

Russia and the U.S. are still two top players in commercial space in the world, but the new technology makes it harder for Russia to rely on Soviet legacy. Unlike the U.S, in Russia there’s virtually no private space companies to push the competition and technology forward.

5. What Francis Fukuyama thinks of Trump, Putin and the U.S.—Russia relations

What happened

The founder of The Bell Liza Osetinskaya talked to Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist and economist, about Trump and Putin, the U.S.—Russia relations and the future of the world with populism and nationalism on the rise. The interview was aired on a podcast of Stanford’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Here’s the podcast and a transcript.

What Fukuyama said, briefly

  • The role of Russia in the world: “Russia is playing a very destructive role in a number of ways. It has tried to position itself as the champion of traditional values but values that are not democratic. I think Putin clearly sees both the EU and the U.S. as big competitors. He can’t do anything to truly undermine them but he can weaken them by increasing the distrust of citizens for their own democracies.”
  • The 2016 election meddling: “The margin was actually only 55 thousand people out of a country of 330 mln, almost anything could explain that election result. It could have been the weather. So I don’t think we will ever establish whether Russia actually had a decisive role in this. But we do know that they were certainly trying to influence things.”
  • The Trump-Russia collusion: “I don’t believe in any sort of collusion. If I had to guess I suspect that Donald Trump himself did not actively collude with the Russians. I think that was probably not true of his son Donald Trump Jr. who seems to be quite happy to work with the Russians.”
  • Putin as a leader: “Putin is a lot smarter than Trump is. I must say in Putin’s favor that he really does not have that strong hand in terms of his underlying assets, the economy is weak and it’s very dependent on oil. The military is 1/10 the size of the American military – and yet he’s used the assets that he has very effectively.”
  • The U.S. mistakes in policy towards Russia: “The United States made a lot of really big mistakes in the way it handled Russia. And I think that is equally serious with the NATO expansion and the bad economic advice in early 1990s. <…> Americans are very used to lecturing other countries about their behavior. Russia was weak during the 1990s so we got into the habit of lecturing Russia a lot and that became inappropriate.”
  • The future of Russia: “I think that Russia, like other countries, can go through a social evolution. A lot of Russian young people are different from that of the people who are 20-30 years older. I don’t think that it’s inevitable that Russia remains a kind of closed dictatorship.”

Why the world should care

Fukuyama’s view of the relations between U.S. and Russia seems rational, and his advice worth listening to.

Peter Mironenko, The Bell editor

This newsletter is made with the support of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley.

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