The Russian Connection

There was a recent article entitled A Theory of Trump Kompromat, by Adam Davidson in the New Yorker (July 19, 2018) that presented the most plausible theory I have encountered regarding President Trump’s relations with the Russians. I’ll try to give you the Cliff Notes version, but you can read the article in its entirety here. In essence, it’s about money, shady business dealings and blackmail; and in order to understand it, you have keep Trump’s personal history in mind and you need to know something about Russian culture.

In addition to filing bankruptcy six times, Trump has a long history of reneging on deals, defaulting on loans and not paying his suppliers and workers (including some of his lawyers). As a result, he is finding it more and more difficult to find financial backers in North America for his companies’ business dealings. More recently, the Trump Organization, (a Byzantine labyrinth of about 500 companies1), has had numerous business dealings with Russian oligarchs, and a number of those dealings have the appearance of money laundering or other financial crimes. The Trump Organization has also has borrowed large sums from Deutsche Bank, which was recently found guilty and fined for laundering illicit Russian money. So basically, Trump has been fairly cavalier in his business dealings and his compliance with the law (and his moral character is well known).

In Russia, kompomat (compromising information) is generally used as a form of blackmail to curry favor or achieve some political or financial objective. The use of kompomat is pervasive among diplomats, spies, politicians, government officials and businessmen in Russia. Diplomats use kompromat to sway foreign leaders, spies use it to obtain official secrets, politicians use it to gain political support of other politicians. A businessman typically uses kompromat to negotiate a better deal with a business associate. Given the number and types of dealings Trump has had with many Russians2, it is most likely that any kompromat that would have any effect on Trump would be related to unethical or illegal financial transactions. Furthermore, given Trump’s disregard for business ethics, it’s entirely plausible that some of his dealings were not entirely legal. If so, that would provide some of his Russian business associates kompromat with which to negotiate future business deals with Trump; and if Putin were to acquire kompromat on Trump that is sufficiently damning, he could use it to blackmail Trump.

The Trump Organization has persued business deals in Russia since 1987 and obviously plans to continue doing business in Russia. As President, Trump could be vulnerable to kompromat Putin might have on him that could be used to gain concessions in the sanctions against Russia. But even if Putin doesn’t have kompromat on Trump, establishing good relations with Putin ensures that future business opportunities will be available. It would also give him leverage in dealing with Russian businessmen whether they have kompromat on him or not. Either way, Trump has a lot of incentive to “play nice” to Putin and it has nothing to do with wanting world peace.3

1 Many of which are only shell companies.

2 2 The author argues that Trump never dealt with Putin or anyone close to the Kremlin.ever had any dealings with Putin or even anyone inside the Kremlin. Instead, all of his dealings were with tertiary figures like the Mammadov family, in Azerbaijan; Tevfik Arif, in New York; and Aras and Emin Agalarov, in Moscow. He also dealt with a large number of emigres from Russia.

3 As evidence of Trump’s less than peaceful motives, consider Trump’s tweet to Iranian president Rouhani after he cautioned Trump against hostile actions against Tehran (Sunday July 23). Trump tweeted “To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”