Trump’s long history of seeking a politically inconvenient business deal in Russia – Washington Post

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President Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. (Evan Vucci/AP)

On Sunday night, The Washington Post reported that President Trump’s private business was actively pursuing a real estate deal in Russia in late 2015, only to abandon it shortly before the 2016 presidential primaries. The revelation adds a new layer of context to Trump’s repeated insistence over the past year that he has no business ties to the country, suggesting that his avowed indifference toward making money in Russia was a function less of resolve than of circumstance.

Broadly, Trump’s attitude toward business in Russia mirrors his behavior when it comes to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Before he was a political candidate, Trump repeatedly said that he had a relationship with the Russian president. (Among the examples he cited as evidence he knew Putin? They were both on the same episode of “60 Minutes” — though Trump was filmed in the United States and Putin in Russia.) After that relationship became politically inconvenient, his tune changed sharply. In the third presidential debate, he preemptively responded to a question about Russian interference in the election by saying, “I don’t know Putin.”

As we did with Trump’s claims about knowing Putin, in light of the most recent Post reporting, it’s worth reviewing Trump’s long history of seeking a business deal in Russia — and his change in tune once such a deal would no longer be personally helpful.

We begin at the beginning.


Trump — and his business, the Trump Organization — explores opening a hotel in Moscow while the country was still under Communist control.


In an interview with Playboy, he explains why that project didn’t work.

“I told them, ‘Guys, you have a basic problem. Far as real estate is concerned, it’s impossible to get title to Russian land, since the government owns it all. What kind of financing are you gonna get on a building where the land is owned by the goddamned motherland?’

They said, ‘No problem, Mr. Trump. We will work out lease arrangements.’

I said, ‘I want ownership, not leases.’

They came up with a solution: ‘Mr. Trump, we form a committee with ten people, of which seven are Russian and three are your representatives, and all disputes will be resolved in this manner.’

I thought to myself, [S—], seven to three — are we dealing in the world of the make-believe here or what?

Despite that concern, Trump warned of an imminent revolution in the country because premier Mikhail Gorbachev was too lenient.

“I was very unimpressed” with Russia, he said. “Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.”

China, by contrast, did it right.

“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square,” Trump explained, “the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.”


Trump announces a $250 million investment in two residential buildings in Moscow near the old Olympic Stadium. At a news conference, he says that he has never been as “impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow,” according to the New York Times. The deal is never finalized.

That same year, he is granted a number of trademarks for real estate property in the country.


Putin becomes president of Russia.


Working with a longtime business partner named Felix Sater, Trump explores building a high-rise on the site of an old pencil factory. Sater ran the Bayrock Group, once a real estate development firm located in Trump Tower.

Sater, who was also involved in the project outlined in the new Post’s report, is cooperating with an international investigation into money laundering, according to the Financial Times.


During a deposition about the Bayrock Group, Trump addresses his interest in investing in Russia.

“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” he said. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment. … We will be in Moscow at some point.”


In an interview linked to a conference about real estate investments in developing countries, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. explains the Trump Organization’s relationship with Russian investors.

“In terms of high-end product influx into the US,” he says, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

That same year, Trump sells a house in Palm Beach, Fla., to a Russian oligarch named Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. Trump had purchased the house for $40 million in 2004.


The Trump Organization, which owns the Miss Universe pageant, announces that the pageant will be held in Moscow that November.

Trump’s enthusiasm about the event spurs a number of tweets. Among them are ones praising Putin.

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