President-elect Donald Trump ties with Russia go far beyond his admiration for Vladimir Putin; when Trump’s bankruptcies in the 1990’s left investors reluctant to invest in his businesses, he turned to wealthy Russians to invest in his luxury high-rises and other real estate ventures, a close look at his business dealings reveals.
Trump’s love affair with Russia began in the 1980’s when he visited Moscow to discuss renovating hotels there. When his efforts to build in Russia failed, he and his children pursued the oligarchs who had been permitted to purchase state-owned companies after the fall of the Soviet Union.
In 1987, Yuri Dubinin, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., invited Trump to Moscow to discuss luxury hotel developments in Moscow and Leningrad. Concurrently,
Russians authorized to buy state-owned enterprises got rich, as Thomas Pickering, the first U.S. ambassador to the new Russian Federation, recalled. He said, “They got permission to take money out of the country. They were Russians, and they were traveling and they had money.”
Those oligarchs are now closely allied with Putin.
Dolly Lenz, a real estate broker in New York, said that she sold roughly 65 units in Trump World Tower in Manhattan, to Russian buyers in the late 1990s; Ilya Reznik said he sold dozens of condominiums to Russians in Trump properties in south Florida.
In 1996, as he was plagued by numerous bankruptcies in New York, Trump started licensing agreements that often gave him an ownership stake in properties that bore his name without requiring any investment from Trump, thus catalyzing him to seek investors in Russia.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio said, “He needed to find business partners and to sell units. Money began to accumulate among the oligarchs in Moscow, so anyone looking to capitalize on that would have found himself in Putin’s circle because all power revolves around him and most of the great fortunes that were accumulated after the fall of Communism went to people who count Putin as a friend. If you have all this cross-pollination, and if you’re Donald Trump, you will be led to the political elite and the Kremlin.”
As USA Today reported:
Back in 2008, Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. told investors in Moscow that the Trump Organization had trademarked the Donald Trump name in Russia and planned to build housing and hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi, and to sell licenses to other developers, according to the Russian daily Kommersant.
Trump Jr. admitted, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There's indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble."
Sergei Millian, president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce said he and Trump made a deal to develop real estate projects in Russia and former Soviet states, but nothing was built.
He added that in 2007 and 2008, Russians “would buy up dozens of apartments in Trump properties in the U.S. The level of business amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars — what he received as a result of interaction with Russian businessmen.”
Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, who is close to Putin, who funded Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow to the tune of $20 million, told Russian media they might invest with Trump, including a Trump Tower near Crocus City Hall, estimated to cost $350 million. That was temporarily shelved when Trump ran for president.
After the pageant, Trump bragged to Real Estate Weekly about the meeting he had convened with his possible Russian patrons: “Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”
Agalarov told Komsomolskaya Pravda in 2015, “When Donald Trump was here in Moscow he said a lot of good things about our country, our culture, our people. And in his interviews he says that if he becomes president of the United States he will certainly keep in mind that he has friends in Russia.”