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Donald Trump and Russia: A Web that Grows More Tangled All the Time
Donald Trump and Russia: A Web that Grows More Tangled All the Time
Frank Mermoud, a key figure at the recent Republican convention, has strong business ties with Ukraine, to which others in Trumps orbit have been linked as questions grow over the candidates interests in Russia and view of its president
Composite of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin
Donald Trump travelled to Moscow in 2013 to meet Vladimir Putin hoping to discuss plans for a Trump Tower near Red Square.
Peter Stone, David Smith, Ben Jacobs, Alec Luhn and Rupert Neate
Saturday 30 July 2016 10.38 EDT
A shorter URL for the above link:
A key figure at the Republican national convention where Donald Trump was nominated for president has strong business ties with Ukraine, the Guardian has learned.
The party platform, written at the convention in Cleveland last week, removed references to arming Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russia rebels, who have received material support from the Kremlin. Trumps links to Russia are under scrutiny after a hack of Democratic national committee emails, allegedly by Russian agents.
The coordinator of the Washington diplomatic corps for the Republicans in Cleveland was Frank Mermoud, a former state department official involved in business ventures in Ukraine via Cub Energy, a Black Sea-focused oil and gas company of which he is a director. He is also on the board of the US Ukraine Business Council.
Mermoud has longstanding ties to Trumps campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who in 2010 helped pro-Russia Viktor Yanukovych refashion his image and win a presidential election in Ukraine. Manafort was brought in earlier this year to oversee the convention operations and its staffing.
Three sources at the convention also told the Guardian that they saw Philip Griffin, a long-time aide to Manafort in Kiev, working with the foreign dignitaries programme.
After years of working in the Ukraine for Paul and others, it was surprising to run into Phil working at the convention, one said.
The change to the platform on arming Ukraine was condemned even by some Republicans. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio described it as deeply troubling. Veteran party operative and lobbyist Charlie Black said the new position in the platform doesnt have much support from Republicans, adding that the change was unusual.
Thousands of Democratic National Committee emails, meanwhile, were hacked and published by WikiLeaks on the eve of the partys convention in Philadelphia this week. The mails showed that officials, who are meant to remain impartial, favoured Hillary Clinton and discussed ways to undermine her rival, Bernie Sanders. The leak led to the resignation of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Since the DNC hack became public, hacks against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Clinton campaign have been reported.
The FBI is investigating, with all signs pointing to Russian involvement, though Moscow rejects this but experts argue Vladimir Putin has attempted in the past to damage western democracy, saying Russian security agencies have made cyberattacks on French, Greek, Italian and Latvian targets during elections. In 2014, malware was discovered in Ukrainian election software that would have robbed it of legitimacy.
Alina Polyakova, deputy director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, said: We cant say 100% that Mr Putin had a hand in any of this but this kind of meddling in other countries affairs is part of Russias toolkit. Its a kind of asymmetric warfare. To me, this looks like something straight from the Russian secret service playbook, but Im surprised at how brazen theyve been.
Trump and his campaign have denied any connection to the hack but on Wednesday he ignited a firestorm by calling on Russia to find 30,000 emails deleted from the private server used by Clinton while she was secretary of state in the Obama administration. I think you will probably be mightily rewarded by our press, he said. He later claimed that he was being sarcastic.
Analysts suggest three primary motivations for the WikiLeaks email dump, quite probably overlapping: doing harm to the US political process to undermine its credibility; doing harm to Clinton (WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is no friend); and boosting Trump, who has heaped praise on Putin and last week broke from Republican policy by suggesting the US would not automatically come to the aid of Nato allies and saying he would consider recognising Crimea as Russian territory.
James Rubin, a former assistant secretary of state now advising the Clinton campaign, said: If you are the president of Russia and you have stated over and over again that you are concerned that the United States through its enlargement of Nato, through its policies in Europe towards Ukraine, towards Georgia, towards other countries in Central Asia [is] putting pressure on Russia, and you are the president of a country that has been seeking to undermine that process and roll back the independent Europe thats whole and free and push it back, thats your foreign policy objective.
So then you look at the United States and you say, Well, which partys policies would be more likely to allow me to achieve my objectives? Thats the way that a Russian leader would think.
With Democrats and journalists now trawling through Trumps past dealings with all the oligarchs, as he once put it, as far back as the time of the Soviet Union, the candidate has repeatedly and angrily stated that he has zero, nothing to do with Russia. He has however continued to refuse to release his tax returns, which could prove his claim definitively.
Chris Coons, a Democratic senator for Delaware, said: That seems to be a striking allegation to make because that would be unbelievably irresponsible. I have heard in the last day troubling allegations of the relationship between Paul Manafort and players in the Ukraine who are very closely tied to Putin and the Kremlin but I have no evidence about it.
Coons added: At this point we should allow the intelligence community and our foreign policy leaders to pursue whatever leads there may be to whatever conclusion they will reach. I do think the degree of irresponsibility shown by Donald Trump in literally urging on an illegal surveillance act by a hostile foreign power raises strong enough questions that it merits investigation. Its truly unsettling and something that deserves out attention.
Jim Lewis, a senior vice-president and programme director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that Russians had hacked into the DNC and its Republican counterpart in 2008 and 2012, but those hacks were not leaked.
The difference this time is the leak, he said. We can say with some certainty that its Russian hacking, but we should be cautious about saying they were behind the leak.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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