The Red Menace Isn’t What It Used To Be. It’s Not Even Red. It’s Orange.

One thing everyone needs to understand about the Orange Menace’s love for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is that Russia isn’t a Communist country anymore. Boris Yeltsin banned the Communist Party of the Soviet Union back in 1991, shortly before the Soviet Union was formally dissolved. Putin resigned from the party that year.

In 1995, Putin helped organize the pro-government “Our Home Is Russia” party. In 1999, he joined the new “Unity” party. That’s the same year he described Communism as “a blind alley, far away from the mainstream of civilization”. In 2008, during his second term as Prime Minister, Putin became the leader of the “United Russia Party”.

Although there are still quite a few Communists in Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation is much less popular than United Russia. In this year’s election, Putin’s party got 54% of the vote. The Communists came in second with 13%.

Since Putin isn’t a Communist anymore, what is he? Here’s how Wikipedia describes United Russia:

The Party has no coherent ideology; however, it embraces specific politicians and officials with a variety of political views who support the administration. The Party appeals mainly to non-ideological voters; therefore, United Russia is often classified as a “catch-all party” or as a “party of power“. 

In 2009 the United Russia Party proclaimed “Russian Conservatism” as its official ideology.

United Russia isn’t so much a political party that tries to win elections in order to carry out a set of policies. Instead, it’s one of the tools used by the rich and powerful to win elections so they can maintain their positions at the top of Russian society.

Putin began his political ascent when he was put in charge of the Presidential Property Management Department in the late 1990s. His job was to manage the transfer of overseas property belonging to the Soviet Union and Communist Party to the new Russian Federation. That process had been going on since the fall of the Soviet Union. But instead of being transferred to the new government, much of that property was “privatized”. In other words, it ended up in the hands of a small number of well-placed people, including Putin, who quickly became extremely rich. 

In the words of the economist and lawyer James S. Henry, whose long article “The Curious World of Donald T___p’s Private Russia Connections” tells the sordid story in detail:

…One of the most central facts about modern Russia [is] its emergence since the 1990s as a world-class kleptocracy, second only to China as a source of illicit capital and criminal loot, with more than $1.3 trillion of net offshore “flight wealth” as of 2016…

[It was] one of the most massive transfers of public wealth into private hands that the world has ever seen.For example, Russia’s 1992 “voucher privatization” program permitted a tiny elite of former state-owned company managers and party apparatchiks to acquire control over a vast number of public enterprises, often with the help of outright mobsters.

A majority of Gazprom, the state energy company that controlled a third of the world’s gas reserves, was sold for $230 million; Russia’s entire national electric grid was privatized for $630 million; ZIL, Russia’s largest auto company, went for about $4 million; ports, ships, oil, iron and steel, aluminum, much of the high-tech arms and airlines industries, the world’s largest diamond mines, and most of Russia’s banking system also went for a song.

In 1994–96, under the infamous “loans-for-shares” program, Russia privatized 150 state-owned companies for just $12 billion, most of which was loaned to a handful of well-connected buyers by the state… The principal beneficiaries of this “privatization”—actually, cartelization—were initially just 25 or so budding oligarchs with the insider connections to buy these properties and the muscle to hold them.… 

For the vast majority of ordinary Russian citizens, this extreme re-concentration of wealth coincided with nothing less than a full-scale 1930s-type depression, a “shock therapy”-induced rise in domestic price levels that wiped out the private savings of millions, rampant lawlessness, a public health crisis, and a sharp decline in life expectancy and birth rates.

Is it any wonder at all that Vladimir Putin, the man in charge of this highly successful criminal enterprise, is one of the Orange Menace’s favorite people? T___p built his real estate career on tax breaks from local government (a billion dollars from New York City alone), tax evasion, loans that were never repaid and a number of shady deals, while Putin should be made an honorary member of the Republican Party. Donnie and anti-Muslim, super-secretive white guy Vladimir have a whole lot in common.

It’s remarkable that the Orange Menace hasn’t said a bad word about Putin or Russia since he began running for President, even though he’s criticized just about everyone else on Earth. It isn’t just admiration on T___p’s part. There has been a lot of money involved. Mr. Henry proceeds:

… For many banks, private bankers, hedge funds, law firms, and accounting firms, for leading oil companies like ExxonMobil and BP, as well as for needy borrowers like the Trump Organization, the opportunity to feed on post-Soviet spoils was a godsend. This was vulture capitalism at its worst.

The nine-lived Trump, in particular, had just suffered a string of six successive bankruptcies. So the massive illicit outflows from Russia … from the mid-1990s provided precisely the kind of undiscriminating investors that he needed. These outflows arrived at just the right time to fund several of Trump’s post-2000 high-risk real estate and casino ventures—most of which failed. As Donald Trump, Jr., executive vice president of development and acquisitions for the Trump Organization, [said] in September 2008 (on the basis, he said, of his own “half dozen trips to Russia in 18 months”):

“In terms of high-end product influx into the United States, 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.”

All this helps to explain one of the most intriguing puzzles about Donald Trump’s long, turbulent business career: how he managed to keep financing it, despite a dismal track record of failed projects.

According to the “official story,” this was simply due to a combination of brilliant deal-making, Trump’s gold-plated brand, and raw animal spirits—with $916 million of creative tax dodging as a kicker. But this official story is hokum. The truth is that, since the late 1990s, Trump was also greatly assisted by these abundant new sources of global finance, especially from “submerging markets” like Russia. [T___p and Putin] are not evil twins, exactly, but they are both byproducts of the … scams that were peddled to Russia’s struggling new democracy.

So, maybe the Orange Menace did something very bad on one of his trips to Russia and they’re blackmailing him. Maybe one of his fundamental desires is that the U.S. and Russia form an alliance to make weaker countries give up their nuclear weapons (as reported here). Maybe he sees Putin as an ally in the fight against Islamic radicals or a coming war with China. Maybe he views Vlad as a role model, since Putin often has his critics and enemies murdered. It seems likely, however, that it’s mostly about the money.

(For a look at one way Putin plans to rake in the rubles once the new President and the Secretary of State from Exxon are in charge, take a look at this. There’s a whole lot of oil just north of Russia.)