Both Senator Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley voted to lift sanctions against three Russian companies linked to oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Why did Iowa’s senators vote to assist Deripaska, once Russia’s wealthiest man with an estimated worth of $28 billon?
Critics describe Deripaska as a thug with direct links to Russian organized crime. In the 1990s he was one of the Russian billionaires that competed in a vicious battle to take over the state owned assets of the failed Soviet Union. Allegedly, a former manager of a Russian metal smelter that Deripaska seized was told to transfer a majority share or, “this is the last time you will leave here alive.”
Deripaska also has a direct link to Mueller’s Russian investigation. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was a lobbyist for Diripaska.
In April the Trump’s Treasury department issued economic sanctions against seven of Russia’s richest men and their companies in an effort to punish President Putin’s inner circle for interference in the 2016 election. The sanctions included Deripaska, the majority owner of Rusal, the world’s second largest aluminum plant. The sanctions could effectively ruin Deripaska and his aluminum empire. If Rusal failed, it could create chaos in the world’s metal markets.
Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed the Trump administration was imposing the sanctions in retaliation for “a range of malign activity around the globe” by Russia.
President Trump has been roundly criticized for his seeming reluctance to punish either Russia or Putin for their interference in the 2016 election. He has pointed to the sanctions as evidence that he has been hard on Russia.
“Nobody has been tougher on Russia,” Trump has repeated.
However, Mnuchin has been slow to enforce the sanctions on Russian companies and in mid-December totally reversed the sanctions on Deripaska. Reversing and ending the sanctions has produced an outcry that Trump has once again folded in confronting Russia. Michael A. McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Russia, responded to the repercussions of lifting the sanctions as, “Score that a win for Putin.”
Treasury Mnuchin sold Senate Republicans on lifting the sanctions by claiming he had worked out a deal that would reduce Deripaska’s control over his companies to less than 50%.
However, as the New York Times investigated the details of the Mnuchin agreement, it appears Deripaska simply transferred his ownership to family members and associates therefore, retaining majority control. According to the Times, “Taken together, Mr. Deripaska, his foundation, his ex-wife, her father and Orandy Capital (a close family friend) would own nearly 57 percent of EN+ (Rusal holding company) under the deal.
Eleven Senate Republicans agreed with Democrats and voted to maintain the sanctions. They saw the Mnuchin deal as a phony manipulation that benefits Deripaska, a Putin crony.
Maine’s GOP Senator Susan Collins said, “I do disapprove of the easing of the sanctions because I think it sends the wrong message to Russia and to the oligarch…who will in my judgment continue to maintain considerable control under the Treasury’s plan.”
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana was asked why he joined the Democrats and voted to maintain the sanctions on Deripaska, he replied, “Because the principal involved is a gangster.”
The question remains, why did Senators Ernst and Grassley vote to end sanctions on Deripaska and ignore the advice of both Democrats and their Republican colleagues? Were they fooled by Mnuchin? Were they ignorant of Deripaska’s link to Russian organized crime and involvement in Putin’s attack on American elections? They must answer for their votes.
by Rick Smith
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