They say truth is stranger than fiction. In Russia, it already is; in America, it soon will be. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was a lowly KGB agent but is now president and worth billions. Like Trump, he mastered the dark arts of deceit, secrecy, money and power.
Boris Yeltsin privatized Russia’s economy, intending to make it more efficient and to transfer wealth to the masses. It was a total fiasco. For virtually nothing, the most undervalued shares in history ended up in the hands of 22 oligarchs (super-rich movers and shakers). The other 150 million Russians ended up in poverty.
Under communism, the wealthiest person was about six times as rich as the poorest. After privatization, this became 250,000 times as great. Imports of “bling” and Rolls-Royces skyrocketed. The impoverished millions became furious. Putin saw his chance but had no political experience. No problem!
He moved to Moscow, joined Yeltsin’s administration, gained experience, then ran against him, posing as a reformer, and won. Not understanding finance, he ignored Bill Browder, an American in Moscow running a wildly successful investment firm. This was also snapping up those dirt-cheap shares and making a fortune. In so doing, Browder uncovered the theft of billions of dollars by oligarchs. Browder fought it and cleaned up the corruption. This was with Putin’s acquiescence since the oligarchs’ power was a threat to him.
Putin soon realized he did not need Browder to keep up the good work. He could take on the oligarchs and he could get rich! Oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky had supported Putin’s opponents. No problem!
He was arrested, humiliated, robbed and imprisoned. The other oligarchs got the hint immediately. Browder has no doubt that Putin shook them down, letting them stay alive but snaffling half their loot. Now, there is no legal proof of this, but remember that Browder can follow the money uncannily.
Browder was abruptly deported from Russia. Putin tried to appropriate his firm’s investments with bogus “judgments” for “tax evasion.” Browder saw this coming, however, and moved his investors’ money to London. He thwarted an Interpol Red Notice (international arrest warrant) from Putin, infuriating him, and defeated a Putin-backed lawsuit in London intended to ruin him.
The vicious tyrant Putin was even more infuriated when Browder’s attorney Sergei Magnitsky refused to commit perjury to cover up the corruption he had discovered. Tragically, this was no problem, either; Magnitsky died horribly in jail. Putin’s critics often meet with “accidents” hidden behind a bodyguard of lies.
Similar secrecy surrounds Putin’s fortune. Financial experts at Bloomberg once estimated it at $70 billion. Browder put it at $200 billion. In effect, it is infinite. Besides his wealth, Putin has vast power and the free use of palaces, aircraft and other State assets.
Russia’s economy is no great secret. It depends on energy exports. It is the world’s top exporter of oil and gas. Putin gets rich from these exports via the shareholdings that he extorted from the oligarchs. But Hillary Clinton is a global warming fighter who might have crimped his cash flow. No problem!
America’s intelligence agencies have shown that Putin helped Trump by hacking into Democrats’ emails and feeding them to Wikileaks. Putin will get his payoff. Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon and Putin’s pal, will become secretary of state. Putin’s crony Paul Manafort is Trump’s political fixer.
Donald Trump Jr. even admitted this: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump has played millions of people for fools. His supporters fondly think they will get richer. They will not. Only the top 1 percent will. Republicans are interested only in America’s oligarchs. They are hell-bent on cutting their taxes, fighting wars for oil, abolishing Obamacare and destroying unions. Schools and other public assets will be looted. Your parents’ own money in Social Security and Medicare will be raided, for the third time, leaving you on the hook when they retire.
Donald Trump’s America will become like Vladimir Putin’s Russia. You can take this lying down or fight back like Browder. He beat Vlad the Impaler, the most powerful man in the world, three times (the lawsuit, the Red Notice and the “judgments”). And he got an act of Congress passed to impose sanctions on Putin for ordering Magnitsky’s death. He impaled Vlad the Impaler.
Everyone should read Browder’s book Red Notice. He is a model for everyone in the grim days ahead.