- - Thursday, August 4, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Since I spend a great deal of time in Moscow, I thought I’d attempt to shed some light on how things work there and how Republican candidate Donald Trump’s past interactions with the Russian business community might affect future relations. The leftist media has had a field day with the subject of Mr. Trump and his ties to the Kremlin, most of it conjecture and disinformation, disseminated with glee.

First, many pundits have made light of the fact that there is no Trump Tower in Moscow, but that is not surprising. Moscow is the special preserve of a tightly knit community of oligarchs who run the city — with the Kremlin’s blessing, of course.

It is difficult to start a business in Russia’s capital. Talk about barriers to entry.

This is, of course, for a reason. The oligarchs don’t want any competition. Layer upon layer of graft and patronage are distributed throughout the system, making it ever harder for foreign real estate firms to operate.

A Moscow Trump Tower simply is a dream that is not going to be allowed to happen, an unacceptable stain on Russian pride.

A modern “city” is being erected among Stalin’s old Seven Sisters in Moscow. Gleaming designer towers, decked out in uniquely Russian bling, are changing the skyline. A widened shoulder on the highway overlooks the construction area so ordinary Muscovites can pull over and take selfies as the shiny new buildings are completed. Mr. Trump would not be a name allowed to tarnish this development — period.

The New Yorker magazine and other mouthpieces of the Hillary Clinton campaign have also had fun fanning fears of Russian financing of Trump projects outside of Russia. But let’s be real: There are a lot of very rich people in Russia.

Real estate is a capital-intensive business. Russians have lots and lots of money, and they want more of it. They are clever and astute businesswise. In short, they can smell a good opportunity.

With all of the capital fleeing Russia over the past 10 years as the Kremlin tightened its grip, Mr. Trump’s projects were a natural magnet for this “smart money.” The fact that Mr. Trump has Russian investors is not at all surprising — something the Trumps have acknowledged.

It was way back in 2008 that Donald Trump Jr. openly told a conference of real estate investors that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”

“We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” the younger Mr. Trump said. “This should be seen as a compliment, as a testament to the Trump organization’s skill at making money, at making great outcomes, at making investors money. Russian oligarchs are not going to throw away money on a Trump deal. Why would they? It was simply an investment which the investor thought would be successful.”

As for the leftist meme that somehow Russian President Vladimir Putin would take advantage of a President Trump and undermine NATO, the simple fact is that the Western military alliance is already weak. It is destroying itself from within by not spending enough on its own defense. Germany recently acknowledged that only a few dozen of its combat aircraft are operational — two years after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine.

Mr. Trump is right: We are broke. We have to rebuild America first. NATO needs to be forced to step up. No administration, Republican or Democrat, has been able to make this happen.

In the long run, NATO would be stronger with a Trump presidency because he would serve as a real deterrent to Russian aggression. Mr. Putin is not taking advantage of Mr. Trump, as a real estate developer or as a future president. Mr. Trump is simply doing what he does best: telling the truth about the situation.

L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.

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