Many Democrats, and some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, (R) Arizona, have been critical of President-Elect Donald Trump’s overtures to Russia, fearing they’re based more on cults of personality than any sense of history. Animosity between Russia and the U.S. arose not long after the Yalta Conference and led, not long after, to a fearful Cold War. Tensions reached a high point when the then U.S.S.R. began installing Russian missiles in Cuba.
Though war over the Cuban caper was averted by J.F.K.’s brinksmanship, relations between the two nations remained contentious over Berlin, alleged human rights abuses and, most recently over the Russian annexation of Crimea, formerly a part of the Ukraine, and the 2016 hacking of the Democrats’ election apparatus.
During the campaign Donald Trump claimed that Russian leader Vladimir Putin called him a “genius.” Trump, who has had real estate business dealings in Russia, claimed to know Putin, personally, because of a “Green Room Summit” that took place before an American morning TV talk show. The President-elect has been effusive about Putin’s popularity at home and promised better relations with our traditional bugaboo.
Among other things, Trump has suggested that the U.S. should tear up the Paris climate accord and recognize Russian annexation of the Crimea. He has, also, promised to bring back coal and free American energy producers from onerous E.P.A. and other regulations. These plans, superficially, seem unrelated but, in fact, may not be. Trump, the master dealmaker, may have insured a friendlier, kinder, Russia if his plans come to fruition.
Vladimir Putin, purportedly, is one of the richest men in the world with a net worth estimated to be in the 70 billion dollar range. Though the Kremlin boss has been portrayed to be as poor as an East Liverpool curate by Kremlin spokespersons, the facts belie their assertions.
A 2010 Wikileaks spill of State Department documents revealed that the U.S. Treasury believed Putin held a significant position in Gunvor. Others have claimed that his interest could be as high as 50%. Started in 2000 by Putin’s friend Gennady Timchenko, and Torbjörn Törnqvist, to ship Russian crude oil the company has grown to become the 4th largest crude oil trader in the world. In 2014 Timchenko sold his interest to Törnqvist due to U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine.
The Cypress registered Gunvor was based in Geneva, Switzerland. It now has worldwide offices, including those in Singapore, the Bahamas, and Dubai. It has expanded from being a Russian crude dealer into a trader that owns terminals and port facilities. It, also, has a history of dealings in this country. In 2009 Gunvor America became a Texas corporation in order to facilitate oil shipments overseas through Vancouver and other ports.
Gunvor is the 4th largest crude oil trader in the world but its reach extends beyond oil. A subsidiary, Pinesdale, LLC, bought a one-third share in the Silverpeak coal mine in Montana for 400 million dollars. It’s Houston operation was heavily oversubscribed.
Its website describes Gunvor Group as “one of the world’s largest independent commodities trading houses by turnover, creating logistics solutions that safely and efficiently move physical energy, metals and bulk materials from where they are sourced and stored to where they are demanded most.” Bloomberg has called it a 100 billion dollar company.
The Paris Agreement, an Obama landmark initiative, requires strict transparency by signatory nations. That transparency includes requirements for disclosure of energy production, transfer, and use. These requirements might not be pleasing to Gunvor, which has a reputation for secrecy.
Increased production of coal, seemingly, would benefit Gunvor’s operation in Montana. So would official recognition of Russia’s seizure of the Crimea because it would mean the end of U.S. sanctions on Russians, including Timchenko, for that adventure. A softening of EPA standards will be beneficial to energy producers, as will an escape from the Paris Agreement’s reporting requirements
Personal friendships can be a starting point for diplomacy even if they are subject to unraveling later. When they are based on mutual admiration and contain financial incentives they are more likely to endure. Trump may have found a way to Putin’s heart through the Russian’s pocketbook. That’s the surest way to insure that relations between our two countries improve.