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Aug 15 2019

The Russian Connection: Moscow Mitch Pas de Deux With Putin

Last month, on the heels of Robert Mueller’s report and testimony before two House committees, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, formerly known as “The Human Hybrid Turtle,” blocked consideration of two bills that were aimed at protecting the US voting process and combating Russian interference. It earned him the new nickname “Moscow Mitch” that prompted him to take to the Senate floor to express his hurt feelings.

Well, that isn’t the half of it. It now appears Moscow Mitch is doing his all to please Russian President Vladimir Putin and his close friend, aluminum oligarch Oleg Derepaska.

In January, as the Senate debated whether to permit the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Russia’s largest aluminum producer, two men with millions of dollars riding on the outcome met for dinner at a restaurant in Zurich.

On one side of the table sat the head of sales for Rusal, the Russian aluminum producer that would benefit most immediately from a favorable Senate vote. The U.S. government had imposed sanctions on Rusal as part of a campaign to punish Russia for “malign activity around the globe,” including attempts to sway the 2016 presidential election.

On the other side sat Craig Bouchard, an American entrepreneur who had gained favor with officials in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Bouchard was trying to build the first new aluminum-rolling mill in the United States in nearly four decades, in a corner of northeastern Kentucky ravaged by job losses and the opioid epidemic — a project that stood to benefit enormously if Rusal were able to get involved.

The men did not discuss the Senate debate that night at dinner, Bouchard said in an interview, describing it as an amicable introductory chat.

But the timing of their meeting shows how much a major venture in McConnell’s home state had riding on the Democratic-backed effort in January to keep sanctions in place.

By the next day, McConnell had successfully blocked the bill, despite the defection of 11 Republicans.

Within weeks, the U.S. government had formally lifted sanctions on Rusal, citing a deal with the company that reduced the ownership interest of its Kremlin-linked founder, Oleg Deripaska. And three months later, Rusal announced plans for an extraordinary partnership with Bouchard’s company, providing $200 million in capital to buy a 40 percent stake in the new aluminum plant in Ashland, Ky. — a project Gov. Matt Bevin (R) boasted was “as significant as any economic deal ever made in the history of Kentucky.”

Moscow Mitch has denied that he had an foreknowledge of the Kentucky deal, stating the the lifting of sanctions the night after he met with Bouchard was merely a coincidence. Believe that and I have a couple of bridges and tunnels in NYC to sell you.

Meanwhile a declassified white paper study from the Pentagon looks at the Russian play for global domination and how the US is losing that race. . MSNBC host Rachel Maddow read the 150 page report during her vacation while laid up with an injured ankle. During her opening Wednesday night, she shared details of the Pentagon white paper and how Moscow Mitch’s role in facilitating an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in his home state of Kentucky, among other things, aligns with Russia’s strategy.