Oleg Deripaska is a name you should know. He’s Paul Manafort Olig-Daddy, tried to turn Montenegro into a Russian colony; is suing the Associated Press, and is a Russian Mobster pretending to be a philanthropist.
When Donald Trump shoved a fellow head of state at last week’s NATO Summit, it was probably not just because he was in the way.
The man Trump grabbed, Dusko Markovic, Premier of Montenegro, not only led his small Balkan nation to ratify membership in NATO, in an historic turn toward the West, but cost Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska a lot of money.
Anatomy of “The Shove”
After NATO leaders had strolled across a courtyard to take a group photo in Brussels, Trump shoved his counterpart to the side.
Video of the incident shows that no words were spoken by the American president, no “excuse me” or “pardon me.”
Trump just reached out, grabbed Markovic’s right shoulder, and unceremoniously pulled him to one side without acknowledging him in any way. It was as if, for Trump, Markovic wasn’t even there. The brazen snub led to speculation it had been deliberate.
Nor did it go unnoticed. Being muscled out of the way by the leader of the free world is not something that happens everyday at a NATO conference.
“The Shove” got coverage everywhere. News outlets quoted author J.K. Rowling, who tweeted a video of the incident, saying “You tiny, tiny, tiny little man.”
Even Seth Meyers, host of “Late Night With Seth Meyers, ”riffed on the exchange. “Look at this guy. You’re a world leader at a meeting of dignitaries and you act like they just called your number at KFC,” Meyers said. “Me, that’s mine, the 12-piece!”
The ubiquitous Oleg Deripaska
Was the shove deliberate? Was Trump helping his Russian benefactors by making the Premier of a small Balkan nation look weak at home? Or, as conservative media put it, “Was The Left Losing Their Minds?”
Several factors to consider: Russia had stridently opposed efforts in Montenegro to join NATO.
Vehemently opposing the move was Vladimir Putin, as well as his crony Oleg Deripaska, one of the richest men in Russia, and a well-connected Kremlin insider.
Deripaska is one of the world’s leading industrialists, controlling a significant percentage of the aluminum business worldwide. Deripaska’s aluminum plants in Montenegro, which account for 40% of the country’s exports, which give him real clout.
A Sunny Place for Shady People
Deripaska is also an outsize player in Montenegro. Wealthy Russians have long made Montenegro a retreat for their families— and a place to stash dirty money and loose cash—on the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
Deripaska has invested millions in luxury real estate along the shoreline. He is a key investor in a hyper-exclusive Russians-only enclave on the coast designed to cater to the superyachts of the world’s mega-rich.
Also, the day after the shove, the seemingly-omnipresent Oleg Deripaska’s offer to testify about his financial ties with Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort—in exchange for immunity— was turned down by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Stirring things up in the Balkans
But the biggest consequence of “The Shove” is to throw a spotlight on a little-known story of Russia’s involvement in electoral intrigue in 2016.… not in the U.S., but in Montenegro.
While most Americans couldn’t tell the state of Montenegro from the Grand Duchy of Fenwick (in the classic Peter Sellers movie “The Mouse That Roared”), what Russia did in Montenegro last year is important.
The Russian election tampering there provides a frame of reference for the Russo-Trump election hacking going on in the U.S. at the same time.
After the tug of war over Montenegro reached a crisis point in the fall of 2016, during Montenegro’s 2016 parliamentary elections, the government announced it had foiled a Russian-linked plot to seize power, assassinate the Prime Minister, and install a leader who would keep the country out of NATO.
The plan was for a handful of Special Forces troops to storm the parliament building in the capital wearing the uniforms of Montenegro’s elite security services.
After subduing the guards inside, they would assassinate Milo Đukanović, the country’s dominant politician and prime minister.
Tipped off by an informant
But an informant warned Montenegro authorities, and police arrested members of the group at various locations, including 20 Serbian nationals, Some of the arrested Serbs reportedly fought on the Russian side in Donbas, in Ukraine, including a retired Serbian general who is the leader of a right-wing nationalist movement.
What saves this from being just another “fake news” story of “big intrigue in a small nation in the Balkans” is the fact that Serbia reluctantly agreed there had been a serious plot, and secretly expelled several Russian citizens.
Observers saw the coup attempt as the most spectacular example of Russia’s efforts in recent years to flex its muscles in the Balkans: in Serbia, in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska and in Montenegro — all countries which Moscow views as part of its traditional sphere of influence because of a shared Christian Orthodox faith.
Paul Manafort and Oleg Deripaska
Rarely off the world stage, Deripaska plays a surprising number of roles. As Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort’s longtime benefactor, for example, Deripaska is at the center of the intrigue swirling around the Trump-Russia investigation.
Oleg Deripaska was richer than just about anyone before him in the history of the planet. Still, he had a problem:
The New York Times put it politely: “While one of the world’s biggest global players, not all of the world is open to him. Mr Deripaska’s US visa was revoked in 2006 after concerns over his business dealings were raised by the FBI.”
It was time for a charm offensive. Deripaska started buying politicians, former politicians, and original gangsta K-Street lobbyists like Paul Manafort, who was far from being only U.S. political insider selling access to Russian Mobsters.
A roster of unsavory characters
Of course, Manafort has a background of advising unpalatable politicians, and has worked for thugs like Congolese dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, and Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Seen in this light, Manafort’s association with Deripaska’s man in the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, can be seen as perfectly natural.
Eventually the charm offensive worked. In December 2005, Deripaska was issued a multi-entry U.S. visa.
During his brief stay in the U.S. he signed a World Bank loan, spoke at a Carnegie Endowment meeting, and even attended a dinner at Harvard University, where, thanks to a generous donation, he was appointed to an international council. Of course, Harvard will let anyone in if they’ve got enough money.
“Gangster turned philanthropist”: Fake news
But it’s not just in the U.S. It’s a worldwide phenomena. When gangsters get really hugely, big-ly rich, big, they aren’t called gangsters anymore. They’re called philanthropists.
And so it was with Oleg Deripaska. He helped finance construction for Russia’s Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, made headlines when he stepped in to fix the city’s stray dog problem after the Games began, and more.
Dad-gum it, as his own website is happy to tell you, he’s a philanthropist.
A 2011 Toronto Globe and Mail profile described Deripaska as a shy and not “conspicuously flashy” man who considers himself a “patriot.”
Deripaska was not eager to publicize his numerous charities, the newspaper reported, although he let manage to let slip that he’d contributed some $250 million “largely to education projects” in this decade alone.
A chalet, a ski lift, & a mega-yacht= Shy guy
At the time, the paper reported, he owned a chalet outside Moscow with its own ski lift, a 239-foot, six-deck mega-yacht called the Queen K, properties in Tokyo, London, and two dozen other locations around the world.
His U.S. investments include two multi-million dollar Manhattan townhouses bought through shell companies owned by a trust in the British Virgin Islands (natch), as well as a controlling stake in the largest Russian-language newspaper in the United States.
Hundreds died, giant smelting complexes in remote Siberia became battlegrounds, but the mainstream media pleads amnesia on the subject of how Deripaska ended up on top of the heap after what Russians call “The Great Aluminum Wars” (there were three.)
The tale is typically told as if it were a pebble, skipping over the rough spots.
“The young Deripaska was brought up by his grandparents in a Cossack village in southern Russia, then moved around between his relatives from the age of seven as his widowed mother worked for spells in other cities.
The practical-minded Mr Deripaska served in the army, then studied physics at Moscow State University. When he graduated, he moved into the metal-trading market, buying cheap Russian-made aluminium and selling it at a profit overseas.
It was the first step on a fast track to untold wealth – and political influence. Mr Deripaska eventually became Russia’s richest man, with a fortune estimated at more than £16 billion.
Where is the Russian Mafiya in this story? Nowhere. Tomorrow, why that is.