Trump-Russia Axis Scores Major Victory in Battle over European Energy Autonomy

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018. Prior to the conference, President Trump met with President Putin to discuss a variety of subjects including election meddling, the war in Syria and the North Korean threat. Photo by David Silpa/UPI

Trump allies join forces with Putin proxies to seize control through the Trojan horse of Russian gas.

Coverage of Trump-Russia collusion understandably focuses on the run-up to the 2016 Presidential election. But a far more serious consequence of the Trump-Putin axis is Trump associates’ operations in Europe, which – if allowed to continue – will result in the destruction of European energy security, and perhaps the end of the EU as an autonomous bloc.

Putin is now pulling it into the patronage of his proxies in an attempt to make the EU dependent on his gas, rather than its own.

Croatia, a key energy hub for Europe, was until recently drawn into European and American power. But Putin is now pulling it into the patronage of his proxies in an attempt to make the EU dependent on his gas, rather than its own.

Balkan Takeovers


Press conference following the Russian-Hungarian talks. With Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin, September 2018

In 2007, Hungary’s national energy company MOL proposed an ambitious project to link up all of Central and Southeastern Europe’s gas systems from Poland to Croatia. This included building a new gas terminal on the Croatian island of Krk, which is viewed as holding the key to European energy dependence.

It is this project that Trump associates have targeted relentlessly.

Knighthead’s closed-door deal-making resulted in a stunning victory for two Kremlin-backed banks, Sberbank PJSC and VTB Group

One Trump-aligned company is US hedge-fund Knighthead Capital, which negotiated the bailout of Croatia’s largest company, Agrokor – a giant agribusiness conglomerate of 143 companies across the entire Western Balkans.

After the Croatian government stepped in to bailout the ailing firm, two Russian banks under US sanctions – both with ties to Donald Trump – were the chief beneficiaries.

Knighthead’s closed-door deal-making resulted in a stunning victory for two Kremlin-backed banks, Sberbank PJSC and VTB Group. Both banks have well-documented ties to Donald Trump despite having been under US sanctions since 2014.

Trump and Sberbank share the same defence lawyer, Marc Kasowitz. And Sberbank chairman Herman Gref set up meetings for Trump with Russian businessmen. And Russian fixer Felix Sater – whose real estate firm Bayrock Group had signed a deal with Trump’s company in 2005 – had emailed Michael Cohen and explained that he had Trump-linked projects, that were discussed personally with Putin.

GazProm Steps In

According to federal filings, Knighthead – which shoved the largest company in the former Yugoslavia into the coffers of these Trump-connected Russian banks – has high-level ties to the Trump administration through two senior officials: Daris Meeks and Andrew Olmen.

Gazprom Export recently signed a ten-year gas supply contract with a Croatian oil company, PPD. This set back EU energy policy years, if not decades.

The Putin ties go even deeper: Meeks and Olmem worked alongside another Venable partner, William Nordwind, who had been previously exposed for being on Putin’s payroll, as well as secretly lobbying for Gazprom Export in relation to European energy policy.

And the lobbying has paid off: Gazprom Export recently signed a ten-year gas supply contract with a Croatian oil company, PPD. This set back EU energy policy years, if not decades.

Neither Knighthead nor its lobbyists replied to requests for comment. In a statement, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said: “Andrew Olmem had no involvement with Gazprom Export and Croatia”.

Russia Exploits Corruption Allegations

Another thorn in the side of EU energy independence in the region is an ongoing dispute between the national energy companies of the two countries whose cooperation is needed to build an alternative gas transhipment route through Krk: Hungary and Croatia.

The MOL corruption prosecution has proceeded based on the sole testimony of an obscure figure named Robert Jezic,

After Hungary’s national oil firm MOL acquired a 49 percent stake in Croatia’s state-owned energy company INA, the Croatian government sought to annul the deal, accusing MOL Chairman Zsolt Hernadi of having rigged the deal by bribing former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.

Russia moved quickly to exploit this: both Gazprom and Rosneft offered to buy MOL’s shares. When Croatia reacted coolly, Russia followed up by offering to underwrite the alternative Krk gas route with billions in funding and cheap gas.

Meanwhile, the MOL corruption prosecution has proceeded based on the sole testimony of an obscure figure named Robert Jezic, a Croatian tycoon connected to two Russian oligarchs, one of whom also has ties to Trump’s disgraced lawyer Michael Cohen.

Mikhail Gutseriyev, owner of Russian oil company Russneft, testified that Jezic was actually his business partner in an effort to control the same alternative gas route. According to The Globe and Mail, Gutseriyev also has ties to Kremlin-backed VEB Bank, whose chief executive met with Jared Kushner in Trump Tower after the 2016 election

Trump’s Inner Circle

Viktor Vekselberg, chairman of the Board of Directors of Renova Group of Companies, awarded a special decoration from President Putin, 26 January 2017

Jezic’s business dealings lead even further into Trump’s inner circle. They include Xenoplast, a company whose executive director is Swiss lawyer Stephan Hurlimann.

The nexus of collusion goes much deeper than the 2016 elections.

Trump’s friend, a Russian oligarch, controls a company directly tied to Hurlimann’s law firm Wenger & Vieli. The firm’s partner, Dr Wolfgang Zurcher sits on the Board of Directors of Zublin Group, majority owned by Russian billionaire oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Wenger & Vieli did not respond to request for comment.

Vekselberg and his cousin Andrew Intrater had met Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen in person in Trump Tower, just eleven days before the presidential inauguration in January 2017, where they discussed improving US-Russia relations.

In other words, the nexus of collusion goes much deeper than the 2016 elections. When we follow the money, we begin to see how the Trump-Putin axis is actively working to disfigure Europe beyond all recognition through the Trojan horse of Russian gas.

And if America’s European allies lose their energy sovereignty to Putin, that is a tragedy that will outlast the Trump White House.

A longer version of this article is available on INSURGE. You can support the investigative journalism of Nafeez Ahmed on Patreon.