USA TODAY Oren Dorell
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s decades-long ties to Russia are back in the spotlight after his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign this week over his failure to disclose phone conversations with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow.
Trump’s long-standing ties to Russia might explain why his policy is “noticeably weaker on Russia than on anything else,” said John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Trump told The Times of London in January he’d consider lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia for its military involvement in eastern Ukraine and alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump in return for a new nuclear arms reduction accord. In addition, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed in a phone call last month possible collaboration in the fight against Islamic State and ways they might restore trade and economic ties.
Herbst said Trump’s conciliatory comments about Russia are out of character for a businessman who prides himself as a tough negotiator. “He talks about driving hard bargains, and here he’s offering concessions right off the top,” Herbst said.
Trump denied in recent tweets “conspiracy theories” about his ties to Russia.
Here is a timeline of Trump’s known connections to Russia:
1987: Trump was invited to Moscow by the Soviet ambassador to the United States to discuss luxury hotel developments. Trump later told Playboy magazine that his plans to build hotels in Moscow failed because the country “was out of control and the leadership knows it.” Four years later, on Christmas Day, the Soviet Union officially dissolved, and Russians who had been allowed to buy state-owned enterprises amassed enormous fortunes.
1996: While wrapping up a series of bankruptcies in New York, Trump talked of building a replica of his Trump Tower in Moscow and traveled there to discuss renovating the Moskva and Rossiya hotels, according to Bloomberg News. The bankruptcies led to a change in Trump’s business model: Instead of building projects from the ground up, he signed licensing agreements that in some cases gave him an ownership stake in properties that bore his name without putting up any of his own money. The Trump Organization continued to seek wealthy investors in Russia.
Dozens of condominiums in Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan were bought by Russians in the late 1990s, said Dolly Lenz, a real estate broker who sold many of the units. Many buyers sought an audience with Trump, whose business acumen they respected, Lenz said.
Early 2000s: The Trump Organization developed several projects abroad, many of them involving Russian money.
2007: Trump debuted his Trump Super Premium Vodka at the Millionaire’s Fair in Moscow. Large orders for the gold-glazed spirit followed, but the brand fizzled by 2009, according to The New York Times.
2008: Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., told investors in Moscow that the Trump Organization had trademarked the Donald Trump name in Russia and planned to build housing and hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi, and sell licenses to other developers, the Russian daily Kommersant reported. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump Jr. said at the time. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Trump Jr. traveled to Russia a half-dozen times in 18 months looking for deals, but none materialized. He said there were plenty of investment opportunities, but the business environment was dangerous and trustworthy partners hard to find. “It really is a scary place,” he said, according to eTurboNews, an online business publication.
2010: Trump’s next big U.S. project, the Trump SoHo in New York, was built with partner Bayrock Group, founded by Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official.
2013: Trump brought the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow, funded by $20 million from Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov. The venue was Agalarov’s Crocus City Hall on the outskirts of Moscow. Trump took part in a music video with Agalarov’s son, Emin.
2016: Trump’s presidential campaign manager, Paul Manafort, resigned in August amid reports that he worked on the political campaign of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who had been forced to flee office because of his pro-Russian stance.
Carter Page, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker in Moscow, was a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser until August, when Yahoo News reported that U.S. intelligence officials were investigating whether he had been communicating with Russian officials about lifting U.S. sanctions if Trump became president.