- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Three letters keep appearing in stories about Russia’s role in the US Presidential election – and possible links between Moscow and the Trump campaign: VEB.
- Last year, the Justice Department said a man who pleaded guilty to spying for the Russian government entered the country posing as an employee of VEB. VEB, incidentally, paid his legal fees.In December, President Trump’s son-in-law and presidential adviser Jared Kushner met VEB’s Chairman in New York.And last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that VEB helped fund construction of the president’s 65-story Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto. The Russian entity bought $850 million of stock in a Ukrainian steelmaker from the billionaire Russian-Canadian developer Alexander Shnaider, who was constructing the hotel at the time.
VEB is shorthand for Vnesheconombank – an entity that’s often referred to as a “bank” even though it’s more often compared to a slush fund for Russian President Vladimir Putin. VEB, for example, reportedly financed loss-making loans to the eastern sections of occupied Ukraine, as well wayward construction projects for Sochi Olympics that have already since been abandoned.
- Thomson Reuters
To be clear, VEB is not actually a bank at all. It’s not under the purview of Russia’s central bank, and – on its own website – says it does not compete with commercial credit institutions and participates only in those projects that cannot receive funding from private investors. Instead, VEB says its mission is “to enhance the competitiveness of the Russian economy, diversify it and stimulate investment activity.” And Sergey Gorkov – the man Jared Kushner met in December – was handpicked to run it in 2016 by Putin himself. Gorkov is a graduate of Russia’s secret service academy, which produced a number of oligarchs who made fortunes during the chaos of post-Soviet Russia, including Putin himself. It is funded directly by Russia’s federal budget, which has sometimes meant operating in suboptimal financial conditions but also ties the bank directly to the country’s leadership.
The bank’s board is composed of top government officials including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
Kushner’s meeting with Gorkov came before Trump had been inaugurated, but – of course – after he was elected. And it took place while VEB was facing US sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Crimea. The bank is being sanctioned exactly because of the above connections, in effect making it a branch of the Russian foreign policy and intelligence apparatus.
Kushner is going to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss his meeting with the VEB’s chairman and other issues, including secret meetings with the Russian ambassador and suspected spy chief Sergey Kislyak. When that will happen though, is still unknown.