Russian Oligarch Gave Over $1M To McConnell-Linked Campaign Fund Before Midterms
Craig Bouchard, the CEO of Braidy Industries, hoped in 2018 to build an aluminum mill in Ashland Kentucky. Unfortunately, the major investor that Bouchard needed was Rusal, a large Russian aluminum company owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska. Rusal was under U.S. sanctions and Deripaska was under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. The U.S. sanctions on Rusal meant it was illegal for U.S. citizens to work with either the company or the person running the company.
Time reported last year that Bouchard was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He had promised a new mill that would bring prosperity and good jobs to the region, but in order to do so he would have to work with a company tied to the Kremlin. In the end, Bouchard chose to work with Rusal, despite it being potentially illegal.
By April, Bouchard announced that Rusal had bought a 40 percent stake in the Ashland project for $200 million. While people in Kentucky were relieved, many critics said the deal gave Russia political influence in the U.S. that could be a dangerous challenge to national security.
In the end, Rusal and Bouchard did not have to break any laws, as Rusal freed itself from the sanctions. In order to do so, Rusal lobbied Washington, specifically targeting the Senate majority leader, Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, who Time reported "helped thwart a bipartisan push to keep the sanctions in place." Before the midterm elections, major Rusal shareholder and Ukrainian-born oligarch Len Blavatnik donated over $1 million to a campaign fund tied to McConnell.
McConnell told reporters that his opinions on Rusal were “completely unrelated to anything that might happen in my home state.”
Blavatnik said his donations were driven “only by a desire to further a pro-business, pro-Israel agenda,” rather than a pro-Russia agenda.
Rusal said it had only financial motivations. The company said, “Rusal keeps out of politics in all its markets.”
“That’s just what the Russians do,” says veteran diplomat Daniel Fried, who shaped U.S. policy on Eastern Europe at the State Department from the late 1980s until 2017. “They insert themselves into a foreign economy and then start to influence its politics from the inside.”
Read the full story here.