WASHINGTON -- One of Donald Trump’s main sources of information on foreign affairs is a Russophile who once compared lethal police brutality against unarmed black men to the U.S. policy of sanctioning Russia as punishment for its military incursions into Ukraine.
In February 2014, Ukrainian protesters ousted president Viktor Yanukovych, a corrupt leader closely allied with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Putin responded by sending troops across the border to invade Crimea, a Ukrainian province that Moscow later annexed after a widely disputed referendum. In the following months, Moscow continued to arm and assist pro-Russian separatist groups fighting against the Ukrainian government.
Throughout the conflict, President Barack Obama resisted calls to arm the Ukrainians, and instead opted to send them non-lethal military aid and to hit Russia with economic sanctions. Ukraine, Obama reasoned, is a non-NATO country on Russia’s border, and therefore will always be of greater strategic importance to Moscow than Washington.
Obama faced bipartisan criticism for his restraint, but Carter Page, one of five people who Donald Trump has named as a foreign policy adviser, argued in a January 2015 piece in the Global Policy Journal that Washington’s response in Ukraine is indicative of a broader pattern of domestic civil rights violations.
In the piece, Page draws a clunky parallel between Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two unarmed black men who U.S. police officers killed in 2014; and Putin, the authoritarian Russian president who led an illegal invasion into a neighboring sovereign state.
“While the loss of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has received intense media coverage and perfunctory federal government investigations, the economic injustice unleashed upon the millions of people residing in Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union by misguided Western policies has met limited recognition,” he wrote at the time.
Referring to Putin’s “so-called annexation of Crimea,” Page argued that Russia suffered a disproportionate response for “relatively minor” actions -- much in the way that Garner was strangled to death after confronted by the cops for selling loose cigarettes. “Just as five police officers ganged up on Garner, over a half-dozen new NATO members have expanded to Russia’s border and near abroad over recent decades,” he wrote, linking to another piece he authored about NATO expansion.
Page did not immediately respond to request for comment.
As a former adviser and current shareholder in Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled gas company, Page has a personal interest in a relaxation of sanctions against Moscow. But his rambling pro-Putin writings extend far beyond the legitimate debate over the efficacy and morality of using sanctions as a deterrent. In the January 2015 piece, Page conspiratorially asserts that U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, secretly fomented the Ukrainian uprising against Yanukovych.
According to Page’s public online biography, he is a founder and managing partner of Global Energy Capital. He spent seven years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch, and opened its office in Moscow. Much like his boss, Page has plenty of experience in business, and little in politics.
Trump has confounded voters since the early days of the campaign with his exuberant praise of Putin as a “strong leader” who he envisions having a “very good relationship with.” On Friday, the Washington Post published an extensive investigation of Trump’s financial ties to Russian oligarchs, explaining, in part, his affinity for a country that is consistently on the opposite side of the U.S. on major foreign policy initiatives.
When Trump named Page as a foreign policy adviser in March, Page received enthusiastic notes from Russia contacts who were hopeful he could help reverse the sanctions, he told Bloomberg Politics in an interview.
It’s unclear why Page opted to portray U.S. policy toward Russia through the lens of the equally important but seemingly unrelated issue of violence against black Americans -- but it’s a recurring theme in his writing. He sought to make this connection again the following month, this time accusing the 2015 National Security Strategy, a mundane executive branch report, of bearing resemblance to an 1850 document that taught slaveholders how to produce the “ideal slave.”
As an example, Page linked to the Wikipedia page on “Treatment of slaves in the United States,” claiming the 1850 slaveholders' manual instructed masters to “Deprive access to education and recreation, to ensure that slaves remain uneducated, helpless and dependent.”
The supposed modern-day parallel? A line in the National Security Strategy that said, “Targeted economic sanctions will remain an effective tool for imposing costs on irresponsible actors.”