Trump’s energy advisor has deep financial ties to Russia

When Donald Trump announced his team of foreign policy advisors, he named Carter Page, a business consultant and reputed fellow billionaire as his energy advisor. It is an appointment very much in line with Trump’s announced desire to have business figures, people who actually make deals, on his team. But as Bloomberg and the Daily Caller News Foundation both report, Page’s deep financial ties to Russian entities, including state-controlled oil giant Gazprom, ties his personal financial welfare to Russia’s energy fortunes.

 As Zachary Mider of Bloomberg reports,

Page’s interest in Russia dates to his youth in New York’s Hudson Valley. Watching a TV news program on arms control talks, he says he noticed that the adviser sitting behind President Ronald Reagan wore a Navy uniform. A few years later, Page enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy. He later worked in arms control at the Pentagon and completed a fellowship at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Over his career, he's earned three graduate degrees, including a Ph.D from SOAS University of London.

In 2000, Page took up investment banking, getting a job at Merrill Lynch’s capital-markets group in London. After impressing a colleague with his relationship with Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire, he says he was dispatched to help open the firm’s Moscow office in 2004.

In Russia, Page developed relationships with executives at Gazprom, the former Soviet gas ministry that was partially privatized in the 1990s. By the time Page arrived, Putin was consolidating his grip on the country's economy, and in 2005 the government boosted its stake so that it again owned a majority of the stock.

Page says he advised Gazprom on its largest deals during this period, such as buying of a stake in the Sakhalin oil and gas field in the Sea of Okhotsk. He also helped the company court Western investors, assisting in setting up the first regular meetings with shareholders in New York and London. Before he moved back to New York in 2007, he says, many of its top officials showed up at his going-away party, at a restaurant near the Kremlin.

Page gets mixed reviews from former bosses. Bernie Sucher, Merrill’s country head in that era, said Page “has a nuanced and subtle appreciation of the interplay of politics and energy.” But Sergey Aleksashenko, another top Merrill executive in Russia at the time and now an outspoken Kremlin critic, described him as a junior banker with little understanding of the country. “I could not imagine Carter as an adviser on foreign policy,” Aleksashenko said. “It's really surprising.”

When Page left Merrill in 2007, he set up his own company in New York, Global Energy Capital Advisors, LLC, and:

traveled to Turkmenistan that year, talking about raising a $1 billion private equity fund to buy assets in the former Soviet republic, and meeting with top government officials.

The fund never materialized—the global financial crisis struck later that year—and since then, Page says he’s mostly done low-profile advisory assignments, such as counseling foreign investors on buying assets in Russia. In some of the deals, he’s worked with Sergey Yatsenko, a former deputy chief financial officer at Gazprom who is now an official adviser to Page’s firm. (snip)

Yatsenko says he worked with Page on helping a Russian investor explore an oil investment in Iraqi Kurdistan, and advising a Chinese investor looking to buy Russian oil assets in Eastern Siberia. Page wouldn’t discuss specific deals.

Another project involved developing natural-gas-powered vehicles in Russia, possibly in partnership with Gazprom, Yatsenko says. But the sanctions put those talks on hold.

The sanctions mentioned are the 2014 sanctions applied to Russia after it annexed Crimea, which have had a major impact on Gazprom. Page holds a stake in that company, and “blames the trade restrictions for helping drive down the stock.”

Trump has already indicated that he favors much closer ties to Russia, including the reduction of the American commitment to NATO, and admires Vladimir Putin. So Page’s personal financial interest in the health of the Russian energy sector may not be a conflict of interest in his mind.

But it does raise the question of crony capitalism, something Trump and his supporters generally tend to criticize. It appears that Page has leveraged ties to Russian and other ex-Soviet officials into lucrative deals for himself.