Putin allowed 19.5 percent of Rozneft -- the state's oil firm -- to be sold off to a mysterious consortium called QHG Shares. Nobody can figure out who the buyers are because the transaction was carefully hidden, using offshore accounts within accounts -- the old "nesting dolls" trick familiar to us from the Panama Papers.
Oil is what Russia does. The country doesn't have all that much else going for it. So why would Putin sell?
The official reason: Russia needed cash, so Putin sold off a big chunk of Russia's most important resource. But then we learned that the sale went through only because it was funded by Russia's state bank.
In other words, Russia loaned the money that came back to Russia as part of that deal.
Does that make sense to you? Me neither. I'm no business expert (and I would dearly love to hear from those who have such expertise) but it looks to me as though Russia has paid for the privilege of selling one-fifth of its most valuable commodity.
And why would the buyers wear masks on top of masks?
Moreover -- as we must never tire of pointing out -- this deal went through after we learned from the Steele dossier that Russia offered a deal to Carter Page and Donald Trump. In essence: Russia would make Trump president, after which he would get rid of the sanctions on Russia. In return, Trump (or his associates) would get 19 percent of Rozneft.
That figure is uncannily close to the actual amount that was later sold; the point-five percent would cover brokerage fees. Remember: The buyer is located (on paper) in the Cayman Islands -- and (in one of those wild coincidences found only in great fiction and modern politics) Steve Mnuchin is now under fire for his strange links to a Cayman Islands concern.
(What does "QHG" stand for? Based on this, I'm going to hazard a guess that Q = Qatar and G = Glencore. But the H...?)
With the sanctions lifted, Rozneft would be free again to become the major oil supplier to Europe. And what of the US? So far, Trump has shown every sign that he will continue the American tradition of kowtowing to the Saudis -- but that could change in an instant. An instant I like to call "Big Wedding II."
We would then become deeply dependent on alternate suppliers. Russia holds the number 8 spot on the list of proven oil reserves, but what of the unproven reserves? We simply don't know how much oil lurks beneath Siberia. By "we," I mean we mere mortals; I suspect that Rex Tillerson has a pretty decent idea.
Think of the possibilities. Try to get your mind around the potential value of that 19 percent.
One of the things that Putin wants, I think, is to become unassailable, in the same sense that the US considers Saudi Arabia unassailable. If he becomes the main foreign supplier of oil to Europe and the U.S., no-one will be able to complain about anything Russia gets up to. That situation will be maintained even after Der Donald leaves office.
Oh -- and did I mention that Oleg Erovinkin, a key aide to Igor Sechin (head of Rozneft) and a likely source for the Steele dossier, turned up as a mystery corpse not long ago? That fact may have slipped into a couple of our previous posts.
By the way: There's a weird theory going around that those FSB officers recently arrested for treason aren't really under arrest: It's all a big mind-fuck. I don't buy that notion for an instant, but I must admit that it has a certain funky appeal.
We still don't know if these "traitors" leaked to CIA or to Steele or both.
From here, the story gets hazy. One way or another, the arrests—according to the Russian media accounts—are linked to the country’s hacking of the US election. One suggestion is that those arrested are among the sources that led US intelligence agencies to conclude categorically that Russia hacked the election, that Putin ordered the hack, and that the objective was to help Trump.
Russian media suggest that one or more of the trio either leaked details of Russia’s role directly to American intelligence, or to Christopher Steele, the former British spy believed to have compiled the so-called Trump dossier. The dossier is a 35-page memo that suggested various links between Trump and Russia, involving information that allegedly made him vulnerable to extortion.
Loving this line of enquiry, please keep up the great work. Possibly the H in GHQ stands for 'Holding'. This article I found mentions it and a few other companies that were registered at the same time to support the deal.
You may have covered this earlier, but it bears mentioning Putin announced a possible sale of 19% of Rosneft back in December 2015-- well in advance of the dossier's August 2016 emergence. While I suspect much of the dossier is true, I sometimes worry my desire to see it prove out colors my judgement.