A martyoshka doll depicting Donald Trump, the U.S. president-elect, is seen against wooden models of St. Basil's cathedral in a souvenir store in Moscow, Russia.Getty Images
The victory of billionaire Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race has stunned the world, but it came as especially welcome news to Moscow, once again igniting interest in whether the newly elected U.S. president had ties with the Kremlin.
Opponents were actively looking for links between Trump and Russia during the election campaign, calling the eccentric candidate alternately "Putin's puppet" and a "Kremlin stooge."
The pre-election rhetoric of the well-known American tycoon was full of provocative statements, with the Russian theme occupying a special place: Trump said he could lift the sanctions, recognize Crimea and "get along with Russia" if elected.
Now he has become president, but people the world over continue to wonder whether he has a Russian connection – and in fact, he has several:
The media are aware of five visits to Russia by Donald Trump, and all of them were related to development projects run by the businessman and his conglomerate, Trump Organization.
He first came to the country in 1987 and discussed a luxury hotel project in cooperation with the Soviet government and the state tourism company Intourist, but business in the Soviet Union did not work.
Then there were plans for luxury housing and hotels, a business center, the reconstruction of the Moskva and Rossiya hotels, the sale of a license for the Trump brand in Russia, the construction of the world's largest children's entertainment center Wonderland Park, and finally, a Trump Tower skyscraper similar to that in New York.
None of these have been realized. Trump Jr. made more than half a dozen trips to the Russian Federation in two years in the interests of the company. But now, perhaps, the Trump Organization will really take off in Russia.
A Trump Tower in Moscow was so cherished a dream for the billionaire that in 2013 he staged the Miss Universe beauty contest in Moscow: The signing of a contract with Russia's largest developer – Aras Agalarov's Crocus Group – was expected there.
Trump also tried to lure Russian President Vladimir Putin into coming to the event, which featured girls from 86 countries. "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?" Trump wrote on Twitter.
Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013
Putin did not come. But almost all of Russia’s leading show business celebrities, headed by Russian singer Filipp Kirkorov, did, and were photographed with one of the richest men in America. Now they have a photo with the new U.S. president.
Trump is a novice in politics, but he has gone straight in at the very top. A team that included several advisors with Russia connections worked as part of his campaign team.
It turned out that his campaign manager Paul Manafort had earlier worked as a consultant for ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. After this information came to light, Manafort left Trump's campaign in August 2016. According to the Financial Times, in Ukraine Manafort worked with an interpreter who had connections to Russian military intelligence.
Trump's other consultant – Carter Page – previously collaborated with Russian gas behemoth Gazprom through investment bank Merrill Lynch.
He, too, had to leave, as Page was suspected of privately talking with Russian officials about the lifting of sanctions in the case of a Trump victory, which drew interest from the FBI.
And Trump's chief adviser and organizer of the primaries in New York City was Michael Caputo, who in the 1990s lived in Russia and worked on Boris Yeltsin's presidential campaign. Caputo also did not make it all the way through with Trump and resigned in July because of a tweet in which he insulted a colleague.
As the businessman’s son Donald Trump Jr. once admitted, Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of many projects. "We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia," he said, while the tycoon’s other son, Eric, once said that "the best property buyers now are Russian."
In fact, not many of these "Russian" deals are widely known. Perhaps the highest-profile deal in its time was the sale of a house in Palm Beach to billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who made a fortune selling calcium chloride, for $95 million.
Once Mikhail Gorbachev (the last general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the only president of the USSR) intended to visit Trump Tower in New York, but eventually did not find time. Then the winner of a Gorbachev lookalike contest was brought to the tower to see a joyous Trump running to welcome the “politician” in the lobby.
Once Trump set about trying to establish a Statue of Liberty-sized monument to Christopher Columbus in Manhattan and commissioned it to eminent sculptor Zurab Tsereteli. But the Russian Columbus was rejected not only by New York, but also by several other U.S. cities, as well as Spain and Latin America.
According to the Russian media, Tsereteli had to rework the statue of Columbus into Peter the Great, which was subsequently rejected by St. Petersburg as well. In the end the monument was erected in Moscow, not far from the Tretyakov Gallery on Krymsky Val. However, many of the capital’s residents are also unhappy about the 98-meter monument "To Mark the 300th Anniversary of the Russian Navy,” noting that it does not correspond to the architectural proportions of old Moscow and is simply "ugly."
In the 1990s, Donald Trump helped cult director Leonid Gaidai shoot his last picture – a comedy film called Weather Is Good on Deribasovskaya, It Rains Again on Brighton Beach. A modest thanks in the credits had attracted little attention until Trump got elected, when it quickly spread across social networks.
Trump likes to name everything he touches after himself. Skyscrapers, perfumes, underwear and ... vodka. In 2005, the businessman launched his own brand-name vodka in partnership with Drinks Americas, and, in 2007, took it to the Millionaire Fair in Moscow.
Its price was higher than that of other premium brands of vodka ($30 per bottle), but the businessman believed that Russians would love vodka from Trump more than their own. Later the same year, it was planned to bring the vodka to the Russian market, and even a video commercial was made for the event, but nothing came of it. The brand is dead in both the U.S. and Russia.
Trump Vodka advertisement. Source: Overit Studios/Vimeo