Sunday, March 19, 2017

Influence surfers

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal ($) reported that Donald Trump Jr received at least US$50,000 for an appearance at an event organized by a French "institute" (Center for Political and Foreign Affairs) which is aligned with a Kremlin-endorsed "peace" plan for Syria (the plan involves Bashar al-Assad staying in power on a vague timeline for exit, which tells you all you need to know about it). Anyway, as with all things Trump-Russia, there are at least two possible interpretations of every link: a vast conspiracy, or greed shackled with incompetence.

This extremely interesting Le Monde article looks at the key figure behind the aforementioned institute, Fabien Baussart, and essentially comes down on the side of the latter hypothesis. Baussart apparently had a nice business brokering Paris events with various Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs -- some of the same names now popping up with the ongoing Trump investigations (and indeed with George Osborne).

The problem for the grand conspiracy theory is that Baussart's links dried up in 2007, when Nicolas Sarkozy was elected President, because Sarko had his own networks (by the way, the parallel between Sarko and Trump, whose shared love of glamour and bling may have led them into dubious company, is often ignored).

With Sarko out in 2012, Baussart tried a relaunch with a splashy event at the Hotel Bristol, but skipped out on the €17K bill, indicating that the commissions weren't flowing quickly enough.

So now, it's 2012, you have a rapidly decaying Rolodex, the bills are piling up, the one thing you know how to do is get actual and would-be elites in a room together, but you need a miracle, a hook to make the phone calls.

And then Syria happens. In the door walks Randa Kassis, the secular Assad opponent who fell out with the mainstream Syrian opposition. Baussart and Kassis rebrand as the acceptable face of the Putin-Assad peace process, and the world of high-ceiling chandeliers and double-doored meeting rooms is back open. Le Monde's analysis concludes by pointing out that other CPFA initiatives have faded, such as supposed Azerbaijan-Armenia peace talks, but something is sustaining the Syria activities. Add in a once-wayward son looking for a role, and deals can get done. 

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