Revisiting Carter Page and the Rosneft Deal

I wrote about the 19.5 percent sale of Russian energy giant Rosneft during the transition, on January 11th, 2017. It was topical at the time because I wanted the Senate to ask Steve Mnuchin and Rex Tillerson about the transaction during the upcoming hearings to confirm them, respectively, as the secretaries of Treasury and State. It was also of particular interest during that period because, although the sale had been announced on December 7th, 2016, it was a topic of discussion in the Steele Dossier that had been published by BuzzFeed on January 10th.

The first reference was from a dispatch dated July 19th, 2016.

The second reference was from a dispatch dated October 18th, 2016.

Carter Page has always denied that he met with Igor Sechin during his summer visit to Moscow, but during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, he was compelled to admit that he met with Sechin’s deputy, Andrey Baranov.

However, in testimony to [Rep. Devin] Nunes’ House Intelligence committee last November Page admitted meeting Andrey Baranov, Rosneft’s head of investor relations. Did sanctions come up? “Not directly,” Page replied. Did Baranov talk about privatization? He “may briefly have mentioned it,” Page admitted. Was Baranov relaying Sechin’s wishes? Almost certainly.

It is evident that Steele’s sources knew what they were talking about even if they unsurprisingly were not omniscient about the details. Vladimir Putin was looking for investors to buy up 19 percent of Rosneft but it was difficult because of Western sanctions. One solution was to convince America to lift the sanctions, and offering the Trump team the brokerage fee on the sale was their enticement. The day after the sale was announced, Carter Page flew back to Moscow, but this time he was subject to a FISA warrant and under constant surveillance. The timing of his second visit is unlikely to be a coincidence.

As for the sale, it was convoluted from the start, involving shady Qatari investors, Swiss commodity trading and mining company Glencore, and a dubious Italian bank, and it seems to have completely fallen apart by last summer. Now something curious has happened.

The Russian business newspaper Vedomosti wrote that two state-controlled Chinese companies have become major shareholders in CEFC, a nominally private Chinese oil company that is acquiring a large stake in Russia’s huge state-owned oil company, Rosneft. Through this maneuver, the Chinese state now owns about 15 percent of Rosneft…

…The new Chinese owners might have passed the privatization test—until two weeks ago, when the takeover of CEFC by two state-controlled Chinese companies was reported. One report suggests that CEFC’s head was looting the company and did not have the cash to buy the Rosneft shares. The Chinese government stepped in.

China’s Ministry of Finance, in combination with a state-controlled insurance company, will become owners of more than one-third of CEFC’s shares, giving the Chinese government effective control over the Rosneft shares, and with that, a major voice in Rosneft decision-making. Rosneft shares traded in the London market moved down sharply in late February, perhaps on rumors of the impending deal.

Back when the original deal was announced in early December 2016, the Obama administration was concerned that the investors were running afoul of the sanctions. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said:

“The thing I can confirm for you is that the experts at the Treasury that are responsible for constructing and enforcing the sanctions regime will carefully look at a transaction like this,” Earnest told reporters. “They’ll look at the terms of the deal and evaluate what impact sanctions would have on it.”

This is why I wanted to see Steve Mnuchin and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson grilled on the sale during their confirmation hearings. I don’t ultimately know why Glencore and the Qataris backed out of the deal and exactly how their stakes made their way into the Chinese government’s hands. But suffice to say that China doesn’t care about the West’s sanctions on Russia.

Did Carter Page go to Moscow at the time the original deal was announced because he wanted to collect his promised fee? That would presuppose that he had something to do with finding the investors. He had from July to December to line things up, and he had the connections his association with the Trump campaign afforded him with which to operate. If this seems somewhat doubtful considering his innate abilities, we do have plenty of reason to wonder why the brokerage fee would be offered to Page, the deal would be made, and Page would book a flight to Moscow the next day. A better question might be if he could conceivably pull something like that off without being detected, even after the fact, when he was under FISA surveillance for much of the time.

One thing we’ve learned about Page since he name first emerged in connection with Russia is that he once sold himself as an advisor to the Kremlin.

Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page bragged that he was an adviser to the Kremlin in a letter obtained by TIME that raises new questions about the extent of Page’s contacts with the Russian government over the years.

The letter, dated Aug. 25, 2013, was sent by Page to an academic press during a dispute over edits to an unpublished manuscript he had submitted for publication, according to an editor who worked with Page.

“Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda,” the letter reads.

It was also in 2013 when the FBI visited Carter Page to warn him that he was being cultivated by Russian spies. He responded by telling the FBI that they should focus on tracking down the people behind the Boston Marathon bombings and leave him alone. I assume the FBI is very interested to learn that he was describing himself as an advisor to the Kremlin at the time.

When we try to assess whether the Steele Dossier is “fake news,” as the president insists that it is, we should keep this Rosneft deal in mind. Someone who was just making things up and didn’t have real sources could never have invented something so close to the truth.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.