At the height of the winter shutdown, another drama played out on Capitol Hill over sanctions of businesses owned by Russian oligarch and Trump ally Oleg Deripaska. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) was instrumental in weakening those sanctions over bipartisan opposition.

Republicans defected from McConnell’s coalition in the administration’s attempt to roll back sanctions on Deripaska, but McConnell was able to navigate his caucus well enough to preserve the Trump administration’s interest in lifting sanctions.

Now, Rusal — an aluminum company controlled by Deripaska — is investing $200 million in an Ashland, Kentucky mill operated by startup Braidy Industries. The Ashland mill will be the largest domestic aluminum venture in decades.

Rusal will take a 40% stake in the mill, which will churn out metals for the automotive and aerospace industries.

The Treasury Department has made an effort to separate Deripaska from Rusal, capping his direct voting authority at 35%, but Kremlin-owned bank VTB has 7% and longtime Deripaska partner Glencore owns over 10%, effectively preserving Deripaska’s direct control of Rusal according to Reuters reporting.

And Oleg Deripaska is not, in any sense, a normal business associate.

Deripaska plotted the arrest of sex worker Anastasia Vashukevich (also known as Nastya Rybka), who had offered to testify against him and who allegedly had dirt relevant to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. While America debated Deripaska’s sanctions, he seemingly pressured Vashukevich to stay silent — and even apologize to him.

Treasury Department documents also tie Deripaska to money laundering, organized crime and even murder for hire. Deripaska rose out of the bloody business of Russia’s aluminum wars as a king, and lives like it.

Deripaska is not the first Putin-linked businessman to take interest in Kentucky. Len Blavatnik, owner of Warner Music, is a major Republican donor who has given handsomely to McConnell’s campaigns.

Blavatnik and his business partner Viktor Vekselberg own a 20% stake in Rusal. The web between McConnell, Rusal, and Russian election intervention grows more tangled — Vekselberg wired money to one of Michael Cohen’s holding companies.

With so many players involved in electioneering and potentially election interference having a stake in the company, Rusal’s investment in the home state of the Senate Majority Leader raises a lot of questions.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.

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