During these final weeks of the presidential campaign Mitt Romney seems to be doubling down on Russia as his pick for America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”
This is a curious game plan from the investor-in-chief whose company, Bain & Co., had no scruples about profiting handsomely as a player in the Russian market in the early nineties. It was, after all, a division of Bain that partnered with international conglomerate British American Tobacco in the highly lucrative expansion of their tobacco business into Russia. Remember, this was happening in the era when tobacco companies’ profits were drying up in the U.S., and the deadly connection between smoking and cancer was no longer in dispute.
In America we’re used to this kind of cynical investing by private individuals and corporations who ignore the ethical and moral failings of their profit-making ventures. But shouldn’t we expect greater ethical clarity and commitment from the individual we elect as president and commander-in-chief? The answer is most certainly yes.
Recently we’ve learned from Mr. Romney’s 2012 tax returns that his interest in the Russian market has not diminished. In 2011 he purchased and then sold shares (in advance of the election season) in Gazprom. For those of you like me who are not well versed in the details of Russia’s economy, Gazprom is a true behemoth among behemoths. The highly profitable, semi-private company has a near-monopoly on selling natural gas throughout Europe.
Here’s the interesting part. Guess who owns 50 percent of Gazprom? Yes, Virginia, that would be the investor-in-chief’s pick for “America’s number one foe”—the government of Russia.
According to Business Week, “the Russian state is heavily dependent on taxes and profits” from Gazprom. It’s been estimated that the taxes paid by Gazprom alone represent a whopping 20% of the Russian government’s overall budget. That percentage of taxes buys a lot of influence. As a New York Times piece in 2009 pointed out, “the line between Gazprom and the Russian state’s foreign policy is sometimes so thin as to be almost nonexistent.”
In a more recent article in Business Insider Military & Defense, Walter Hickey reports that increased revenue from the spike in gas and oil prices has encouraged President Putin to promise an increase of $770 billion in Russia’s military budget between 2014 and 2020. That’s Russia, Romney’s designated number one, capitalizing on the profitability of Gazprom and increasing the export of “sophisticated arms packages.”
I’d like to believe Mr. Romney is losing sleep since his number-one-foe comment and the Gazprom connection have come to light. But I’m sure he’s not.
Perhaps we should be the ones losing sleep. Ask yourself, since when is it acceptable for the commander-in-chief of the United States to have once invested in a company owned and largely operated by the government he himself calls our geopolitical foe? What should be deeply troubling to voters is that Romney seems to feel he’s entitled to his investments and, at the same time, entitled to our trust that his business interests will not undermine his ability to represent the interests of the American people.
Let’s review this conundrum again.
Romney invests in Gazprom. Gazprom is 50% owned by the Russian government. Romney labels Russia our “number one geopolitical foe.” Gazprom buys out opposition and dissenting television stations, newspapers, and radio stations, enabling the suppression of opposition opinions. Gazprom’s tax payments to the Russian government make up 20% of all taxes. The Russian government uses some of that tax money to support the manufacture and sale of weapons systems to countries and groups that may pose a risk to the national security of the United States.
And Russia is not the only country investor-and-candidate Romney has a problem with. In another of his foreign-policy statements, Romney has called for a “crackdown” on China. Surprise, surprise. Here he goes again. As reported by President Obama’s Truth Team, (http://www.barackobama.com/truth-team/entry/mitt-romneys-tax-returns-reveal-controversial-foreign-investments/) Romney’s 2011 tax returns reveal that Romney bought and sold investments in China’s state-owned oil company.
So what’s the takeaway? Does Mr. Romney think that we (you know, “you people”) are too dumb to notice the blatant hypocrisy? Maybe he thinks he can convince us that he can pivot from only-the-money-matters investor-in-chief to objective statesman once he’s sitting at the presidential desk. Mitt must be so ethically challenged that he believes there’s nothing wrong with the intellectual disconnect between his blustering statements on Russia and China on the one hand and the implications of his investments to foreign policy on the other.
What message should we send candidate Romney? First, that we’re going to work overtime to make sure he never gets even a glimpse of the oval office. And second, that he hears us loud and clear: “We’re not going to let you have your cake and eat it too, Mr. Romney. Not with our vote.”
Renee Shur lives and works in New York’s Hudson Valley.