A Kremlin-Linked Firm Invested Millions in Kentucky. Were They After More Than Money?

Oleg Deripaska Russian oligarch

Last summer, it looked like things were finally about to change for Ashland, Ky. For two decades, the jobs that once supported this Appalachian outpost of 20,000 people on a bend in the Ohio River have been disappearing: 100 laid off from the freight-rail maintenance shop; dozens pink-slipped at the oil refinery; 1,100 axed at the steel mill that looms over the landscape. Then, on June 1, 2018, standing on a stage flanked by the state’s governor and business leaders, Craig Bouchard, the CEO of Braidy Industries, pointed across a vast green field and described a vision as though he could already see it.

In the little-used park just off I-64, Braidy would build the largest aluminum mill constructed in the U.S. in nearly four decades. The $1.7 billion plant would take aluminum slab and roll it into the material used in everything from cars and planes to soda cans. It would employ 600 full-time workers earning twice the average salary in the region, Bouchard said, and create 18,000 other jobs across the state. Gesturing at the empty space around him, the CEO described an employee health center, a technical lab, a day care and hundreds of employees walking around “carrying iPads.” More than just making aluminum, the plant would help “rebuild northeast Kentucky, and in fact all of Appalachia,” Bouchard told the crowd.

There was just one problem: Bouchard still needed a major investor to make the vision a reality. After months of searching, the only option was problematic. Rusal, the Russian aluminum giant, was tailor-made to join forces on the project. But it was under sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its billionaire owner, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, was being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for his potential involvement in the effort to swing the 2016 presidential election. The Treasury sanctions—punishment for the Kremlin’s “malign activities” around the world, including “attempting to subvert Western democracies”—made it illegal for Americans to do business with Rusal or its boss.

So Bouchard faced a dilemma. Keeping his promise to bring good new jobs—a project that had already been touted by the White House—would mean partnering with a firm that had deep ties to the Kremlin. Which mattered more, the economic needs of a depressed region, or the national-security concerns raised by the Mueller investigation? Hundreds of miles from the congressional hearings and think-tank debates over Russian influence in Washington, Braidy Industries and the surrounding community had to weigh whether Russia’s 2016 plot had caused enough damage to American security, or American pride, to spurn a chance at an economic miracle.

Bouchard concluded they had no choice. He knew it could be controversial, if not outright illegal, to work on a deal with Rusal while it was still fighting to free itself from U.S. sanctions, he told TIME in an interview. But after a long talk …read more

Source:: Time – World

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