America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley lambasted Russian aggression Monday night (Dec. 3,) while accepting an award at a think tank event sponsored by a Soviet-born oligarch.
Haley, long seen as the Trump administration’s most vocal Kremlin critic, received the conservative Hudson Institute’s 2018 Global Leadership Award at a New York gala. In her speech, she decried Moscow’s “outrageous, blatant provocation” in seizing three Ukrainian ships and detaining 24 of the country’s sailors last month. “It was up to us along with key allies to oppose Russia and present the interests of the Ukrainian people,” she said referring to the flare-up in the Kerch Strait.
Organizers of the annual event have been criticized by anti-corruption activists for accepting $50,000 from Len Blavatnik, a dual UK-US citizen who was born and raised in the Soviet Union and made billions from the controversial commodities privatizations of Russia’s turbulent 1990s. His New York-based firm Access Industries owns Warner Music Group and large stakes in chemicals firm LyondellBasell and aluminum giant Rusal, which is under US sanctions.
The Hudson Institute’s own Kleptocracy Initiative has often sounded the alarm about the corrosive influence, and potential national security concerns, of Russian cash in global politics. “This dinner is a great example of exactly how supposedly philanthropic activism is converted into political access,” says Ilya Zaslavskiy, a member of the Kleptocracy Initiative’s advisory council.
Paul Ryan was also honored at the dinner, but couldn’t attend due to commitments at president George H.W. Bush’s memorial in Washington; instead he sent a light-hearted video message.
Blavatnik has reportedly come under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump circle’s ties to Russia due to the dramatic increase and timing of his political donations to Republicans in Congress. Since 2015, the billionaire has given $7.6 million to Republicans and $1 million to president Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, as well as half a million to Democrats, Federal Election Committee filings show. In the years before then, he made comparatively small, bipartisan donations.
The spike in contributions to Republicans has also raised eyebrows amid concern that Russia is attempting to gain influence over the GOP. Blavatnik has close business ties to two Russian oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg, who have been sanctioned by the US for working in key, government-linked sectors of the Russian economy. The sanctions note that Deripaska “has said that he does not separate himself from the Russian state,” and that two of Vekselberg’s top officials have been arrested for allegedly bribing Russian officials. Both Deripaska and Vekselberg have come up in the Mueller probe, with Vekselberg reportedly questioned by Mueller’s team earlier this year.
Access Industries said in a statement that Blavatnik’s political donations were “motivated only by a desire to further a pro-business, pro-Israel agenda,” and “are a matter of public record and comply with all legal requirements.”
Blavatnik’s family foundation was listed as a “patron sponsor” of the Hudson Institute event. The only higher spending sponsors were three Hudson Institute trustees, and billionaire hedge funder Paul Singer, who introduced Haley.
A Hudson Institute spokesperson said it was “grateful for all those who are supporting Hudson’s work tonight.”
A spokesperson for Haley didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment.