Here’s how Mitch McConnell’s efforts to lift sanctions on Russian companies helped pave the way for a major aluminum project in Kentucky
A long list of critics of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Democrats in Congress to MSNBC’s NeverTrump conservative Joe Scarborough, have been taunting the Kentucky Republican as “Moscow Mitch” for blocking bills designed to promote election security. And the Moscow Mitch taunts aren’t going to be quieted by a Washington Post report outlining McConnell’s opposition to sanctions against Russian companies — opposition that was followed by a major aluminum plant project in his state.
Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman report in the Post that back in January, the Senate debated whether or not to lift sanctions on Rusal — which is Russia’s largest producer of aluminum — and other Russian companies controlled by billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Donald Trump wanted to lift sanctions on those companies, but Senate Democrats were opposed. McConnell sided with Trump, blocking efforts in the Senate to keep the sanctions in place.
The sanctions were lifted, and three months later, Rusal announced plans for a partnership with American entrepreneur Craig Bouchard’s company, Braidy Industries; this partnership would pave the way for a new aluminum plant in Ashland, Kentucky. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin applauded the project as being “as significant as any economic deal ever made in the history of Kentucky.”
David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, insisted that the Senate majority leader knew nothing about a Braidy Industries/Rusal deal when he led the drive to end the sanctions. But other people, according to Hamburger and Helderman, find the timing “disturbing.”
One is Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. McFaul told the Post, “It is shocking how blatantly transactional this arrangement looks.” And after Democratic senators called for a government review of the Braidy/Rusal deal, a Rusal executive in Moscow threatened to pull out.
Kelly Flood, a Democratic state lawmaker in Kentucky, has been critical of the deal —asserting, “Rusal is not okay. It’s not okay that we’re turning to Deripaska, given the damage he’s done to our democracy.”