Why did Hillary’s State Department urge U.S. investors to fund Russian research for military uses?
Hillary Clinton touts her tenure as secretary of state as a time of hardheaded realism and “commercial diplomacy” that advanced American national and commercial interests. But her handling of a major technology transfer initiative at the heart of Washington’s effort to “reset” relations with Russia raises serious questions about her record. Far from enhancing American national interests, Mrs. Clinton’s efforts in this area may have substantially undermined U.S. national security.
Consider Skolkovo, an “innovation city” of 30,000 people on the outskirts of Moscow, billed as Russia’s version of Silicon Valley—and a core piece of Mrs. Clinton’s quarterbacking of the Russian reset.
Following his 2009 visit to Moscow, President Obama announced the creation of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission. Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state directed the American side, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represented the Russians. The stated goal at the time: “identifying areas of cooperation and pursuing joint projects and actions that strengthen strategic stability, international security, economic well-being, and the development of ties between the Russian and American people.”
The Kremlin committed $5 billion over three years to fund Skolkovo. Mrs. Clinton’s State Department worked aggressively to attract U.S. investment partners and helped the Russian State Investment Fund, Rusnano, identify American tech companies worthy of Russian investment. Rusnano, which a scientific adviser to President Vladimir Putin called “Putin’s child,” was created in 2007 and relies entirely on Russian state funding.
What could possibly go wrong?
Soon, dozens of U.S. tech firms, including top Clinton Foundation donors like Google, Intel and Cisco, made major financial contributions to Skolkovo, with Cisco committing a cool $1 billion. In May 2010, the State Department facilitated a Moscow visit by 22 of the biggest names in U.S. venture capital—and weeks later the first memorandums of understanding were signed by Skolkovo and American companies.
By 2012 the vice president of the Skolkovo Foundation, Conor Lenihan—who had previously partnered with the Clinton Foundation—recorded that Skolkovo had assembled 28 Russian, American and European “Key Partners.” Of the 28 “partners,” 17, or 60%, have made financial commitments to the Clinton Foundation, totaling tens of millions of dollars, or sponsored speeches by Bill Clinton.
Russians tied to Skolkovo also flowed funds to the Clinton Foundation. Andrey Vavilov, the chairman of SuperOx, which is part of Skolkovo’s nuclear-research cluster, donated between $10,000 and $25,000 (donations are reported in ranges, not exact amounts) to the Clinton’s family charity. Skolkovo Foundation chief and billionaire Putin confidant Viktor Vekselberg also gave to the Clinton Foundation through his company, Renova Group.
Amid all the sloshing of Russia rubles and American dollars, however, the state-of-the-art technological research coming out of Skolkovo raised alarms among U.S. military experts and federal law-enforcement officials. Research conducted in 2012 on Skolkovo by the U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Program at Fort Leavenworth declared that the purpose of Skolkovo was to serve as a “vehicle for world-wide technology transfer to Russia in the areas of information technology, biomedicine, energy, satellite and space technology, and nuclear technology.”
Moreover, the report said: “the Skolkovo Foundation has, in fact, been involved in defense-related activities since December 2011, when it approved the first weapons-related project—the development of a hypersonic cruise missile engine. . . . Not all of the center’s efforts are civilian in nature.”
Technology can have multiple uses—civilian and military. But in 2014 the Boston Business Journal ran an op-ed placed by the FBI, and noted that the agency had sent warnings to technology and other companies approached by Russian venture-capital firms. The op-ed—under the byline of Lucia Ziobro, an assistant special agent at the FBI’s Boston office—said that “The FBI believes the true motives of the Russian partners, who are often funded by their government, is to gain access to classified, sensitive, and emerging technology from the companies.”
Ms. Ziobro also wrote that “The [Skolkovo] foundation may be a means for the Russian government to access our nation’s sensitive or classified research development facilities and dual-use technologies with military and commercial application.”
To anyone who was paying attention, the FBI’s warnings should have come as little surprise. A State Department cable sent to then-Secretary Clinton (and obtained via WikiLeaks) mentioned possible “dual use and export control concerns” related to research and development technology ventures with Moscow. And in its own promotional literature Skolkovo heralded the success of its development of the Atlant hybrid airship.
“Particularly noteworthy is Atlant’s ability to deliver military cargoes,” boasts the Made in Skolkovo publication: “The introduction of this unique vehicle is fully consistent with the concept of creating a mobile army and opens up new possibilities for mobile use of the means of radar surveillance, air and missile defense, and delivery of airborne troops.”
Even if it could be proven that these tens of millions of dollars in Clinton Foundation donations by Skolkovo’s key partners played no role in the Clinton State Department’s missing or ignoring obvious red flags about the Russian enterprise, the perception would still be problematic. (Neither the Clinton campaign nor the Clinton Foundation responded to requests for comment.) What is known is that the State Department recruited and facilitated the commitment of billions of American dollars in the creation of a Russian “Silicon Valley” whose technological innovations include Russian hypersonic cruise-missile engines, radar surveillance equipment, and vehicles capable of delivering airborne Russian troops.
A Russian reset, indeed.