Green smoke paints the landscape on the outskirts of Aktobe, the hub of a Central Asian mining empire that produces a third of the world’s chromium — the essential ingredient in stainless steel. Locals say that the air gets so bad in summer it’s hard to breathe. Industrial waste contaminates the groundwater.
All of this starts at the Aktyubinsk Chromium Chemicals Plant (AZXS), a Nikita Khrushchev-era complex. It shares an industrial zone with a vast smelting plant; together, they have yielded lavish private wealth since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In one sense, it’s a familiar snapshot of post-Soviet capitalism: state assets bought for a song, workers saying they were cheated out of shares and connected businessmen getting wildly rich.
This story, however, carves a path from near Kazakhstan’s northern border with Russia to the offshore financial centers of the Caribbean, to London and all the way to Trump property in Midtown Manhattan.
How and why funds from former Soviet states flowed into Trump-branded real estate has been the focus of speculation since the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. One theory, propounded by opponents of President Donald Trump is that his admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin comes down to money, a suggestion Trump has forcefully denied.