The United States is a reproduction on a scale of the global effects of the invasion of Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia: inflation (particularly in energy), tightening of monetary policy, halt to the energy transition, stock market crash, slowdown of economic activity and, due to all this, political tension. The reason for this is that the US accounts for 24% of the world’s nominal GDP, has the world’s reserve currency – the dollar – and its bond market is the deepest and most liquid on Earth. So the country internalizes the effects of the crisis, although it does not go with them.
Because no sector of activity has been hit directly by the war or by the sanctions, for the simple reason that the US economy is practically isolated from that of the combatant countries. According to the Office of the Trade Representative (a body that could be considered the equivalent of the Spanish Secretary of State for Trade), in 2019 just 66,000 jobs depended on trade with Russia. In an economy with nearly 159 million people working, that’s 0.04% of employed workers. In terms of investment, the same scheme is repeated. Of all foreign direct investment in the US, the stock in Russian hands only accounts for 0.9% of the total.
The country does not need in many of the raw materials that constitute Russia’s only exports. Since the extraction of oil and gas by fracking began to grow remarkably around 2005, the production of hydrocarbons has skyrocketed to the point that today it is a net exporter of gas and oil. In fact, the United States is going to be one of the main suppliers of gas to Europe when the European Union and Great Britain begin to reduce their dependence on Russia.
So even if the war drags on, he will remain immune to its direct consequences. A study carried out by the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin and the liberal think tank Mercatus Center at George Mason University estimates that the direct impact of a total economic embargo on Russia by Washington and its allies would cost the US just 0.1% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the case of Germany, the impact would be 1.2% of GDP. That enormous American invulnerability against Russia is what gives that country its enormous margin of maneuver to adopt measures against Moscow.
Russian oil, for example, accounted for 1% of consumption and 3% of crude oil imports. Even when derivatives were added, the proportion barely reached 8%. And the United States did not buy gas from Russia. So when, just two weeks after the start of the invasion, Joe Biden banned the purchase of Russian hydrocarbons, he was adopting a measure that had very limited consequences for the citizens of his country.
But there is a very emblematic sector, although with little specific weight, in which the disappearance of Russian money is being noticed: that of luxury homes. And this, in turn, leads to Miami and Donald Trump.
The real Russian plot of Donald Trump is not with the alleged -and never proven- collusion between the former president and the government of Vladimir Putin in the 2016 election campaign. It is something more pedestrian: Russian millionaires have bought the most expensive apartments for years expensive in Trump buildings. No one explained it better than the former president’s son, Don Junior, at a real estate conference in 2008, when he said, “A lot of money comes to us from Russia.” Trump Junior, who has overtaken his sister Ivanka as the most valued family member among his father’s voters, spelled it out, adding that “in terms of the highest end of our products in America, the Russians are a disproportionately high proportion. “Whether it’s in Dubai, and certainly our project in SoHo, or anywhere in New York,” he added.
This is how, in the extreme north of Miami, is the so-called little Moscow. Sunny Isles Beach, which is the town that receives that name, is an area of luxury skyscrapers in which the cheapest apartment costs several million dollars. On the seafront, most of the residents are foreigners, although many are actually from Latin America, and those known as “Russians” are often from Ukraine. Be that as it may, in little Moscow in subtropical Florida you can order dishes from Siberia and, in its day, the admiration for the friendship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was palpable in the area.
It was not just about something ideological or affection between two countries, but also a reflection of a very real situation. In Sunny Isles Beach, three Trump-branded skyscrapers (after his defaults, the future president merely put his name and capital on his buildings, but did not participate in management) were saved from financial collapse in the crisis of the junk mortgages in 2008 and 2009 by buyers from the former Soviet Union. According to the property managers themselves, a third of the apartments went to Russian-speakers. Most of them are owned by companies that cover up the name of the owners, of whom almost half are not US residents, according to the Reuters news agency. Sounds like money laundering. But it is a very profitable money laundering.
Florida captures 29% of Russian real estate investment. But even so, it is a very small percentage. The National Association of Realtors estimates that just 0.2% of the total value of real estate sales in the state were made to Russians in the period from July 2020 to May 2021. That is due in part to the sanctions that The United States began to put Russia after the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine, in 2015, and they continued to be reinforced during the years of Donald Trump in the White House.
Sanctions not only made transactions difficult; They also created uncertainty among both buyers and sellers, because no one knew whether the next wave of restrictions would prohibit the sale of flats to Russian citizens, as in practice has happened after the invasion of Ukraine.
Until this war broke out, Florida was also the scene of a curious Russian practice: birth tourism. Companies like Miami Mama offer accommodation (often in Sunny Isles Beach, because Russian is spoken there) and medical assistance to visitors from the former USSR who are going to have children in the United States, although they enter with tourist visas. The reason for this activity is that every person born in that country automatically obtains nationality, with which the child enters the world as an American even though his mother lives in Vladivostok.
It is a controversial practice, because it moves on a slippery slope in terms of immigration, as evidenced by the fact that Miami Mama was registered by the police in 2017 on suspicion that she had lied when advising her clients on the application for visas. But, be that as it may, the company survived. And there it continues, with its website in Russian and English, although now, with the movement restrictions of all kinds triggered by the invasion, its business is more uncertain than ever.
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