A little-known New York real estate broker parlayed his relationship with Donald Trump into a role shilling for him in the Russian media—and trading off the business mogul’s name.
Trump has been seeking opportunities to develop buildings in Russia since the 1980s, during the Soviet era—none of which have been fruitful. However, they have led to a number of business connections, including one that that brought Trump’s beauty pageant to Moscow in 2013. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not attend the pageant, but sent a decorative lacquered box.
The Republican nominee gave Putin a present of his own Wednesday night, referring to Putin as a leader with an “82 percent approval rating.”
“I think when he calls me brilliant, I’ll take the compliment, OK?” Trump said, when reminded Putin was a “former KGB officer” by the stunned moderator at a candidates’ forum.
Trump’s connections to Russia don’t begin and end with Putin, however. They also include self-styled advocates like Sergei Millian, who once served as a broker for Russian buyers seeking out Trump properties.
Millian is a player in a larger web of controversial business ties between Trump, the Trump Organization, and Russia—“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008, the same year that Millian met Trump.
But Millian stands out from the pack because of his use of Trump-esque hyperbole to bolster his own career. Since first meeting Trump, Millian has built a reputation on a series of exaggerations, to become a cross between a translator, a property merchant, and a pro-Trump spin doctor for the Russian press.
In fact, Millian’s online biography prominently bragged that he had worked “as a broker for projects with Donald Trump.”
“We have signed formal agreements with… The Trump Organization… to jointly service the Russian clients’ commercial, residential and industrial real estate needs,” read the April 2009 newsletter for the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, where Millian is the president.
After inquiries from The Daily Beast, the reference to Trump in his biography was scrubbed.
It’s one of many ways that Millian has recently played down his relationship with Trump, now that Trump’s ties with Russia have come under scrutiny.
There had been “quite negative press related to Russia so I don’t want to be involved,” he told The Daily Beast when first reached by phone. “I didn’t represent him personally ever,” he continued, saying that he had merely worked with him on some projects.
Earlier this year, he bragged about being an exclusive broker with the Trump Organization to promote their properties in Russia.
“[After meeting Michael Cohen] Trump Organization & Related Group […] signed an exclusive contract with me for promoting their companies in Russia and CIS countries,” Millian said in an interview.
In a lengthy interview with RIA News, a Russian language outlet, in April, Millian boasted about instantly winning Trump’s affection at the Moscow Millionaire’s Fair in 2007, when his friends organized Trump’s trip. A decade out from his presidential bid, Trump then allegedly invited Millian to horse races at Gulfstream, Florida.
That encounter led to a meeting with Trump attorney Michael Cohen and, allegedly, an exclusive contract for dealing Trump properties in Russia and nearby nations.
“Then, in the 2007-2008 years, Russians were buying tens of apartments in Trump buildings in the U.S.A.,” Millian bragged to RIA. “But I wouldn’t want to disclose concrete sums or names.”
Now, with escalating media interest in Trump’s ties with Russia, Millian dismisses it as almost a side gig: “There are several brokers who work on such real estate projects… I do remember there was a written agreement that authorized me to market one of the projects bearing his name signed somewhere around 2008.”
It was a Trump-like move: brag about ties to a project when it could be advantageous; but then brand it as tangential any link to the project if it starts to show sign of controversy.
Millian appears to have been born Sergei Kukut in Belarus. Social media accounts on Facebook and Russian social network Vkontakte link him to family by that name in Belarus, and his page on the website for the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce gives the name as an alias.
“I am US citizen and do not have and never had Russian citizenship. When immigrants arrive to USA, it is a common practice to change their name,” he told The Daily Beast in an email.
In the April interview with RIA, Millian said he’d been in contact with Trump or an adviser a few days prior (Millian told The Daily Beast last week he had not spoken to Trump since 2008). He praised Trump’s knowledge of other cultures by noting he offered him a glass of champagne upon closing a business deal—a nod to the notion that Russians like to drink.
Internet posts from Millian’s early years in the U.S. use his former name, and hint as his early role as a Russian-speaking fixer who brokered deals for Russian businesses. “I can recommend a savvy canadian lawyer (speaks Russian), who only for $2500 consulate fees can arrange your immigration to Canada,” Millian boasted in one.
But in recent years he has evolved into a regular pundit on behalf of Trump, in Russian media, and even to The Daily Beast as recently as a month ago.
“Donald Trump is ‘presidential’, powerful, charismatic, and highly intelligent leader with realistic approach towards Russia. I’m am glad to see Donald taking control of GOP,” Millian said last month during the Republican National Convention, after The Daily Beast reached out to the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. “I, personally, wholeheartedly support his presidential aspirations. It’s been a great pleasure representing Mr Trump’s projects in Russia.”
When RIA News asked him this year about fears that America might go up in flames in the case of a Trump presidency, Millian remained a true believer.
“I think he will be able to improve some processes in the government, because it’s currently very bureaucratic,” he said. “For instance, this concerns medicine. In the USA people smile at you well, but the level of accessibility and wait time here is behind many countries.”
But the April interview was unusual in that it focused on Millian’s supposed personal relationship with Trump. Typically, he’s billed as a political scientist or economics expert when he spins for Trump.
In one article billing him as an “expert,” Millian waxed about how Trump’s economic reform will be based on Americanism, not globalism, and parrotted the Republican nominee’s talk about keeping jobs in the U.S.
In another article in June, Millian speaks authoritatively about how Trump’s friendships will dictate his choice of a vice presidential candidate.
“Trump mostly interacts with business or military people,” he said. “That’s why his vice-president will be a representative of one of these two camps: either someone who came from the corporate world, or the military.”
Trump, of course, picked Mike Pence—who is from neither. But Millian’s work for Trump is so curious because his own instincts mirror those of his political idol. Like Trump, he insisted that things worked out just as he had hoped.
In July, when many in Russia worried Trump’s vice presidential choice in Mike Pence might threaten Trump’s warm embrace of the country, Millian praised the Indiana governor an “excellent candidate.”
“He works well in his post and gets by without scandals,” Millian said then. “Opponents will find it hard to find fault in his reputation and work.”