A Romney Travels to Russia, but on Strictly Friendly Terms
By PETER BAKER
Published: November 1, 2012
WASHINGTON — Matt Romney, a son of the Republican presidential nominee, traveled to Moscow this week seeking Russian investors for his California-based real estate firm just days before his father is to wrap up a campaign in which he has vowed to take a tougher stance with the Kremlin.
Mr. Romney, the second-oldest son of Mitt Romney, met with Russians whom he hoped to convince to invest in his company, Excel Trust, which owns shopping centers across the United States, the firm said.
Although the company’s focus has been solely domestic, it said it has begun exploring international opportunities to raise funds.
Mr. Romney’s trip a week before the presidential election underscored the complex relationship between his family’s business and the political campaign. Mitt Romney has criticized President Obama for being too soft on Russia, calling it “our No. 1 geopolitical foe” and promising to confront President Vladimir V. Putin’s government with “more backbone” if elected on Tuesday.
Mr. Romney has criticized Mr. Putin’s crackdown on domestic dissent and opposition to stronger international measures against Syria and Iran. He has assailed Mr. Obama for not doing more to defend human rights in Russia and for signing a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Moscow.
As Congress considers normalizing trade relations with Moscow, Mr. Romney has insisted that it also penalize Russian officials who commit human rights violations, a linkage the Obama administration has resisted.
The Romney campaign said it had no comment.
The Russian Embassy in Washington said it was unaware of the trip. “We haven’t got any information about Mr. Romney and his visit to Moscow,” said Yevgeny Khorishko, an embassy spokesman. “He didn’t inform us about his visit.”
But while in Moscow, Mr. Romney told a Russian known to be able to deliver messages to Mr. Putin that despite the campaign rhetoric, his father wants good relations if he becomes president, according to a person informed about the conversation.
Matt Romney traveled to Moscow with Gary B. Sabin, the chairman and chief executive of Excel Trust, which is based in San Diego. Greg Davis, the firm’s vice president of capital markets and communications, said the trip was unrelated to the campaign.
“It is a harmless trip,” Mr. Davis said. “It was a trip that has been planned for some time. Any travel they’ve done on behalf of Excel is strictly on the private side. It would have nothing to do with anything governmental.”
Excel is a real estate investment trust that focuses on shopping centers largely in states from California to Florida and up to Pennsylvania. By distributing 90 percent or more of its taxable income in the form of a dividend, it helps investors avoid double taxation under the law, Mr. Davis said.
The firm reported $820 million in assets to the Securities Exchange Commission as of June 30. It focuses on “grocery-anchored neighborhood centers” and “free-standing retail properties,” among others, according to its Web site. Among its holdings are the Shops at Foxwood in Ocala, Fla., the Plaza at Rockwall in Rockwall, Tex., and the Promenade in Scottsdale, Ariz.
While all of its real estate holdings are in the United States, Mr. Davis said Excel was interested in raising money from sovereign wealth funds in Europe and Russia that were looking for safe havens in uncertain economic times.
“There are a number of opportunities worldwide — people looking at where can we put our money,” he said. “Any trips right now are very exploratory to see is there a market, are they serious about investing in Excel.”
Matt Romney graduated from Brigham Young University and Harvard Business School and started at Excel Realty Holdings in 2003, according to a biography. Since 2009, he has served as senior vice president of capital markets for Excel Trust. He has appeared on the campaign trail at times for his father.
His father has made Russia a centerpiece of his indictment of Mr. Obama, whose “reset” policy stabilized relations with Moscow after a rocky stretch only to see ties sour again with the return of Mr. Putin to the presidency.
In recent months, Russia has blocked stronger efforts to stop the killing in Syria, jailed opponents of Mr. Putin at home, kicked out the United States Agency for International Development and threatened to end a longstanding Russian-American nuclear cooperation program.
Mr. Romney seized on a comment Mr. Obama made during a discussion of missile defense with Dmitri A. Medvedev, then Russia’s president, that “after my election I have more flexibility.” Mr. Romney countered that Russia “is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe,” although he distinguished it from a nuclear-armed Iran, which he termed “the greatest threat that the world faces.”
The comment has caused alarm in Moscow, where some analysts have said relations would freeze if Mr. Romney was elected. Mr. Obama has attacked Mr. Romney as a throwback to the cold war.
“The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” he said at their last debate.
Mr. Romney countered, “I’m not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin. And I’m certainly not going to say to him, ‘I’ll give you more flexibility after the election.’ ”