Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations 2017-18

Written by  //  December 27, 2018  //  Geopolitics, Russia, U.S.  //  1 Comment

More on Russia

27 December
Russia Picked Donald Trump and Ran Him for President, Former Israeli Intelligence Officer Says
(Newsweek) Russia chose Donald Trump as the U.S. presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency, according to a former agent of the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad.
“Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 U.S. presidential race and asked, ‘Which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?’ And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president,” former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo told the audience at the Marker’s digital conference in Israel on Monday, where experts gathered to discuss online disinformation campaigns and bots.
“What we’ve seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share—democracy and the world order created since World War Two,” Pardo noted, according to Haaretz.

19 November
Trump’s ties to the Russian mafia go back 3 decades
Journalist Craig Unger talks Russia, Trump, and “one of the greatest intelligence operations in history.”
(Vox) Longtime journalist Craig Unger opens his new book, House of Trump, House of Putin, with this anecdote. The book is an impressive attempt to gather up all the evidence we have of Trump’s numerous connections to the Russian mafia and government and lay it all out in a clear, comprehensive narrative.
The book claims to unpack an “untold story,” but it’s not entirely clear how much of it is new. One of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. So much of the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and somehow that has made it harder to accept.
But make no mistake: Trump’s ties to shady Russian figures stretch back decades, and Unger diligently pieces them together in one place. Although Unger doesn’t provide any evidence that Trump gave the Russians anything concrete in return for their help, the case he makes for how much potential leverage the Russians had over Trump is pretty damning.

24 August
Kremlin Sources Go Quiet, Leaving C.I.A. in the Dark About Putin’s Plans for Midterms
(NYT) In 2016, American intelligence agencies delivered urgent and explicit warnings about Russia’s intentions to try to tip the American presidential election — and a detailed assessment of the operation afterward — thanks in large part to informants close to President Vladimir V. Putin and in the Kremlin who provided crucial details.
But two years later, the vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent, leaving the C.I.A. and other spy agencies in the dark about precisely what Mr. Putin’s intentions are for November’s midterm elections, according to American officials familiar with the intelligence.
The officials do not believe the sources have been compromised or killed. Instead, they have concluded they have gone to ground amid more aggressive counterintelligence by Moscow, including efforts to kill spies, like the poisoning in March in Britain of a former Russian intelligence officer that utilized a rare Russian-made nerve agent.

2 August
Two Trumps in Helsinki: Russia’s Approach to the U.S. President
By Tatyana Stanovaya, a founder and CEO of political analysis firm R.Politik. Reality of Russian Politics.
(Carnegie Moscow Center) Vladimir Putin is widely viewed as the winner of the Helsinki summit. But reality may be more complicated. Despite optics in Putin’s favor, the Russian government is unsure how to further relate to Trump: should it view him as a full-fledged partner who can normalize relations between Russia and the United States, or should it use him as a tool for disrupting U.S. foreign policy?

18-19 July
(NYT evening brief) “Say that again? Dan Coats, the director of U.S. national intelligence, being blindsided by a reporter’s alert that President Trump was planning to invite President Vladimir Putin of Russia to the White House this fall. It was indicative of the conflicting narratives and clashing priorities of Mr. Trump and his intelligence agencies, which have been on remarkable display this week, underscoring the degree to which the president picks and chooses intelligence to suit his political purposes.For his part, Mr. Putin said that unspecified forces in the U.S. were trying to undermine the results of the talks in Helsinki, Finland, comments aimed at deepening American divisions.
Time unveils its latest cover: Faces of Trump and Putin morphed into one
(WaPost) The magazine unveiled the cover online Thursday via a 19-second animated GIF that starts with Trump’s face slowly morphing into Putin’s, then back to Trump’s, then ending with the face of a creepy Trump-Putin love child.
The U.S. Needs a Russia Strategy Now More Than Ever
The Real Lesson From the Helsinki Summit
(Foreign Affairs) In the face of a growing Russian threat to the interests of the United States at home and around the globe, Washington still lacks anything resembling a grand strategy to meet it. Trump’s Helsinki performance showed the world that a year and a half into his administration, he has yet even to start crafting an approach. Unless that changes, as I argue in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs (“Russia as It Is”), U.S. interests will be further compromised and Putin will be further emboldened.
To be effective over the long run in containing Putin’s Russia, the United States needs unity at home and support from allies abroad. A necessary step for advancing this united front is agreement on the basic tenets of the strategy. Conceptual work for devising such a grand strategy needs to be done now more than ever, especially in the wake of the Helsinki summit, even if the product of such strategizing might become usable only after the Trump administration
White House: Trump opposes Putin’s request to interview current and former American officials
The White House says President Trump opposes a proposal floated by Russian President Vladimir Putin that would allow Russia to interview American officials in exchange for making Russian authorities indicted in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe available for questioning.
The White House announced Trump’s opposition Thursday moments before the Senate voted 98 to zero to approve a resolution telling the president not to honor Putin’s request, which would have exposed former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul, among others, to Russian questioning.
The Senate resolution — which expresses the sense of Congress that no current or former diplomat, civil servant, law enforcement official, member of the Armed Forces or political appointee should be made available to Putin’s government for an interrogation — is not binding on the president. The White House said earlier this week that it is considering the Kremlin’s request, prompting a backlash from both Republicans and Democrats, and even members of the Trump administration. White House says Trump to discuss allowing Russia to question US citizens

15-17 July
Exclusive: Trump’s defense chief open to first talks with Russian counterpart – sources
(Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is open to the possibility of the first talks since 2015 between the defense chiefs of the United States and Russia, a move that would deepen communication between Washington and Moscow, U.S. officials said.
Former U.S. officials said former President Barack Obama’s last two defense secretaries – Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter – came to the conclusion after attempts to hold meaningful dialogue with Shoigu that the discussions were not worth their time.
Derek Chollet, a former senior Pentagon official who was present during talks with Shoigu under the Obama administration, doubted that Mattis would find any discussions very productive.
Trump Now Says He Accepts U.S. Intelligence Reports on Russian Election Meddling
(NYT) Mr. Trump said the misunderstanding arose from an awkward attempt to use a “double negative.”
“The sentence should have been ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative,” he said. “So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good (sic) by itself. I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.”
(Reuters) Russia’s political and media establishment heralded talks with Trump in Helsinki as a victory for Putin in breaking down Western resolve to treat Russia as a pariah. The praise from Russia’s elite for Putin’s performance contrasted sharply with the reaction in Washington where Trump’s own Republican party accused him of failing to stand up to Putin.
Trump’s Weak Defense of His Meeting With Putin
(The Atlantic) The notion that America can simply move beyond Russia’s electoral interference is fantasy.
‘Putin’s poodle:’ Newspapers around the world react to Trump-Putin meeting
(CNN) Newspapers around the world ran different photographs of the same scene on their front pages on Tuesday morning — US President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin standing side-by-side at a news conference following their two-hour meeting in Helsinki, Finland.

Trump backs Putin on election meddling at summit, stirs fierce criticism
(Reuters) – Standing side by side with Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Donald Trump refused on Monday to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of criticism at home.
(NYT evening brief) “They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia.”
Standing next to Vladimir Putin, President Trump publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Moments earlier, Mr. Putin conceded that he had favored Mr. Trump in the election. The two raised the possibility that their intelligence agencies might work together.
Mr. Trump’s conciliation drew howls of protests from Democrats and some Republicans. Here’s an assessment by our White House correspondent Mark Landler.
Trump Sheds All Notions of How a President Should Conduct Himself Abroad
(NYT) In the fiery, disruptive, rules-breaking arc of Mr. Trump’s statecraft, the president’s remarks in Helsinki on Monday marked an entirely new milestone, the foreign policy equivalent of Charlottesville.
Mr. Trump’s goal, it seemed, was to fight, tooth and claw, for the legitimacy of his election victory. In the process, he impugned the nation’s law enforcement agencies and publicly undermined the consensus view of its intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the campaign.

Trump and Putin, July 16, 2018. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

At Summit With Russia, Trump Betrays His Country in Plain Sight
(New York) Standing next to Vladimir Putin, after a meeting Putin had requested, President Trump was asked by a reporter if he believed the findings of his own intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. He began by floating unfounded accusations that the FBI had ignored his opponent’s misdeeds. Then he proceeded to express his doubts. “All I can do is ask the question,” said Trump. “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I’ll say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump told the world he trusts the denial of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — the very man who did the deed! — over his own government’s intelligence. Trump can’t think of a reason why Putin would have interfered in the election. The fact that Russia has interfered in multiple elections, the fact its propaganda arm had broadcast its preference for Trump, the fact American intelligence concluded Russia intervened, that Robert Mueller has produced multiple indictments detailing evidence of this interference, all mean less to him than Putin’s say-so. Putin admitted at this press conference he wanted Trump to win.
Charles M. Blow: Trump, Treasonous Traitor
The president fails to protect the country from an ongoing attack.

8 July
Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler?
Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper. If that’s true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency.
(New York) The first intimations that Trump might harbor a dark secret originated among America’s European allies, which, being situated closer to Russia, have had more experience fending off its nefarious encroachments. In 2015, Western European intelligence agencies began picking up evidence of communications between the Russian government and people in Donald Trump’s orbit. In April 2016, one of the Baltic states shared with then–CIA director John Brennan an audio recording of Russians discussing funneling money to the Trump campaign. In the summer of 2016, Robert Hannigan, head of the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ, flew to Washington to brief Brennan on intercepted communications between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The contents of these communications have not been disclosed, but what Brennan learned obviously unsettled him profoundly. …  In an interview this year, he put it more bluntly: “I think [Trump] is afraid of the president of Russia. The Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out and make his life more difficult.”
While the fact that the former CIA director has espoused this theory hardly proves it, perhaps we should give more credence to the possibility that Brennan is making these extraordinary charges of treason and blackmail at the highest levels of government because he knows something we don’t.

3 July
Trump planning one-on-one meeting with Putin without aides present: report
President Trump is planning on meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin alone later this month, a source told CNN.
More aides are expected to join the two world leaders later in the meeting, which is expected to cover election interference, Syria and nuclear weapons.
CNN noted that without other aides present, that part of the meeting will be without an official record — making it difficult to conclude whether they reached any agreements.
The Trump-Putin summit could do some good if…
Steven Pifer argues that the summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin later this month has the potential to advance U.S. interests and improve U.S.-Russia ties if the leaders tackle a number of specific issues and if the American president adequately prepares—both big ifs.
(Brookings) If the White House wants a summit that advances U.S. interests, the president will have to prepare. That means gaining command of key U.S.-Russian issues, such as arms control, Ukraine, and Syria. He has smart people who can help him do that.
Preparation also means a positive NATO summit on July 11 and 12 that sends a message of robust allied unity, especially in responding to the challenges posed by Russia. That would strengthen Trump’s hand as he sits down with Putin.
Finally, a successful summit in Helsinki requires that Trump confront Putin candidly on issues where Russia is misbehaving. That is important if he wants to earn Putin’s respect. It is also important for how the summit will be seen back home.
Reuters Commentary: Trump and Putin should start small at their July 16 summit, write former U.S. ambassadors William Courtney and Kenneth Yalowitz. While Moscow’s actions on crucial matters like Ukraine, Syria and election interference cannot be ignored, they “may find it easier to make concrete progress if they start with lower profile issues” like renewed cultural exchanges and diplomatic expulsions.

29 June
In Trump’s Russia Summit, Putin Holds All the Cards
(New York) The Russians are certainly acting like they’re the ones leading this meeting. “Russia has excelled at controlling the narrative,” Politico reports, as they were the first to go to the press when the summit was proposed in March, and they released further information through their own news agencies, like details of national security adviser John Bolton’s trip to Moscow to negotiate the meeting. Former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s fear, he tells Politico, is that just like in Singapore, Trump will come out of Helsinki praising Putin’s intelligence and strength, with no real, concrete achievements in hand.
Worse, the meeting is scheduled for immediately after a NATO summit in Brussels and an official visit to London, so Trump will be fresh from another round of testy meetings with U.S. allies.
Any agreement that comes out of next month’s summit, meanwhile, is overwhelmingly likely to favor Russia’s interests, if only because Putin knows exactly what he wants from Trump, whereas Trump does not seem to want anything more than for the man he admires so much to like him back.

The Trump-Putin talks will be in Finland. The leaders will meet July 16 in Helsinki, their first formal one on one in person.The timing is politically sensitive, coming amid the special counsel’s investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. It emerged that a former aide to a top Trump adviser, Roger Stone, has been subpoenaed.Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee pelted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Russia investigation, with accusations of obfuscation, even as the House itself passed a nonbinding measure demanding related documents within seven days.

U.S., Russia strike deal to hold Putin-Trump summit
[foreign policy aide] Yuri Ushakov claims meeting will be ‘main international event of the summer’
(CBC) Ushakov, speaking after Putin held talks with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton in the Kremlin, said the summit would take place in a mutually convenient third country and that several more weeks were needed to prepare for it.
Such a summit is likely to irritate U.S. allies who want to isolate Putin, such as Britain, or who are concerned about Trump’s attitude toward Russia. It is also likely to go down badly among foreign and domestic critics who question Trump’s commitment to NATO and fret over his desire to rebuild ties with Moscow even as Washington tightens sanctions.

9 June
Analysis: Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia keeps raising eyebrows
Trump’s appeal for Russian re-entry to a revived G8 generates more suspicion than support
(CBC) Trump’s statement caused consternation among the other allies — including the Canadians, who declared that Canada would oppose any such move until Russia rolls back its annexation of Crimea. That almost certainly will not happen as long as Vladimir Putin controls Russia.
For British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump’s statement was an even more painful slap.
She had just landed in Canada after telling the British press corps on her plane that one of her goals in Charlevoix was to seek unity from her G7 peers in confronting Russia, which her government has formally accused of being behind a nerve gas attack in March targeting a former Russian spy and his daughter. She also said she wanted to discuss her plan for stronger cyber-defences aimed at countering Russian cyber-mischief.


18 July
Trump had a second, undisclosed meeting with Putin — with none of his staff present
We just found out about it now.
(Vox) It turns out that a few hours after the leaders’ much ballyhooed one-on-one meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, the two met again informally for about an hour — accompanied only by Putin’s translator.
Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer, who spoke with leaders in attendance at the meal, wrote in a note to clients on Tuesday that at the social “couples-only” G20 dinner, Trump got up from his seat to go talk to Putin, and the two proceeded to have what Bremmer described as an “animated and very friendly” conversation.

9 July
The Russian Mob Visits Trump’s Inner Circle
(Booman Tribune) I don’t have time right now to do what I’d like, which is try to tell you just how messed up it is that Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. were meeting with Russian mob lawyers who are also pawns of the Kremlin back in June of 2016.
The story is very, very complicated and I spent several hours last night reading up on it. One lawyer involved in the case died in a Russian prison at the hands of the Interior Ministry. Another was recently pushed out of 4th story window. The key figure in the whole thing, Denis Katsyv, was represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya who was in the meeting with Trump’s inner circle. Another key figure, Andrey Pavlov, is described as “the consigliere for the Klyuev Group.” Members of the Klyuev Group are described as Russian mobsters linked to the Russian government.
One thing I did last night was sit down and read the complaint that Preet Bharara filed against Denis Katsyv. It makes for fascinating reading. The sophistication of their money laundering is dizzying. The reach of their corruption into Russian courts, the tax ministry and the Interior Ministry is simply astonishing. Preet Bharara was of course fired while conducting this case and it was recently settled for about 6 million dollars without Katsyv or his companies having to acknowledge any guilt.
Before you even tackle this material, one thing you should know is that Putin’s government has been ruthlessly defending these mobsters even though the root of the whole complaint is that they carried out the biggest tax fraud on the Russian treasury in recorded history.
Putin sent these folks to talk to Trump’s inner circle in June because he was pissed off that Congress passed a law after goons from his Interior Ministry beat the lawyer who uncovered this fraud to death. The law places sanctions on 44 individuals who are known to have been involved in this lawyer’s mistreatment and death. Putin suspended American adoptions of Russian orphans in retaliation, which is something he has done for other reasons in the past, too.  I recommend that you follow the links in this piece. See also Trump Team Met With No Ordinary Russian Lawyer

9 July
Trump: Russian Cyber Security Partnership Won’t Happen
(Daily Beast) “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen,” he wrote. “It can’t-but a ceasefire can,& did!” The tweet comes after the proposed Russian partnership was criticized by lawmakers, including several top Republicans. “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” Trump tweeted earlier after meeting with the Russian president at the G20 summit.

8 July
Trump-Putin meeting
(CNN) Much of the attention at the G20 has been on a bilateral meeting between Trump and Putin on Friday.
Putin told reporters Saturday that Trump appeared to agree with Moscow’s position that it did not interfere in last year’s election during their bilateral talks.
“I repeat, he asked a lot of questions on this matter,” Putin said at a Saturday press conference. “I answered as many as I could answer. I think he took it into consideration and agreed with it. But you should ask him what his opinion is on that,” Putin said.
On Friday, a senior Trump administration official told CNN that Trump did not accept Putin’s claim of noninterference in the US election. [Nikki Haley: ‘Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our elections’]
Asked specifically how Putin views his relationship with Trump, the Russian president said, “and regarding personal relationship … I think it was established. I don’t know how this will sound, but I’ll tell you how I see it. TV Trump is very different from the real person, he is absolutely specific, absolutely adequate in his perception of the dialogue partner, he analyzes things quickly, replies to the raised questions or new elements of the conversation. So I think if our future relations will unfold the same way as our meeting yesterday, there is every reason to believe that we can restore, at least partially, the level of cooperation we need.”

7 July
Whatever was said, Putin will claim a win from his long talk with Trump
(The Guardian) The format, tone and makeup of the room will all count as wins for the Russian president, even if nothing of much substance was discussed
A trustworthy account of exactly how the meeting went down is unlikely to surface, but another win for Putin was the makeup of the room. In addition to the two presidents, the only people present were the respective foreign ministers and two interpreters. This means there is no chance of leaks, as happened when Lavrov visited the White House in May .
Russian television emphasised the length of the meeting, which ran more than four times its scheduled half-hour length, as a sign of Russia’s importance. The news of a US-Russia agreement on a ceasefire in south-western Syria, announced as the meeting was taking place, is an example of the kind of top-table diplomacy Putin would like to do with Trump.
That deal may prove less than durable and go the way of many previous failed ceasefire agreements on Syria, but at a time when the world’s media is fixated on Russian election meddling, it is a win for Putin that the main headline from the meeting is that a deal of any sort was struck.

6 July
Nina Krushcheva: Putin and Trump’s Tainted Love
(Project Syndicate) At the root of the affinity between Trump and Putin is the sense that both are essentially strongmen. But that affinity – and their relationship, whatever it may be – could be what weakens them. Just as Putin’s suspected intervention in the US presidential election has undermined Trump’s presidency, reflected in record-low approval ratings, Trump’s chaotic behavior has damaged Putin’s position, already undermined by his own economic mismanagement.

5 July
Trump Aides Want Kremlin Critic in Putin Meeting
(The Daily Beast) … whether Fiona Hill will be allowed in the room when the two presidents get together is still very much an open question.
… aides have been pushing to stack the meeting with officials who might help nudge Trump in the right direction—or at least present a more politically palatable front.
“The idea is to get as many adults in the room as humanly possible,” one senior administration official said.

25 June
Trump eager for big meeting with Putin; some advisers wary
(AP) — President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.
Odd timing to recall the Russian ambassador
Russia recalling ambassador at center of Trump campaign controversy: report
BuzzFeed News is citing three sources saying Russia is calling Ambassador Sergey Kislyak back home.
The Kremlin did not confirm to the news outlet when Kislyak would head back to Russia, but the US-Russia Business Council on July 11 will have a going away party for Kislyak at the St. Regis Hotel, the report said.


16 June
The Senate’s Message to Russia (and Trump)
Congress is wisely reasserting its prerogatives on foreign policy
(Bloomberg) At a separate hearing, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signaled the administration’s unhappiness with the impending Senate vote, which he argued would reduce its “flexibility” in reaching out to Russia. But Trump has only himself to blame. Ignoring Russia’s aggressive conduct in Syria, Europe, and Afghanistan — not to mention inside U.S. computer servers — he has pushed for lifting sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Crimea, cyberattacks and human-rights violations.  He and members of his administration have dissembled about their contacts with Russia during the campaign and dismissed the steadily expanding investigations into them.
(The Atlantic) Much Ado About Russia: On Twitter, Trump appeared to attack Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and confirm that he himself is under investigation over his firing of James Comey as FBI director last month. The tweet renewed concerns that Rosenstein may have to recuse himself from the Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller: Rosenstein wrote a memo that justified firing Comey, but Comey said he was fired to stop his investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Trump transition team has been asked to preserve documents related to Russia, suggesting Mueller’s probe of those connections is ramping up. Regardless of how the Trump team may have been involved, there’s evidence of a widespread attack on U.S. voting systems by Russian hackers, and it’s unclear how seriously the systems were compromised.

15 June
Senate overwhelmingly passes Russia sanctions deal
(The Hill) The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia and giving Congress the ability to block President Trump from lifting current penalties.
Senators voted 98-2 on the bill, which also includes new sanctions targeting Iran’s ballistic missile development, support for terrorism, transfer of weapons and human rights violations. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted against the measure.
The legislation marks the Senate’s most significant check on the Trump administration’s foreign policy, which has flirted with lifting sanctions in an bid to entice Moscow into an agreement.The bill now heads to the House, where it faces an uncertain future amid signs of pushback from the administration.

13 June
Congress Set to Prod Trump, Who Denies Russia Meddled, to Punish Moscow
(NYT) President Trump appears all but certain to be confronted in coming weeks with a wrenching decision about Russia: whether to veto new, bipartisan sanctions against Moscow, partly for election interference that Mr. Trump has said is a fiction created by Democrats.
The sanctions, which would make it impossible for Mr. Trump to act alone to lift existing economic penalties imposed by President Barack Obama after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, were approved late Monday by Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They have been embraced by Republican leaders, though not by the White House.
The agreement reached on Monday means the new sanctions are set to land on Mr. Trump’s desk just as his administration is fending off investigations into possible collusion with Russian officials during the campaign. Both Republicans and Democrats say they doubt Mr. Trump can afford to veto the bill.

7 June
A Russian newspaper editor explains how Putin made Trump his puppet
“They consider him a stupid, unstrategic politician.”
(Vox) In their habits, they’re radically different. Trump is a posturing performer, full of idiotic narcissism. He appears to be a disorganized fool, to be honest. Putin, on the other hand, is calculating, organized, and he plans everything. He also hides much of his personal life in a way that Trump does not.
Then there’s also the fact that Putin is so much more experienced than Trump. He has more than 15 years of global political experience. He knows how to do things, how to work the system. He makes plenty of mistakes, but he knows how to think and act. Trump is a total neophyte. He has no experience and doesn’t understand how global politics operates. He displays his ignorance every single day.

23 May
The Foreign Policy Price of Trump’s Russia Scandal
by Robert E. Hunter, Chairman of the Council for a Community of Democracies since 2002 and a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Russia’s seizure of Crimea, aggression elsewhere in Ukraine, and other pressures in Europe cannot be excused. Nor can Russian interference in the US presidential election campaign be justified by the fact that the United States has itself for decades actively and regularly intervened in the politics and elections of dozens of countries around the globe. But the “Russia scandal” enveloping President Trump, however much he has contributed to it, is depriving the United States of the chance to explore whether there can be a true “reset” of relations with Russia, fully consonant with US and Western interests.
Ironically, Donald Trump has shown a better understanding of the need for a new, mutually acceptable basis for relations with the Russian Federation than did either George W. Bush or Barack Obama. His valuable instinct, however, is now being buried beneath the fundamental debate about his presidency, which is feeding so much of the Russia scandal, in major part for US domestic political reasons. In this context, the interests of the United States and the West are clearly losing out.

19 May
Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation
President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.
“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

15 May
(Quartz) The White House denied Donald Trump revealed “highly classified” intel to the Russians. US national security adviser H.R. McMaster denied reports that the president revealed classified information to Russia’s foreign minister, saying “I was in the room, it didn’t happen.” The Washington Post reported yesterday that Trump discussed information (paywall) “from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State” with Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office.

12 May
The Senate Starts to Look at Trump’s Businesses
(The New Yorker) Trump’s businesses—maybe because of his fondness for shiny deals—have been the subject of investigations over the years but have not been discussed much in the context of the Trump campaign’s relationship to Russia. But that seems to be shifting. Senator Lindsey Graham, whose committee is heading one of the investigations, raised the question at a hearing on Monday, and apparently asked the White House for information about ties between the President and Russia. In response, lawyers for Trump released a letter to the Associated Press on Friday, saying they had reviewed ten years of Trump’s taxes and didn’t find “any income of any type from Russian sources,” except for a property sold to a Russian billionaire and proceeds from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, held in Moscow. Trump’s actual tax returns weren’t released, so the information could not be confirmed. More significant for the long term, perhaps, was another request made by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which is known as FinCEN, to turn over documents related to Trump and his campaign officials as part of what Senator Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the committee, told CNN is “our effort to try to follow the intel no matter where it leads.”

10 May
The strange Oval Office meeting between Trump, Lavrov and Kislyak
(WaPost) Although the encounter between Trump, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak took place in the center of American power, it was Tass, the official Russian news agency, that had the pictures.
According to Andrei Sitov, the Tass bureau chief in Washington, the Russian photographer who took the photos covers Lavrov full time and came with him on the plane. He was presented to the White House as the official photographer.
It was a curious choice for a meeting that took place less than a day after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, who was leading the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian officials.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a president inviting foreign representatives to the Oval Office, but sitting presidents do not usually host foreigners linked to major scandals in their own administration.
They also tend to avoid photo-ops with representatives of countries accused of interfering in U.S. elections.
The F.B.I. Was Closing in on Flynn Before Trump Fired Comey
Grand jury subpoenas have reportedly been issued to associates of former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
(Vanity Fair) The president had reportedly grown increasingly frustrated with Comey, with whom he had a fraught relationship, for not publicly quashing the narrative that his campaign may have colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election. One adviser told Politico that Trump repeatedly demanded to know why the investigation hadn’t gone away, and would yell at the TV when the subject came up. The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House had wanted Comey to rebuke allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government; instead, Comey confirmed the existence of the Russian probe and said he had “no evidence” of the president’s claim that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
But there were also more serious, proximate events that may have been weighing on the president’s mind. According to The New York Times, Comey had asked the Justice Department for a “significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election” just days before he was fired.

All of Trump’s Russia Ties, in 7 Charts
By Michael Crowley
What is the real story of Donald Trump and Russia? The answer is still unclear, and Democrats in Congress want to get to the bottom of it with an investigation. But there’s no doubt that a spider web of connections—some public, some private, some clear, some murky—exists between Trump, his associates and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
These charts illustrate dozens of those links, including meetings between Russian officials and members of Trump’s campaign and administration; his daughter’s ties to Putin’s friends; Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant; and his short-lived mixed martial arts venture with one of Putin’s favorite athletes. The solid lines mark established facts, while dotted ones represent speculative or unproven connections.
There’s nothing inherently damning about most of the ties illustrated below. But they do reveal the vast and mysteriously complex web behind a story that has vexed Trump’s young presidency from its start—and is certain to shake the White House for months to come. (Politico Magazine March/April)

16 April
Likely no ‘smoking gun’ on Russian interference in U.S. election, says Russian-American journalist
‘There was absolutely an effort to hack … the U.S. election, but Americans elected Trump,’ says Masha Gessen
(CBC) The Russian government may have tried to influence the outcome of the U.S. election, but don’t blame it for U.S. President Donald Trump’s success, says Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen.
“There was absolutely an effort to hack and influence the American election,” said Gessen. “But Americans elected Trump. He is not a foreign agent — the Russians didn’t elect him.”Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen warns that Americans are about to learn what it’s like to live under autocratic rule See full interview Trump, Putin and U.S.-Russian relations on The National.

15 April
Nina Khrushcheva: Putin has something on Trump and will use it on him now that he is no good to him
(Raw Story) “I actually wrote last summer that Putin is a pragmatic politician. He cannot possibly not think that the disaster of Donald Trump is going to work wonders for him. He could have hoped, he thought he could manipulate it, he used it for as long as he could have. But now the reality, as I said, has kicked in.”
Addressing the recent meeting between Putin and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson where Tillerson was unable to set up a meeting between Trump and the Russian president, Khrushcheva indicated that this was a sure sign of where the relationship is headed.
“As much as the Russians want to have a relationship with the United States, they are clearly understanding that the longer that meeting doesn’t happen, the more Putin would actually return to his own devices,” Khrushcheva explained. “And that is a big, big danger.”
Former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove says Donald Trump borrowed money from Russia during 2008 financial crisis
Days before taking office, Mr Trump said Russia had never had any ‘levarage’ over him
(The Independent) Robert Amsterdam, a lawyer at international law firm Amsterdam & Partners with considerable experience in Russian affairs, told The Independent there was “no question” that US intelligence agencies and the FBI had information about Trump’s financial dealings with Russian entities prior to the 2016 US election.

13 April
(WaPost World View) In Moscow, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was met with an “icy” reception from his Russian counterparts. Tensions simmered in the wake of the American missile strike against the Syrian regime and new reports that the Russians knew of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s continued use of chemical weapons (something the Russians categorically deny).
Tillerson held direct talks with President Vladimir Putin and then sat side-by-side with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a testy press conference. Hours earlier, Russia had vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the reported use of a banned chemical weapon in a rebel-held town in northern Syria last week and urging a prompt investigation. At the presser, Tillerson said both the Russia and United States sought a “unified, stable Syria” and would work toward that end — but he and Lavrov disagreed about the nature of the chemical weapons strike and the future status of Assad, a Russian ally who Trump described as “truly evil” in an interview the same day.
In Washington, Trump said relations with Russia were at an “all-time low,” forgetting the Cold War in a moment of hyperbole. Still, Putin had time for his own jab, suggesting that U.S.-Russia ties were better under former President Barack Obama, a figure reviled by both the current White House and the Kremlin.

11 April
Trump’s Shift on Russia Brings Geopolitical Whiplash
(NYT) By Tuesday, after Mr. Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria in retaliation for using chemical weapons on its own people, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson arrived in Moscow with a harsh warning that Russia had better give up its support of Mr. Assad. Back in Washington, the White House held a briefing accusing Russia of shielding Syria’s chemical weapons attack on civilians.

6-8 April
U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria
(CBC The National) David Frum and Jeremy Kinsman comment
David Frum: Seven Lessons From Trump’s Syria Strike
Syria air strikes: US ‘warned Russia ahead of airbase missile bombardment’
US military gave Russian forces prior warning to ‘minimise risk’ to personnel ahead of retaliatory strike for alleged chemical weapons attack, Pentagon says
(The Independent UK) Russia has provided military assistance to President Bashar al-Assad’s government since September 2015, and maintains several dozen warplanes and batteries of air-defence missiles in the country which have been instrumental in turning the tide of the six-year-long war in Mr Assad’s favour.
Al Shayrat is an important base for the Syrian air force, from which many strikes against rebels in the north of the country are launched.
Russia’s Lavrov and U.S. Tillerson spoke by phone about situation in Syria
(Reuters) Lavrov pointed out that “an attack on a country whose government fights terrorism only plays into the hands of extremists, creates additional threats to regional and global security,” the Russian ministry said.
He also told Tillerson that assertions that the Syrian military used chemical weapon in Idlib province on April 4 do not correspond to reality, the ministry added.
Russia condemns U.S. missile strike on Syria, suspends key air agreement
(WaPost) Russia on Friday condemned a U.S. missile strike against Syrian government forces as an attack on its ally and said it was suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.
Even as Russian officials expressed hope that the strike against Syrian President Bashad al-Assad’s forces would not lead to an irreversible breakdown in U.S. relations with Moscow, the Kremlin’s decision to suspend the 2015 memorandum of understanding on the air operations immediately raised tensions in the skies over Syria.
Russia warns of serious consequences from U.S. strike in Syria
(Reuters) [The strikes] catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has advisers on the ground aiding its close ally Assad.
Satellite imagery suggests the base houses Russian special forces and helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Assad fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
Syria air attack cartoonU.S. informed Russia ahead of cruise missile strikes on Syria base
(Reuters) The U.S. military gave Russian forces advanced notice of its strikes on a Syrian airbase and did not hit sections of the base where the Russians were believed to be present, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said on Thursday.
Davis, briefing reporters on the operation, said the U.S. military had “multiple” conversations with Russian forces on Thursday before the strike, using a line of communication that had previously been established to prevent an accidental clash in Syria during the fight against Islamic State.

29 March
Manafort’s Money: News reports suggest former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort may have engaged in money laundering. The allegations, which concern questionable property purchases and bank account transactions, come one week after the Associated Press reported that Manafort allegedly worked with Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-aligned Russian billionaire, in the mid-2000s to further Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests. They also come against the backdrop of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the presidential election. As David Graham notes, testimony from Deripaska and Manafort could help determine if the allegations “point to truly nefarious behavior or … the stuff of conspiracy theory.”

28 March
Trump adds Russia scholar as a National Security Council director
(WaPost) Fiona Hill, a Russia expert and frequent critic of President Vladi­mir Putin, will join the White House National Security Council as senior director for Europe and Russia, officials said Tuesday.
Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former member of the National Intelligence Council, was first recruited for the NSC job under Michael Flynn, President Trump’s now-former national security adviser. Flynn’s departure and upheaval over the Russia contacts left Hill’s appointment in limbo for a time. The job offer was subsequently renewed by H.R. McMaster.
The NSC will combine Russia and Europe under one directorate under Hill, after the two were separated by the Obama administration. A deputy is expected to concentrate on European issues.
In her book “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” published with co-author Clifford Gaddy in 2013 and updated in 2015, Hill described Putin as a survivalist on foreign policy, willing to use “forms of blackmail, intimidation, punishment, and blatant distortion of the truth” to defend Russia and his position.

The Senate ratified Montenegro’s admission into NATO. The tiny Balkan nation will become the 29th member of the military alliance, a move that senators said will send a clear signal to president Vladimir Putin that the US is ready to push back against his attempts to increase Russian influence in the region.

Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians
(NYT) The White House Counsel’s Office was informed this month that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, wanted to question Mr. Kushner about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, according to the government officials. The meetings, which took place during the transition, included a previously unreported sit-down with the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank.

Trump administration sought to block Sally Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia
(WaPost) According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.
Robert Reich comments:
Yates and another witness at the planned hearing, former CIA director John Brennan, had made clear that their testimony probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made.
As acting attorney general, Yates played a key part in the investigation surrounding Trump campaign aide Michael T. Flynn, who became national security adviser before revelations that he had discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States in late December led to his ouster.
Nunes can’t be trusted to run the House investigation. The White House can’t be trusted to allow it to occur. The Justice Department can’t be trusted to allow the FBI to do its job. James Comey can’t be trusted to do the job.
Which is why we need a select committee, a special prosecutor, and probably also an independent commission.
The honeymoon’s over for Trump and Putin
Washington and Moscow are trading sharp words over Russia’s weekend political crackdown, civilian deaths in Iraq and the revival of US sanctions.
By Michael Crowley
( After months of overtures from U.S. President Donald Trump to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Trump administration is trading harsh diplomatic words with Moscow, further dimming the prospects for a strategic alliance between the two countries.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer opened his Monday briefing by reading a statement saying the U.S. “strongly condemns” the detention of hundreds, including leading Putin critic Alexei Navalny, following a weekend crackdown on peaceful anti-corruption protests across Russia.

27 March
As Jared Kushner ascends White House ladder, Senate Russia inquiry adds scrutiny
Trump’s son-in-law will lead Office of American Innovation to privatize certain government functions, as he agrees to testify in Russia election investigation
(The Guardian) Kushner’s offer to appear before the Senate panel stems from his meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US. The encounter at Trump Tower also included the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned from the Trump administration after misleading vice-president Mike Pence about the nature of his discussions with Kislyak.

24 March
Trump_Russia links
Photo credits:  Carlo Allegri; Klimentyev Mikhail; Carlos Barria; Kevin Lamarque; Monterey Herald; Sergei Karpukhin; Jim Loscalzo (via ZUMA)

The Long, Twisted, and Bizarre History of the Trump-Russia Scandal
Here’s the timeline you need to keep track of the controversy.
By Hannah Levintova
(Mother Jones) The Trump-Russia scandal—with all its bizarre and troubling twists and turns—has become a controversy that is defining the Trump presidency. The FBI recently disclosed that since July it has been conducting a counterintelligence investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia, as part of its probe of Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election. Citing “US officials,” CNN reported that the bureau has gathered information suggesting coordination between Trump campaign officials and suspected Russian operatives. Each day seems to bring a new revelation—and a new Trump administration denial or deflection. It’s tough to keep track of all the relevant events, pertinent ties, key statements, and unraveling claims. So we’ve compiled what we know so far into the timeline below, which covers Trump’s 30-year history with Russia.
Republicans take up Russia-aligned attack on Soros
How Russian propaganda on the Balkans found its way onto congressional letterhead.
( A group of congressional Republicans is teaming up with Russia-backed politicians in Eastern Europe with the shared goal of stopping a common enemy: billionaire financier George Soros.
Led by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’ Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left.”
While Republicans have long regarded Soros as a mortal enemy when it comes to domestic politics (where he has spent tens of millions of dollars backing Democratic candidates and liberal causes), their politics were more aligned on the international stage. Soros’ efforts to boost democracy and root out corruption in former Eastern Bloc countries dovetailed with traditional Republican foreign policy objectives.
But things may have started changing after Donald Trump’s stunning victory in a presidential campaign during which he emphasized nationalist themes.

15 March
U.S. Charges Russian Spies with Directing Yahoo Hack
Two hackers were also indicted by the Department of Justice in one of the largest known data breaches in history.
(Vanity Fair) The U.S. Department of Justice announced charges Wednesday against two Russian spies and two hackers for stealing user data from half a billion Yahoo accounts in 2014. The massive cybersecurity breach, the second to affect Yahoo in two years, is believed to have been one of the largest in history.
The indictments confirm Yahoo’s suspicion, at the time the breach was disclosed, that the company had been hacked by a “state-sponsored actor.” According to the Department of Justice, the cyberattack was “protected, directed, facilitated, and paid” by Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both members of the Russian intelligence agency F.S.B. Alexsey Belan, another Russian defendant, is known for cyber crimes, and was named by the F.B.I. as one of the agency’s “cyber most wanted criminals” in 2013. Karim Baratov, a Canadian and Kazakh national, was arrested Tuesday in connection with the data breach.

6 March
Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War
What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and what lies ahead?
By Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa
(The New Yorker 6 March edition) No reasonable analyst believes that Russia’s active measures in the United States and Europe have been the dominant force behind the ascent of Trump and nationalist politicians in Europe. Resentment of the effects of globalization and deindustrialization are far more important factors. …  Although both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have expressed support for traditional alliances, Trump remains entirely uncritical of Putin. “Trump changes the situation from a NATO perspective,” General Shirreff said. “The great fear is the neutering of NATO and the decoupling of America from European security. If that happens, it gives Putin all kinds of opportunities. If Trump steps back the way he seemed to as a candidate, you might not even need to do things like invade the Baltic states. You can just dominate them anyway. You’re beginning to see the collapse of institutions built to insure our security. And if that happens you will see the re-nationalizing of Europe as a whole.”

4 March
Will Russia connection become the Trump administration’s Watergate?
As more details emerge of meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and TV hosts have a field day, the scandal seems unlikely to disappear soon
As it has emerged that other members of the Trump campaign – including his son-in-law Jared Kushner – also met with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, the Kremlin connection seems destined to be the putative scandal that will not go away for the White House.

14 February
Michael Flynn, fired by President Obama, now gives resignation to President Trump
At issue was Flynn’s contact with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States. Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak appear to have discussed US sanctions late last year, raising questions about whether he was freelancing on foreign policy while President Obama was still in office and whether he misled Trump officials about the calls.

6 February
Donald Trump repeats respect for ‘killer’ Putin in Fox Super Bowl interview
US president says: ‘We’ve got a lot of killers’ when asked about Russian leader, sparking stern response from Florida senator Rubio
(The Guardian) Trump’s respect for and willingness to work with Putin was a familiar theme during an election that the US intelligence agencies believe their Russian counterparts sought to influence on Trump’s behalf.
Such claims prompted a split between Trump and the intelligence community that has not yet healed.
The two presidents spoke by phone last weekend, a conversation reportedly much smoother than calls with leaders of allies such as Australia. A summit meeting has been mooted by both governments.

6 January
(The Atlantic) The Russia Report: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has released a declassified version of its report on Russian interference with the U.S. election, following a Senate hearing on the subject yesterday. The report concludes that while hackers did not attempt to meddle directly with vote counts, the Russian government did order a series of cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns in order to help Donald Trump win the election. However, it doesn’t make any new evidence public, and it’s unlikely to sway any of those who still doubt Russia’s role—including Trump himself.

1 January
Putin’s Real Long Game
The world order we know is already over, and Russia is moving fast to grab the advantage. Can Trump figure out the new war in time to win it?
By Molly K. McKew (who) advises governments and political parties on foreign policy and strategic communications.
(Politico) We must … focus now, as Putin does, on shaping the world that comes next and defining what our place is in it. Trump has shown willingness to reevaluate his positions and change course — except on issues relating to Russia, and strengthening alliances with the Kremlin’s global illiberal allies. By doing so, he is making himself a footnote to Putin’s chapter of history — little more than another of Putin’s hollow men. …
In a strange way, Trump could be just crazy enough — enough of a outlier and a rogue — to expose what Putin’s Russia is and end the current cycle of upheaval and decline. This requires non-standard thinking and leadership — but also purpose, and commitment, and values. It requires faith — for and from the American people and American institutions. And it requires the existence of truth

One Comment on "Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations 2017-18"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson March 4, 2017 at 3:58 pm ·

    Jeremy Kinsman on Facebook:
    “First, on Amb Kisyliak whom we knew well 30 years ago. He’s not a “spook.” He’s from the exclusive and elite USSR-US superpower nuclear negotiations culture, a physicist actually. In meeting the many people he is said to have met, he was doing his job as an Ambassador who has become an experienced operator. (PMO people were also down to the Trump Tower before the inauguration trying to pre-set the terms of the Canada-US relationship and avoid any commercial antagonisms.) When Obama tossed out the 35 Russian diplomats, and Flynn got on the phone several times with Kisyliak, this was a Heaven-sent opportunity for the Ambassador to try to shape or encourage a different and more compliant approach from the Trump administration-to-be. Of course, Kisyliak knows the US listens to the Embassy’s open phone calls (on a standing warrant – they listen to many Embassies. We assumed they listened to ours. They were listening to Angela Merkel’s cell-phone, for God’s sake.) But I imagine he figured Flynn had to know what he was doing, and since his boss Trump would be President in a short time, Kisyliak wouldn’t have ducked the opportunity because it was somehow non-kosher by obscure American rules (though I doubt he – or Flynn – knew about the Logan Act. After all, remember Kissinger interfering in the Paris peace talks with the Vietnamese prior to Nixon taking office, and Reagan’s people getting the Iranians to stall on the release of US hostages after the 1980 election.) I think what Flynn seemed to be offering – “go light in response, and we’ll go light on you when we’re in” – was cheap and irresponsible stuff, but it sure would have looked good to Kisyliak. As to Putin, it’s a very good question – what the hell was he thinking in screwing around with the US election? It’s a lot of things, dislike of hawkish and censorious Clinton to be sure, but mostly, it’s pay-back – for Victoria Nuland and Hillary thinking they could regime change in Kiev, for supporting opponents of Putin in the Moscow demos, for overall hypocrisy. Putin doesn’t get nor trust “democracy,” though when we knew him in the 90s he put on a good act of pretending to. But he now views the US system as flawed, rigged, corrupt, and generally inferior and he enjoyed the idea of trying to expose that, though he wouldn’t have had the remotest idea they could swing the election to Trump. (Nor did they. Clinton lost it.) Personally, I think there’s going to be buyer’s remorse in Moscow: having gone too far, I agree they’re going to face blowback from a harsh Washington climate (which is borderline hysterical about Russia now). A bigger question than what is driving Putin is what drives Trump’s crush on Russia and drives the cover-ups that are going to be very costly to Trump. Some smart people believe it has to do with Russian money flowing into Trump properties in years they were short of dough and that this is a big reason he won’t release tax returns. It’s not going away and as the story builds and we know more about why things happened as they did, the stakes are going to be the highest for all concerned. Lastly, you’re on the nose about security agencies over-belief in electronic intel. US agencies have got almost every major analytical urgency wrong for years. INR usually had the best assessments and I presume they still do.”

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