The Siberian Candidate: A Collection
Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who profited “personally and handsomely” from Russian energy deals, as an American ambassador to Rome once put it. (Berlusconi also shared a 240-year-old bottle of Crimean wine with Putin and apparently makes ample use of a bed gifted to him by the Russian president.)
There’s a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO. He’s been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. Joe Biden warned about this effort last year in a speech at the Brookings Institution: “President Putin sees such political forces as useful tools to be manipulated, to create cracks in the European body politic which he can then exploit.” Ruptures that will likely multiply after Brexit—a campaign Russia’s many propaganda organs bombastically promoted.
The destruction of Europe is a grandiose objective; so is the weakening of the United States. Until recently, Putin has only focused glancing attention on American elections. Then along came the presumptive Republican nominee.
Wikileaks Dismantling of DNC Is Clear Attack by Putin on Clinton (John R. Schindler, The Observer)
Wikileaks has delivered as promised on its public threats of damaging Team Clinton with hacked emails. Although the DNC can’t deny that many of the leaked messages appear authentic—they wouldn’t have forced the chair’s resignation if they were fake, obviously—there remains the important question of how the vaunted “privacy organization” got its hands on them.
It turns out there’s hardly any mystery there. It’s no secret that the DNC was recently subject to a major hack, one which independent cybersecurity experts easily assessed as being the work of Russian intelligence through previously known cut-outs. One of them, called COZY BEAR or APT 29, has used spear-phishing to gain illegal access to many private networks in the West, as well as the White House, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. Another hacking group involved in the attack on the DNC, called FANCY BEAR or APT 28, is a well-known Russian front, as I’ve previously profiled.
These bears didn’t make much efforts to hide their DNC hack—in one case leaving behind a Russian name in Cyrillic as a signature—and Kremlin attribution has been confirmed by independent analysis by a second cybersecurity firm.
Why Russia is rejoicing over Trump (Anna Nemtsova, Politico)
It was thus perfectly in keeping with Trump campaign’s entente with the Kremlin that last week Trump aides reportedly watered down the new Republican platform on Russia, removing language that called for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces. Page, an energy expert, has close ties to Russian business and relationships with executives at Gazprom, the giant state-run gas company. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has worked as a lobbyist for former Ukraine’s former Russia-aligned president, Viktor Yanukovych.
For Putin, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving. Shunned and sanctioned by western leaders for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, Putin now sees a future ally riding into view. The Kremlin and its right-wing supporters also enthusiastically applaud the isolationist they see in Trump, who has suggested he might curtail U.S. involvement in NATO and European affairs, and who derides the same political “mainstream” that has deemed Putin a pariah.
If he wins in November, would Trump allow Russia’s sphere of influence to grow in Eastern Europe? These are the questions that are rife in Russian official circles. Here in Moscow, I often hear Trump being compared to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the extremist nationalist politician whom people call Zhirik and who is known as the “palace jester” of Russian politics because of his calls to execute dissenting ministers, lawmakers and generals by shooting them in Red Square, or to reduce the birth rate in Russian Muslim republics by imposing a financial penalty for the birth of a third child. “I admire Trump, he is like our Zhirik, they both say what they think,” Aleksandr, a Nizhny Novgorod student and supporter of the Rodina party — originally a coalition of 30 nationalist and far-right groups — told me. ”See, the success of palace jesters like our Zhirinovsky or the American Trump is easy to explain: They are not afraid of saying what other king’s courtiers are afraid of saying.”
Trump & Putin. Yes, It’s Really a Thing (Josh Marshall, Talking Points Memo)
To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He’s the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out ‘what’s going on’ as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.
There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Even if you draw no adverse conclusions, Trump’s financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That’s simply not something that can be waved off or ignored.
Fact-Checking that Trump-Putin Thing (Jeffrey Carr, Medium)
Josh focused exclusively on Page’s relatively brief tenure advising Gazprom and completely excluded his connection with Ukraine’s billionaire philanthropist Victor Pinchuk. It was his friendship with Pinchuk that got him the Merrill Lynch appointment to Moscow in the first place. Why exclude it? Because unlike Gazprom, there’s no connection between Pinchuk and Putin that Josh could exploit.
Josh’s claim that “Those ties allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time” is a mystery to me because Page left Gazprom in 2007 and has made very little money from Russia ever since; especially after sanctions hit in 2014.
Over the course of the last year, Putin has aligned all Russian state controlled media behind Trump.
The article Josh used to source that “fact” only mentioned RT (Russia Today). This editorial in the Moscow Times hoped for a Clinton presidency: “The Moscow-Washington relationship promises to remain a rocky one and its management will require a steady hand, which a President Clinton is more likely to provide than a President Rubio, or, God forbid, a President Trump.”
And just a few days ago, the Kremlin criticized Trump’s statement on NATO and Russia via TASS.
Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin (Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post)
Donald Trump was in his element, mingling with beauty pageant contestants and business tycoons as he brought his Miss Universe pageant to Russia for a much-anticipated Moscow debut. Nonetheless, Trump was especially eager for the presence of another honored guest: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump tweeted Putin a personal invitation to attend the pageant, and a one-on-one meeting between the New York businessman and the Russian leader was scheduled for the day before the show.
Putin canceled at the last minute, but he sent a decorative lacquered box, a traditional Russian gift, and a warm note, according to Aras Agalarov, a Moscow billionaire who served as a liaison between Trump and the Russian leader.
Still, the weekend was fruitful for Trump. He received a portion of the $14 million paid by Agalarov and other investors to bring the pageant to Moscow. Agalarov said he and Trump signed an agreement to build a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow — at least Trump’s fifth attempt at such a venture. And Trump seemed energized by his interactions with Russia’s financial elite at the pageant and a glitzy after-party in a Moscow nightclub.
Why Putin Hates Hillary (Michael Crowley and Julia Ioffe, Politico)
While Donald Trump’s budding bromance with Vladimir Putin is well known — the two men have exchanged admiring words about each other and called for improved relations between Washington and Moscow — Putin’s hostility towards Clinton draws less attention.
Former U.S. officials who worked on Russia policy with Clinton say that Putin was personally stung by Clinton’s December 2011 condemnation of Russia’s parliamentary elections, and had his anger communicated directly to President Barack Obama. They say Putin and his advisers are also keenly aware that, even as she executed Obama’s “reset” policy with Russia, Clinton took a harder line toward Moscow than others in the administration. And they say Putin sees Clinton as a forceful proponent of “regime change” policies that the Russian leader considers a grave threat to his own survival.
“He was very upset [with Clinton] and continued to be for the rest of the time that I was in government,” said Michael McFaul, who served as the top Russia official in Obama’s national security council from 2009 to December 2011 and then was U.S. ambassador to Moscow until early 2014. “One could speculate that this is his moment for payback.”
Putin is surely backing Trump, whether or not Russia was behind DNC hack (Julian Borger, The Guardian)
Russian state media has largely been favourable to Trump, who has historically relied on Russian money for financing his property deals – a fact admitted by one of his sons, Donald Jr. Furthermore, the Republican candidate has two men in his immediate circle with a record of promoting Russian causes.
Paul Manafort, the campaign chair formerly worked as an adviser to Viktor Yanukovych, former Ukrainian president and a Vladimir Putin ally ousted in a revolution two years who is now living in exile in Russia. And Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy adviser with a long history of financial ties to the Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Meanwhile, some of Trump’s most striking policy pronouncements were very much in Russian interests, most spectacularly his questioning of Nato’s basic tenet, that an attack on one member state would be treated as an attack on all, and his campaign’s determination to strip language on supporting Ukraine against Russian intervention from the Republican manifesto.
The Clinton camp has cried foul, with the campaign manager, Robby Mook, arguing on the ABC current affairs programme This Week that the Russians had leaked the DNC emails to help Trump, suggesting that the nominee’s policy positions gave Moscow ample incentive.
Is Donald Trump a Putin patsy? (Daniel Drezner, Washington Post)
No, I don’t see it. Yet.
First of all, let’s dismiss the part of this story that connects folks like Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Mike Flynn to Russia. Those links are there, but they are also irrelevant for the campaign. If there is anything we have learned about Donald Trump’s campaign to date, it’s that non-family underlings don’t matter. Foreign policy advisers like Page or Flynn certainly don’t matter. I’m not saying that these connections are not worth exploring, just that they are not part of some master grand plan.
Second of all, while the evidence for Russia being behind the DNC hack is certainly suggestive, it’s far from ironclad. Click here, here and here for some critical pushback on these stories. I certainly think the link merits further investigation. But I’m uncomfortable with the ironclad casual assertion that “Russia was behind this” that is starting to form inside the Beltway.
The third and hardest part of this story to dismiss is the money trail. As Marshall noted, Trump has increased his debt load and the dirty little secret is that most U.S. banks don’t loan money to Trump because they don’t trust him. And as Spoiler Alerts discussed last month, “I’m beginning to wonder if [Trump’s] motivation to win now is less about making America great again and more about avoiding yet another Trump bankruptcy.” Cozying up to Russia and Russian money would certainly be one way of bolstering his finances. And one wonders if the reason that Trump won’t release his tax returns is because it would expose Trump’s reliance on foreign money to prop up his companies.