What can we say with certainty about the connection between the U.S. republican President-elect Donald Trump and the Russian President Vladimir Putin?
The first, is that the Russians intervened in the 2016 American election process, in a way that hurt the democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton which then, assisted Donald Trump’s in becoming the next U.S. president. The Kremlin, ended up acting as a pro-Trump Super PAC, with access to an army of hackers.
The second, is that Trump has on numerous occasions, openly declared his desire to reorient American foreign policy in a pro-Russian direction. There is no reason, not to take him seriously.
With the power of the US presidency, the republican president-elect could alter the very fundamental fabric of global politics, weakening crucial institutions like NATO that Russia hates because of its role in establishing sanctions against it for its 2014 invasion into Crimea, a part of Ukraine and its attempt to unilaterally annex new territory for Russia.
While there used to be some doubt as to whether Russia was totally responsible for the hacking of various people and organizations close to Hillary Clinton, this is no longer the case. But now, the FBI and the DNI have even publicly indicated their agreement with the CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to weaken Hillary Clinton and in part to help Donald Trump win the White House.
So, the questions remain, why are the President-elect Donald Trump and his team still attempting to downplay and trivialize Russia’s role in sowing discord within the 2016 U.S. presidential election internal politics?
Why is the President-elect Trump allowing his adult children to attend recent key meetings? Is he sending a signal to foreign officials, that when you interact with them, you are working in a way consistent with Mr. Trump’s wishes? How then can the president-elect give the appearance of not being susceptible to “conflict of interest” allegations if he permits his adult children to manage his businesses, as a way to separate out his involvement?
He likes to make it sound complicated for him to divest himself from his vast empire, but it is not. All he needs to do his hire a trustee with an impeccable reputation to take over his role with the company, so that he loses nothing. Without this step, he will be vulnerable to legal action, especially if he receives any foreign monies.
It is my firm belief that the president- elect is acting favorably towards Russia because this stance aligns with his business interests and any geo-political concerns and/ or U.S. national security priorities to the contrary, are immaterial. His words like “America first” mean nothing.
Zach Beauchamp covers the president-elect’s ties to Russia in his 10/1/16 VOX article, “Forget conspiracy theories. This is why Trump’s Russian connection is actually a problem.”
“The hacker who claims to be behind the DNC hack, Guccifer 2.0, is quite clearly a Russian cutout. His name is a reference to Marcel Lazăr Lehel — a now-jailed Romanian hacker. Lehel’s nom de plume was, you guessed it, Guccifer.”
“So what’s the evidence he’s a Russian cutout? For one thing, Guccifer 2.0 doesn’t actually appear to speak Romanian. Vice’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai interviewed him, mostly in English but with a few Romanian questions peppered in. Guccifer tried to dodge chatting in his allegedly native language, and, per Franceschi-Bicchierai, “the few short sentences he sent in Romanian were filled with mistakes.”
“For another, three cybersecurity firms investigated the hack and found direct evidence that two Russian-linked hacking groups, Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, did the DNC hack.”
“Perhaps most compellingly, they found that the malware infecting the DNC used an IP address that had previously been used in a hack targeting the German parliament. The German hack was — you guessed it — linked to Russian intelligence. It’s very unlikely that some other hacking group would use such similar code.”
“The forensic evidence linking the DNC breach to known Russian operations is very strong,” Thomas Rid, a professor at King’s College who studies cybersecurity, wrote at Vice. “The forensic evidence that links network breaches to known groups is solid: used and reused tools, methods, infrastructure, even unique encryption keys.”
“There’s similarly strong evidence linking Russian operatives to the Podesta hack.”
“The attack that got Podesta is something called “phishing.” In a phishing campaign, hackers send emails that are dressed up to look like something from a trustworthy source — in Podesta’s case, Gmail security. The emails tell the recipient to click on a link or attachment, which seems authentic but actually contains some nasty code that gives the hacker access to the target’s email account. Podesta fell for the phishing scam, hook, line, and sinker (if you’ll pardon the pun).”
“Generally, these attacks are highly effective, because they rely on human gullibility: our willingness to trust things that basically look legit. They’re also hard to trace, because there’s usually nothing in the email to give away the source.”
“But the Russian hackers messed up. The link they got Podesta to click on used an account from a public link-shortening service, Bitly, which the cybersecurity firm SecureWorks had been tracking. That Bitly account, according to SecureWorks, belonged to Fancy Bear.”
“The hackers’ laziness exposed their operation, negating one of the core advantages of a phishing attack.”
“Unless you screw up and make your phishing campaign linkable like this group apparently did, it is very hard to attribute to any given actor,” Nicholas Weaver, a senior researcher at UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute, wrote to me via email in October.”
“In short: Russian operatives were sloppy enough to link themselves to two different hacks of Democrats. The idea that they’re not interfering in the US election is just not credible.”
The hacks fit squarely within Russian strategic doctrine
“The bigger picture here is that Russia under Putin has something of a habit of using information as a weapon in foreign countries.”
“This is born, as the NY Time’s Max Fisher explains, from a traumatic experience Russia had in the mid-2000s. A series of pro-Kremlin strongmen in former Eastern Bloc states were toppled by the so-called “Color Revolutions.” In 2011, protests in Moscow threatened the very stability of the Putin regime itself. These were seen, in the paranoid climate of Moscow, as American intelligence operations.”
“As a result, Russian strategic leaders came to see the internal politics of other countries as a key battlefield.”
“Fisher points to a 2013 article, by Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, as key evidence of this new Russian thinking. Gerasimov argued that “non-military means” had eclipsed weapons in their strategic importance. Controlling the information and propaganda environment can inflict serious blows on one’s enemies.”
“The role of nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals has grown, and, in many cases, they have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness,” Gerasimov writes. He advocates using “military means of a concealed character,” including “actions of informational conflict” in order to accomplish Russian strategic objectives.”
“Gerasimov’s article uses the Arab Spring as a key example, which is telling. The Arab Spring wasn’t about wars between countries but rather upheaval inside countries. Gerasimov’s ideas, then, are explicitly designed to be used in attempts to influence other countries’ internal politics and conflicts.”
“That’s exactly what Russia was doing when it handed over the information to WikiLeaks. When you hand stolen information that’s damaging to Hillary Clinton to a radical transparency group that detests Hillary Clinton (mostly because of her relatively hawkish foreign policy), the result is eminently predictable: That information will be published online for the entire world to see.”
“The disclosures brought to light information that makes it seem like the American democratic process is fundamentally illegitimate. Some of the emails usually show normal behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Others show shadier stuff, like Democratic National Committee staffers discussing plans to undermine the Bernie Sanders campaign.”
“So it’s not just that the hack looks traceable back to Russian hackers. It’s that the strategic effect of the leak — releasing information that breeds infighting among American political factions — fits squarely within Russian strategic doctrine.”
“It looks a lot like Russia is running Gerasimov’s playbook in America.”
Trump’s policies are objectively pro-Russia
“Well, here’s the Occam’s razor explanation: Nothing Russia could do, on its own, would help its foreign policy more than what Trump is proposing. He is literally suggesting the United States transform global politics to make it more favorable to Russian interests.”
“Trump’s approach to American allies, specifically the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, is the biggest reason. Traditionally, American parties have seen its alliance commitments, NATO in particular, as ironclad guarantees — the core part of America’s global strategy.”
“Trump doesn’t agree. He thinks that alliances are only useful as tools for extracting money. The US is the strongest power in the world, Trump reasons — why protect tiny NATO allies like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania if they don’t pay up? At the very least, Trump has said, they should spend more on their own defense if they want to expect American protection.”
“If Trump put his ideas into practice and actually renounced commitments that didn’t do what he wanted, it would destroy NATO. The alliance depends entirely on an ironclad guarantee on behalf of all allies to defend any one of them — that is literally what it does. If the US won’t do that, then NATO is effectively dead.”
“This is music to Putin’s ears. That would make it far easier to install friendly dictators in small nearby countries, like Estonia, or even annex them entirely.”
“A Trump victory, then, seems like it might allow Putin to fulfill his fundamental foreign policy goal — reviving Russia’s Soviet-era influence over its region — to a degree previously thought impossible.”
“Trump seems totally oblivious to the fact that he would be throwing US allies under the bus — and, in fact, oblivious to Putin’s hostility toward the United States entirely.”
“For example, he has effusively praised Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria: “What’s wrong with Russia bombing the hell out of ISIS and these other crazies so we don’t have to spend a million dollars a bomb?” Never mind that Russian bombs have targeted the relatively moderate opposition more than ISIS, and that the point is to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad rather than defeat ISIS.”
“Trump sees Russia as more of a partner than an adversary — mostly because he doesn’t seem to care about the independence of Eastern Europe or Syria’s freedom from dictatorship.”
“All Trump cares about, is getting more money for the United States, as he’s said: “My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy. … But now I want to be greedy for the United States. I want to grab all that money.” His theories for how to do that — like spending less on alliances and other foreign commitments — line up exactly with a series of Russian foreign policy objectives.”
“That Russia was pulling for Trump is at this point beyond any dispute, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes. “Putin’s Russia has been proven or credibly alleged to have boosted friendly candidates in France, Germany, Austria, and, most successfully, in the election of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Something like this seems to be happening in the American presidential election now.”
“But if they actually were trying to make Trump win, it would make sense. There’s never been a major party candidate in the modern era more friendly to a Russian dictator’s interests.”
“Trump’s campaign staff and businesses have a disturbing number of connections to Russia and Russian interests. But it does raise serious questions about the kind of advice that he would get in the White House.”
“Michael Flynn, a Trump adviser and former head of the DIA, was currently a regular guest on RT, Russia’s English-language propaganda outlet. When he attended RT’s 10th anniversary party, he sat at the head table with Putin himself.”
Carter Page, another Trump foreign policy adviser, has served as an adviser for Gazprom, Russia’s state-run energy corporation. As recently as March 2016, he said he owned shares in the company.
“Page has defended Russia with relish,” Slate’s Franklin Foer writes. “He wrote a column explicitly comparing the Obama administration’s Russia policy to chattel slavery in the American South.”
“Interestingly, so does Trump himself. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., said in 2008 that “Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”
“The Washington Post has a great investigation into Trump’s “30 year” history of trying to build in Russia. Here’s the most relevant bit:”
“Trump’s partners on a Panama project traveled to Moscow in 2006 to sell condos to Russian investors, according to litigation filed in Florida. Trump also sold a mansion in Palm Beach in 2008 for $95 million to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, according to property records. Trump had purchased the mansion at a bankruptcy auction less than four years earlier for $41.4 million, records show.”
“In 2013, Trump found a new Russian partner for a Moscow real estate project, Aras Agalarov, an Azeri-born real estate developer who is sometimes called the “Trump of Russia” for his tendency to emblazon his name on his development projects.”
“So Trump not only has a long history of investing in Russia but also has a recent history of working with pro-Kremlin oligarchs.”
“The issue instead is that everything about Trump — his advisers, his personal feelings on Putin, his own business interests — incline him toward seeing things from Kremlin’s point of view.”
“It’s easy to see Trump’s pro-Russian policies as a kind of novice mistake. the result of pure ignorance. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
“Instead of picking advisers from the anti-Russia neoconservative camp, which dominated GOP foreign policy before Trump, he has drawn some of the most pro-Russia people around. He sees Putin as a model leader.”
“All of this suggests that Trump has thought a fair amount about Russia-related stuff, and came down on the Russian side.
UPDATE: This blog was last updated on 12/20/16.