Moscow on the Potomac: February is Going According to Putin’s Plan

BETWEEN THE COURT RULINGS subsequent to the roll-out of President Trump’s hare-brained Muslim ban, the confirmation battles for Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, and the increasingly deranged remarks spewing from Trump’s two Twitter accounts, domestic affairs have for good reason dominated the headlines since Trump took office in January. None of the troubles roiling the homeland change the fact that the first three weeks of Trump’s presidency could not have gone more smoothly for Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine has gone not only unchecked, but almost un-remarked upon in the US press. Rex Tillerson, who received the prestigious Order of Friendship medal from Putin himself while CEO of Exxon, was confirmed as Secretary of State with minimal fuss, while Michael Flynn, whose illicit if not outright treasonous ties to Moscow have long been rumored, is Trump’s national security adviser. And the prize Putin has sought is now in plain sight: Trump has already lifted some of the sanctions on Russia. Surely it is only a matter of time before they are lifted entirely.

This is especially troubling because Trump, whose capacity for outrage seems to know no bounds, remains curiously unwilling to disparage Putin. In his pre-Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump swatted away the suggestion that Putin was a killer. “We’ve got a lot of killers,” Trump told O’Reilly. “Boy, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?” Adopting the “America is the root of all evil” position of the Jill Stein/radical left crowd was perhaps ironic, given the radical rightwing nature of much of Trump’s policies. But make no mistake: this comment was clearly intended to minimize Putin’s penchant for murder—and to paint the Russian president in the best possible light.

Why is Trump, a bully whose diplomatic instincts are practically non-existent, so deferential to Putin—and only to Putin? Given what he know of Trump’s ego-centered personality, the most likely explanation is that the Russian president is somehow blackmailing him.1 This is not some crazy conspiracy theory, insofar as the US intelligence community also believes that Trump is being blackmailed.

Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. The President of the United States has been compromised by the Russians. Whatever your politics, this is not something to be shrugged off. The Trump/Russia ties need to be investigated, and not just by James Comey at the FBI.

The past three weeks have done little to assuage suspicions. To the contrary, February has played out exactly as Putin would have wanted. To wit:

Ukraine/Crimea

Lost in the sea of Donald Trump’s all-cap tweets, Russian forces have been bombarding eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, Newsweek syndicated an analysis of the situation by two Ukrainian experts, with the lurid if misleading headline “PUTIN TO TRUMP: LIFT SANCTIONS OR UKRAINE GETS IT.” One gander at the map explains Putin’s ambitions in the region:

proposed-ukraine-map

He wants territory along the Sea of Azov, to better connect the occupied peninsula with the Russian mainland. The city of Mariupol is especially significant. Now that Putin has moved troops into the region, he might agree not to invade the rest of Ukraine—which he has no interest in doing regardless—if he gets to keep the eastern strip and the Crimea and the US lifts the sanctions. This way, Putin gets what he wants, and Trump is seen to have “stopped” Putin.

 

Favorable Appointments

Carter Page, one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers until he suddenly wasn’t, is now said to be in the running for ambassador to Russia (by the Moscow Times, no less!). Page is a key figure in the Steele dossier, the series of intelligence reports filed in the summer and fall of 2016 by British operative Christopher Steele concerning Trump’s ties to Russia, and his sudden ouster from Trump’s inner circle is thought to be because of his questionable ties to Rosneft, the Russian oil giant. But Page was in the know enough to announce, at a December lecture in Moscow, that Rex Tillerson would be named Secretary of State…before Trump had informed the American people. The contents of his lecture made it very clear where his sympathies lie (hint: Moscow).

Heatstreet’s Louise Mensch—who has been prescient on the Trump/Russia ties for months now—reports that Page was recommended to the Trump team by none other than Jeff Sessions, the newly-minted Attorney General. In his new role, Sessions has the ability to release the Russian hacker Ygeveny Nikulin, now in custody in Prague, and to scuttle any Russia/Trump investigation. His racist background and staunch Trumpist views, in line with Putin’s own, will furthermore serve to direct popular attention away from Russian influence.

While CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson orchestrated an oil drilling deal with Russia that was scuttled because of the sanctions. Per Forbes: “Exxon has a $720 million joint venture with Rosneft, run by Putin’s friend Igor Sechin. That deal has been put on ice since the White House sanctioned Russian oil and gas companies in July 2014.” Could Putin have asked for anyone better to head the State Department than the corporate giant with whom his friend made that deal?

This does not even take into account yesterday’s other bit of news: Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, lied about the nature of his conversations with the Russia’s US ambassador prior to Trump’s inauguration. Sactions were discussed, even as both Flynn and Vice President Mike Pence vehemently denied this at the time. This is a violation of the Logan Act. But it also underscores just how much sway Putin has over Trump’s inner circle.

 

Sanctions Lifted

A few days after the historical call between Trump and Putin—some of which, astonishingly, not recorded!—Trump began to lift sanctions on Russia. The first round of sanction-lifting went down on February 2, with restrictions eased on Russian intelligence agency FSB. The FSB, it should be noted, are the very people responsible for the cyber warfare that compromised the US election. Wholesale elimination of sanctions cannot be far behind.

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Whether or not Trump is being blackmailed—and, again, the US intelligence community believes this to be the case!—his behavior towards Putin has been odd, especially for one as full of bluster as the president. And the results are unequivocally favorable towards Russia. Put another way: why else would Trump be so deferential towards Putin, if not for blackmail?

We must be vigilant in reporting this story, we must demand further investigations into the Russia/Trump ties, and we must, if Trump is proven guilty of collusion with Putin, impeach him immediately. Treason has no political party.

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UPDATE, 13 February: Michael Flynn has resigned, upon revelations that he “misled” the president and vice president about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador. Russian lawmakers rush to his defense. No US ones do.

Michael Flynn, Vladimir Putin, and Jill Stein at a dinner party in Moscow.

Michael Flynn, Vladimir Putin, and Jill Stein at a dinner party in Moscow.

  1. My own theory is that Putin forgave a nine-figure debt to a Russian bank in exchange for the sanctions being lifted. Read about it here.
Greg Olear

About Greg Olear

Greg Olear (@gregolear) is a founding editor of The Weeklings and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker, an L.A. Times bestseller.
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