Donald Trump has criticized the Mexicans, British, Germans, French, Australians, NATO, even the Pope! But he has not once criticized Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin! The question begs to be asked… Why?
In the jumble of news stories surrounding Trump, I think it’s worthwhile to isolate and arrange a chronology of what we know regarding the Putin/Trump relationship. I think it can be helpful to have the entire puzzle pieces (with related media sources) laid out sequentially to see a fuller picture. So here we go!
June 2013- Donald Trump tweets “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?” Here Trump indicates his desire to be accepted by a leader that he looks up to and admires, perhaps someone he aspires to be like, a man who is perceived as strong, decisive, and even feared.
December 2015- At the beginning of Trump’s candidacy, Putin praised Trump as talented, flamboyant, and popular. Trump responded that it was a great honor to receive such praise from a leader such as Putin and defended Putin’s dictatorial and oppressive regime with claims that America also did plenty of killing.
March 2016- Trump hires Paul Manafort as his campaign manager. Manafort was responsible for the election of former Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych whose image he rehabilitated when he served as his election campaign manager and after Yanukovych won the presidency acted as his senior adviser. Yanukovych was the pro-Russian candidate who after falsifying presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004, (a move rejected by Ukrainians in what became known as the Orange Revolution) became Ukraine’s president in 2010 thanks to Manafort, but was ousted in 2014 by massive street demonstrations in Kyiv fueled by anger over Yanukovych’s corrupt rule. Manafort is well known to have business ties and making huge deals with both Ukrainian and Russian (Putin’s circle) oligarchs.
July 2016- Manafort has been on board with the Trump campaign for several months now, despite controversy about his Russian and Ukrainian business ties, which the American press has been writing about. Behind the scenes, Trump campaign staffers change the wording of the Republican platform to avoid giving Ukraine lethal weapons. The wording on supporting Ukraine was watered down from “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the vaguely defined “appropriate assistance”. This is a significant drift from what has been the traditional GOP platform.
Late July 2016- In an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Trump insists that a good relationship and common interests with Russia supersede holding Russia accountable for its territorial violations in Ukraine, and he questions how deep Russia’s involvement is, signaling that he may recognize a Crimean referendum that was instigated by Russian soldiers occupying the Crimean Parliament and then forcing a referendum on annexation while occupying the peninsula. He also mentions he doesn’t know why the GOP platform regarding giving lethal support for Ukraine was softened, and that he would be “looking into it.”
July 22, 2016- Days before the DNC party conference, Wikileaks releases internal emails from the Democratic National Committee that reveal a bias towards Hilary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, causing much indignation from Sanders supporters and the resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz.
Early August 2016- Politico comes out with an article titled “Trump changed views on Ukraine after Hiring Manafort”. Trump seems to change his stance regarding Ukraine, claiming trying to change the illegal annexation of Crimea could start World War III and making statements that are more sympathetic towards Russian strategic interests. In September of 2015, Trump had stated that the land grab by Russia “should never have happened”.
Mid-August 2016- Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau releases a hand-written ledger that lists secret, off-the-record cash payments made by Yanukovych’s regime, among them 12.7 million in cash payments from Yanukovych to Manafort for various services, including being the middle man to sell certain Ukrainian businesses to Russian businessmen. Ukraine’s government also begins investigating Manafort’s connection to a number of offshore shell companies used by Yanukovych to launder money.
August 19, 2016- Amidst the controversy and intensified scrutiny from the press, (including Fox News) Paul Manafort resigns as Trump campaign chairman, and by Manafort’s suggestion, is replaced with Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. Manafort and his deputy Richard Gates state they will continue to work on Trump’s campaign “from the outside”.
August 20, 2016- Despite later running many news reports sowing doubts that the Russians were behind the DNC hacking, Fox News initially ran an investigative news report that the evidence from the cyber-attacks pointed towards Russia.
October 2016- Email dumps continue to be released periodically through Wikileaks in the weeks leading up to the US presidential election. No emails from the Republican side are released. How influential those emails were in swaying any opinion is debatable, but there was a strategic choice on the part of Wikileaks to damage Clinton and try to maintain that damage up until the election.
November 8, 2016- Trump wins the US Presidential election via the Electoral College system, but loses the popular vote by the largest margin in history of any candidate who has won the electoral but lost the popular vote.
November 10, 2017- Russian diplomats confirm that contact was maintained between Russian government representatives and Trump’s “immediate entourage” during and after the election campaign.
November 28, 2016- Paul Manafort never left Washington, DC and remained as an “in-the-dark” consultant for Trump. He currently maintains regular communications with Vice President Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions and is believed to continue to have a significant role in shaping Trump’s policy. If there’s one article to read out of all the ones cited here, this is the one!
Early December 2016- Manafort’s close associate and former deputy Rick Gates continues to work closely with Trump’s team behind the scenes during the planning of Trump’s inauguration. Gates also has strong business ties to Putin-favored Russian oligarchs.
December 21, 2016- In an interview with NPR, Politico senior foreign affairs reporter Michael Crowley discusses President-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He says that Trump seems “Willfully blind to Putin’s real goals” and that “there’s something I think we don’t completely understand.” He discusses Putin’s geopolitical goals as well as the continued role and influence of Manafort on Trump’s team.
December 23, 2016- Trump tweets his backing of Putin’s criticism and mockery of the Democratic Party and Hillary as sore losers.
December 29, 2106- When Trump is asked to clarify his position on Russian sanctions as a response to the cyber hacking, Trump avoids the question saying we need to “move on with our lives” and that computers have “complicated our lives”.
Early January 2017- Trump persists in refusing to acknowledge Russian hacking even after meeting with American intelligence community leaders, 17 of which have all confirmed that Russia is behind the cyber-attacks. Trump is afraid that evidence of Russian hacking may result in the perception of his election victory as illegitimate.
January 11, 2017- Unverified dossier by British spy Christopher Steele alleges Russia has “compromat” on Trump, including video of him with prostitutes in Moscow. The tactic of using compromising videotape as blackmail is a standard practice in the history of KGB operations.
January 15, 2017- Dossier claims Trump changed wording of Republican Party support towards Ukraine (the wording change happened and is a proven fact) in a quid-pro-quo exchange with Russia for the release of DNC emails to Wikileaks.
Mid-January 2017- Who is Christopher Steele? He is no amateur, but a respected veteran of MI6 - Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, which supplies the British government with foreign intelligence. He spent many years working for MI6 in Russia during the breakup of the Soviet Union. After his career at MI6, Steele created his own very successful private investigation firm. The FBI consulted him before they arrested several officials from FIFA.
January 25, 2017- Only weeks after noticing a stoppage in social media activity does it come to surface that a Russian cybercrime investigator and a senior Russian FSB intelligence officer member are arrested in Moscow for treason.
January 26, 2017- Rachel Maddow reports the likelihood that Russia’s December arrests of FSB cyber-security chief for treason is corroboration of some part of the recent US intelligence releases about Russia.
Late January 2017- It is revealed that using a maze of shell companies, Russia sold 19 percent of Russia’s state-run gas company Rosneft to an “unknown buyer” in December of 2016.
January 30, 2017- An unverified Twitter account from an alleged rogue White House staff insider tweets that Trump acted suspiciously during the phone call with Putin.
January 30, 2017- Shortly after Putin/Trump phone call, Russia and Russian separatists in Donetsk launch rocket attacks against Avdiyivka, a Ukrainian-controlled city in eastern Ukraine. The city of 20,000 loses heat and hot water during the attack, creating a humanitarian crisis where some residents must be evacuated by the Ukrainian government.
February 1, 2017- There is no transcript of the one-hour call between Trump and Putin because “the White House turned off recording.”
February 1, 2017- Former Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is confirmed as Secretary of State. He has no government experience but does have a history of very strong oil business ties to Russia, even getting the Order of Friendship Award from Putin in 2013. Exxon’s business with Russia was affected by the US sanctions in response to Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraine. At a 2014 shareholders meeting, Tillerson called the sanctions “ineffective.”
February 2, 2017- The US Treasury department lifts some sanctions on the Russian FSB (KGB). The department said in a statement it would allow U.S. companies to make limited transactions with the FSB that are needed to gain approval to import information technology products into Russia.
Interestingly, Russian news agency Tass reports on it BEFORE the US Treasury department publicly releases a statement.
February 2, 2017- Senator John McCain says Russia is testing Trump and urges lethal support for Ukraine.
February 3, 2017- Despite a strong declaration of US support for Ukraine by incoming American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, prominent Ukrainian journalists conclude that the US has abandoned Ukraine.
February 3, 2017- Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden believes a more full investigation of Trump’s connections to Russia should be continued and made public.
February 10, 2017- Recordings surface that reveal Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia at the end of December as the Obama administration kicked out Russian diplomats as punishment for election interference. In an unprecedented response, Putin did not do the usual tit-for-tat retaliation, allegedly because of assurances given to him by Flynn, a conversation which undermined the moves of the sitting United States government.
I believe this sequence and breakdown of events illustrates that there is most certainly something questionable about Trump’s relationship and intentions with Putin. It’s certainly possible Trump is only a pawn in this game and people in his consulting circle (Manafort/Gates) are the ones carrying on communications with Russian government representatives/business interests. It also seems plausible that Trump could be compromised by Russia. Certainly as time goes on, more and more questions arise. I invite you to make your own research and conclusions.
So, what does Putin want? I believe his motivations circle back to events in Ukraine where Russia sees the recent revolution as orchestrated by the U.S. ( it was rather a popular street revolt by millions of Ukrainians enraged by the corruption of their previous government ) and as an encroachment in the Russian sphere of influence.
In an interview with David Axelrod, Natalia Jaresko, Ukraine’s American-born and educated former finance minister, summarizes her view of Russia’s intentions, “Russia could not bear the thought of Ukraine becoming a truly democratic, economic, successful rule of law state. It would then cause questions as to why the system in Russia is so different. So for Putin, it was unacceptable for Ukraine to succeed… The information attacks, the propaganda, the cyber attacks, electoral interference... All the tactics Russia uses elsewhere in the world, they test out first on Ukraine… The Kremlin isn’t only about Ukraine; Russia wants to test the current post World War II liberal order that is based on democracy, human rights, territorial integrity, sovereignty off nations… Russia wants to create a disruptive system, where we no longer believe in alliances, and everyone is out for themselves, which makes it easier for Russia to separate all of us and exert their own power.”
(Jaresko at 28:00 mark)