It was Russia that pushed a narrative “alleging corrupt ties between President Biden, his family,” and Ukraine, using Ukrainian proxies to “give Moscow plausible deniability” of involvement, and it was done not just to keep the compliant and ever-gullible Trump in the White House but for the purpose of “reducing the Trump administration’s support for Ukraine” as it attempted to fight off Russian military attacks. Among the proxies specifically named in the unclassified report: Ukrainian legislator Andriy Derkach and Russian “influence agent” Konstantin Kilimnik. Among the methods used were helping to produce “a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020″— as well as Derkach’s release of audio recordings purporting to “implicate” Biden in alleged corruption.
While the individuals “close to” Trump are not identified within the document, there is no mystery about who they are. The identification of Derkach and Kilimnik is enough to put unpaid(?) Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani at the center of these Russian disinformation efforts, though whether Giuliani participated knowingly with Russian efforts or is simply the single most gullible man in American politics is, as always, unknown. Kilimnik is both a Russian “influence agent” and a former associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, whose work for pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders is at this point well-documented.
The “documentary” produced is almost certainly the Michael Caputo-hosted OANN propaganda job “The Ukraine Hoax,” an utterly bizarre attempt to blame Ukraine, not Russia, for Russia’s 2016 election interference and one that parroted the Russian line on all things Biden and Ukraine to such an extent that Putin would be well within his rights to demand royalties.
The short version, then: Rudy Giuliani and others “close to” Trump were eager conduits for invented Russian disinformation that both sought to keep Dear Bumbling Leader in the White House—a man who, after all, had always done his level best to shield Putin from consequences even when it was revealed that Putin not only attacked our national elections, but put bounties on American troops overseas—and as attempts to damage U.S. support for Ukraine as Russia attempted to annex large portions of that country. Trump and his associates not only accepted and promoted that help (again), but also abetted Russian goals in Ukraine by withholding congressionally mandated financial support to Ukraine during an aggressive Russian push into the country.
Did Trump, Pompeo, and the others know what they were doing when they withheld that aid? It’s still not clear. The pleasant explanation is that Rudy Giuliani was duped; this theory dodges all the warnings he was given about his new Ukrainian associates, and the seemingly never-ending connections between those in Trump’s political orbit and all things Russia, from Manafort’s Ukrainian sabotages Trump’s long-term financial dealings. Nobody can plausibly argue that Donald Trump would not intentionally sabotage Ukrainian sovereignty simply because Vladimir Putin asked him to.
Now that a new team has taken over U.S. foreign policy, the next question is how the United States ought to respond to Putin-backed attacks that, in boosterism for a clown-faced incompetent sociopath and in the relentless production of disinformation aimed at undermining our very democracy, had the side effect of killing a half million Americans, resulted in an invasion of the U.S. Capitol, and take-your-pick. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that Putin will “pay a price” for his attacks.
In an interview, Biden said he had a “long talk” with Putin in January, and “the conversation started off, I said, I know you and you know me. If I establish [2020 interference] occurred, then be prepared.”
That rather personal-sounding threat is the right approach. Putin’s Russian government can best be thought of not as government, but as an organized crime ring. It exists to enrich its oligarchs, to dispose of its enemies, and to launder the profits. Russian interference in other nations is premised on undermining democracies for the sake of discrediting calls for democratic reforms inside Russia.
Punitive responses that directly harm Putin’s top allies, rather than Russia at large, are what Putin’s allies fear most. Biden is now in a situation where new responses to Russian attacks are all but required—after the orange president allowed everything from cybercrimes to bounties against American soldiers to go unanswered, there is a backlog.
It is almost certain that Republicans close to Trump will continue to deny that their actions worked to advance Russian interests, and it is almost certain they will do so by continuing to claim that all American intelligence officials are wrong so Shut Up. Fox News will take up the cause, with usual suspects Hannity and Carlson insisting that the intelligence services are conspiring against Russia in an effort to make Trump supporters look bad.
Somewhere in the bowels of government, there might still exist a classified server with transcripts of Trump’s own conversations with Putin and other leaders still archived. Those certainly would be conversations the new administration would want to browse through, just to check where things truly stand between our two nations before launching into any further discussions. And if those archives no longer exist? Well now, that would be more interesting still.