On the night of Donald Trump's victory over Hillary Clinton, Russian President Vladimir Putin must have felt victorious. Members of the Russian Duma reportedly applauded when Trump's election was confirmed and Putin saw champagne slurp. In a speech in the Kremlin, he announced: "Russia is ready and wants to fully expand relations with the US." In the middle of the celebration, Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian sovereign wealth fund, received a text from a friend in New York: "Putin has won."
Putin can hardly be held responsible for his sense of triumph. The large-scale operation aimed at sharing the American people and ending up in the White House as a yielding candidate that he launched in 201
After all, the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, had successfully hacked into Democratic Party e-mails during the campaign and staged their leak at opportune times. The operation had hampered both Clinton's and the Democratic Party's reputation as he had distracted the embarrassing news about Putin's favorite candidate, Trump. The same group, even before the vote, had made digital raids on state electoral systems and possibly practiced for more disruptive future activities.
At the same time, the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) had carried out a major campaign from St. Petersburg to St. Petersburg reinforce the divisions within the American electorate by using fake accounts, bots and trolls to polarizing our actions catalyzing their own citizens – while hiding their hand and appearing organic.
Although the report of Special Adviser Robert Mueller was published on April He said he had not "established" the existence of a conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, there was a convergence of interests before the elections: "The Russian Government believed that it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to achieve that result [while] The campaign expected the election to benefit from information stolen and released by Russian efforts. "[TrumpCampaignDirectorPaulManaforthadfedawell-connectedRussianwithinternalcampaignsurveydataaboutTrump'spositioninmajorbattlefieldstateslikeWisconsinPennsylvaniaandMichiganandwedonotknowexactlyWhattheRussianKonstantinKilimnikwiththeinformationgbecauseMüllercouldnotlearnitbutwecouldassumethatKilimnik'sattentiontosuchobscuredatawasnotanidlecuriosity
Russia's post-election campaign was about influence
. When the election was over, Putin's priorities had to shift. To foster future pro-Russian US foreign policy, he and his colleagues had to establish direct links with Trump and his incoming advisors. And because Trump's team was small and lonely, and had mostly no diplomatic experience, this meant using a complex network of interlocutors rather than finding traditional ways to communicate – an effort that Müller redefined.
Putin or those close to him appointed several deputies – oligarchs, business leaders and allegedly an alleged student – to build targeted relationships with American individuals who were able to help shape American foreign policy.
As Robert Anderson Jr., a former high-ranking counterintelligence officer at the FBI, said in a court document on the student's indictment in March, these types of return channels "would have given the Russian government an advantage by giving Russia the opportunity Formal channels bypass diplomacy, concessions and influence within the United States. Such a benefit to the Russian government would have caused the United States a fair amount of damage, including damage to the integrity of US political processes and their internal governance, as well as US foreign policy interests and national security.  As Muller's report makes clear, Putin saw Trump and his helpers as potential collaborators in his plan to restore Russia's role as an influential global player. So Mueller reported: "As soon as the news was announced that Trump was elected president, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began to come up with ideas."
We know in particular that Putin wanted an early meeting with Trump after the election and he floated out an agreement he wished Trump to share in the importance of relations between the two nations and their commitment to work together on global issues, Signed – an agreement that would have been a deciding factor for a country with a fraction of Washington's economic climate. He also wanted Trump to lift economic sanctions that would punish Russia – and its wealthy elite – for annexing Crimea and prevent the imposition of tougher sanctions. His government urged a Ukrainian peace plan that would largely preserve the status quo, and it required the approval of Trump to suppress the international and regional opposition.
Efforts to create warmer relationships and find a docile partner must look like awhile. Progress has been made.
In the month after the election, for example, then-President Barack Obama introduced a series of new sanctions to punish Russia for interfering in the election. But Michael Flynn, a senior Trump Advisor to Trump, who was soon to be named National Security Advisor, quickly gave Putin the opportunity to speak to Trump, whom the Russian president cleverly used. As the report describes, Flynn called on Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and asked him to convince Putin not to react to Obama's sanctions. The next day, Kislyak called Flynn to inform him that his request had "been received at the highest level," according to the report. And Trump was able to tweet : "Great delay in delaying (by V. Putin)."
Also, Dmitriev, the head of the Russian state fund, had some successes. After Putin urged his oligarchs at a quarterly meeting to build relationships that could help lift the sanctions, Dmitriev took on the task of putting forward a "proposal for reconciliation between the United States and Russia," according to Müller's report. With the help of Rick Gerson, a hedge fund manager and friend of Trump's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner, Dmitriev managed to get the proposal into Kushner's hands. Kushner then passed it on to Steve Bannon and then Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson. Dmitriev also wrote to George Nader, who played a role in bringing the players together, that Putin hoped Trump would use the proposal to prepare for a call between the two leaders. Nader wrote back: "The paper was definitely submitted …. They took it seriously!
However, some of the Russians' requests were ignored, in part due to the malfunctioning and incompetence of Trump's team. Although Dmitriev sought a direct meeting with a Trump helper in November 2016, in January 2017 he had to opt for a Seychelles meeting with Erik Prince, who was not an official election campaign advisor. "Dmitriev was not thrilled with the idea of meeting Prince," says Müller. After the meeting, Dmitriev expressed disappointment. He had wanted to meet with someone with more authority, and he had hoped to develop a more substantial roadmap for Russia and the United States. He found Prince's remarks "offensive."
The Russian overtures bump against a wall
When questions about the election campaigns in Russia began to swirl in the American media, and the FBI's investigations into Russia's Home Office spy defense against Russia, which had formally led to four attacks, had months before the election – Putin's deputy expanded into walls. Flynn, who persuaded Kislyak to tell Putin he should retaliate for sanctions, was released from the White House within a month of Trump's escape, after the FBI had made it clear he had lied to the vice president and was at risk of espionage , Later, he pleaded guilty to lied to the FBI and made a plea in which he told Muller about his sanction talks.
Petr Aven, chairman of the oligarchy of Russia's Alfa-Bank, had been looking for intermediaries at the direction of Putin to demand a channel of communication to improve US-Russian relations, the Mueller report said. However, in an e-mail from Richard Burt, a former US ambassador who was on the board of an Aven company, he was told that he was "so interested in Congress and the media on the issue of cyber-hacking (and who ordered) What, "Project A [a back channel] was too explosive to discuss." Later, according to the Mueller report, Aven Putin had to declare in a quarterly session that he was not just the back channel with the new American President, he had received a summons from the FBI and was questioned about his efforts.
Maria Butina, the weapon-loving Russian citizen who has an affinity for Republicans and was allegedly studying at American University, was arrested by the FBI in London She later pleaded guilty to being an unregistered foreign agent and pledged to investigators as part of her plea bargain together. She is now waiting for the conviction. She is deported as soon as her sentence is over.
As problematic as things became – with multiple pre- and post-election contacts between Russians and Trump helpers or government officials not reported to the FBI, contrary to US government policies – they might have been worse, the section says about Müller's report, which deals with Russia.
It does not differ from its message in the other half of the report, which deals with Trump's stubborn, extensive efforts to prevent Müller from continuing. It was bad, says the report, but it could have been worse – if one of Trump's aides had taken the steps he demanded of them. For example, as Muller notes, White House attorney Don McGahn refused to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Miiller. Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, declined to forward instructions to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the investigation by the special prosecutor. And Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, rejected the President's demand to declare that there is no connection between Russia and the Trump campaign.
So how can we judge who won and who lost in the longstanding scandal? Putin's tactic helped bring Trump to the Oval Office, and Trump's role as a strategic disruptor is obviously paying off. The reputation of the American people is demonstrably in decline worldwide. But the overall plan can still be a strategic failure for the Russian president. Despite Trump's own attempts to downplay Russia's interference, much of the evidence to the contrary has been largely published by Mueller.
Just as the trolls and bots continue trying to spread disinformation, the truth – or at least part of it – is finally out. Associated with this is a reduced chance of repairing relations between the US and Russia on terms that Putin might like. At least, relations between the two countries are currently stained by a scandal, and Putin still needs to secure a Ukrainian peace plan, which means that some (but not all) sanctions remain.
At the same time, despite Trump's unwillingness to confirm the scope and seriousness of what Putin did in 2016, American voters now have more information on how disinformation works, making it harder but not impossible Russia should implement the same game book in 2020. Perhaps Putin, when he accused his followers and sent them out to destroy our democracy, could not imagine that checks and balances would be enforced by a national leader. Putin found a willing dance partner in Trump. But our democratic institutions still do not play the music he wants to hear.
Alex Finley ( @alexzfinley ) is the pseudonym of a former journalist and officer of the CIA from 2003 to 2009. Who now writes analyzes by Robert Mueller. She is the author of Victor in the Rubble a satire about the CIA and the war on terror. The Center for Public Integrity is a non-profit, impartial investigative journalism organization based in Washington, DC.