We Have to Talk About Russia

February 1, 2018

As readers may know, I’m of the belief that Russia’s bold incursion into global electoral politics is not separate from the climate crisis, and the carbon bubble.

Seems appropriate to start with Radio Free Europe.

The directors of Russia’s three main intelligence and espionage agencies all traveled to the U.S. capital in recent days, in what observers said was a highly unusual occurrence coming at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States had earlier confirmed that Sergei Naryshkin, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), was in Washington in recent days to meet with U.S. officials about terrorism and other matters.

But the presence of the two other chiefs — Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), and Lieutenant General Igor Korobov, chief of Russian General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) — was not previously known.

The Washington Post said on January 31 that Bortnikov and Korobov came to the U.S. capital last week, and that Bortnikov had met with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, as did Naryshkin.

It wasn’t clear whom Korobov may have met with.

The visits came also just days before President Donald Trump’s administration announced new actions against Russia, in compliance with a law passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer. But the measures taken late on January 29 by the State and Treasury departments were met with disbelief by many observers, who expected asset freezes, travel bans, and other sanctions to be imposed, none of which happened.

In a radio interview in Moscow on January 30, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said Pompeo had indeed met with Russian spy officials, but he did not say where the meeting occurred or say specifically who attended.

“Just in the last week, he has had probably the most important meetings on counterterrorism that we’ve had in a very, very long time, at the senior levels,” Huntsman told Ekho Moskvy radiо.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

A CIA spokesperson declined to give details of Pompeo’s meetings.

“While we do not discuss the schedules of U.S. intelligence leaders, rest assured that any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies,” the official said in an e-mail to RFE/RL, on condition of anonymity.

Pompeo said in a January 29 interview with the BBC that U.S. and Russian spy agencies had cooperated, but he told the BBC that Russia was still considered an adversary. “I haven’t seen a significant decrease in their activity,” he said.

CIA directors regularly meet and hold talks with their Russian counterparts on a variety of issues. But veteran and retired U.S. intelligence officers say the presence of all three Russian officials in Washington at the same time, and at a time of intense scrutiny over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, is highly unusual.

“I can’t recall any time in the last 15 years” that all three Russian agency chiefs were in the U.S. capital at the same time, Steven Hall, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, tells RFE/RL. “It’s highly unusual.”

During his tenure, Hall says, it was always a big deal, politically and logistically, whenever a senior Russian intelligence officer got in to see a U.S. counterpart, giving Moscow a way to assert they were on equal footing with the United States.

The Russians “consider it a big political win if they can do it. There is certainly a political perspective,” Hall says. “So it’s particularly strange under these circumstances that we would want to give them something like that.”

“Given the political conditions in the United States now, it’s flabbergasting to be honest. I can’t imagine who would have signed off on that,” he adds.


The director of the CIA expects that Russia will target the US mid-term elections later this year.

Mike Pompeo told the BBC there had been no significant diminishing of Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the US.

But sure, let’s invite them all in for tea.

And the timing, coming just before a new round of Congressionally mandated sanctions were to be imposed, is astounding.

Washington Post:

After plenty of chatter, we may be wading into the first real constitutional dispute of the Trump administration: On Monday night, the State Department announced it would not impose Russia sanctions that Congress overwhelmingly passed in mid-2017.

But its justification for doing so has some gaping logical holes.

Here’s what the State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said:

“Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales. Since the enactment of the . . . legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.”

A State Department official added that there was, in fact, no need for new sanctions “because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.”

There are a few problems with this.

The first is that the legislation was meant as a punishment, not a deterrent. The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act explicitly says at the top that it is “to provide congressional review and to counter aggression by the Governments of Iran, the Russian Federation, and North Korea, and for other purposes.” The law says it’s about “countering” something, rather than preventing something. And while it lists Iran and North Korea, it was widely billed as a response to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

I’ve been in to talk to my Rep on this.  He is a useless tool, but there is value in jangling their cage — staff people talk to each other, and they need to know this is a hot button.

This thing is coming to an ugly head, and it’s time for all of us to be very heads up. Keep your network activated, watch, and be ready to act.


6 Responses to “We Have to Talk About Russia”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    WTF and JFC! Things ARE getting ugly and crazy!

    I am reminded of the scene a the end of Dr. Strangelove where all has been lost because the Doomsday Device has been activated. Even so, the Russian ambassador is taking pictures of the Big Board in the War Room. Check all these visiting Russians for hidden cameras and recording devices.

  2. Karl Wirth Says:

    Silly me, I had assumed they were just here to reopen the dialogue regarding adoption…

  3. neilrieck Says:

    Did the Russians interfere in the American election of 2016 or is it more likely that the result was due to low (under 55%) turnout as well as other internal factors? Why do American’s engage in wild conspiracy theories when Occam’s Razor provides much more believable while simpler explanation: “Americans did it to themselves”. For example, hi-jinx by Americans working inside the DNC who where determined not to let outsider Sanders hijack the primary in the same way that they perceived the RNC primary was being hijacked by outsider Trump (I heard them say this in interviews on the nightly news). Even the concept of super-delegates (something added to the DNC after outsider Carter was blamed for hijacking the DNC primary of 1976) didn’t seem to raise too many eyebrows. But think about it: one person’s vote was going to carry more weight than someone else’s (and those were the votes that Clinton was courting). Democracy indeed! But let’s not look at ourselves; let’s blame the Russians.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Neil has segued over from this comment on the Colbert State of the Union post (copied with my response). I hate to say it, but his present comment here almost looks like something that one of our mindless Russian trolls would have said. “Wild conspiracy theories”? When every US intelligence agency has said “beware the Russian meddling”? Oh, wait—-blaming the FBI and US intelligence agencies is what the Russians WANT us to do rather than blame them.

      Neil is an otherwise sensible guy who is acting like a dog with a bone here—-he’s not entirely wrong, but needs to turn the telescope around and look through the proper end. With any luck, we will survive our internal stupidities once we get rid of Trump—-ANY meddling by a foreign power, especially one who has been our enemy for so long, should not be dismissed so lightly

      Neilrieck Says: February 1, 2018 at 7:20 am
      “It is too bad that comedy program watchers did not show up to vote. Official numbers claim the official turnout was slightly less than 55% (almost the lowest number anywhere in the western world). History teaches that low turnout in democracies almost always yields a conservative winner (just look at BREXIT) while higher turnout almost always yields a liberal result (look at Trudeau in Canada where the turnout was 69%). So for the people who claim that Hilary actually won, both the senate as well as the house of representatives swung to the right so I think it is safe to say that Hillary winning the popular vote was nothing more than a fluke”.

      dumboldguy Says: February 1, 2018 at 10:57 am

      “You oversimplify. We can write books (some have) and debate forever about why Hillary lost, but calling her popular vote win “nothing more than a fluke” because the House and Senate went Repugnant ignores the fact that gerrymandering is the real problem in the USA”.

      “Do you have gerrymandering in Canada? With the help of groups like ALEC, The GOP has been working to take over governorships and statehouses and has been succeeding. On the national level, gerrymandering has perhaps not had as much impact in the Senate (which is close to 50-50 anyway), but the House has definitely been pushed right by voting district manipulation”.

      PS I can add dirty (“dark”) money to gerrymandering—-Money from the extreme right that has been used to buy elections, establish and support RWNJ “think tanks”, and in general buy our “democracy”.

  4. Sir Charles Says:

    Maybe we can agree that the alt right and the Russian oligarchs are aiming for the very same, in particular when it comes to dividing the western societies and environmental protection / climate change.

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