How Russia Sunk the West

Let’s look at how the Russians went about recruiting Carter Page in 2013. We know about this for a couple of reasons. One is that the details were contained in an indictment that was filed in the Southern District of New York in 2015. Three Russians were charged with acting as “unregistered agents of a foreign government,” which is a nice way of saying that they were working for Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) as spies. In the indictment, Carter Page is referred to as “Male-1.”  The second reason we know about it is because the head of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee was leaking to the press, and he revealed details of the counterintelligence investigation into Page to his longtime girlfriend, reporter Ali Watkins, who was then working for BuzzFeed but is now working for the New York Times.

The following conversation is between two of the three indicted Russia spies. The recruitment of Page was handled by Victor Podobnyy. He approached Page at an energy symposium in New York City in January 2013. According to Page, Podobnyy gave him a business card and two email addresses, and then convinced Page to provide insights and unclassified documents related to the energy business, and also to meet with him in person “on occasion.”


One thing to note in this first piece is that it has been reported that Page does not speak Russian. That’s obviously not very accurate if he can write emails in Russian. This conversation, which was secretly recorded by the U.S. Government, is somewhat cryptic in places. When Podobnyy says “I don’t say anything for now,” it appears to mean that he knows that Page is being strung along. That’s certainly how Igor Sporychev takes it, because he responds by saying that “we” (meaning Russians) “will spend a couple of borrowed million,” (meaning they will steal Page’s investment money).

Following that, Podobnyy seems to confirm that he put Page up to pursuing the Gazprom deal by offering assistance and that he seems to leap at every opportunity dangled before him (“he takes on everything,” “his enthusiasm works for me.”)

Then there’s an awkward exchange where Sporychev, whose cover job was as a trade representative of the Russian Federation in New York City, is worried that Page will contact him or someone “clean’ at his office.


The excerpt of the conversation concludes with Podobnyy explaining that he will continue to promise his assistance to Page until he has succeeded in getting him to provide valuable information, and then he will soften the blow of reneging on his promises by taking Page out to dinner and giving him an expensive gift. To assure that Page is thoroughly compromised and available for future work under the threat of blackmail, he’ll make sure Page signs for this expensive gift.

You can imagine how this might have worked if Podobnyy’s plan had gone undetected. Even if the SVR’s work with Page had gone dormant for years, it could have been reactivated in 2017 if Page had landed a job with the Trump administration. Page could be exposed as having provided sensitive documents and there would be a receipt for a gift from an SVR agent as proof.

Back in 2013, Carter Page was a low-level, low-priority recruitment effort. The same wasn’t true in 2016 when he traveled to Moscow during the heat of the campaign to give a speech at the New Economic School.  The following excerpt from the Steele Dossier shows that similar efforts were made to recruit Page during his trip.

Detail

  1. Speaking to a trusted compatriot in mid October 2016, a close associate of Rosneft President and PUTIN ally Igor SECHIN elaborated on the reported secret meeting between the latter and Carter PAGE, of US Republican presidential candidate’s foreign policy team, in Moscow in July 2016. The secret had been confirmed to him/her by a senior member of staff, in addition to by the Rosneft President himself. It took place on either 7 or 8 July, the same day or the one after Carter PAGE made a public speech to the Higher Economic School in Moscow
  2. In terms of the substance of their discussion, SECHIN’s associate said that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered PAGE/TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft in return. PAGE had expressed interest and confirmed that were TRUMP elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.

I wrote about this Rosneft deal here and here. What you see is a consistency of tradecraft and approach by the Russian intelligence services.

Now, I am going to shift across the pond to discuss how the Russians went about promoting the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom.

Arron Banks, the millionaire businessman who bankrolled Nigel Farage’s campaign to quit the EU, had multiple meetings with Russian embassy officials in the run-up to the Brexit referendum, documents seen by the Observer suggest.

Banks, who gave £12m of services to the campaign, becoming the biggest donor in UK history, has repeatedly denied any involvement with Russian officials, or that Russian money played any part in the Brexit campaign. The Observer has seen documents which a senior Tory MP says, if correct, raise urgent and troubling questions about his relationship with the Russian government.

The communications suggest:

Multiple meetings between the leaders of Leave.EU and high-ranking Russian officials, from November 2015 to 2017.

Two meetings in the week Leave.EU launched its official campaign.

An introduction to a Russian businessman, by the Russian ambassador, the day after Leave.EU launched its campaign, who reportedly offered Banks a multibillion dollar opportunity to buy Russian goldmines.

A trip to Moscow in February 2016 to meet key partners and financiers behind a gold project, including a Russian bank.

Continued extensive contact in the run-up to the US election when Banks, his business partner and Leave.EU spokesman Andy Wigmore, and Nigel Farage campaigned in the US to support Donald Trump’s candidacy.

You can see how the Russians operated here. By offering a deal that could be worth billions of dollars they enticed a British businessman to become “the biggest donor in UK history” for the Brexit campaign. Mr. Banks later bragged that his campaign was inspired and modeled after Donald Trump’s successful romp through the Republican primaries:

“Facts don’t work” for winning votes, according to the multimillionaire co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign.

Prominent Ukip donor Arron Banks admitted financing an “American-style” referendum campaign, referencing controversial Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump as an influence.

The insurance entrepreneur and diamond tycoon was a founding member of Leave.EU campaign group and its main financier – but his conduct since the Brexit vote has attracted criticism.

Talking to the Guardian about the referendum campaign, Mr Banks said: “It was taking an American-style media approach.

“What they [Political strategists Goddard Gunster] said early on was ‘facts don’t work’ and that’s it.

“The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.”

In an unfortunately prescient opinion piece published on November 4th, 2016, Nigel Farage predicted that Trump would win for the same reasons Brexit had prevailed, and he also discussed how he wound up on stage with Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Mississippi:

As Arron Banks notes in his Brexit diary out this week, it was a chance meeting with the Mississippi delegation at the Republican convention that led to the invitation for me to return to the US and speak at a dinner alongside State Governor Phil Bryant [of Mississippi], who had been thrilled with the Brexit result.

In an extraordinary turn of events, my trip ended up with me not only being invited to attend a Donald Trump rally but I was suddenly informed that they wanted me to speak and that Trump would be introducing me.

The energy in Jackson, Mississippi, at the Trump rally resembled that of a rock concert, with 15,000 passionate supporters in attendance.

What you see here is the confluence of the Brexit campaign and the candidacy of Donald Trump. The same actors are involved. They see both campaigns as part of one mission, and it’s a mission that was promoted aggressively by the Russians using a variety of methods. One of those methods was the offer of lucrative energy or mineral deals. In other cases, it was a simple offer of “dirt on the Clintons.”

And, it’s not incidental that Nigel Farage and Julian Assange are as tight as ticks. I wrote about that here and here. In the former piece, I quote from a February 27th, 2017 U.K. Telegraph piece.

Nigel Farage enjoyed a dinner with Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka on Saturday night after visiting the White House and discussing Brexit with the President’s advisers.

The former Ukip leader was yesterday pictured eating with the President, his family and close advisers at Trump International Hotel.

He earlier went to the White House where it is understood that he met Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s chief strategist, and updated him on Brexit.

After Farage got done dining with the president and his daughter Ivanka in February 2017 and meeting in the White House with Steve Bannon, he flew home and met with Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Now, I don’t dispute that people had their reasons for supporting Brexit that had nothing to do with Russia’s interests. And the same is true for people who supported the candidacy of Donald Trump. But both campaigns were part of a well-developed conspiracy to weaken the West. Few of the Western conspirators had any genuine or ideological reason for wanting to help Russia and undermine their own countries, but the prospect of power and riches clouded their judgment.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.