Putin Invents a Conspiracy Theory About the Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Since Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met on Monday, the focus has been on what Trump said during their news conference afterwards. As I wrote previously, we don’t know what the two leaders actually discussed with each other privately. That’s why this announcement came as a bit of a surprise:

Apparently there was an “agreement” made between Trump and Putin, but neither leader has said anything about what was was included.

Aside from potential military agreements, we know that an offer was made by Putin.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia made a surprise offer to Robert S. Mueller III, the special prosecutor investigating Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, at the news conference on Monday concluding the summit meeting between him and President Trump.

The Kremlin, Mr. Putin said, would allow Mr. Mueller and his team to travel to Russia and be present at the questioning of 12 Russian military intelligence officers the special counsel indicted last week for hacking into the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

In exchange, however, the United States would have to permit Russian law enforcement officials to take part in interrogations of people “who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia.” He singled out one man: William F. Browder.

A London-based financier who led a global human rights crusade against the Kremlin that has resulted in sanctions being leveled against numerous Russian officials, Mr. Browder, 54, is a source of deep frustration for the Kremlin, which has gone to great lengths to shut him down.

At one point during the presser, Trump referred to this proposal as a great offer from Putin. The question is whether or not it is part of the so-called “agreement.”

Browder has advocated for passage of the Magnitsky Act in the United States and other countries, which punished Russian officials responsible for the death of tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009. In retaliation for passage of that act, Russia banned U.S. adoptions, which became the cover story for Don Trump Jr’s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

Because of Browder’s campaign to hold the Russians accountable for the death of Magnitsky, he has been a target of Putin’s for years now. He has been sentenced in Russia in absentia to nine years’ imprisonment on tax evasion, deliberate bankruptcy, and fraud. On several occasions the Russians have attempted to use Interpol to arrest and detain him. During Monday’s press conference, Putin attempted to spin a conspiracy theory about Browder that will not doubt be added to the tales Trump tries to tell about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Mr. Putin on Monday detailed on television a variation of some of the allegations that the lawyer, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, brought to the Trump Tower meeting — namely that some of Mr. Browder’s associates had funneled $400 million to the Clinton campaign with money illegally moved out of Russia.

We now know who Putin was talking about in reference to “some of Mr. Browder’s associates” that he wants interrogate.

According to the representative of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, the questioning is to be conducted in order to bring charges to the US citizens for the crimes “committed by Browder”.

The General Prosecutor’s Office is poised to send an official request to the United States’ authorities to question a number of US officials and intelligence agents as part of a criminal case against Hermitage Capital Management CEO Bill Browder.

As RIA Novosti reports, the body expressed its intention to interrogate the employees of the American special services and state employees. In particular, Kurennoy named former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

It appears as though Russia’s General Prosecutor Kurennoy has something more than interrogations in mind for the former Russian ambassador.

“We’re ready to send another request to the U.S. authorities to grant us permission to question these very employees of the U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as a number of other U.S. government officials and businessmen, in order to charge them for the crimes committed by Browder,” said Alexander Kurennoy, head of the Russia’s Office of Prosecutor General’s Mass Media Department, per the state-run Sputnik News.

As this news broke last night, Michael McFaul reacted on Twitter.

As McFaul references, this is not the first time he’s been a Putin target. I’d recommend that at this point it would be a good idea for folks to read an article he wrote a couple of months ago about his time as Obama’s ambassador to Russia.

To rally his supporters and undermine the protesters, Putin would need an enemy, and he turned to the most reliable one in Russia’s recent history: the United States and then, by extension, me. As soon as I became the new proxy for Washington, Moscow launched a full-scale disinformation campaign alleging that, under my direction, the United States was funding the opposition and attempting to overthrow Putin. State propagandists and their surrogates crudely photoshopped me into pictures, spliced my speeches to make me say things I never uttered and even accused me of pedophilia.

It is obvious what Putin is attempting to do with this “completely invented whacko idea.” He’s launching the most blatant kind of bothersiderism via conspiracy theory. In other words, Mueller may have indicted people like Manafort, but we’ve got Browder and McFaul.

Once again I am reminded of what Peter Palmerantsev wrote back in 2014 about Putin’s brand of information warfare, which feels eerily familiar these days.

The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted—to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative. It is the perfect genre for conspiracy theories, which are all over Russian TV…

Ultimately, many people in Russia and around the world understand that Russian political parties are hollow and Russian news outlets are churning out fantasies. But insisting on the lie, the Kremlin intimidates others by showing that it is in control of defining ‘reality.’ This is why it’s so important for Moscow to do away with truth. If nothing is true, then anything is possible.

Keep an eye on this story over the next few weeks. The most important question to be answered is whether or not Trump agreed to the targeting of a former U.S. ambassador and other national security officials. But beyond that, will the president and his enablers pile on to this particular conspiracy theory created by Putin to obscure the facts about Russia’s activities? If so, it will be yet another example of this president’s ongoing collusion with Russia that is taking place right in front of our eyes.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.