CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Amid Hacking Blowback and ‘Golden Showers,’ Moscow Fears Losing Trump

When Trump was elected, Russians popped Champagne corks. Now, they’re not feeling so festive.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

MOSCOW—The eruption of the latest scandals around U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is making many in Moscow nervous about the long-term consequences for Russia’s future.

It was not news that Trump had friends among Russian pop stars, oligarchs, and casino owners. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he consorted with prostitutes, however eccentric his sexual tastes. But the notion that Trump might have worked as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recruited agent passing on intelligence about Russians in New York? That’s something different. And as Trump backs away from the allegations, will he back away from Russia, too? That certainly was the impression over the last day or so.

And just recently it all looked so good.

Remember all those times Trump hinted that the United States under his administration would recognize Crimea as Russian? It seemed sanctions might be lifted, and Putin’s notion of the Russian sphere of influence recognized and accepted. Remember when Trump even called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s missing emails? All things seemed possible!

But the mysterious dossier leaked on Tuesday about Trump and members of his team cooperating with Russian officials for at least five years—that sounded like a very destructive bit of information, or disinformation, indeed.

All the great expectations about Donald Trump that Moscow had lived with for months suddenly look like they could go down the drain, and the Kremlin won’t have its man (or what it seemed to think was its man) in the White House after all.

The spy game revealed in public looks like the proverbial wilderness of mirrors, a profusion of reflected conspiracies. Who is playing whom? Is Trump or was Trump a Russian tool? Or is this all a nefarious plot by outgoing President Barack Obama?

The closer one gets to the Kremlin, the more one hears the latter version.

“Obama is going to push the anti-Russia hate to the boiling point and then there may be an accidental clash of airplanes or forces in Syria that would cause a serious conflict between Russia and the U.S.,” Sergei Markov, an adviser to the Kremlin predicted darkly in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Again and again, it is Obama the Kremlin blames for all the “pulp fiction” reports on Trump.

“God created the world in 7 days. The Obama administration has 2 days longer [than that] to destroy it,” tweeted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

But who was really responsible for the destruction of the Trump-Putin pact?

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This has been coming for a long time, and it may have been naïve all along to think things could remain so cozy.

Last July, U.S. intelligence reportedly received word about Trump’s foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, meeting with two Russian officials close to President Putin: the head of Russia’s biggest company, Igor Sechin; and Igor Diveykin, the Kremlin’s deputy chief of internal policy.

(Diveykin’s career, one notes, has advanced rapidly over the last year. Before getting his senior position at the presidential administration last October, Colonel Diveykin worked for Putin’s personal security service and as the head of security for presidential deputy Chief of Staff Vyacheslav Volodin.)

Page, an American businessman specialized in the energy sector, has longstanding ties to Russia’s biggest companies, Rosneft and Gasprom. Indeed, he was back in Moscow as an “ex-advisor” to Trump just last month. His mission, he told Sputnik News, was to meet with “thought leaders.”

But in July he seemed to be having a tough time when we saw him speaking to graduates of the New Economic School (RES) in Moscow.

During his lecture he criticized “undemocratic” United States policy and sounded like an apologist for the Kremlin’s actions. But when it came to questions from the audience, Page didn’t have much to say. Looking shy, if not lost, Page responded to questions concerning his meetings with the Kremlin and whether, if elected, Trump would cancel the anti-Russian economic sanctions with quiet “no comments” again and again.

“The guy has no sense of humor,” one of the students told The Daily Beast. “Or is he scared to answer the questions?”

Who or what might have had such a disturbing effect on Page in Moscow?

The dossier leaked on Tuesday said that Diveykin (the report identifies him as “Devykin”) had warned Page at their meeting about the Kremlin preparing an ugly “kompromat” or compromising materials on Trump that involved a video of the future American president with a group of prostitutes performing a “golden shower” (urinating) in the presidential suite of the Ritz where Obama and his wife Michelle had slept.

Salacious as this was, this genre of allegation did not exactly shock the Russian public, nor did the dossier’s report that the Kremlin “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.”

Russian security services traditionally collect compromising materials and secret files on everybody who sounds important to the Kremlin. “Even a KGB trainee could find a kompromat on Trump,” journalists joked in Moscow on Tuesday.

“First they took a compromising video of him with prostitutes, then they recruited him. It seems obvious,” deputy editor in chief Olga Bychkova for Echo of Moscow radio told The Daily Beast.

If anything shocked jaded Muscovites it was that such an operation, if it happened, had gotten so badly and so publicly screwed up.

On Wednesday the Kremlin denied that it had any files on Trump at all.

This is hardly the first Russian-related scandal to shake the incoming Trump presidency. Last August a New York Times investigation conducted with the help of Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau showed that Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort received $12.7 million in cash from the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovich. The investigation caused Manafort to step down from his post.

Indeed, this week’s dossier was part of what’s become a steady drumbeat of Russian-related scandal as secret intelligence briefings to Trump and Congress, and public hearings as well, keep elaborating the details of Russian interference in the U.S. elections.

Testifying at confirmation hearings, Trump’s pick as secretary of State—the Kremlin’s longtime friend Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil—said that Russian annexation of Crimea was “a taking of territory that was not theirs.”

Under questioning Tillerson, once given a medal by Putin, said he thought the Obama administration had not been tough enough on the Russians. Tillerson said he would keep sanctions in place and consider toughening them in light of Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.

And even Trump, who for weeks denied that Russia had anything to do with the hackers attacking the Democratic Party, appeared to change his opinion during the press conference on Wednesday. A lot of countries are hacking the U.S., said Trump, once again trying to deflect attention away from Russia, but in the face of repeated questioning he finally agreed that, yes, Putin was behind the hacking of the Democratic Party. “He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe he’ll be doing it anymore,” Trump said, suddenly talking as if Russia’s leader was his employee.

What next? Maybe Trump will use on Putin that line he made famous on his reality show, “You’re fired!”