Joint U.S.-Russian raids to kill top terrorists. Teamwork between an American government agency and a sanctioned Russian fund. Moscow pouring money into the Midwest.
These are just a few of the ideas the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund touched on during his meeting with former Blackwater head Erik Prince in the Seychelles, just weeks before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to a memo exclusively reviewed by The Daily Beast.
The meeting between Prince, an influential Trump ally, and Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the sanctioned fund, took place on Jan. 11, 2017, at the Four Seasons Hotel in a bar overlooking the Indian Ocean. George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, was also present.
Special counsel Robert Mueller has looked into the meeting as part of his larger investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. And nearly a year after the meeting, Prince told Congress his discussion with Dmitriev was just happenstance and took place “over a beer.” Prince also said he did not attend the meeting as a representative of the Trump team.
Since Prince’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller’s team has received information that the meeting was a pre-organized effort to set up a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, according to The Washington Post.
Still, the exact details of the conversation between Prince and Dmitriev in the Seychelles have remained murky. But a memo Dmitriev sent after the meeting—described here for the first time—sheds new light on the conversation and indicates it addressed some of the thorniest diplomatic challenges facing the United States and Russia.
The memo is characterized as a summary of some of the ideas discussed in the Seychelles. It’s not clear if Dmitriev, the Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO, drafted the actual document himself or merely sent it. Although RDIF is sanctioned, it was and still is legal for U.S. persons to meet with him and, in some circumstances, do business with the fund.
Dmitriev declined to comment on the record for this story. A spokesperson for Prince declined to detail his view of Dmitriev’s memo. “Mr. Prince told The Daily Beast everything there is to say when he interviewed in June, nothing has changed,” the spokesperson said. Ken Nahigian, the executive director of the Trump transition team, told The Daily Beast that a review of its files found no indication anyone on the team helped plan the Seychelles meeting or knew about it in advance. Lawyers for Nader declined to comment on the record.
“Why Erik Prince? Why Dmitriev?” said Rep. Jim Himes, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee who questioned Prince. “Why did that meeting happen? Conversations like that happen at the Aspen Institute every single day, but this is obviously something different—this is a hush-hush meeting in the Seychelles that at least one of the participants has been a little bit fuzzy about.”
A few days after the Seychelles meeting, while at the Davos World Economic Forum, Dmitriev sent out the two-page memo summarizing portions of his Seychelles conversation. The memo, which The Daily Beast reviewed, lists four potential areas of cooperation and calls for an action plan to improve U.S.-Russian relations over the next 12 months.
The first bullet point proposes the U.S. and Russia work together on “military coordination and joint actions in Syria against ISIS.” It’s an idea that appealed to some of the most important players in the early Trump administration; Mike Flynn, Trump’s first and famously Kremlin-friendly national security adviser, pushed to expand U.S.-Russian military communications in Syria, a move that may have been illegal.
Dmitriev’s plan would have gone several steps further.
The idea, according to the memo, was to set up a “joint special forces mission where together the U.S. and Russia take out a key ISIS person or place or frees an area then announces it after.” Prince, for his part, has publicly supported the prospect of closer U.S.-Russia cooperation on counterterror.
“[I]f Franklin Roosevelt can work with Joseph Stalin to defeat German fascism, Nazi fascism, national socialist fascism, then certainly Donald Trump can work with Putin to defeat Islamic fascism,” Prince told The Daily Beast in June.
The document also suggests the countries resume intelligence-sharing on terrorism in the country and work together on a “large-scale humanitarian effort” to build hospitals in rebel areas and fly in medical supplies and food.
Second, the memo proposes “a serious joint effort by U.S. and Russia to actively address the threat of nuclear, biological and chemical (WMD) terror.” While Trump, during the campaign and in the White House, talked of rebuilding America’s nuclear stockpile—and Putin rattled his saber similarly—the memo recommends the two countries work together on nuclear nonproliferation.
“One potential venue is the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) which Warren Buffett is the primary sponsor of,” the memo says. The Nuclear Threat Initiative, whose CEO is now former U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz, is a Washington nonprofit that works to reduce the risk of WMD attacks. Over the years, it has sponsored dialogues between American and Russian diplomats. And last year, with a $50 million donation from Buffett, it set up a bank to purchase low-enriched uranium in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.
Third, the memo proposes ways the U.S. and Russia can develop “win-win economic investment initiatives that will be supported by both electorates.” “Understanding U.S. production by foreign companies is a focus of the new administration,” the memo says. It goes on to note that Russian companies would “make investments with RDIF financing to serve the U.S. market in the Midwest, creating real jobs for hard hit area with high employment.”
Trump spent his presidential campaign pledging to bring back jobs to blighted Rust Belt towns, notching wins in Midwestern Democratic strongholds like Wisconsin and Michigan—and even making Minnesota competitive. The memo is evidence that Russia was listening and proposing a way to help make Trump’s central campaign promise come true.
The document also sets out the idea of a “joint RDIF fund with OPIC to support U.S. investment in Russia to make U.S. businesses competitive vs. subsidized Chinese business in Russia.” OPIC, also known as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, is a government agency that works with the private sector to help U.S. businesses gain a foothold in emerging markets. The memo also suggests organizing a business trip to Moscow for Washington politicos to highlight U.S. businesses’ success in Russia.
Fourth, the memo says the U.S. and Russia should have an “honest and open and continual dialogue on differences and concerns.” One of those concerns, the memo says, is resolving the Ukraine crisis—instigated by Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014—“through Minsk agreements and ensuring Ukraine fulfills its commitments.” The Minsk agreements were drafted and signed by warring parties to alleviate the conflict in Ukraine.
The memo also says the two countries should also coordinate a “working group between the State Department and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to address key differences.” It is unclear from the memo what those differences are.
Last, the memo proposes the U.S. and Russia set up a small working group with “2-3 people from each side authorized to finalize an action plan for a major improvement in the U.S.-Russia relationship” and proposes “coordination across major agencies and government bodies to achieve tangible impact in the next 9-12 months.”
Evelyn Farkas, an Obama administration Pentagon official who focused on Eastern Europe and Russia, said the proposals in the memo aren’t unusual; in fact, they mirror proposals that Moscow makes regularly.
“It’s nothing new,” she told The Daily Beast. “What is new is that they’re trying to do this through this weird backchannel.”
But the proposal of the task force—the memo’s fifth point—caught the eye of Mieke Eoyang, vice president of the think tank Third Way’s national-security program and a former House Intelligence Committee staffer.
“Number five, that there’s a task force where the Russians are going to participate in figuring out what the policy should be on numbers one through four, that’s really not normal,” she told The Daily Beast. “They call it shuttle diplomacy for a reason: There’s a back and forth on it. But you’re not letting them inside your decision-making loop.”
The memo was also sent to Richard Gerson, head of Falcon Edge Capital, a hedge fund in New York City. A representative for Gerson said he was in the Seychelles the week of the Prince-Dmitriev meeting but left the island before it took place. The representative declined to comment on the memo.
One Obama-era State Department official, who requested anonymity because of political sensitivities, said all the priorities laid out in the memo would be typical for two countries with normal relations. But he added that he was astounded this pitch was made in the wake of Russia’s 2016 election meddling. “It’s breathtaking,” he said.
Himes put it this way: “This just feels to me like one more of the half-dozen examples of Russians sticking their tentacles out to see what kind of relationships they might build, what kind of influence they might have.”
UPDATE 5:48 PM: After publication of this story, representatives of RDIF reached out to The Daily Beast and said Mr. Dmitriev categorically denies the existence of a memo or read-out related to conversations that took place in the Seychelles.