Elements of the bombshell whistleblower report outlining various aims pursued by the Trump administration with respect to Ukraine keep connecting back to Russia.
Several of the reported objectives of President Donald Trump, his administration officials, and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, would benefit the Kremlin and not the United States or its national security. Namely, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was urged to make a deal with Putin, pressured “to play ball” with respect to providing or manufacturing compromising materials about Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, and essentially tasked with concocting “the evidence” to disprove the well-established fact that the Democratic National Committee server was hacked by Russian intelligence agents in 2016.
The unconscionable demand for Ukraine to make “a deal” with an invader— which has annexed and occupied its territory and continues to fuel an armed conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives—would mean a surrender of Ukraine’s national interests for the benefit of the Kremlin. It would also lead to the lifting of sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Casting doubt on Russia’s involvement in the hack of the DNC server would potentially lead to the lifting of sanctions against Russia for its election-meddling and other malign activities.
Attacking the credibility of Biden, frequently described by Kremlin-controlled state television as “Trump’s most dangerous rival,” would also benefit Putin, who openly admitted that he wanted President Trump to be elected in 2016. That preference remains intact, in spite—or perhaps because—of multiple missteps by America’s bumbling commander in chief. Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of Russia’s most popular Sunday news program, Vesti Nedeli, urged Trump to keep digging in Ukraine for “the sweetest” kompromat of all: “Proving that Ukraine—not Russia—interfered in the U.S. elections.”
The pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden has been not only from Trump, but also from the Kremlin. One of the expectations, voiced on Russian state-television channel Rossiya 24 by analyst Alexander Kareevsky, was that taking down Biden would inevitably lead to the “revelation”—in fact, an outrageous fantasy—that the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was ordered by the Obama administration and carried out by Ukraine, not Russia.
In another fantasy, pundits on Russian state television continually assert that Trump’s impeachment is all but “impossible.” In the meantime, the impeachment fallout is beneficial for the Kremlin, creating a spectacle of unprecedented political turmoil in the United States while placing Ukraine in the untenable position of alienating both parties, as well as the country’s European allies, and distracting from Russian election interference and the imposition of any additional sanctions.
Participants on 60 Minutes, Russia’s flagship info-talk show—hosted by pugnacious married couple Olga Skabeeva and Evgeny Popov and featuring Russian ambassadors, government officials, and military experts—frequently boast that Trump is “owned” by Russia and demand Ukraine release kompromat on Biden or “give back the money,” referring to U.S. aid provided to Ukraine.
Last Sunday, Sergei Markov, an analyst close to the Kremlin, appeared on 60 Minutes and publicly directed Trump to pressure a specific official within the U.S. State Department—Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European and Eurasian Bureau George Kent—to extract the elusive Biden kompromat.
Pro-government experts on the nightly television show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev have been openly rooting for the supposed scandal in Ukraine to “kill Biden” politically, and allow Trump “to disprove” Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, and destroy the heart of the Democratic Party in the process.
Another curious detail points to the remarkable alignment between the Kremlin and the Trump administration. A week before Zelensky was sworn in as Ukraine’s president on May 20, Russian state TV hosts Skabeeva and Popov boldly asserted that no U.S. officials would be attending the inauguration, on direct orders from Trump. At the time, it appeared that the hosts were customarily lying, since the inauguration was in fact attended by a delegation from the U.S., including Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker.
However, the whistleblower’s complaint, which states that Trump directly told Vice President Mike Pence not to attend the ceremony, raises the possibility that there was a morsel of truth in the assertions of Popov and Skabeeva. After the complaint came out, Popov demanded “apologies” for the assumption that the hosts had simply been making things up when they said that Trump personally ordered U.S. officials not to attend the inauguration. It is unclear why Russian state TV hosts may have been privy to that previously undisclosed information.