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Kremlin Blessed Russia's NRA Operation, US Intel Report Says
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=35297"><span class="small">Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast</span></a>   
Monday, 14 January 2019 09:34

Woodruff writes: "The Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story."

The NRA's David Keene with Butina in Moscow, Nov. 2013. (photo: Facebook)
The NRA's David Keene with Butina in Moscow, Nov. 2013. (photo: Facebook)

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Kremlin Blessed Russia's NRA Operation, US Intel Report Says

By Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast

14 January 19

When Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin’s brought NRA bigwigs to Moscow, it wasn’t a rogue mission. It was okayed from the very top, according to a report reviewed by The Beast.

he Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story.

Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report. Its existence and contents have not previously been reported.

While there has been speculation that Torshin and his protegée, Maria Butina, had the Kremlin’s blessing to woo the NRA—and federal prosecutors have vaguely asserted that she acted “on behalf of the Russian federation”—no one in the White House or the U.S. intelligence community has publicly stated as much. Senior Russian government officials, for their part, have strenuously distanced themselves from Butina’s courtship of the NRA, which she did at Torshin’s direction.

The report, on the other hand, notes that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin’s courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the White House in 2016.

“This reporting indicates that Alexander Torshin was working with the blessing of the Kremlin, at a minimum,” one European intelligence official told The Daily Beast. The official added that this reporting is consistent with his group’s understanding of how the Kremlin operates.

“The NRA is quite powerful, so when you look to influence U.S. politics, you should consider them as a convenient target,” the official added.

The report, published last year, is based on conversations that happened in 2015, before NRA leaders visited Moscow on a trip arranged by Torshin and Butina. The document does not specifically name the NRA or the Republican Party, but its context makes clear it is discussing those two American organizations. (American intelligence reports generally do not name U.S. persons or organizations for privacy and legal reasons.)

According to the report, Torshin suggested that Russian officials use the NRA to reach out to politically active Americans. Torshin, then a deputy governor at Russia’s central bank, noted the gun rights group’s influence in U.S. politics. He told the Kremlin about his contacts in the NRA, including conversations and meetings in the United States, and suggested that Kremlin officials scrutinize how some people affiliated with the group viewed relations between the U.S. and Russia.

The report notes that Russian officials discussed having their embassy in Washington participate in the work of courting the NRA. Kremlin officials also discussed preparations for NRA members’ upcoming trip to Moscow. Torshin recommended that someone from President Vladimir Putin’s executive office, meaning the group of people who support his day-to-day activities, meet with the group.

“My assessment of what was happening with Torshin and Butina and the NRA was that the Russians decided, a good period of time before 2016, to run an influence operation here in the U.S. with a couple of different goals,” said Steve Hall, who spent 30 years in the CIA and oversaw its Russia operations. “The obvious goal was the one the intelligence community assessed back in 2016, which was to help Donald Trump win and increase the likelihood that Hillary Clinton would lose. In addition, they wanted to create as much chaos in our democracy as possible.”

Spokespersons for the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. A lawyer for Butina declined to comment as well.

Kremlin officials at the highest levels have tried to distance themselves from Torshin’s outreach to the NRA. Last month, Putin denied that he or his security chiefs were aware of the undertaking. “I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on,” he said, regarding Butina. “Nobody knows anything about her.”

And in April of 2017, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s longtime spokesperson, said nobody in the Kremlin knew anything about the broader courtship of American conservatives by prominent Russians. “We know nothing about that,” Peskov told The Washington Post.

Torshin and the Kremlin did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Torshin spent years building relationships with the NRA, as The Daily Beast previously detailed. A Tennessee lawyer named G. Kline Preston, who practices law in the U.S. and Russia, has said he introduced Torshin to David Keene, who helmed the NRA for a time and remained deeply active in its work after ending his time running it. Thanks to Keene, Torshin built connections throughout the gun rights movement and among prominent American conservatives. Torshin also dispatched Butina, a Siberian gun rights activist, to work in the U.S., maintaining those relationships and developing new ones. Butina struck up a romance with Paul Erickson, also an influential member of the American gun rights movement, and with his help built more elaborate plans for winning allies in the NRA.

Before moving to the U.S., she helmed a Russian gun rights organization called The Right to Bear Arms. Oligarch Konstantin Nikolaev, with the help of PR operator Igor Pisarsky, helped fund the group.

In December of 2015, she and Torshin helped arrange for a group of influential NRA members to travel to the Kremlin, where they had high-level meetings—including with the country’s powerful Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, and sanctioned Putin deputy Dmitry Rogozin, an ultra-right politician who oversaw the country’s defense industry. A schedule of the 2015 trip reviewed by The Daily Beast showed attendees also planned to drive to the Presidential Administration Office on Dec. 9, 2015, for a meeting with Evgeny Lukyanov, then the deputy secretary of the Security Council. NRA trip participants did not respond to queries about whether the scheduled meeting with Lukyanov took place.  When the trip made national news after the U.S. intelligence community publicly asserted that the Kremlin had tried to help Donald Trump win the 2016 campaign, Keene said it wasn’t about politics.

“Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation and his Board hosted a tour of Federation HQ for us while we were there,” he told The Daily Beast. “It was non-political. There were at least 30 in attendance and our interaction consisted of thanking him and his Board for the tour.”

Torshin and Butina’s outreach to the NRA ended unhappily for both of them. The United States placed Torshin under sanctions, and he recently left his post at the central bank. Butina, meanwhile, pleaded guilty last month to conspiring to act as a covert foreign agent. She is in jail awaiting sentencing, and agreed to cooperate with American prosecutors on their investigations.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is also probing Russian efforts to court the NRA. Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating the NRA’s Russia ties as well.

One veteran CIA officer noted that references to the Kremlin in intelligence reports have a more specific meaning than in general parlance, where Americans sometimes use the phrase as a metonym for the entire Russian government.

“In U.S. intelligence reports like this one, the phrase ‘the Kremlin’ generally refers to Vladimir Putin and his small inner circle, which would include key power ministers, including the heads of the intelligence services (SVR, FSB, GRU), the foreign minister, and oligarch cronies,” said a 30-year veteran of the CIA with deep knowledge of the Russian intelligence services who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity around issues related to Russia. “In this case, Kremlin decision-making would have likely been a smaller, even more limited, group.”

International affairs professor Nina Khrushcheva of the New School, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast that the American intelligence officers who produced the report described in this piece may have overstated the Kremlin’s organization and efficiency.

“I’m sure there’s truth to the report,” she said, “but that kind of incredible consistency and logic that Americans have in their report about what and how Russia is doing is just culturally wrong.”

“Russia is a chaotic country that makes it up as it goes along,” she added.

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A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

0 # johnescher 2019-01-14 10:06
Butina Buttina infiltrates the IRA. The IRA infiltrates Buttina.
+5 # HarryP 2019-01-14 13:16
Nina Khrushcheva says US intelligence exaggerates Russian “organization and efficiency,” that “chaotic” Russia tends to “make...[things ] up as it goes along.” That’s certainly true on several levels.

But the infiltration of the NRA didn’t take much organization or efficiency. Nor did it cost much money.

Pretend to have a “Right to Bear Arms” organization, invite a bunch of NRA good ol’ boys to Moscow (who, it can be reasonably assumed, knew nothing of Russian history), then send Siberia’s very own Annie Oakley to dazzle the rubes. In between, promise the NRA, in the service of US arms manufacturers, a new market of 150 million gun enthusiasts.
It wall quite easy - and brilliant - until they got caught. Now, no one in Moscow ever heard of Torshin and Butina.
+4 # Kootenay Coyote 2019-01-14 15:38
'Russia is a chaotic country that makes it up as it goes along,” she added.'

Just like Trump, eh?
-1 # Anne Frank 2019-01-14 16:16
How did Butina's courtship of the NRA harm the U.S.? She might reasonably have hoped that the politically influential organization might have helped to promote friendly relations between the U.S. and Russia. The deep state has convinced many in the media that a priori Russia is hostile to us, but they have produced no evidence of any hostility. Who benefits from the endless deep state project to program the gullible masses to hate Russia?
+1 # Anne Frank 2019-01-14 17:11
Bill Moyers explains why the deep state has been successful in whipping up hatred against Russia, and the consequences for our country: "An unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda, is less inclined to put up a fight, ask questions and be skeptical. That kind of orthodoxy can kill a democracy - or worse." - Bill Moyers
-2 # HarryP 2019-01-15 15:10
Anne Frank: "How did Butina's courtship of the NRA harm the U.S.?”

By funneling money to the NRA which then used Russian funds to support the Trump campaign. I believe that’s against federal law.

And what’s this about “no evidence of any [Russian] hostility?” You should get a subscription to a decent newspaper. Hell, even Pravda has dwelled on that hostility. It’s one of the reasons Putin is popular at home.

And could you tell us when Moyers made that statement you cite and who did he have in mind? The mindless Trump supporters or the mindless Trump critics?

Just asking, particularly in light of the fact that Moyers believes Trump is as guilty as hell - and hell tell you why, in chapter and verse.

You should find another authority to make your point.