Collusion Or Conspiracy Theory?

A timeline of actions and reactions between Russia and Trump since the election may tell us more than any leak

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President Donald Trump, accompanied by, from second from left, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, speaks on the phone with with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)” class=”aligncenter size-full” />President Donald Trump, accompanied by, from second from left, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, speaks on the phone with with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

By Kaz Weida

Got kids? Then you know the drill. When you want to determine who’s responsible for the latest mystery mess, just take a look at those angelic faces and you’ll spot the guilty party. Like any mediocre poker player, we all have tells. And it got me wondering. Does a good, hard look at Russia’s public interactions since the election give them away?

To construct this timeline, I dug into news reports out of Russia, focusing on just the past months since the election. You’ll see pieced together not just a timeline of how the Trump/Russia story was developing in the United States, but the Kremlin’s reactions to it, cross-referenced with public statements and actions on the world stage during that time. The conclusion?

Russia has a lousy poker face. And there’s just too much corroborating evidence to be a coincidence. But the extent of the involvement isn’t as obvious. And certainly, the motive is probably not what you think it is.

Take a deep dive into over 75 separate news events strung out in chronological order below. Don’t worry. I’ll still be here when you come back up for air.

Whew, right? Okay. Let’s tackle some obvious conclusions that arise from a stroll through Russia’s tangled web.

Russia’s been up in everybody’s grill. EVERYBODY.

This isn’t really up for debate when you look at the evidence and there’s been little effort on Russia’s part to be covert. Fancy Bear, a known collective of Russian state-sponsored hackers, has left their dirty little cyber fingerprints all over Europe in the last few months.

But here’s the thing- it’s nothing new. These are mostly influence campaigns or, as The New Yorker wrote last month, the digital version of “active measures” that Russia (and the US for that matter) has been employing for decades. A little fake news here, stirring the pot over there, and a general intent to disrupt and cause division in democracies. Russia tends to focus on Europe because that’s where most of their geopolitical ambitions lie.

What is evident is that they’ve decided that America is ripe for an influence campaign for two reasons. One is that the Kremlin needs to drive a wedge between the United States and NATO or they are never going to get them some of Crimea and Ukraine. But the other reason is that frankly, we’re asking for it. Our country has become an increasingly divisive one and Russia is ready to exploit our fractures with subversive tactics, like making Calexit seem like a legit thing.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Putin knows the Donald’s weakness.

Guy’s a sucker for flattery. What ratings obsessed reality star isn’t? And Putin is a shrewd, calculating dude who has spent a lifetime sucking up to his superiors. This bromance has been brewing for years.

You’ll see an obvious pattern in the communication between the two world leaders. Putin throws out a bit of gushing praise about how very manly Donald is. Trump gives him a hollaback. Then Russia sneaks in the big ask. “Gee, do you think we could get those pesky people out of Aleppo? They just won’t stop getting in the way of our bombs. Thanks, America!” Or how about those sanctions, huh? Russia doesn’t always get what they want. But for now, Putin’s definitely got control of the dialogue.

If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…

There are a flurry of Russian officials disappearing and turning up dead at the end of December, and several leaks from inside the Kremlin confirm this was related to the Buzzfeed dossier. It’s pretty clear that the ex-KGB chief shot in his car the day after Christmas was one of Steele’s sources. It’s also a good bet the guy dragged out of the meeting with a black bag over his head was another. The message from Putin is loud and clear. Dissent is death.

But this leads us to the obvious conclusion you and everyone else is already drawing. If there was swift and severe punishment, then that means at least some of the dossier was legit. The difficult bit is going to be figuring out which parts, hopefully before any urination video footage makes it on YouTube.

A good place to start is the Carter Page visit to Moscow, whose timing just screams suspicious. The former Trump advisor just happens to go to Moscow as the state-owned oil company Rosneft sells 20% of its shares to an unknown group with offshore holdings buried in the Caymans. Gee, this scenario sounds so familiar. Where have I heard it before? Oh, right. That damn dossier again. Hmmmm… wouldn’t you love to see the paperwork on that deal? Me, too. Get in line.

Russia is in big trouble. And not for the reasons you might think.

While it does seem like Putin is currently the schoolyard bully, with suck-up Trump at his side, terrorizing Europe and stealing its lunch money, the reality is a little more nuanced than that. Dissent is swirling in Russia. People aren’t getting paid. Large protests are breaking out again, possibly emboldened by that dazzling display in Romania that must have made even the Kremlin shake in its boots a little. Putin knows power is hard to hold onto when people are hungry and fueled by a sense of outrage.

Yes, Russian aggression against other sovereign nations appears to be escalating. But let’s be fair- this is nothing new. Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, Crimea, Iraq, and Afghanistan predate this administration and at this pace, will likely outlast it. It’s hard to determine if Putin feels free to advance Russian interests because he has a conspirator in the White House or if he simply sees weakness in world leadership that allows him to press the Kremlin’s advantage.

Putin may simply be pivoting. Making big power plays and using increasing polarization in Europe and America to distract and divide. When you’re provoked into war, mounting economic troubles and rising internal political opposition suddenly dissipates. You are locked in a struggle for survival and those ambitions for a better standard of living seem petty. War is an economic engine that unites people. And it aligns nicely with where Russia would like to go, right back into the arms of a strong Soviet Union that dominates the Eurasian continent.

It’s too soon to measure the depth and width of the Trump administration's collusion with Putin and the Kremlin. What began as a slow drip of information behind the scenes of this administration has became a steady trickle that threatens to truly flood the swamp and carry Trump along with it. When reality presents you with evidence that America and Russia are suddenly new besties, you should be asking why. Loudly. Persistently. Until we all have the answers we deserve about where our democracy stands.

News // Donald Trump / Politics / Putin / Russia