Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, The Most Forgettable Date In Washington
By Remy Anne
This story has been updated (6/01/2017)
The latest player to emerge in the Russia-Trump relationship tangle is none other than Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington. Kislyak, well known in Washington but until recently unknown to the public, has been making headlines for his many connections with both the Trump campaign and administration. Most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has come under fire for lying under oath about meeting Kislyak twice during the 2016 election — events that led to his recusal from any further investigations pertaining to Russian influence on U.S. elections. Similar relations led to the forced resignation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
So who exactly is this mysterious man that heavy hitting Washington players can’t remember ever meeting? (And no, we’re not talking about Tommy Lee Jones’ character in Men in Black).
Raised in the Soviet era, Kislyak has been a fixture in the Washington scene for the past nine years, after coming on as ambassador in 2008. After graduating from the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute in 1973 as well as the USSR Academy of Foreign Trade in 1977, he began his political career at the Soviet Union’s top foreign affairs ministry. He continued his diplomatic aspirations by representing the Soviet Union in the United Nations in New York City from 1981 to 1988.
Prior to moving to D.C. as ambassador, Kislyak served a myriad of roles representing the Soviet Union and later Russia. He has been known for keeping a low profile, avoiding press and the public in turn. Former and current U.S. intelligence officials consider him to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy recruiters in D.C., though Russian officials refute these claims.
Kislyak is known for being an extremely skilled ambassador, cultivating a large network of career politicians and diplomats in order to advocate Russian policy. He has even defended this position, stating that he has “been working in the United States for so long that [he] know[s] almost everybody.”
Recently it has been revealed that this vast net happens to include multiple members of the Trump administration — possibly going as high as the President himself.
On April 27, 2016, Donald Trump gave a speech to an invitation-only audience at the Mayflower Hotel full of foreign policy experts and insiders. At this event, Dimitri K. Simes, president of the Center for the National Interest, introduced the President (candidate at the time) to Kislyak, who was then seated in the front row. Sessions was also present at this event.
Kislyak left quickly after the address, but not before speaking to a reporter from POLITICO, in diplomatic tones nearly unheard of during the 2016 election cycle.
“[Trump] made some intriguing points, but we need to understand what is meant in the implementation. It needs to be started carefully.”
It has since been reported by NBC News that the FBI and Congress are investigating this April 27th event for a potential private meeting that occurred between Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, and Kislyak.
Sessions also met with Kislyak in July at a diplomacy conference connected to the Republican National Convention. Additionally at least two other members of the campaign met with the ambassador at this event — J.D. Gordon and Carter Page. Gordon recently went on record to say that his discussion with Kislyak was regarding how Moscow and Washington could work together to fight terrorism.
After a speech given to the Detroit Economic Club on Oct. 27th, 2016, Kislyak was asked if he had met any Trump advisors or Trump himself at the convention. His reply was a point blank denial:
“No, but we met those people who came to see all the ambassadors who were sitting in a special lounge there specifically reserved for the diplomatic corp. and I was among those who were there talking to members of the Congress, to all the peoples who cared to come to us and talk to us.”
In December, Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor — joined the ranks of Kislyak’s forgotten meetings. Kushner and Flynn reportedly had a secret meeting with the ambassador in Trump Tower to “establish a line of communication” between to the two countries, according to spokeswoman Hope Hicks.
Hicks was the same spokeswoman who had previously flatly denied any communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
“It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign,” Hicks told the Associated Press in November.
Since then, this meeting has come under FBI scrutiny. Kushner reportedly discussed setting up a secret channel of communication between Russia and the Trump transition team:
Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring.
These contacts are not unheard of, nor are they in and of themselves indicative of wrongdoing. It would have been Kislyak’s job as a diplomatic ambassador to meet with political members of the incoming administration. The corrupt nature of these allegations unfold when taken in the context of the information released by both Trump’s campaign and current administration. Since July 2016, there have been at least 20 separate denials of campaign officials’ communications and connections with Russian officials.
While some of these denials have already been contradicted, the timing at which these contacts took place is also of concern. The majority of the aforementioned meetings with Kisylak took place in the midst of what the intelligence community has described as Russian cyberwarfare attacks with the intent to dismantle Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Particularly, Gordon’s meeting took place just a few days before Wikileaks released thousands of hacked DNC emails.
The result of this is an electorate lacking the knowledge of who is behind the man they elected. The contradicting statements from the Trump administration create a political climate where the very nature of democracy is threatened. Without an understanding of the people like Kislyak who could have had influence on members of the Trump administration, we all end up casualties of Agent K’s neuralyzer.