To understand the relevance of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, we have to begin with the underlying dynamics between Russia, the United States, and NATO, among others. These relationships are shaped by historical events, national political identity and ideology, and political interests which intersect and influence the behavior of decision makers.
The United States has also pursued its interests in the region, consistent with our own values and goals for the post-World War II international order. Often the actions of the Russian government seem chaotic and illogical to outside observers. We’re going to try and clarify and place into context the underlying events which form the basis for the current dynamic between Russia and the United States.
Key points about the Russian outlook:
- Russia views the former Soviet bloc and Eurasia as its natural “sphere of influence”, and that as the regional power it should have primacy in the management of, or intervention in, regional disputes. This is partly due to historical relations within the region, and partly a legacy of the Nazi invasion during World War II, in which 27 million Soviet citizens were killed.
- The policy of exporting ethnic Russians for settlement across the Soviet empire, and the removal of native ethnicities from some areas, has resulted in pockets of ethnic minorities in post-Soviet countries. Russia views itself as having an obligation to protect ethnic Russian minorities from what it views as “anti-Russian” governments. It has used this argument to intervene in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and threatens intervention in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
- The Kremlin views NATO expansion as the number one threat to Russia’s national security. It has repeatedly questioned the need for NATO in the post-Soviet international system, and views the admission of former Warsaw Pact nations as an attempt to encircle Russia with hostile neighbors.
- Following the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Russia perceives the strategy of US foreign policy to center around regime change and the forcible removal of unfavorable governments and leaders. Events of the Arab Spring have contributed to this perception, when popular uprisings toppled the autocratic leadership of several Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa.
- Russia has repeatedly applied the same basic strategy when dealing with an adversary: identify a division within the group, exploit the division and feed the tensions, and keep the opponent embroiled in that conflict for as long as possible.
An overview of key events in Russia and Europe contributing to the current political dynamic from 1992 to 2016
Source: Google maps
The territory of Crimea is transferred in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev from an oblast [province] within the Russian Republic to an autonomous republic within the Ukrainian Republic. Although the stated rationale for the transfer is said to improve relations between Russians and Ukrainians, some argue that it was aimed at solidifying support among Ukrainian elites for Khrushchev’s desire to remove a political rival from the Prime Minister’s office.
1992 – 1993
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, conflicts continue within Russia over the adoption and implementation of new economic and political reforms. President Clinton’s administration embraces Boris Yeltsin, who is an advocate of a capitalist free market economy. Yeltsin supports an aggressive shift to neoliberal economic policies, and the nationwide privatization of state-owned industries and assets. Washington overwhelmingly views Yeltsin as representative of US interests for the region.
So-called “shock therapy” economic reforms are implemented, and trigger an intense period of hyperinflation. This leads to the devaluation of the bank accounts and pensions of middle class Russians. The rapid shifting of assets from government ownership to private ownership for rock-bottom prices results in deep financial losses for the new Russian state, and it soon defaults on loans, leading to widespread economic fallout. The collapse of the social safety net triggers a period of extensive poverty among millions of Russians. The politically connected inside the Yeltsin administration, who are managing the transition, profit immensely, amassing billions of dollars of wealth in the petrochemical and mineral industries.
The newly independent nations of Ukraine and Russia reach an agreement to share the former Soviet Black Sea naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea. It becomes the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet alongside the Ukrainian Naval Forces Headquarters.
Yeltsin’s administration continues to be deeply unpopular and is marred by corruption and economic recession. Organized criminal enterprises spread and inflict sustained violence on the population. Yeltsin is eventually forced to resign under intense political pressure. He is succeeded by his then-Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.
September 11, 2001
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Vladimir Putin is the first foreign leader to call President Bush to offer his condolences, and will later strongly support US efforts in Afghanistan.
Nov 21, 2002
At the 2002 NATO Summit held in Prague, seven former Eastern bloc countries are invited to begin membership accession talks. During the same meeting, the US will start negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic over plans to deploy anti-ICBM interceptor missiles and a radar tracking system inside their borders. The planned accession of former Warsaw Pact nations reinvigorates hostility in the Kremlin towards the United States over the perception that NATO expansion is surrounding Russia’s near frontier with hostile neighbors. The potential deployment of the anti-ICBM interceptor systems to Poland and the Czech Republic are also seen by the Kremlin as the United States upsetting the balance of nuclear power between the two nations.
Rising oil prices in the early to mid-2000s creates enormous wealth, and the export of oil and natural gas is lucrative for the petro state. Many Russians regain some financial stability, but the wealth gap remains substantial between Moscow and the rest of the country.
Rose Revolution – Georgia
Georgia declares independence in 1991 during the breakup period and is subsequently lead by Eduard Shevardnadze, Gorbachev’s long tenured foreign minister. Georgia’s borders lie between Turkey and Russia, with extensive coastal territory on the strategically important Black Sea. During the 2003 elections, protests over election fraud lead to the forced resignation of Shevardnadze. American NGOs, seeking to promote democratic institutions in former Soviet bloc countries, openly fund opposition parties and candidates. Direct US government support of the efforts includes a $1.5M USAID project to modernize Georgia’s voter rolls. The pro-western Mikhail Saakashvili leads the political efforts and ultimately wins the presidency the following January. Russia begins the support of secessionist movements in the ethnic separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, seeking to maintain naval access to the Black Sea through the region of Abkhazia in western Georgia, and to create a destabilizing conflict in South Ossetia for the new Georgian government.
Nov 2004 – Jan 2005
Orange Revolution – Ukraine – Viktor Yanukovych wins in an unprecedented third runoff in the presidential election, immediately followed by widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing. The election is contested by opposition parties lead by political leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko. Following weeks of protests and sit-ins, the Ukrainian Supreme Court nullifies the results and orders a new election, culminating in the victories of President Viktor Yuschenko with Tymoshenko as prime minister. Russia views both protests in Georgia and Ukraine as being orchestrated by the US as a means of regime change to a more western-friendly government.
Yanukovych is the former governor of the Donetsk region in east Ukraine, which is predominantly ethnically Russian.
Ukraine enters Intensified Dialogue status with NATO, however Germany and France object over concerns that this will antagonize Russia. Among other conditions, the NATO Membership Action Plan for aspirant countries require applicants “to settle ethnic disputes or external territorial disputes” within its borders.
Georgia enters Intensified Dialogue status with NATO.
The separatist region of South Ossetia holds a referendum on secession from Georgia which passes with 99% of the vote. The referendum is not recognized as a legitimate election by international monitoring agencies, or any government outside Russia and Belarus. Russia immediately recognizes South Ossetia as an independent nation and begins granting citizenship and issuing Russian passports to residents.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko formally apply for NATO membership
April 2, 2008
At the annual NATO summit, Russia aggressively lobbies against Ukrainian accession to NATO. Putin tells NATO members that eventual membership for Georgia and Ukraine pose “a direct threat” to Russian security. Russian top general Yuri Baluyevsky later says that “Russia will take steps aimed at ensuring its interests along its borders. These will not only be military steps, but also steps of a different nature,” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov tells the summit, “Russia will do everything it can to prevent the admission of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.”
NATO determines that it will not offer Ukraine and Georgia membership, but the leadership states that both nations “would eventually become members”.
May 8, 2008
At the end of Putin’s constitutionally-limited two terms as president, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is elected as president of Russia and appoints Putin as Prime Minister. Putin remains extremely popular among the general public, and observers wonder how the power dynamic will function in a state with an administratively weak Prime Minister’s office. They nevertheless remain optimistic about Medvedev’s potential to support liberalizing Russia’s domestic policies.
August 7-12, 2008
Inside Georgia, Russian-backed separatist groups in South Ossetia begin shelling Georgian villages. The Georgian Army is sent into the South Ossetian conflict zone and quickly captures separatist strongholds in the area. Russia launches an air, land and sea invasion in response, battling Georgian military forces in South Ossetia and opening a second front with Abkhaz separatists to the West. Russian naval vessels blockade the Georgian coast, and the Russian army occupies four Georgian cities. French president Nicholas Sarkozy negotiates a ceasefire agreement.
International reaction is swift and negative, condemning the military incursion by Russia. There is no outside military intervention on behalf of Georgia in an effort to avoid direct military confrontation with Russia. On August 31st, Medvedev outlines a foreign policy shift which includes the principle that Russia will “protect its citizens wherever they are”.
September 17, 2009
Obama announces that Washington will not deploy a missile defense system in Poland or the Czech Republic. In response, Medvedev announces that Russia will no longer be deploying Iskander missiles and radar-jamming facilities in Kaliningrad, designed to intercept a potential missile launch.
Feb 25, 2010
Viktor Yanukovych wins the presidential election in Ukraine against Yulia Tymoshenko.
Aug 5, 2011
Tymoshenko is taken into custody after being charged with ten crimes related to alleged abuse of power while holding office. That October, she is sentenced to seven years in prison.
Dec 4, 2011
In September, Medvedev steps aside and recommends their party nominate Putin for the presidential election. Putin is easily elected for a third (non-consecutive) term as President.
Dec 5, 2011
In Moscow, opposition party leaders hold the first of a series of public protests denouncing Putin and his government, demanding that he step down.
Dec 6, 2011
Referencing the recent elections in Russia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publishes a statement at the annual conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE):
“We see setbacks for democratic institutions, the rule of law, and electoral processes. We witness prosecutions, such as that of Yulia Timoshenko in Ukraine, which raises serious questions about political motivations. And when authorities fail to prosecute those who attack people for exercising their rights or exposing abuses, they subvert justice and undermine the people’s confidence in their governments.
And as we have seen in many places, and most recently in the Duma elections in Russia, elections that are neither free nor fair have the same effect. We have serious concerns about the conduct of those elections. Independent political parties, such as PARNAS, were denied the right to register. And the preliminary report by the OSCE cites election day attempts to stuff ballot boxes, manipulate voter lists, and other troubling practices.
We’re also concerned about reports that independent Russian election observers, including the nationwide Golos network, were harassed and had cyber attacks on their websites, which is completely contrary to what should be the protected rights of people to observe elections, participate in them, and disseminate information.
We commend those Russian citizens who participated constructively in the electoral process. And Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation. And we recognize the Russian Government’s willingness to allow the OSCE to observe these elections, we now hope and urge them to take action on the recommendations that will be forthcoming from the OSCE electoral observer mission.
The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to have their voices heard and their votes counted. And that means they deserve fair, free, transparent elections and leaders who are accountable to them.”
Dec 5 – 7, 2011
Protests against Putin continue in Moscow as police crack down on “unauthorized demonstrations”, arresting hundreds of people, including opposition leader and former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Putin warns that police and security forces will be deployed to deal with anyone participating in illegal protests.
Dec 8, 2011
Putin responds to Clinton’s statements:
“We are all adults here and we understand that some … of the organisers act in accordance with a well-known scenario and in their own mercenary political interests.
She set the tone for some opposition activists, gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work.
Pouring foreign money into electoral processes is particularly unacceptable. Hundreds of millions are being invested in this work. We need to work out forms of protection of our sovereignty, defense against interference from outside.
We have to think of ways to tighten accountability for those who carry out the aims of foreign states to influence domestic political processes.”
March 30, 2012
The European Union and Ukraine reach a trade agreement, which is conditional upon Ukraine implementing several political reforms. It stipulates the release of political prisoners such as Tymoshenko and ratification of the trade agreement by the Ukrainian Parliament. Yanukovich urges Parliament to ratify the agreement and make changes to the law as necessary to comply with the conditions.
Aug 14, 2013
Russia, one of Ukraine’s largest trading partners, abruptly changes its customs regulations and bans all imports from Ukraine. This results in a dramatic drop-off in Ukrainian exports and industrial production and is seen as retaliation against Ukraine for the negotiation of the EU trade agreement.
Nov 21, 2013
The Ukrainian Parliament suspends the ratification of the EU trade agreement until they are able to renegotiate to receive compensation from the EU for the “lost revenue resulting from the deterioration in relationships with CIS [former Soviet] states”.
Nov 21, 2013
Protests begin in Kiev in Independence Square (Maidan) over the perceived rejection of the EU trade deal and in opposition to closer political and economic ties with Russia. The demonstrations come to be known as EuroMaidan or the Maidan protests.
Nov 30, 2013
Ukrainian police engage to disperse protestors. The protests turn violent, and local government buildings outside Kiev are stormed by pro-Euro Maidan protestors. In the eastern provinces, they are met by police and pro-government resistance groups.
Dec 17, 2013
Ukrainian PM asks the EU for $20B in loans and aid to offset the cost of Russian sanctions, the EU offers only $610M. Russia counters the offer to Ukraine by offering $15B in loans, a reduction in gas prices, and no conditions on governmental reforms.
February 4, 2014
Audio of a phone call between Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, is published on YouTube. In the recording, the two are discussing the political crisis in the country and opposition figures the U.S. would potentially support, including Arseniy Yatsenyuk. After indicating her preference for the United Nations to act as a mediator to the conflict, Nuland makes an obscene reference to the EU. The release of the audio creates diplomatic tensions between the U.S and EU, and is widely believed to have been leaked by the Russian government following their public criticism of U.S. and EU involvement in the conflict. Nuland privately apologizes to leaders in Europe, and later calls the leak “impressive tradecraft” by the Russians.
February 18-20, 2014
Protests in Kiev and outside the city grow in response to escalating violence. Police engage the protestors with live ammunition, killing many.
February 21, 2014
Yanukovych publicly states that he has reached an agreement with the opposition; he then suddenly flees to Russia.
February 22, 2014
Government buildings in Kiev and Yanukovych’s private residence are stormed by protestors. Yanukovych is administratively removed from office by the legislature. He is succeeded by Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
February 27, 2014
Russian military forces, without identification patches or insignias on their uniforms, known as the “Little Green Men” begin arriving by train in East Ukraine. Unidentified military personnel takes control of Crimea in late February.
Pro-Russian protests begin in Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in east Ukraine.
March 16, 2014
In Crimea, a referendum is held on the return of Crimea to governance under the Russian Federation. It passes with 95% of the vote, with many ethnic Tatars and Ukrainians abstaining in protest. Widespread fraud and voter intimidation are reported, and international elections monitoring agencies do not acknowledge the referendum as legitimate.
March 17, 2014
The EU and U.S. enact sanctions targeting specific businesses and individuals in response to Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
April 28, 2014
In the second round of sanctions, the U.S. imposes a total ban on business transactions within its territory on seven Russian officials and seventeen Russian businesses. Igor Sechin, executive chairman of state oil company Rosneft and close Putin ally, is one of the main targets of the sanctions.
July 17, 2014
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur is shot down over eastern Ukraine, territory held by pro-Russian separatists. Dutch investigators conclude the crash was caused by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile.
August 22, 2014
A Russian convoy of artillery and personnel crosses the border into Ukraine without the permission of the Ukrainian government.
September 5, 2014
The first deescalation agreement known as the Minsk Protocol is negotiated to reduce hostilities and pave the way for further talks. In early January, the seizure of Donetsk International Airport by separatists will mark the collapse of the agreement.
February 11, 2015
Seeking to revive talks, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany negotiate a package of measures known as Minsk II.
An overview of select domestic political events from 2006 to present
Post 9/11 reforms aimed at better consolidation and utilization of intelligence resources results in the merger of the Defense Intelligence Agency’s clandestine service, known as the Defense HUMINT Service, into the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. The merger is managed by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The goal is to consolidate clandestine operations, reduce duplication of effort, and to eliminate barriers to information sharing among agencies, which are widely believed to have contributed to the intelligence failures that led to 9/11.
Jan 04, 2010
The Center for New American Security, a national security think tank, publishes Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan , a paper co-authored by Major General Michael Flynn. At the time of its publication, Flynn is the top military intelligence officer in Afghanistan. The report argues that the intelligence mission supporting the war in Afghanistan has largely failed by narrowly focusing on identifying targets and insurgents, at the expense of the human terrain of political and economic power centers and indicators. As a result, they argue, the cultural context is being inadequately communicated the policy makers. It calls for the restructuring of intelligence efforts on identifying ways to engage and influence the local population, outlines the ways in which targeted killings fail to advance the overall strategy of the war, and recommends ways in which policy makers can be given more relevant context to the conflict in order to effectively marginalize the insurgency.
The paper creates a strong reaction from policy officials in Washington, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but propels Flynn to the attention of policy makers.
Obama promotes Flynn to Lieutenant General and nominates him to Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is confirmed by Congress. Flynn pushes for the agency to significantly expand its clandestine operations by nearly 1,600 personnel and he seeks to reorganize the responsibilities for intelligence collection between DIA and CIA. Flynn names this proposed clandestine branch the Defense Clandestine Service.
Sept 11, 2012
The US consulate in Benghazi, Libya is attacked and overrun by members of Ansar Al-Sharia, a Salafist militia formed during the Libyan civil war, resulting in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three American security personnel.
Current and former intelligence officials working with Flynn will later report that following the attack, Flynn suspects that the administration is wrong in blaming the Libyan militia, and urges his subordinates to find evidence of a connection to Iran. The analysts and several subsequent congressional investigations are unable to find any such link, and evidence collected reinforces the early conclusions on the involvement of Ansar Al-Sharia.
CIA director David Petraeus resigns from his position in response to a growing scandal involving an extra-marital affair with, and the unauthorized transfer of classified material to, his biographer Paula Broadwell.
In evaluating Flynn’s proposed restructuring to the DIA clandestine authorities, the Senate Armed Services Committee determines the Pentagon’s plan for the Defense Clandestine Service “lacked details necessary for effective review and implementation.” It cites long-standing issues including “inefficient utilization of personnel trained at significant expense to conduct clandestine HUMINT; poor or non-existent career management for trained HUMINT personnel; cover challenges; and unproductive deployment locations.” It suggests that the expansion of a parallel clandestine service replicates the very problems that consolidation was intended to repair. “Multiple studies since the end of the Cold War document these deficiencies, and they led … to [the] recommend[ation of] transferring to the Central Intelligence Agency all responsibilities for the clandestine recruitment of human sources.”
May 23, 2013
In response to increasing questions about the scope and purpose of Flynn’s proposed DIA Clandestine Services, the House Armed Service Committee’s intelligence panel withholds funding for the project until the Secretary of Defense can demonstrate that it would “provide unique capabilities to the intelligence community” not already performed by the NCS. The budgetary freeze essentially kills the program.
As director of DIA, Flynn arranges a controversial trip to Moscow to meet with the chief of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, and speak in front of a group of its intelligence officers. The CIA’s chief of Russia operations at the time discouraged him from the meeting, saying “He wanted to build a relationship with his counterparts in the G.R.U., which seemed, at best, quaint and naïve.”
Several months later, Flynn would attempt to reciprocate and invite several G.R.U. officers to the United States, which Director of National Intelligence Clapper would strongly caution against. By this time, the annexation of Crimea would be complete, and Russian special forces operatives were known to be extensively involved in the violent clashes between Donetsk separatists and the Ukrainian military.
April 30, 2014
Flynn is forced out of the DIA by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael G. Vickers. The official reason for his departure is a planned retirement, although it comes a full year prior to the scheduled end of his term with the position. Unofficially, colleagues describe mismanagement of the agency and a toxic and abusive work environment. Concerns are expressed about Flynn’s tendency to “stovepipe” raw intelligence to the President which reinforced his own theories. In a leaked email, former secretary of state Colin Powell writes, “Flynn got fired as head of DIA. His replacement is a black Marine 3-star. I asked why Flynn got fired. Abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc. He has been and was right-wing nutty ever since.”
Flynn forms the consulting firm Flynn Intel Group, and continues to work as a freelance consultant. He is occasionally booked for public speaking events and makes television appearances as a terrorism and cybersecurity expert.
The first of two major hacks of the Democratic National Committee occurs.
Flynn meets with Donald Trump for the first time.
The Russian media outlet RT, formerly Russia Today, interviews Flynn in a segment about Syria. The segment runs under the headline “Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise Of ISIS Was A “Willful Decision” Of US Government”.
Dec 15, 2015
Flynn is reportedly paid upwards of $40,000 to attend a gala marking the 10th anniversary of RT. He is photographed at dinner seated next to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Flynn becomes the Trump campaign’s national security advisor.
Paul Manafort joins the campaign leadership, and is promoted to campaign chairman over the objections of existing chairman, Cory Lewandowski.
May 3, 2016
A Democratic National Committee staffer conducting opposition research on Paul Manafort receives a notice from Yahoo’s cybersecurity team that her email has been targeted by “state-sponsored actors”.
CrowdStrike, a private cybersecurity firm, conducts an investigation into the breach of the DNC and reports that it has traced the hack to two separate units linked to Russian intelligence agencies. It notes similarities between this attack and previous intrusion attempts on unclassified systems at the White House, State Department, and Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Washington Post reports that hackers gained access to the email servers of the DNC and the private emails of campaign officials.
Democratic National Convention
WikiLeaks begins posting thousands of hacked internal DNC emails, creating controversy within the party and leading to the resignation of the DNC chair on the first day of the convention. The leaked emails purport to show the DNC leadership’s preference for Hillary Clinton, feeding the division within the party from supporters of Bernie Sanders. Emails from American General Philip Breedlove, formerly head of U.S. European Command and Commander of the NATO Allied Forces (SACEUR), are included in one release, in which he advocates for a stronger military posture against Russia’s activity in Ukraine.
Republican National Convention
While finalizing the official party platform for national security, a committee member proposes an amendment “maintaining (and, if warranted, increasing) sanctions against Russia until Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are fully restored,” as well as “providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine’s armed forces and greater coordination with NATO on defense planning” to combat “Russia’s ongoing military aggression.” This is largely consistent with the GOP’s previous stance on Russian military activity and on Russia in general. Trump surrogates in the meeting intervene, and working with Trump delegates, rewrite the amendment. The new version strips the reference to lethal weapons, and significantly waters down the GOP’s official position on the issue of Russian actions in Ukraine.
August 14, 2016
The New York Times publishes a report detailing the political and financial connections between campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
August 19, 2016
Amid growing public concern about Manafort’s connections to Russia, he resigns as Trump’s campaign chairman.
October 7, 2016
The Director of National Intelligence releases a joint statement with the Department of Homeland Security regarding the hacking of the DNC internal emails:
“The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
Nov 8, 2016
Donald Trump wins the 2016 Presidential election.
Nov 18, 2016
Flynn is announced as president-elect Trump’s national security advisor.
Dec 29, 2016
The Obama administration announces it is imposing sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election. It expels 35 Russian diplomats, several suspected intelligence operatives, shuts down two facilities suspected of collecting signals intelligence, and places new sanctions on state agencies and individuals suspected in the hacks of U.S. computer systems. These are in addition to existing sanctions from 2014 for Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Crimea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responds “For now I can not say what will be our response. Although, as we know, we have no other alternative than to abide by a principle of reciprocity.” Russia’s reciprocal response to U.S. and western diplomatic actions is typical, and the expectation is for a roughly identical number of U.S. diplomats to be expelled from Moscow.
During routine surveillance of Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, multiple communications are intercepted between the ambassador and Michael Flynn.
Dec 30, 2016
Putin publicly states that Russia will not respond to the newest round of U.S. sanctions. The departure from Putin’s established pattern of tit-for-tat retaliation triggers intelligence analysts to speculate about the rationale, which leads them to the calls between Flynn and Kislyak. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates is briefed on the contents of the communications, which may be in violation of the Logan Act. The Logan Act is a federal law which prohibits unauthorized individuals from negotiating with foreign governments involved in disputes with the United States.
Jan 05, 2017
Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reiterates the conclusion of 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia engaged in a high-level, coordinated influence campaign in order to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. He states that a declassified report detailing the motives and methods of influence will be forthcoming.
Jan 06, 2017
The Senate Intelligence committee and Office of the Director of National Intelligence release a declassified version of an Intelligence Community Assessment entitled Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. It is coordinated by the CIA, FBI, and NSA and states:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
“In trying to influence the US election, we assess the Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.”
“The Kremlin’s campaign aimed at the US election featured disclosures of data obtained through Russian cyber operations; intrusions into US state and local electoral boards; and overt propaganda. Russian intelligence collection both informed and enabled the influence campaign.”
Specifically addressing the use of media in the influence campaign:
“RT America TV, a Kremlin-financed channel operated from within the United States, has substantially expanded its repertoire of programming that highlights criticism of alleged US shortcomings in democracy and civil liberties. The rapid expansion of RT’s operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT’s leadership point to the channel’s importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin- directed campaign to undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest. The Kremlin has committed significant resources to expanding the channel’s reach, particularly its social media footprint. A reliable UK report states that RT recently was the most-watched foreign news channel in the UK. RT America has positioned itself as a domestic US channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian Government.”
Jan 13, 2017
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer tells reporters in a conference call that the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak did not contain any discussion of U.S. sanctions.
Jan 15, 2017
Vice president-elect Mike Pence tells CBS’s Face The Nation that Flynn “did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia.”
Jan 19, 2017
Yates and senior intelligence officials debate what to do with the information regarding Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador. FBI director James Comey argues against notifying the Trump administration, citing concerns over harming the ongoing investigation.
Jan 20, 2017
Trump is inaugurated as President of the United States.
January 2017 (exact date unknown)
The FBI interviews Flynn regarding the contents of his discussions with the ambassador.
Jan 26, 2017
Yates briefs White House counsel Donald McGahn on the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak. She informs McGahn that Flynn has misled Pence and the administration about the nature of the calls to the Russian ambassador, and consequently was susceptible to blackmail.
Feb 7, 2017
Flynn tells reporters that he did not discuss sanctions with the ambassador. The following day, his spokesman revises the statement saying that Flynn “couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up”.
By this point, it is suspected that the conversation between Flynn and Kislyak preceded and possibly influenced the Russian government’s decision not to retaliate for the diplomatic expulsions on December 29th.
Feb 13, 2017
Flynn offers his resignation as National Security Advisor to the Trump administration.
Mar 06, 2017
Flynn retroactively registers as a foreign agent for Turkey for lobbying efforts conducted between Aug – Nov 2016.
KEY U.S. ACTORS
MICHAEL T. FLYNN
Flynn serves as Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (G2) for the XVIII Airborne Corps. This includes deployment to Afghanistan as Director of Intelligence for Joint Task Force 180, the predecessor to the NATO ISAF Mission in Afghanistan.
Serves as Director of Intelligence for a joint sub-unified command within US Special Operations Command. His known deployments include multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the counter-insurgency effort in each country. While serving as Director of Intelligence for the joint, sub-unified command, Flynn and others develop new methods in intelligence collection, analysis, and targeting that enable the Command to rapidly disrupt IED and insurgent networks.
Serves as Director of Intelligence for US Central Command, bringing the intelligence capabilities used by special operations forces into the conventional force.
Serves as the Director of Intelligence for the Joint Staff.
Deploys to Afghanistan as General Stanley McChrystal’s Director of Intelligence when McChrystal is assigned command of ISAF in Afghanistan.
General Stanley McChrystal is relieved of command by President Obama for his staff’s disparaging remarks regarding POTUS that were published in Rolling Stone.
Promoted to Lieutenant General and assigned to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under James Clapper.
President Obama nominates Flynn to command the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn assumes command April 17, 2012
April 23, 2012
Announces the intent to expand the “Defense Clandestine Service” to serve as human intelligence agents overseas. This function had previously been the authority of the CIA and 6 years earlier, the smaller DIA service had been transferred to the CIA. There is immediate pushback from the CIA and several Congressional Offices with oversight of the nation’s intelligence programs.
November 9, 2012
David Petraeus resigns as Director of the CIA over the fallout from an extra-marital affair with his biographer. This resignation provides the DIA a brief window to press for the authority to operate the Defense Clandestine Service.
The Defense Clandestine Service continues to struggle for statutory authorities and budget to begin operating. The CIA and Congress express valid concerns regarding duplication of effort, both services working at cross-purposes and other practical considerations that would degrade HUMINT collection should two competing Agencies operate with that authority. In December 2012, Congress bars the DIA from recruiting for the Defense Clandestine Service.
March 8th, 2013
John Brennan is confirmed as the new Director of the CIA.
Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is the yearly budget for the Pentagon. The budget withholds funding for the Defense Clandestine Service project until the Secretary of Defense can demonstrate that it would “provide unique capabilities to the intelligence community” not already performed by the NCS.
Flynn is forced into retirement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Flynn resigns from command of DIA about a year earlier than expected. Flynn is forced out due to clashing with superiors (Clapper) and a “chaotic management style and vision for the agency”. In a private email that was leaked, Colin Powell states that he heard that Flynn was “abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc”. At this time, DIA staffers begin speaking of “Flynn Facts”, which refer to dubious or demonstrably false assertions made by Flynn. In his final interview as DIA Director, Flynn states that he was forced out for questioning the Obama Administration’s assertion that Al Qaeda is fading from importance after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Flynn also stated that the US was more vulnerable to “Islamic terrorism” in 2014 than it was prior to 9/11.
August 7th, 2014
Michael T. Flynn retires with the rank of Lieutenant General from the United States Army after 33 years of service.
Began work for Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, a Yanukovych supporter and pro-Russian steel magnate. Akhmetov later successfully lobbied Yanukovych to hire Manafort as a campaign advisor in the days following the invalidated presidential election of 2004. Manafort continued working for Yanukovych’s pro-Russian Party of Regions during the 2006 parliamentary elections and for Yanukovych’s successful presidential bid in 2010, focusing on improving campaign messaging and polishing Yanukovych’s public image. After Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014 following the Euromaidan protests, Manafort continued working for the party via Yanukovych’s chief of staff.
2012 – 2014
Manafort’s firm and deputy Rick Gates worked to gain positive press coverage for Yanukovych in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press. Manafort’s firm arranged meetings between top Ukrainian officials in the Yanukovych government and influential senators and congressmen appointed to committees related to Ukrainian interests. Emails originating from Gates indicated that the Ukrainian foreign minister wanted to avoid using his own embassy in the United States to coordinate the meetings. In 2012, the firm directed more than $2.2M from the Party of Regions in Ukraine to lobbying groups inside the US, according to official disclosures. They also worked to undercut American support for imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko, as European and American governments were pressuring Ukraine for her release. The lobbying efforts on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties were not disclosed to the Justice Department, a requirement under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign and became campaign manager, leading the effort to tone down Trump’s campaign rhetoric to broaden his appeal. Amid heavy scrutiny into Manafort’s ties to Russia and Putin, he resigned as campaign chairman in August 2016, and Rick Gates took over as the campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee.
Manafort is currently under investigation by the FBI for allegedly communicating with Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 election.