Russian President Vladimir Putin had big plans for Donald Trump’s presidency, according to a secret document delivered to the State Department by a Russian diplomat around three months into Trump’s term. Putin figured it was time to put his Ukrainian incursion, Syria interference, and 2016 election hacking behind us and move forward with a total diplomatic, military, and communications overhaul between the U.S. and Russia. Buzzfeed’s John Hudson writes:
The broad scope of the Kremlin’s reset plan came with an ambitious launch date: immediately.
By April, a top Russian cyber official, Andrey Krutskikh, would meet with his American counterpart for consultations on “information security,” the document proposed. By May, the two countries would hold “special consultations” on the war in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, the “situation in Ukraine,” and efforts to denuclearize the “Korean Peninsula.” And by the time Putin and Trump held their first meeting, the heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Council and Pentagon would meet face-to-face with their Russian counterparts to discuss areas of mutual interest. A raft of other military and diplomatic channels opened during the Obama administration’s first-term “reset” would also be restored.
“This document represents nothing less than a road map for full-scale normalization of US-Russian relations,” said Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, after reviewing the proposal provided by BuzzFeed News.
Naturally, the White House has no idea how the Russians thought such an entreaty would be viewed favorably within Trump’s orbit. “Frankly, I would point more to media coverage than administration overtures,” a White House spokesperson said.
Sure—could be the media. Or maybe it was the result of top Trump aides like Michael Flynn pondering sanctions with the Russian ambassador in December or Jared Kushner’s flirtation with setting up a secret communications backchannel with Moscow.
Perhaps it was that push in the first few weeks of Trump’s administration—narrowly headed off by U.S. diplomats—to unilaterally lift the sanctions against Russia.
Or maybe it was Trump’s mid-February declaration that he would “love to be able to get along with Russia.”
The signs were subtle, indeed, and maybe Putin just read into them like an overanxious teenager. Or maybe Putin read Trump perfectly but failed to comprehend the bigger picture.
“Putin doesn’t seem to understand that Trump’s powers are not the same as his,” said Steven Pifer, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution. “The checks and balances, the special prosecutor and congressional investigations have tied Trump’s hands in ways that didn’t occur to Putin.”