In the four weeks I have been back in the US, the list of “persons of interest” in the Trump circle seems to have grown day-by-day: Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Felix Sater, Jared Kushner, Michael Cohen, and Boris Epshteyn… I may have missed a few.
Give the strange pro-Russian remarks by Trump during his campaign, followed by a string of overtures and both semi-public and clandestine meetings with Russian officials since then, it’s small wonder that a climate of consternation and outright worry has descended over Foggy Bottom (AKA “the Swamp”). To which concern must now be added the current unraveling of decades-old traditional alliances with European allies Germany and France and other NATO members. It might be well to remember that NATO was established to deter Russian aggression following World War II.
Over the past several years political and diplomatic uneasiness rose exponentially following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its covert invasion and tactical occupation of east Ukraine, evidence of Russian email hacking, its interference in elections in the USA, France, and apparently elsewhere, Vladimir Putin’s unflinching support of Syria dictator Bashar al-Assad, including his bombing of anti-ISIS rebels and attacks on civilians, and now alleged rooting around the inner regions of the Trump White House.
Regrading human and civil rights in Russia, the world’s attention was briefly focused on the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006, but dozens of other political opponents, diplomats, reporters, and civil rights activists have been similarly murdered during the Putin years in a display of ruthless autocratic rule. Even a partial list must include
Denis N. Voronenkov, lawmaker and Putin critic (Mar. 23, 2017)
Sergei Krivov, consular duty commander at the Russian Consulate in New York (2016)
Boris Nemtsov, physicist, statesman and liberal politician (2015)
Vladmir Kara-Murza, activist and writer, poisoned, recovered (2015)
Boris Berezovsky, business oligarch, government official, engineer and mathematician, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (2013)
Alexander Perepilichny, businessman, whistleblower (2012)
Sergei Magnitsky, tax attorney (2009)
Stanislav Markelov, human rights lawyer and Anastasia Baburova, journalist (2009)
Natalia Estemirova, journalist (2009),
Anna Politkovskaya, journalist (2006)
Alexander Litvinenko, former KGB agent who accused Putin of blowing up an apartment block and ordering the murder of Anna Politkovskaya (2006)
Paul Klebnikov, American investigative journalist, editor in chief of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine (2004)
Sergei Yushenkov, politician killed as he tried to gather evidence proving that Putin was behind the bombing of the residential apartment block (2003)
And recently, Putin’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was found guilty of embezzlement and given a five-year suspended sentence which barred him from running next year against Putin (Feb. 8, 2017).
As Trump sinks alliances with democratic allies in western Europe but praises strongmen such as Recep Erdogan, the proudly murderous Filipino president, Rodrigo Duterte, and most ostentatiously of all, Vladimir Putin himself (alternatively prime minister and president since 1999), how could the question NOT arise – who’s actually calling the shots in the White House? And, more importantly, why?