MOSCOW — From Russia’s point of view, the turmoil swirling around the Trump administration and its contacts with Russian officials is a “witch hunt” fueled by “fake news” instigated by leading Democrats looking to distract attention from their election defeat and carried out by their lap dogs in the U.S. media.
In other words, Moscow’s reaction pretty much mirrors that of President Trump after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election. Sessions made the move after The Washington Post revealed that he twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year while still serving as a senator but did not disclose that during his Senate confirmation hearing in January. Sessions was an early backer of Trump’s bid for the presidency and served as an adviser and surrogate for the campaign.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Friday that “all this is very much reminiscent of a witch hunt and the McCarthyism era which we all thought was long gone.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on reports that Trump’s son-in-law met with Kislyak in December, agreed with Trump’s use of the phrase “witch hunt,” saying “we have nothing to add to President Trump’s exhaustive definition.”
But there’s a fundamental difference in what Russia and Trump are reacting to.
In the United States, the suggestion that Sessions was not forthcoming with the Senate hearing was enough to force him to step aside from potential probes, regardless of what he and Kislyak discussed.
But Moscow has never copped to the accusation by the U.S. intelligence community that it interfered in the election, and it sees any and all questions about Trump’s ties to Russia as symptoms of what it considers rampant Russophobia in America’s establishment. Two prominent daily newspapers, Moskovsky Komsomolets and Nezavisimaya Gazeta, featured commentary that cited anti-Russian hysteria in the United States as a primary source of the drive to oust national security adviser Mike Flynn and force Sessions to recuse himself.
In Washington, Trump’s warm words for Russian President Vladimir Putin, his half-joking call for Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the revelation that Flynn discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak before Trump took office have raised concerns that something more sinister is going on. Trump and his administration has resisted accepting the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was attempting to help him win the election; Sessions in an interview on Fox News Thursday refused to acknowledge that Russia favored Trump over Clinton.
In Moscow, the suggestion that Trump colluded with Russian officials on the election or that the Kremlin is blackmailing him into cozying up to Putin is regarded as, at best, a hangover from what it considered the Obama administration’s efforts to relegate Russia to a powerless, servile nation; at worst, some on the fringes of Russia’s establishment said the election of Obama’s former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, to the presidency would lead to nuclear war.
Lavrov expressed umbrage that “our ambassador is accused of meeting with the U.S. politicians who opposed the Obama administration,” suggesting that U.S. diplomats do the same with Putin’s political opponents.
“If we applied the same principle to [U.S.] Ambassador to Russia [John] Tefft, this would be real fun,” Lavrov added.
Moscow also objects to the suggestion in some media reports that Kislyak is anything but a diplomat. Some media report that U.S. intelligence officials consider the ambassador a top Russian spy, accusations that Peskov dismissed as “baseless fake news stories.” Peskov, borrowing from Trump’s railing against leaks, suggested that reporters rely “only on official statements by genuine officials.”
Russian officialdom and the White House seem in step in their characterization of the U.S. media.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, characterized reporting on Trump this way: “Is this rock bottom? Or can they go even lower.”
Trump probably couldn’t have tweeted that any better.