What is the story of Putin’s men in the halls of Washington?

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Elaf of Beirut: The invasion of Ukraine is not the first issue in recent memory on which Russian foreign policy has drawn sharp criticism in Washington. But this is the first time the Kremlin has faltered in its ability to respond through regular DC channels, that is, high-level lobbyists in the United States.

Before the Kremlin invaded Ukraine, it pumped huge sums of money into its Washington, DC lobbies, which often succeeded in sparing Russian entities the worst sanctions. Now, sanctions against the Russian government and Kremlin-linked companies have hampered the effectiveness of such spending.

divorce lawyers

Several Russian interests have turned their lobbying goals into a mere attempt to dismantle US-Russian relations. “With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it turns out that we don’t need lobbyists, we really need good divorce lawyers,” said Julie Newton, a researcher at the Center for Russian Studies and Eurasians from St. Antony’s College. is a deaf dialogue.

It’s not always the case. The Russian government and Kremlin-linked businesses managed to gain significant influence in the United States before the recent invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s high-pressure approach began in August 2008, when it attempted to appease American responses to Russian aggression following the invasion of Georgia. Washington has blamed the Five-Day War squarely on Russia, especially given the Kremlin’s recognition of the independence of the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and the expulsion of Georgian forces from the two regions. Led by the late Senator John McCain, many powerful people in Washington have called for punishment for Russian aggression.

With punitive measures on the table, Russia has almost doubled its spending on lobbyists. In total, the amount of money companies said they received from Russian interests rose from just over $5 million in 2007, before the invasion, to more than $9 million in 2009, according to a report. analysis of FARA files.

heart of history

Ketchum, a PR firm representing the Russian Federation, reversed the story and blamed Georgia. Ketchum facilitated New York Times interviews with Russian military officials, distributed brief war memos to the Washington Post, and arranged a CNN interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. Ketchum also helped publish an opinion piece in Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Wall Street Journal on August 20, 2008, in which he said that Russia “remains committed to a peaceful solution in the Caucasus”. In early 2009, the Russian government hired another company, Alston & Bird, amid a multi-million dollar boom in Russian lobby spending.

This Russian rehabilitation campaign was largely successful, and the Kremlin weathered the storm created by the invasion of Georgia. The George W. Bush administration did little to punish Putin’s aggression in 2008, and Russia was only an afterthought in the Obama administration – or, at times, literally an sanction.

Russia will again have to deal with the consequences of Washington after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. With President Barack Obama joining the wave of criticism, Washington has been less tolerant than it was after the war in Georgia. Although Obama has clearly ruled out military conflict with Russia, the United States has announced visa bans, canceled military consultations with Russia, expanded military air patrols over the former Soviet Union, imposed sanctions on many Russian companies and expanded security assistance. for Ukraine.

Anti-Russian hysteria!

The Kremlin has cut ties with Ketchum. “We decided not to renew the contract because of the anti-Russian hysteria, the ongoing information war,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at the time. Although the Russian government has decided not to lobby Washington directly, Kremlin-linked companies and government interests facing punitive measures will start spending millions to gain influence.

The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014, a bill that imposed a set of penalties for the invasion of Crimea, including the confiscation of the assets of large Russian companies, notably named Gazprombank, a bank founded by the Russian state energy company Gazprom. The bank hired Squire Patton Boggs and paid the company $1.5 million between 2014 and 2017 to “lobby on issues related to banking laws and regulations, including applicable penalties,” according to public documents.

The gas company Novatek, whose ownership includes Putin allies such as Gennady Timchenko and Leonid Mikhelson, is also included in the Penal Code. In response, Novatek paid $740,000 to public relations firm Qorvis Communications between 2014 and 2015 to oppose the listing, among other things.

The lobbies of these Russian companies have not always succeeded. Corvis rescinded a White House executive order authorizing the confiscation of assets of certain Russian oligarchs in the United States, but the sanctions remained in place, costing Timchenko and Michelson about $16.5 billion combined. After the invasion of Crimea, the Russian Direct Investment Fund also came under scrutiny from the United States. Russia’s sovereign wealth fund has hired two lobbying firms, signing contracts with Capitol Counsel and Goldin Solutions worth $45,000 and $30,000 a month to lobby the Treasury.

illegal operation

In 2015, the Russian government launched a multi-year illicit influence operation. Ultimately, this campaign will lead to the infamous Russian interference in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections. 2021, while Operation Illegal Influence for Russia to make headlines, Russia’s legal influence process is quietly rocking. As the fallout from the 2014 invasion of Ukraine continued, more than a dozen former congressmen, congressional staffers and senior sanctions officials signed up to lobby on behalf of the linked banks in the Kremlin, the Russian oligarchy and the company behind Nord Flux 2.

Although most Americans have an unfavorable view of Putin’s Russia, this group of former government officials has helped ensure that their clients largely avoid the brunt of US retaliation for Putin’s interference in America and elsewhere. The Biden administration lifted sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in May 2021, and construction of the pipeline that would dramatically increase Russian energy flows to Europe was completed last September.

It can be said that the sanctions imposed on the Russian oligarchy have been ineffective, and in some cases they have been lifted. And when Putin made the disastrous decision to invade Ukraine earlier this year, it all came crashing down. Most lobbying and public relations firms in Washington have cut ties with their Russian clients. Several sanctions against which these lobbyists had long served as a bulwark came into force abruptly, including those affecting the Russian financial sector, members of the Russian elite and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Previous attempts by Russian entities such as Sovcombank and VTB Bank and the RDIF to evade punitive measures as they were sanctioned or restricted following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

However, if history is any indication, the Russian influence operation will likely try to reform itself. With sanctions limiting the process of legal pressure, Russia is likely to expand its illicit influence operations.

This report was prepared by “Elaf” for the website “The Intercept”.

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