From Russia With Love

Some of you have probably seen the story of a Russian National connected to an influence operation involving the NRA being arrested on charges of spying. I’ve read the actual criminal complaint against her and it’s hard for me to see how she’s not guilty as hell of what she’s being charged with just based on the evidence found in the complaint. Sounds to me like she even had an assistant in the US (US Person 1) and was also being helped along by (US Person 2), who it seems is connected to the National Prayer Breakfast. Popehat, who has experience as a federal prosecutor, suspects the complaint’s timing was because they got wind Butina was getting ready to flee the country.

While I generally roll my eyes at “based on my training and experience,” the complaint has a number of interesting details.

Your challenge in your “special project” will be to balance two opposing imperatives: Your desire to communicate that you speak for Russian interests that will be ascendant (still around) in a post-Putin world while simultaneously doing nothing to criticize the President or speed the arrival of his successor.

There’s a few references to relations after Putin is gone in the complaint. I’m thinking Torshin’s odds of contracting an acute case of polonium poisoning just went up. From the sounds of the complaint, the woman who said “No government official has EVER approached me about ‘fostering ties’ with any Americans,” was basically taking orders, albeit via Torshin, from Putin himself.

35 thoughts on “From Russia With Love”

    1. My guess is that they were played. All she had to do is come at it from the angle of them being a Russian Gun Rights group and she would have gotten access. Probably didn’t hurt that her boss had money to throw around either. NRA-PVF can’t take donations from foreign nationals, but NRA Foundation can. They’ve stated that Torshin wasn’t a big donor. It would not surprise me if that were true.

      It is honestly not hard to meet the people she did if you go to Annual Meeting. I’ve cultivated better relationships with NRA officials than she has without being a big donor, and without claiming to represent any foreign gun rights group. Though I am (or probably was) a media influencer with people who are important in the issue.

      1. “My guess is that they were played.”

        I’m not sure I want a political organization that naive looking out for my firearms rights. The whole scenario of a Russian “gun rights” group – while Putin is at the country’s helm – was just too improbable.

          1. “What were they going to do?”

            The same thing they would have done with you or me: Slap them on back, shake hands, accept their checks, and move on to the next customer.

            Certainly not send a delegation of NRA principals to Moscow, to meet with Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of Russia, and an individual already on the U.S.’s specifically sanctioned list.

            “It’s not like NRA has a counterintelligence office.”

            In this case Google would have been a sufficient counterintelligence office. I seriously doubt they didn’t know who Rogozin was.

            An astute political organization is supposed to be aware of optics, and even after the NRA cobbled up an excuse (wanting to remove Russian small arms from sanctions) the excuse looked bad; the NRA lobbying for the firearms industry of a sanctioned nation, neatly playing into the hands of their enemies who portray them as nothing but a mercenary front for industry.

            Frankly, as an excuse that seemed too petty for me, for them to have risked exactly what is playing out now.

            1. That’s a fair point. I was thinking in the context of Butina. I agree that sending a delegation to Moscow was a mistake.

              1. “I was thinking in the context of Butina.”

                By the time the NRA delegation met with Rogozin, it was apparent that some level of relationship existed between Butina and Rogozin.

                Here is what Wikipedia reports, in part:

                In November 2013, Keene was a guest at the conference of the Right to Bear Arms in Moscow.[24] In 2015, a number of NRA officials attended Right to Bear Arms’s annual gun conference in Russia. Among them were Keene, gun manufacturer and NRA first vice president Pete Brownell,[25] conservative American political operative Paul Erickson,[26] and Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke. One of their hosts was Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who in 2014 was sanctioned by the White House following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Clarke’s trip cost $40,000, with all expenses paid by the NRA, Pete Brownell (an NRA board member and CEO of a gun-parts supply company) and Right to Bear Arms.[27][28][29] According to a disclosure Clarke filed, Right to Bear Arms paid $6,000 to cover his meals, lodging, transportation and other expenses.[14] During the meeting, Clarke met the Russian foreign minister and attended a conference at which Torshin spoke.[28][29]

                In terms of a timeline, before the Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow, Rogozin had already been placed under sanction by the U.S. for having a hand in the Russian invasion of Crimea. In other words, he (and any of his associates) should have been considered a political hot potato.

                More for amusment value than anything, Wikipedia reports the following about Rogozin:

                In October 2014, Rogozin wrote a foreword for a book, Alaska Betrayed and Sold: The History of a Palace Conspiracy, by Ivan Mironov. In it Rogozin supported the author’s claim that the sale of Alaska was a “betrayal of Russian power status”. He also claimed in his writing that Russia had the “right to reclaim our lost colonies”. Rogozin’s opinion on Alaska came out right around the time that the state was preparing to observe the anniversary of the sale.[22]

                So, it’s not like anyone could argue that as Russians go, Rogozin was really a good guy who was just misunderstood, who could be forgiven because he liked guns a lot. Or by extension, his associate Butina.

                As for Right to Bear Arms as an organization, our experience with anti-gun groups in the U.S. teaches us to have reservations about the genesis of any group that seems to be born full grown. Why the same suspicion would not apply to Russia, I don’t know.

                1. Humans tend to readily accept what fits their beliefs and reject what doesn’t.

          2. The NRA (and all of us) should be wary of trusting anyone from odd sources or who demonstrates odd behavior, who claims to be on our side. There are real conspiracies out there. And we have seen plenty of false-flag operations from individuals and organizations which claimed to be pro-gun but actually were working for the other side or were trying to undermine gun-rights or undermine the NRA.

            Take mister “National Observer” for example. Some of the crap he’s said, ever since he first started commenting here months ago, raise my hackles. He’s even confessed to participating in (or at the very least close cooperation with) election fraud.

            I’m not surprised he’s flooding your comment zone in the wake of this Russian spy story.

            1. “Some of the crap he’s said, ever since he first started commenting here months ago, raise my hackles.”

              Well, I hope I’ve raised other peoples hackles too. To such an extent that if they see evidence of the things I’ve spoken of, they’ll pause for a minute and think a bit about what’s really going on.

              A few days ago in another thread I made philosophical comment about people who become evil in their pursuit of power, power they had intended to use to accomplish good.

              My commentary about engaging in election fraud was entirely in that spirit. If our opponents are evil when they do something, are we immune from being evil if we do the same things as we hope to stop them?

              As for the current revelations about Russians: There is no questioning their tactics are evil. If we winked at say, a bit of their election “interference” because it would produce a short term political gain for us, were we party to evil, or was the evil erased by the good we hoped would come from our blindness and denial?

        1. Naive about what? Talking to someone who fronted for important Russian officials. That’s itself not a crime despite the Democrats trying to pretend that this is some sort of scandal. Russia recently put on a rather large shooting sports event – an event that such persons as Jerry Miculek attended.

          The idea that what Butina did was some sort of huge “infiltration” of the NRA is simply horse shit. She talked to people. She did nothing else.

          The only supposed “crime” here is that she did so without registering as a foreign agent. A pretty meaningless and trivial offense since she was openly advertising her affiliations.


      2. It’s pretty hilarious how we’re gotten to a point where the best case scenario is the NRA got bamboozled.

    2. I think its a nothing burger. The anti gunners are flipping out over this, but other than fostering “ties” between two gun rights groups, I don’t see much impact on the NRA or what it did.

  1. The NRA had to go all-in for Trump regardless of who was chumming around with whom.

    I’ve been thinking for a while now that the point of whatever things the Russians have done to “influence” politics in the US wasn’t done because they thought they would get results, but rather, so they could get caught at it and produce guilt-by-association in whoever appeared to benefit; and thus in general damage the underlying trust in society.

  2. “The NRA had to go all-in for Trump regardless of who was chumming around with whom.”

    So you’re saying even a strong odor of treason had to be ignored if it promised to serve our single issue?

    Maybe I could buy that from an organization that hadn’t always styled itself as “patriotic.” But the NRA?

    If I’ve misunderstood you, please forgive me.

    1. An organization as large as NRA probably does nothing more for some of us than “rally the troops” which is an essential part of the political orgy we witness today. Inasmuch as I care about gun rights coming out on top (no pun intended), gun owners will need to coalesce around someone. If not the NRA it’s another group who can fund raise with the best of them. We also have to accept that with membership as high as it is, we won’t like some of the the fellow members or those with whom they make time. Anyway, the NRA won’t be going away soon.

    2. There is no “treason” here. See Art. II, Sect. 3. Associations with Russians who may share interests is not “treason,” whether you say it (ostensibly as a gun rights supporter) or the progressive nutjob says it.

      Might the NRA have gotten played? Perhaps. We’re focused on the issue of protecting and expanding gun rights, not Russian intrigue. And alliances with organizations in other nations with similar interests is hardly difficult to imagine.

      This really is a nothingburger, unless you are seeking to weaken the NRA.

      Is that your goal?

      1. “unless you are seeking to weaken the NRA. Is that your goal?”

        The NRA has been doing a fine job of that itself, for a couple years now. If weakening it was my goal, I could be silent and happy as a clam with the progress.

        1. Since I seem to be preaching today, I thought I’d come back and elaborate on that, rather than just seeming to be cracking wise:

          The political fortunes of the RKBA are not a function of how many NRA members there are. They depend on the broadness of the base of support in the voting culture.

          I believe it’s claimed that NRA membership is up. If so, it’s a result of their successful appeal to an ever narrower segment of society. Quite simply, they long ago departed from being “single issue” in their marketing appeal.

          The thing is, they are appealing to a base that doesn’t really need to be sold on the desirability of firearms ownership. They’re making money while (arguably) narrowing their political influence and reach in the population. Their appeal is blatantly ever more biased to social conservatives and culture warriors. Is that driving/keeping away non-SoCos? Only time will tell. But it is biasing the RKBA brand to being seen solely as SoCo, meaning anyone who may already lean toward supporting the RKBA, whether a gun owner or not, may be driven away from seeing themselves as part of the “gun culture” unless they are committed to social conservatism themselves.

          In my opinion, that will weaken both the NRA and the broader RKBA movement. The solution is, a return to the NRA being more strictly “single issue.” I’m not suggesting “single issue” is as easy as it sounds, in terms of political practice, but many of us can remember a time when the NRA achieved it to a far greater degree than it does today. Remember when conservatives accused the NRA of “not being a team player” for not supporting the confirmation of Robert Bork to the SCOTUS, just because Bork had said he didn’t believe the 2A defined an individual right? Would the NRA take that position today, or would it be a SoCo team player? I’m not sure anymore.

          I’d suggest something equivalent to the ’77 Cincinnati Revolt to achieve the needed reforms, but I suppose that would open me to charges of “seeking to weaken the NRA.”

          1. I kind of agree with you on a lot of those points, which was why I only recently rejoined the NRA after a long period of “enh, whatever.”

            But hating on the NRA is letting the hypothetical perfect be the enemy of the best available. I rejoined as a life member so I could vote, dammit. You want to change the NRA? Vote. Get your friends and acquaintances to vote.

            I’d say Sebastian, by running this blog, has done way more for the cause of a moderate NRA than you have by sniping at him.

            1. “But hating on the NRA is letting the hypothetical perfect be the enemy of the best available.”

              I disagree, because there can come a time when even the “best available” has gone beyond the pale. Also, as someone pointed out elsewhere, sometimes the “best available” stifles the emergence of anything better.

              “I’d say Sebastian, by running this blog, has done way more for the cause of a moderate NRA than you have by sniping at him.”

              As challenging as I want to become in this discussion is to ask you where I have sniped at Sebastian, whose virtues I generally agree with. But, where we disagree, I do not feel I am obligated by his good intentions and hard work to echo things I do not agree with, or else remain silent. If that is the price of participation here, just let me know.

              If a target deserves it, I don’t think “sniping” is bad, because any effective movement requires a full spectrum of tactics and attitudes, and dissidents (“snipers”) are often what keep an organization honest. If the snipers don’t have anything worth shooting at, they won’t get very far. I think the recent “Grover Norquist and the Muslim Brotherhood” nonsense was a good example of bullshit not getting very far, even if it got farther than I would have liked to see. If there is something worth shooting at, the sniping may eventually get traction. I would submit that the historic ’77 Revolt at Cincinnati (generally regarded as a positive development in NRA history) was the culmination of years of sniping, even if it took the proposal to move the NRA to Colorado as the catalyst that brought things to a head.

              An organization in which everyone is singing from the same choirbook isn’t an organization, it’s a cult. The foundation of any cult has to be, belief in leadership based on raw faith. Whether it’s belief in one Dear Leader or belief in a Party Central Committee, loyalty based on the belief in some magical purity and altruism, that must exist no matter what, always turns out to be misguided.

              1. “I do not feel I am obligated by his good intentions and hard work to echo things I do not agree with”

                I forgot to add, “any more than he is required to agree with me.” Disagreement is not an indicator of bad intentions. I just happen to believe the RKBA is a greater cause than any organization or individual that claims to serve it.

  3. Theme I see consistently from the gun rights side on (anti-)social media: Our issue has nothing to do with Russian spies. Move along. Before the federal charges hit the news, the only place I read about the Butina stuff was on a blog post Sebastian authored about her after attending a convention. I strongly doubt people go to or join the NRA to get closer to Russian spies. And if they do, well, stay off my side?

    And it should be repeated, once again, that people don’t understand the NRA. They could pack up tomorrow and leave town and pro-rights people would rally around another cause. Except this next one I guarantee the antis REALLY wouldn’t like.

    1. “Except this next one I guarantee the antis REALLY wouldn’t like.”

      Exactly. The NRA is entirely too pro-status quo. Getting them out of the way would open up the field to a more hard-core gun rights outfit. They hold back progress, due to liking the income instead of winning the war. Typical corporation, that has morphed into supporting itself, instead of doing it’s job. Human nature, unfortunately.

  4. It is rational to associate with any groups that wants to promote gun rights Whether that group is in Russia or not. As to meeting politicians in power that is rational also since they are trying to persuade people in power to promote more gun rights.

    1. “It is rational to associate with any groups that wants to promote gun rights”

      I think you should qualify that to any group that plausibly wants to promote gun rights.

      I’ll deliberately make an example using a lot of hyperbole: Suppose a pro-gun group came forth, said mostly the right stuff, but shortly you saw pictures and stories of its principals glad-handing and partying down with Bloomberg and Soros. Would you rush to support them, or would you scoff at anyone who did?

      Everyone except Butina who was a principal of the Russian organization Right to Bear Arms had either been a Russian state official or was an oligarch sitting at the right hand of Putin. And if officials and oligarchs weren’t actually members of Right to Bear Arms, they at least embraced its principals warmly.

      Here’s a news flash: The Russian regime is authoritarian. Human rights are what is convenient for them moment-to-moment. People get murdered for resisting them. Is it plausible they would be embracing a genuine human rights organization that is seeking to give the population the ability to resist them?

      If Right to Bear Arms had to operate as a quasi-underground organization, being harassed at every turn (think Butina in the position of “Pussy Riot,” instead of being embraced by the regime) then sympathy for them could be justified. Believing in them as they came configured demanded not having just fallen off the turnip truck, but not having reached the ground yet.

  5. As to optic The last 20 years was promoting Americans to settle or do business with Russia Now that is considered treason. The people who claim treason do not care about Russian influence They care about destroying power bases in the US, such as the NRA.

    1. “As to optic The last 20 years was promoting Americans to settle or do business with Russia Now that is considered treason”

      Shit happens and things change. Early optimism often heads south.

      For a quick layman’s outline of how things have evolved, I would recommend Bill Browder’s book Red Notice.

      Browder lays claim to being the grandpappy of western investment in post-Soviet Russia. He was the founder of Hermitage Capital, I believe way back in the pre-Putin, Yeltsin days. The book chronicles how easily he got on the wrong side of Putin, and the reason for the so-call Magnitsky Act (sanctioning Russia), after the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian attorney who worked for Browder. Read it and you will also understand why the issue of orphan adoption is not as innocent as it may sound, but in some ways is the key to economic sanctions.

      Twenty years ago Russia had not yet re-invaded either Georgia or Crimea, and didn’t have military and paramilitary forces in Ukraine. We had not yet placed trip-wire forces in the Baltic nations, and Russia wasn’t sanctioned economically by most of the western community of nations. Its actions since have been very reminiscent of Germany’s tentative expansionism leading up to 1939. I thought we were supposed to have learned something from that 1930s episode; I’ve heard the UK’s Chamberlain ridiculed quite a bit for his naivete’. I’m surprised and puzzled when conservatives want to emulate it, even if 80 years have passed, and not call it treason.

      1. It seems to me that there are so many issues here that people are conflating, and I tend to be someone who tries to compartmentalize in order to understand.
        The general concern of Russian expansion, both through hard and soft power projection, is something I think all of us would be a bit puzzled by whether or not Trump or Clinton were in office. By this, I mean the practical solutions to the Russia problem in that context remain elusive to those who don’t want to commit to backing up red lines flippantly. Further, as ever, the US is arguably more of a chicken than a pig in this breakfast plan, if I may reference the fable. If the EU itself or NATO members are not hard-line about Russia, it’s a bit of a wet blanket on my enthusiasm from across the pond.
        All this to say that we need to be careful of the tendency to transfer too much of this general angst about Russia as a world-stage observer directly to the conversation about Trump, the NRA, Butina, Facebook ads, etc, as an interested American observer. This isn’t to deny that there’s some intersection, but we also need to recognize that at the very least, there’s nuanced difference between the regional challenges Russia represents worldwide, and I think that’s as understated as I can be. More accurately, I think there’s a world of difference in the required responses, and that too many talking heads are fear-mongering about the pillars of American democracy and using present or past European challenges to rationalize it. The DNI report, if one cares to read it, paints the pretty underwhelming conclusion that Russia engaged in comparatively low-budget ad-campaign designed to flare division in the US both leading up to and primarily after(!) the election, that DNC, likely RNC, and certainly Clinton campaign officials were targeted with basic spear-phishing attacks predominantly, the likes of which businesses are duped by every day, and the product of that was released publicly with the aid of WikiLeaks. And that’s about all we (the public) really know about Russian involvement in the election season, to my knowledge. I’m ignoring the “scanning” of state servers because anybody who’s paid attention to their server request logs knows this happens every day to every resource on the web and there’s no reason to expect it wouldn’t be happening to such rich targets. The report disavows any idea that election results were tampered with. I think you can also make the case that the Soviet Union engaged in far more sophisticated disinformation campaigns in the US in years past than what we saw in 2016. I’m not pointing all this out to say that we don’t need to worry about Russia, but to point out that it’s a long way between the DNI report and the product of the Mueller indictments to saying that the 2016 election was illegitimate (a position you can find no shortage of advocates for), that the President should be indicted or impeached for “Treason” (a legal term that has a higher bar than disagreeing with policy positions or the adequacy of reactive sanctions), or that our institutions are under imminent threat the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
        As ever, simpler explanations are usually the right explanations. I’m a bit more worried about the effort to divide America being successful, precisely through the fear-mongering that we’re generating internally on our accord, never mind the Russians. I’m also concerned about not even having a real conversation grappling with the collusion between the media and the DNC that was explicitly evidenced in the Podesta emails, never disavowed, or coming to grips with how the DNC may have missed the mark in their message and candidate without using Russian interference as a determining factor. It does much to convince me that there are parties who benefit (even in a Pyrrhic fashion) from us being distracted by the shiny Russia issue in a “watch the hands” kind of way.
        What does all this have to do with the NRA? About zero, in my estimation. The NRA is still doing the job I pay it to do. The involvement of the honey-pot seems to be one of many vectors she used to network in political pond/swamp. Was the NRA wrong to entertain her? Perhaps if they knew and cared, as you say, about her ties to Rogozin one could be critical that certain political organisms int eh NRA should have been more cautious. But it genuinely seems like nothing-burger to me as well.
        My line of thinking may be missing some important facts and/or people may disagree with my analysis, but I try to separate the facts from the conjecture and lean towards simple explanations while recognizing there are parties motivated by ratings, ego and other short-sighted reasons to make the most out of any scandal possible. People who already hate the NRA will say it’s run by Russians all while cheering those waving a socialist protest banner, people that support the NRA will continue to be concerned about the Courts, fighting bad legislation, funding shooting sports and training, etc, and we’ll all be a year older in 2019. Russia will still be an evolving problem on the world stage whose solution will have next to zero intersection with the NRA. And my hackles will still be raised over all the other political and policy issues that this Russia conversation has distracted us from as a nation for the last two years.

  6. I can’t help but desire to put this interaction with Russia in perspective: has this been a one-off, or has the NRA worked with other pro-RKBA organizations from other countries? Has the NRA visited Australia or Great Britain, for example, or the Czech Republic, or even China?

    What’s really silly about all this is that Russia wasn’t even an enemy until Hillary lost. Obama is on record telling a Russian diplomat that he couldn’t work with Putin until after the election. Hillary accepted large sums of money from Russia, and then magically she pushed through a uranium deal for Russians. Mitt Romney was mocked when he suggested that Russia is a serious enemy.

    Yet, now, Russia’s a serious enemy and the NRA is “treasonous” for having some vague ties to Russian government — without even considering what else the NRA might be doing to advance gun rights throughout the world.

    I’d like, maybe, just a *little* bit of consistency on this issue. Either Russia is a threat, or it’s not!

    1. Right? I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Murller’s team worked over the Clinton crowd (or any political circle on the top three rungs of the D.C. ladder, but ESPECIALLY the Clinton crowd), or whether it ever would have happened had she won. To the degree a person doubts it would even have happened probably correlates with how much stock they put in the media tempest today.

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