We start this episode with a mini-primer on Russia: In terms of land mass, Russia is much larger than the US. The reverse is true on population, with the US almost at twice the population of Russia. There is a major difference in nominal GDP (market value of all final goods and services without regard to cost of living) — Russia at $1.857 trillion; US at $17.419 trillion — major fluctuations annually but the point is, US economy is much, much stronger. But Russia has less debt as a country than the US. Russian military is well-armed, and Russia has more known nuclear warheads (both active and total) than the US
Vastly oversimplified history is that a Cold War existed between the US and Russia following World War II up until the late 1980s. Constant political and military tension between the two superpowers, which had vastly different political and economic systems.
Russia as it exists today was established in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union. This resulted from the Reagan - Gorbachev relationship, the relaxation of Soviet control in Eastern Europe, and the eventual declaration in 1989, between Boris Yeltsin and George HW Bush, that the Cold War was over. Boris Yeltsin had generally good relationships with GHW Bush and Bill Clinton
Then came Vladimir Putin, who became President after Yeltsin resigned. Putin is a former KGB officer (KGB roughly translates to Committee for State Security — military service overseeing internal security, intelligence, and acting as secret police). He’s 64 years old. He was the President of Russia between 2000 and 2008; then he was term-limited from seeking a third consecutive term and was appointed Prime Minister from 2008-2012 by president Dmitri Medvedev and became Russia’s president again in 2012.
Under Putin, Russia has become more assertive in international affairs (and assassinations - Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko), blamed the US for revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. Russia and the US clashed over the US building an anti-ballistic missile station in Poland in 2007.
In 2009, President Obama and Putin hit it off at the G20 in London and promised a fresh start to US - Russia relations. That’s when Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart actually pressed a reset button (which fell pretty flat in a lot of ways, especially because the State Dept messed up the spelling so it translated to “overload” instead of “reset”). In 2010, Russia and the US agreed to start reducing nuclear arsenals. But in 2011, there were massive protests in Russia following a legislative election, and Putin accused the US of interfering and inciting unrest. Putin specifically believed that Hillary Clinton had incited unrest in the country. Putin started moving away from democracy and seeking superpower status again. He manipulated trade policy and caused divisions within NATO.
And it just kept getting worse. The US passed the Magnitsky Act in 2014, imposing financial and travel restrictions because of human rights abuses in Russia. This law is named after a Russian lawyer and auditor who died in a Moscow prison after investigating fraud involving Russian tax officials. The US has accused Russia of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and President Obama called Russia a “regional power” rather than an international player. That didn’t sit well with Putin.
Now Russia supports the Assad regime in Syria and some have called Syria a proxy war between Russia and the US. In 2016, Putin suspended a plutonium management agreement with the US, saying that the US has violated the agreement.
With relations at a historic low (at least since the mid 1970s)…Donald Trump comes along.
Trump’s History With Russia (mad props to Politico)
People to know:
Carter Page — Trump named him as a foreign policy advisor in March 2016. Page is a banker and lived in Moscow for three years. He resigned in September.
Paul Manafort — Trump hired him as campaign manager in March 2016. Manafort had recently served as a senior advisor to the pro-Russia Ukrainian President. In August, NYT published an expose showing that the pro-Russia Party of Regions earmarked $12.7 million for Manafort.
Roger Stone — long-time friend of Trump who has said bizarre things in lots of forums, including on twitter, that suggested he knew what wikileaks had and when it would be released
2013: Trump holds the Miss Un