As last week ended, all eyes focused on BuzzFeed’s report that Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Then special counsel Robert Mueller’s unprecedented press release stated that various aspects of the story were “not accurate.” Time will tell where the facts lead, but for now, the BuzzFeed story has become a counterproductive distraction from key developments relating to two issues: Oleg Deripaska’s unambiguous successes and Vladimir Putin’s unimpeded escalation toward war with Ukraine.
A Dark Deripaska Chapter
This week’s revision to the Trump-Russia Timeline entry for MAR. 5, 2018 — “Model/Prostitute Claims to Have Audio Recordings” — adds a prescient remark from Anastasia Vashukevich (a/k/a Nastya Rybka), a jailed “sex training expert” claiming to have audio recordings of Deripaska and others that prove Russia’s involvement in 2016 US election interference: “If America gives me protection, I will tell everything I know,” she says from a prison in Thailand. “I am afraid to go back to Russia. Some strange things can happen.”
The new JAN. 15-19, 2019 entry — “‘Sex Training Expert’ Claiming Deripaska Connection is Deported to Russia and Arrested” — describes the strange things now happening to Vashukevich in Moscow. After nine months in a Thai prison, she and seven others pleaded guilty to prostitution charges. The court sentenced them to time served and ordered immediate deportation to their home countries. Vashukevich’s destination was Belarus, but she didn’t get there.
As she walked through a transit zone while changing planes in Moscow on Jan. 17, a group of men dragged her into Russian territory. Vashukevich’s lawyer posted a video on Instagram that, he says, shows her arrest. She now faces prostitution charges that could land her in prison for years. On Jan. 19, she appeared in a Moscow court, apologized publicly to Deripaska, and promised continued silence about whatever she knows about him.
Deripaska Winning on Sanctions
Back in April 2018, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against Deripaska’s aluminum production companies for their role in the Kremlin’s worldwide pattern of “malign activity,” including “attempting to subvert Western democracies.” But those sanctions have never been implemented. On Dec. 19, 2018, Trump put the companies on track to avoid them forever. Last week, the Senate failed to muster the 60 votes required to stop him. Even with many Republicans in Congress breaking ranks (11 in the Senate, 136 in the House), Putin, Deripaska, and Trump prevailed.
Putin Winning in Ukraine
Meanwhile, a Russian court is detaining eight of the Ukrainian seamen captured during Russia’s illegal confiscation of three vessels in the Black Sea on Nov. 25, 2018. And international satellite images now show that Putin has deployed batteries of short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles near the Russian-Ukrainian border.
For context, couple those two new Timeline entries with a few others from last month, starting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s unsubstantiated claim that looks increasingly like an ominous pretext:
DEC. 17, 2018: “Lavrov Says Ukraine Planning More Provocations”
DEC. 22, 2018: “Russia Moves Fighter Jets to Crimea”
DEC. 24, 2018: “Russia Repeats Unsubstantiated Claim of Ukrainian ‘Provocation’”
Trump seems content to let Putin and his favorite oligarch have their way — on anything and everything they seek. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and most of his Republican colleagues seem unperturbed.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
JUNE 16, 2015: Trump Announces His Candidacy; Secret Trump Tower-Moscow Discussions Continue (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 10, 2016: Russian Officials Admit Trump Campaign Had Contact With Kremlin Intermediaries (revision of previous entry)
JULY 8, 2017: White House Scrambles to Deal with Forthcoming NYT Story; Trump Defends Russia to NYT, Supervises Media Response (revision of previous entry)
JAN. 30, 2018: Trump Says Manafort Won’t ‘Flip’ and Sell Him Out; Talks About Prosecuting Mueller (revision of previous entry)
MAR. 5, 2018: Model/Escort Claims to Have Audio Recordings (revision of previous entry)
JAN 14, 2019: Trump: ‘I Never Worked For Russia,’ FBI Officials ‘Known Scoundrels,’ Comey Was a ‘Bad Cop… a Dirty Cop’, McCabe is a ‘Proven Liar’; Says He Doesn’t Know What Happened to Interpreters’ Notes
JAN. 14, 2019: NYT: Trump Said He Wanted to Withdraw from NATO
JAN. 14-15, 2019: Barr at Confirmation Hearing: Mueller Not Engaged in ‘Witch Hunt’
JAN. 15, 2019: Parties Seek More Time Before Gates Sentencing
JAN. 15, 2019: Russia Holds Ukrainian Seamen
JAN. 15-17, 2019: Senate Fails to Halt Trump’s Deripaska Sanctions Relief; 136 House Republicans Rebuke Trump
JAN. 15-19, 2019: ‘Sex Training Expert’ Claiming Deripaska Connection is Deported to Russia, Arrested, Apologizes
JAN. 17, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller ‘Witch Hunt,’ ‘Fake’ Steele Dossier
JAN. 18, 2019: Russia Has Deployed Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missiles Near Ukraine Border
Steven J. Harper is the creator and curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline appearing at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security. He is an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of four books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”) and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis. He blogs at The Belly of the Beast. Follow him on Twitter (@StevenJHarper1).