Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news service Thursday that “there were contacts” between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s campaign staff during the election. He didn’t elaborate on the extent or nature of these contacts, but this still seems like a direct contradiction of statements by both Trump and the Kremlin, denying any contact during the campaign.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, for instance, said in August that “President Putin has never had any contact with Trump, never spoken to him, including by telephone. The same goes for all of his staff—we don’t have any dealings with them.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks is sticking with that line, telling the Washington Post on Thursday, “The campaign had no contact with Russian officials.”
Putin himself recently said that the notion that the Kremlin was trying to influence the election on Trump’s behalf was a falsehood perpetuated by the Clinton campaign and the pro-Democratic U.S. media. But not even his supporters seem to be buying that. Speaking to the Guardian on Wednesday, the well-connected pro-Kremlin political analyst Sergei Markov said that while Russia hadn’t influenced the outcome of the election, “maybe we helped a bit with WikiLeaks.”
We’ve seen this movie before. Putin flat out denied that there had been a planned operation by his government to use special forces to annex Crimea in early 2014, then by the next year was bragging about it. Whatever Russia’s exact role in this campaign was, the forthcoming Trump administration would probably prefer to keep it under wraps. Putin and his staff, however, may not be so reticent.