Kremlin’s Sergey Ryabkov: We Were In Contact with ‘Trump’s Inner Circle’

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Written by Gina Smith

EXCLUSIVE: In this report, which we translated from Russian into English, Kremlin security chief Sergei Ryabkov says he was in contact with Donald Trump’s campaign officials throughout 2016. Read it here.

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This story ran on Nov. 7, 2016, three days after Donald Trump won the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Ed.

aNewDomain — In an in-depth interview with the Kremlin-backed news site Interfax last week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, told reporters that Kremlin “has been in contact” with “a whole array” of top Donald Trump campaign officials during the presidential race.

I translated the entire interview from the original Russian. Find it in full below.

But first, here’s an excerpt.

Interviewer: Are you going to soon establish contact with Donald Trump and his team?

Ryabkov: We’ve already been doing that and have been doing that throughout (Trump’s) campaign.

We know most of the members of (Trump’s) inner circle. These people are mostly based in the United States, and they’ve held positions of great responsibility in the past.

Not all, but a number of them (in Trump’s circle), a whole array of them have maintained contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.

Interviewer: So we had some contacts within the Trump team?

Ryabkov: Yes, we were … we were in contact.

After finding the Ryabkov interview on the Interfax site, I used my college Russian and a great dictionary to translate it beyond the confusing results Google Translate delivered.

It is quite a revelation. To my knowledge, no English language publication has run these comments from Ryabkov about his up close and personal dealings with “Trump campaign” officials at the highest levels.

In the Nov. 4, 2016 Russian language interview with Moscow reporter Korzun Eybozhenko, Ryabkov focused on the ramifications of Donald Trump’s rise to the White House on Election Day.

He also discusses what he expects from the new administration and discusses what he believes are its views toward the Ukraine, Syria and other political hot topics.

My translation of the full Interfax interview with Ryabkov is below. GS, Nov. 7, 2016.

Interviewer: As you know, Sergei Alexovitch, the “Golden Rule” says you should “treat people in the same way that you’d want them to treat you.” And you know the more negative wording of this rule, too, (from Confucius). That is: “Don’t do things to others that you wouldn’t want done to you.” So, considering what Americans did to us, my question is, what kind of bilateral relations with the U.S. should we enter into?

Sergei Ryabkov: To put it simply, we really want nothing special from the new US administration, just as we don’t want anything special from any other administration, including the one’s that leaving. Do not expect that.

What we do want is a return to normal in (US-Russia) relations, namely, we want them to respect (our) sovereignty, and engage in a mutual consideration of interests.

We want (the US) to engage responsibly in respect to international law, which includes non-interference in our internal affairs. We want that and nothing more …

It is unfortunate, the events that unfolded over the last few years. There are things we consider to be self-evident — obvious things that lie at the foundation of healthy international, interstate relations.

But (the US), in its relations with Russia, either just discarded them, set them aside or sacrificed them altogether. America sacrificed these things in order to solve its own problems and geopolitical problems. That’s what I’m referring to, primarily.

Americans are always trying to expand U.S. influence (and) attempting to maintain the United States’ dominant position across various fields. (And) increasingly, they consider any violations of its perceived status, or any criticisms about US politics or its philosophy on foreign policy.

I’m referring here to Moscow’s questioning the very ideology of American exceptionalism here — as a threat to American interests.

But this is an egotistical, neglectful approach that has consequences, to say the least, at (least) so far as the interests, approaches, traditions and values of other countries go.

One consequence has to do with (Americans’) serious breach of the way things work in the international arena. It endangers our cooperation.

In many ways, it is the very destruction of the foundations of Russian-American relations.

Americans used the events in Crimea and Ukraine as a pretext for the imposition of sanctions. But it is an excuse of a reason, nothing more. In reality, such actions are in process for a very long time.

And Washington’s dissatisfaction with independent Russia, which isn’t just words, but deeds, is something it is declaring at the international level.

But US discontent, in this form, is also illegal.

We’ve been talking about it, and we’ve determined that it also just does not make much sense.

“Now, in the next (Trump) administration, we do respect a return to normal,” Ryabkov said.

As Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday, we will be judged by what we do, our deeds.

No, we are not euphoric about (Trump’s election). But dealing with the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are totally different (things), they are diverse experiences (that you must encounter) when you are doing business with the US administration.

And there have been periods, in the past, where we started on the right foot with American administrations — on such a high note — but then we slid into a crisis.

And there have been other episodes in our difficult history.

As a result, the US and Russia can never start from scratch, considering all that was left in the past. If we want to start anew, we must turn the page and start writing some new play.

So far, we’ve been unable to turn that page.  The current U.S. administration, probably, isn’t capable of it.

But we are hoping the next US administration (under Trump) will deeply rethink the legacy of Obama and come to new conclusions. But that call must be made by that future US administration.

When you are starting from a deeply frozen state, you begin to appreciate the thaw, the lukewarm.

And these are different events, they are (like) files that happen to be stored in our memories, stored in our archives.

Interviewer: Were you surprised about the US election results?

Ryabkov: We followed the polls, which are measures of public sentiment. And of course, there were a lot of indicators that predicted a very different outcome.

But we have long been convinced that making predictions based on these polls is a thankless task. And in the US, especially, you’ve got the electoral system.

That makes it even more difficult to say with certainty what is a foregone conclusion, which is why (Russian) officials don’t do that.

And so now we are at a turning point. And what helps us is that the incoming (Trump) administration’s leadership doesn’t have the administrative and bureaucratic inertia that the Democrats would have (had) if they had retained power.

“But nonetheless, we stand ready to engage in constructive dialogue and cooperation, and that’s why we have been ready (to talk) to (the Trump) campaign) since its very first days.”

Of course, we never refused such opportunities, we just found it impossible to engage in dialogue and interaction with the Obama administration.

But after what happened on Election Day, and right up until inauguration day of the new U.S. president, we will continue (pressing) that agenda.So far, the agenda is positive but it also is weighty; that great ballast can pull the relationship down.

But we will get rid of what drags us down. That’s necessary. We and the new administration will not be wasting time in any way.

Next week in Geneva, there will be a meeting of the Joint Control Commission in the framework of DRSND. You understand that this is very important, important event, and we will be spending it with the Obama administration.

But as for your question about building a dialogue with the future administration of Donald Trump, we have begun to study the right channels for this.

It’s only two days after the election, however. So it may be premature to speak about it in some ways. But look at the massive, massive response to the election worldwide.

Everyone is reflecting on the consequences of (this election), reflecting and analyzing what American voters’ verdict will mean to the position of the United States in the world.

For us, of course, these are all important questions.

Russia in integral part of world politics. The areas of international security and conflict resolution are key to us. Washington and Moscow have long played a key role in world matters.

And we will have to keep discussing all these topics with the next administration, and we will. We will do it without any wavering.

Interviewer: Do we have any idea of what the Trump team, as we know it know, will really stand key foreign policy issues like Syria, Ukraine, NATO, missile defense and disarmament topics? Generally, US policy has been a ‘pig in a poke’ (and not what it seems on the outside) …

Ryabkov: All we have to judge on, really, are the statements Donald Trump made on these themes during his election campaign and at the Republican Convention.

That was in the summer.

But I don’t want to talk casually about our hopes around this, because I don’t want readers of Interfax to get the impression that all we are full of is high hopes.

“I must say, though, that the position on Russia, as articulated by Trump, his representatives and his inner circle, seems firm.”

During the election stages, my assessment about the United States was that there was still anti-Russian bias, and that there was a bipartisan consensus on this.

That US bias has to do with the Ukraine, with NATO and its affairs and with U.S. missile defense.

With respect to missile defense, Trump has repeatedly said that, if he were (elected), he would try to accelerate the development of this system.

And he’s made a number of statements from the next US president that he will do everything to (beef up) the U.S.Army, that American armed forces must continue to be not just the most powerful but also unconditionally dominant, in terms of technology and so on.

We appreciated Trump’s tone on the night after Election Day when he told his supporters, in New York, about his readiness to work within the international community.

That’s very important. In my opinion, this is exactly what the international community were has been waiting for. So, in any case, we welcomed the statement.

Going back to what I already said, especially in an American system, where we have seen a difference between what a candidate says on his campaign versus what he says when he is in power.

That’s a mismatch of signals.

Of course, sometimes their promises are realized, it’s just doesn’t always happen in the timeframe they declare during their campaigns. So the question, in view of the fact that the Republican won control of both chambers (House and Senate), is how to get issues of European, Euro-Atlantic security relationship before the President-elect at inauguration, in the political sense, and how that all lines up.

Interviewer: With Republicans winning a majority of votes in both the House and Senate, Trump gets straight carte blanche …

Ryabkov: Well, not carte blanche, not exactly.

First, the constitutional majority in the (Senate) is quite shaky.

Also, without going too much into the analysis of these subjects, the reality still indicates that the Republican party is internally fragmented and split; it might vote that way.

Now that we know who will be the next occupant of the White House, we will have to see how it all lines up so far as political power can be consolidated.

Interviewer: Tell me, have you been maintaining a list, based on statements Trump and his people said during the campaign, that can help us understand Donald Trump’s foreign policy positions? In regard to NATO-led Russian deterrence and its policy of strengthening the military presence at our borders, how has future president Trump outlined the America’s position here?

Ryabkov: During the presidential campaign, it seemed Donald Trump and his men have not yet assessed the policy of Russian deterrence — nor the NATO dialogue at the summit in Wales, which was later in the Warsaw Summit docs.

When it’s clear who the President-elect will appoint to key positions, we’ll have to analyze the whole situation.

But back to the very concept here, really it is quite a new invention. It’s a concept we can trace back to 1967, in former Belgium Foreign Minister Pierre Harmel (see Harmel Report), which set up NATO’s (Russian) deterrence policies.

So the intellectual impulse of our NATO colleagues is to talk no further about it. To use the French expression, it’s déjà-vu — and bad déjà-vu — every time.

For some reason, NATO’s politically correct idea is hard to translate into the Russian language. But in essence, it’s about deterrence and it’s about engagement.

However, it’s idea of deterrence is tougher than what deterrence actually means. And engagement, well, it is just about engagement, it isn’t about having a dialogue. It is simply undignified.

People clothe themselves intellectually by saying such things, and they’re proud of them. They say they are proud of these things.

But then at the same time, they tell us they want to build some kind of a trust-based relationship with us.

It’s a circus, this NATO.

Interviewer: Are you going to establish contact with Donald Trump and his team soon?

Ryabkov: “We’ve already been doing that and have been doing that throughout (Trump’s) campaign.

“We know most of the members of (Trump’s) inner circle. These people are mostly based in the United States — they’ve held positions of great responsibility in the past. Not all of them, but a whole array of them, have maintained contacts with Russian officials during the campaign.”

It is stating the obvious, but the problem right now is that, though our connection (with the campaign) was natural under the circumstances, it is likely to become the subject for all sorts of obscure speculation and discussion in the US.

To point, no sooner had the President of the Russian Federation (Vladimir Putin) congratulated Trump for his win were all the talking heads on European and American TV taking it apart, all asking,

What does it mean? Why is it so? And that’s not what would have happened if (Hillary Clinton) had (won), and so on.

This not normal.

Diplomatic protocol and etiquette in general suggests that you send such a welcoming message of congratulations.

And it imparts some thoughts besides just ‘congratulations,’ as did Vladimir Putin this week in noting our readiness to normalize relations with the United States.

Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev had the same issue in greeting pensioners.

This is normal. And there are people who have gone so far in their suspicions about Russia and its intent that they just see our words as meaning something else that suits them.

How to overcome this is a big question.

We do not reject any opportunity for dialogue and cooperation with the United States. And when they are ready, we are willing to engage in this work with our American counterparts.

But there is no rush. We must approach the dialogue with the US presidential transition team calmly, and with clear objectives in mind.

When Washington is ripe for this new phase of dialogue, roughly speaking, then we are ready to engage in this work immediately.

Interviewer: So we had some contacts within the Trump team?

Ryabkov: “Yes, we were … we were in contact.

Interviewer: Sergey, is there a chance the U.S., under the current administration, will advance its agenda in Syria? Or will it put everything on hold until (the inauguration of Trump) in January?

Ryabkov: No, the U.S. continues to work through bilateral channels at different levels, in the wider format in Geneva, in New York, and it has been discussing the potential release of documents on the Syrian issue.

But to say that we are on the threshold of a radical change for the better in Syria is an exaggeration. It’s wishful thinking. By and large, the situation is (still) unsteady, and it may not change its key components post-election, unfortunately.

But we will continue to undertake appropriate efforts for as long as they are required, under the current (Obama) administration and after Trump comes to power, we will continue the same work.

That is because a number of issues remain. This is a long play.

Interviewer: Regarding the White House, recently the US State Department claimed that the humanitarian pause we affected on Nov. 4 in Aleppo (Syria) was of no use to the population there …

Ryabkov: I would like to ask those who who say that what they have see that suggests we have resumed air strikes? You know, the capriciousness of such people is simply amazing, and you cannot please them all.

Everything we do in Syria, we are doing primarily to combat terrorism and facilitate humanitarian emergencies, to mitigate and overcome the nightmare in which the people of Aleppo and environs have been living for a long time.

Our military risks their lives to deliver assistance to the sick and wounded and to ensure, where it is possible, medical evacuations and so on.

And all around us, we see people who are driven by very different considerations.

And no matter what we do to open humanitarian corridors — and when we talk about doing what it takes to deal a blow against terrorists and squeeze them out — out the terrorists —  they say it is bad, that everything we do is bad.

For (American critics) to say such things is simply meaningless to us.  In the end, they must (gain) some kind of rudimentary notions of common sense, of humanism, and take a broader look of the situation, so they assess it objectively.

Interviewer: At what level will the Joint Control Commission deal with the INF Treaty, and what do you expect we’re going to get out of that?

Ryabkov: This is the 30th meeting of the Joint Control Commission under the INF Treaty. After a long break, this body is resuming formal work. Our inter-agency delegation is headed by the deputy director of the foreign ministry, who has a lot of experience in this field.

Our colleagues who will be presenting at this meeting will be about at the same level.

It’s premature to speak about what results will come out this discussion.

What’s clear is that Moscow and Washington each has claims relating to how the other complies with this threat.

So the main focus will be our mutual claims, because we have a lot more criticisms of the United States in terms of the number of them and the content than the US has against us.”

For aNewDomain, I’m Gina Smith.

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The above was translated into English on Nov. 5-8, 2016 and posted here, exclusive to aNewDomain.