Putin may indeed have involvement in some shadowy schemes, but is he micromanaging every suspected poisoning, computer hack and influence campaign?
Experts say not necessarily. Instead, they say Putin and his entourage may be sending out signals about what he wants, and ambitious officials and individuals scramble to interpret and fulfill them to win his favor.
The motley mix of Russians accused of meddling in
It’s unclear whether Putin was even aware of Butina’s activities. But the initiative — like Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya’s efforts to meet with
Only Putin can say for sure what strings he pulls. But some projects — such as the attack in
Such efforts don’t always coalesce. Observers describe rivalries among Kremlin insiders as they jostle for favors or influence. Prigozhin’s supposed financing of mercenaries in
“Putin’s state is like a court,” said
THE GUN ACTIVIST
Butina, ordered Monday to remain in a
As Trump pursued the presidency, she and influential patron
The pair were oddly open about it, using their own identities on social media and advertising their networking successes.
“One of the more remarkable aspects of this case is how not-covert, obvious and self-aggrandizing it really was,” Kofman said.
Torshin leveraged his connections as a lawmaker in the upper house of parliament, the
However, Torshin’s powers were limited. Gun rights legislation that he championed failed miserably in
THE LAWYER AT TRUMP TOWER
Another Russian alleged to have tried to influence the
While Veselnitskaya has denied acting on behalf of Russian officialdom, scores of emails and documents shared with The Associated Press show she served as a ghostwriter for top Russian government lawyers and received assistance from senior
Still, she’s not exactly part of Putin’s inner circle. Instead, Baunov said, “she’s a lady who was trying to advance her own personal career.”
The leaked documents suggest Veselnitskaya went to
“Some people in the Kremlin, in special services, could be aware of the existence of Veselnitskaya and what she was doing,” Baunov said. “But that doesn’t mean … everybody asked in conference calls ‘how is her project going?'”
THE CHEF AND HIS TROLLS
Proximity to Putin is a key in such initiatives, and one of the most successful was purportedly launched by a player in his court:
Dubbed “Putin’s chef” for his well-connected restaurant and catering business, Prigozhin is considered the driving force in a media empire that includes the
Observers say such projects generally go through layers of officialdom first — vetting by Putin’s spokesman, chief of staff, foreign minister, spy service chiefs — who decide when and whether to inform the president himself.
The troll farm was “a proxy body, not a government service,” Baunov said. Its activities, including fake Facebook accounts and articles, “were not taken seriously but they were approved, as an attempt to show the West that the web and the internet don’t belong only to the West.”
The indictment hasn’t deterred Prigozhin. The agency still exists; it just moved across town. And its parent company started an English-language site this year called USAReally aimed at American readers, six months before the
Prigozhin also is the suspected mastermind of a company called Wagner that sends private military contractors to fight in
Prigozhin is among a string of powerful Russian businessmen — sometimes referred to as oligarchs — who have been hit with sanctions or otherwise implicated in investigations into
THE ‘PATRIOTIC’ VOLUNTEERS
Among the accusations of foreign interference that have hit closest to Putin are those involving the GRU military intelligence agency: the nerve agent attack in
Military analysts say operations by the GRU follow a strict chain of command that travels up through the military chief of staff, the defense minister and Putin himself.
Putin, however, has suggested that the hackers could be independent operators.
In a possible acknowledgment of the potential value of such outsiders, Putin signed a decree last week making information about freelance agents who help
In the past, only information about regular personnel earned such protection.
Putin’s entourage got a glimpse into his thinking when he likened hackers to “artists,” saying last year: “If they are patriotic, they contribute in a way they think is right, to fight against those who say bad things about