Michael Morell was the deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 and twice served as acting director. Samantha Vinograd served on the National Security Council staff from 2009 to 2013, including as senior adviser to the national security adviser.
This is a speculative account of a memo that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s national security team would likely send him as he prepares to meet with President Trump for the first time this week. It is not a reflection of how we see the issues; it is a reflection of how we think Putin’s closest aides see the issues.
Mr. President, when you meet with President Trump at the Group of 20 meeting this week in Hamburg, you will do so at a historic time. Russia is in its strongest position since the end of the Cold War; the United States, our great adversary, is the weakest it has been. We are on the road to achieving our fundamental national security objectives — for Russia to retake its place as a great power and to have a sphere of influence in the countries on our periphery.
This did not happen by chance; it happened because we took action. We undertook the most successful covert political influence campaign since World War II. We kept our nemesis Hillary Clinton out of the White House, and we installed a president who is deepening existing schisms in his country while creating new ones at home and abroad. This is the first time in history that the United States has been attacked by another country and not come together as a nation; instead, our actions have caused it to come apart. This is a great victory for us.
Consumed with its failing politics, the United States is not paying attention to our work around the world, let alone pushing back. We have made important gains. In our near-abroad, we have taken steps in Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus that make clear that our neighbors must defer to our interests; in Syria and the broader Middle East, we are showing that we are a key player while weakening the United States; and, by supporting U.S. opponents in places such as Libya and Afghanistan, we are ensuring that U.S. policies will fail there. To be sure, our gains relative to the United States did not start with Trump, but they have accelerated under him.
Our objective for this meeting is simple: Keep the momentum in our favor. On style, you will want U.S. reporters to capture the two of you as close friends, smiling and laughing, which will feed the turmoil over the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with us (which you know the full truth about). This issue weakens America, and we want to keep it front and center. Obtaining the necessary media coverage can be accomplished by stroking Trump’s large ego, which you did so effectively during the U.S. presidential campaign.
On substance, your goal will be to leave Trump with the thought that Russia can be a partner in dealing with the world’s trouble areas — if the United States takes a more positive approach to us. We have friends in the White House, and you can use their worldviews in your conversation — that there would be no better ally than Russia in dealing with the twin threats of Islamist terrorism and Chinese expansionism. We need to help Trump push back against those in Washington who want to contain us, including on his national security team.
Trump likes making deals, and you will want to leave the impression that you are open to deals that would allow him to point to a success. We should perhaps start somewhere in the United States’ back yard. The White House has become focused on the crisis in Venezuela. You can suggest that we can use our influence with the government of President Nicolás Maduro to assist there, in exchange for U.S. acknowledgment that Eurasia is our sphere of influence. Again, simply implanting the thought is the objective.
Of course, our key goal is to get Trump to lift the sanctions put in place after our victory in Crimea. That will not happen soon — because of the charges that Trump’s associates colluded with us — but we can at least avoid additional sanctions, including those being advanced by the U.S. Senate. You can tell Trump that new sanctions would end any hope of our two nations working together.
There is one issue on which you will need to be tough and direct: Syria. The United States is getting more aggressive there; the U.S. airstrike on a Syrian military base and its downing of a Syrian aircraft were counterproductive and dangerous. You should tell Trump again that you would consider further such moves direct acts of aggression against Russia. The Americans do not want conflict with you — if they did not respond with tough diplomatic actions to our undermining their democracy, they will not risk war with us in Syria. You can balance this tough message by holding out the hope of working together to defeat extremism in Syria.
Mr. President, we wish you a safe and productive trip to Hamburg. Our policies are working. We need only to keep going.
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