MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Friday rejected special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, calling it inconclusive in establishing any such meddling and damaging to U.S.-Russia relations.
The report “still does not present any conclusive evidence of alleged interference by the Russian Federation in the electoral process in America,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “We continue to refuse to accept any such accusation.”
A redacted version of the Mueller report, released Thursday, extensively details efforts by the Russian GRU military intelligence service to hack servers at the Democratic National Committee and a campaign waged by the Internet Research Agency to influence American voters ahead of the 2016 contest. The agency is owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“In the form it’s been published in, the Mueller report does not contain any new information,” Peskov told reporters in Moscow. “Everything in it has already been reported by the media in one way or another.” Peskov, who serves as Putin’s spokesman, also lamented that the report and the nearly two-year investigation it was based on have harmed U.S.-Russia relations, which have been in steady decline since 2014.
Echoing the Kremlin’s line, the Foreign Ministry’s top diplomat for North America, Georgy Borisenko, said Mueller’s report “confirms the absence of any arguments proving Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election.”
When asked about several Russian businessmen featured in the Mueller report, Peskov said they had briefed Putin on their activities and contacts in the United States.
“They reported the most important [contacts] and probably didn’t mention other, less important ones,” he said. “It isn’t presidential level.”
The businessmen in question are Petr Aven, Sergei Gorkov and Kirill Dmitriev. Peskov said their activities were normal for international business executives. However, the Mueller report also states that, frustrated with the difficulties of reaching out to the Trump team after the real estate mogul and reality TV star was elected in November 2016, Putin appealed to leading Russian businessmen to seek out contacts.
“This is the essence of business activity,” Peskov said. “It is absurd to describe the contacts of businessmen in documents such as this. [Putin] met with French businessmen yesterday. Should Prosecutor General [Yury] Chaika write a report on the French interference in Russian elections? See, this is absurd.”
Here’s what we know about some of the most high-profile Russian businessmen mentioned in the Mueller report:
Aven is chairman of the board of directors of the Alfa Bank Group, Russia’s largest private-sector bank. Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Aven worked a short, two-year stint in the Foreign Ministry as a foreign trade expert. He has been on the board of Alfa Group since 1994.
According to the investigation, Aven “attempted outreach to the Presidential Transition Team in connection with anticipated post-election sanctions.”
Aven told investigators that he is “one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin” and that “he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election,” the report says.
Aven also said that any suggestions Putin made during these meetings were understood to be “directives,” entailing consequences for not following through.
Aven said that during his face-to-face meeting with Putin in late 2016, the Russian president raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests — including against Aven and Alfa Bank. Aven also said Putin complained of the difficulty of getting in touch with the incoming Trump administration.
Peskov on Friday downplayed the significance of Aven’s meetings with Putin. “These are not some kind of exclusive meetings,” he said. “It is normal practice for Putin to meet with businessmen who run large businesses that are important for the economy of the country. This is an ongoing process, a constant part of presidential work.”
Dmitriev is head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), one of the world’s leading sovereign wealth funds, with reserve capital of $10 billion under its management. Before becoming CEO of RDIF in 2011, Dmitriev headed a number of large private equity funds and completed a series of landmark transactions. He began his career at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Co.
According to the Mueller report, “Dmitriev reported directly to Putin and frequently referred to Putin as his ‘boss.’” He was among those Russians who attempted to make contact with the Trump transition team and, with Rick Gerson — a close friend of Jared Kushner’s — drafted a plan for U.S.-Russia reconciliation, the report says.
On Jan. 16, 2017, according to the report, Dmitriev consolidated this plan into a two-page document listing five main points: (1) counterterrorism cooperation, (2) nuclear arms control, (3) development of “win-win” economic and investment projects, (4) maintaining open, honest and ongoing dialogue on issues of disagreement and (5) ensuring proper communication and trust between “key people” from each country.
Gorkov is a Russian banker and attorney who formerly headed Vnesheconombank, also known as VEB, Russia’s state economic development bank. VEB was set up to make domestic and foreign investments to boost the Russian economy. He took the helm at VEB in February 2016 after eight years as senior manager at Russia’s largest state-owned bank, Sberbank.
In July 2018, he was appointed deputy minister of economic development. He is a graduate of the Federal Counter-Intelligence Academy, which prepares students for service in foreign intelligence or the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB. He spent time in London as a banker in the 2000s.
The Mueller report says Gorkov met with Kushner on Dec. 13, 2016. However, the report draws no conclusions on the nature of the meeting, which occurred after Kushner was appointed as a Trump adviser.
Gorkov gave Kushner a painting and a bag of soil from the town in Belarus that Kushner’s family hails from, according to the report. Gorkov said the meeting was strictly “business-related.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Petr Aven as subject to U.S. sanctions.