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by John Helmer, Moscow 
  @bears_with

Until Christopher Steele (lead images, 1st and 2nd left) was introduced to Victoria Nuland in 2014, there had not been as penetrating a British spy penetration of US policymakers in Washington since 1943. That was when Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming, on orders from London, unbuttoned their flies and penetrated as many of the wives of US politicians, newspaper proprietors, and oil corporation chiefs as London thought they should mount in order to tap their pillow talk, and by whispering in their ears influence their husbands.  

The story of Steele’s relationship with Nuland over two years, 2014 to 2016, has just been unbuttoned, er declassified, by two Republican committee chairmen of the US Senate in a file of 126 pages.  At the time, Nuland was the State Department’s chief policymaker for Russia and the Ukraine as Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs. The chaperone, er go-between, was a State Department official named Jonathan Winer (lead images, 3rd left and right). At the time, Winer wasn’t working directly for Nuland; officially, he was State’s special envoy for Libya.

The disclosure of the role Winer played to introduce Steele to Nuland, and persuade her to trust confidential reports Steele was writing on Russia, has been forced by Republican senators who have accused Secretary of State John Kerry and other Obama Administration officials of fabricating Steele’s reputation in preparation for the role he was subsequently hired to play by Hillary Clinton in the scheme to discredit Donald Trump during and after the election campaign of 2016. Winer had already spent ten years working for Kerry in the Senate and was personally influential with him.

Steele’s reports, opened here for the first time, reveal more of the micturition he became famous for in mid-2016; that was revealed for the first time as the Golden Showers dossier in January 2017.

Among Steele’s papers, it is now revealed he told Nuland that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was preparing for “a big war” against Russia in eastern Ukraine before Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down in July of 2014;  that none of his sources, or the State Department officials he was briefing,  believed MH17 had been shot down by a Russian missile or by a Russian group; the incident was a success for the US because “the Russian President’s aims of dividing the US and EU appeared to have been shattered by the downing”; and that “by the end of the year [2014] there would be a string of serious [Russian] corporate defaults and in 6- 12 months the [Putin] regime could be on its knees.”

“Fascinating”, responded Nuland in one email. “Tx as ever”. “Love these, tx” she emailed after reading another of Steele’s reports. “I’m honored to be the telegraph operator”, Winer replied.  

In releasing the Steele-Winer-Nuland file, the State Department told the senators they should not release it publicly. “We request that you protect the enclosed documents… we note that the public release of any portion of the enclosed documents is not authorized”. Read the entire file here.  

Although the digital record numbers 126 pages, the majority of the papers are repeats which have been presented in haphazard sequence.  Steele’s reporting on Russian and related Ukrainian topics are dated from May 19, 2014, to November 19, 2014. Steele himself tagged the reports from number 130 to 212. This implies he and his consulting firm Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. produced 82 reports over seven months; an average of a dozen per month. The price, revealed later, was about £12,000 per report.   There is no indication from the declassified record who was paying Steele for this.  

Winer and his Near Eastern Bureau at State were not. According to Winer, he received more than a hundred documents from Steele on Russia and Ukraine. He implied Steele was making his  reports available out of charity.  “He did it because he believed it was information the United States Government should have.”  

Investigation of Winer suggests he and Steele had become friends in 2009 when “both were in the business of selling ‘business intelligence’”. In fact, Winer was working for the lobbyist APCO, when one of its clients was then-jailed Mikhail Khodorkovsky through his Yukos oil company and his Menatep Bank.  Winer had also lobbied the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure to overturn Oleg Deripaska’s US visa ban. According to William Browder, Winer was a “friend” who helped him begin the Magnitsky sanctions campaign in Washington in 2010.

From 2009 Jonathan Winer collaborated with Christopher Steele to lobby for (from left) Mikhail Khodorkovsky;  Oleg Deripaska (centre, pictured with his principal US lobbyist Adam Waldman); and William Browder (right).

Winer, a lawyer trained at Yale and New York University, has had no expertise or direct contact with either Russia or Ukraine. Money-laundering was his State Department specialty. Defending Steele’s reporting, Winer told CNN in 2018 “an awful lot of the material in the dossier [has] been corroborated by events and information we’ve come to see since… I don’t know any that have been disproven.”Introducing Steele to Nuland and other State Department officials, Winer described him as “my friend”; “former MI-6 Russia expert”; “my old O[rbis] friend”; also “Chris is a good friend and I do trust him.”  

In addition to Nuland, the only other State Department official identified in the declassified Winer emails is Paul Jones (right). He had been at the Moscow Embassy between 1992 and 1994. In 2014 he was Nuland’s principal deputy until he was named Ambassador to Poland in September
2015.
Winer told Nuland: “I will continue to accept [sic] these from ex-MI6 Chris Steele at Orbis (London) and send them to you until/unless you ask me to stop.”

Nuland told Winer she was sending the reports “to a v small group and take all the identifiers off the stuff first”. Nuland meant she did not want her “v small group” to know the reports came from Steele, MI6, or Winer. At the same time she kept emailing Winer to congratulate him on how good she thought the reports were.

Jones told Winer the Steele reports were “super interesting”; and “credible, useful – tx as always”.

Steele then asked Winer to arrange face to face meetings for him with Jones and with Nuland when he was in Washington in September and again in November 2014. Either Steele didn’t tell Winer who his clients were, or else Winer didn’t ask. Winer did not warn Nuland and Jones that Steele was a paid lobbyist.

Source:  https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/  Nuland’s postcript appears to be referring to Bobby Miller, an official in the State Department’s security division. He is now head of information security and cyber operations.

Most of Steele’s papers reveal no direct Russian source for his reports. Instead, he claims to have received his information by hearsay. Typical of this was Steele’s report of May 19, 2014, which purported to describe “a recent conversation [Steele’s] source had with [Russian Ambassador to US Sergei Kislyak”. The source was “a person in private sector”. On June 6, 2014, Steele claimed he had heard: “speaking in confidence to a trusted western interlocutor, a former Russian government official with close ties to the Kremlin and President Putin’s inner circle”. On June 13, the source was “a senior Russian businessman with close leadership ties” who had been talking “in confidence to a Western interlocutor”. A month later, the source was “speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late June 2014, a former top level Russian intelligence services (RIS) officer/Kremlin insider”.  On July 22, 2014, Steele’s claims appear to have originated from a long grapevine: “Speaking in confidence to a compatriot after the Russian National Security Council meeting on 22 July 2014, three middle ranking officials/advisers with direct access to leadership participants outlined the proceedings of this event.”

All of Steele’s Russian hearsay sources had been talking “in confidence”, and so – Steele wanted Nuland and her “v small group” to think – they didn’t suspect that the Anglo-American establishment was listening in.  

There were  only three direct Russian sources Steele claimed for his reporting  — one, “speaking in private after the event, a former Russian intelligence chief who we believe had attended the RNSC [Russian National Security Council] meeting [of July 22]”; another, “an advisor to Russian deputy premier [Dmitry] Rogozin”, and “a top Russian oligarch”. Oddly, the oligarch was  reported to have been a woman (“S/he” Steele had reported coyly).

Winer knew nothing about Russia and was not receiving Russian media summaries, US Embassy cables, or CIA reports. Because he and Steele had been trading favours for lobbying clients for five years, Winer never thought to check who was behind Steele’s blind attributions.  The consistent theme of the reports was that Kremlin decision-making was factionalised; that regular bureaucrats like Ambassador Kislyak were upset at being “excluded from decision-making and poorly informed by Kremlin”; that “what the Russian elite really feared was having their access to Great Britain curtailed by UK visa bans, especially those whose children were being educated there;” and the “Russian leadership [was] divided over impact of western sanctions but fear of them being extended has forced Putin to step back. Alexei Kudrin and Roman Abramovich urging moderation, Head of PA [Presidential administration Sergei] Ivanov leading hardline camp.”

Kudrin, the favourite of the NATO bloc to take power from Putin, had been sacked in 2011 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev, and in 2014 was running a St. Petersburg think-tank. Steele reported “Kudrin had told Putin  recently that he thought the impact of sanctions on Russia would be at least $200 billion. Contrary to media opinion, National Security Council Secretary [Nikolai] Patrushev was ill and had not played a key role in the crisis of late. Rather, the leading hard liner was Head of Presidential Administration, Sergei Ivanov who was ‘crude and primitive’ and spoke of Ukrainians as if they were animals.”

Left to right: Alexei Kudrin, Steele “moderate”; Sergei Ivanov, Steele “primitive hardliner”; Dmitry Rogozin, “key player in the current Ukraine campaign”; Yelena Baturina, wife of Moscow Mayor Yuzhkov and in 2014 living in the UK with him.  Kudrin has not been sanctioned by the UK or US.  Baturina has also not been sanctioned. In 2015 she paid $3.5 million in protection money to Hunter Biden.

On July 22, five days after the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, Steele produced a report which Winer edited and titled “Factions within Russian NSC and their take on the ML17 shoot-down crisis, according to Orbis”. Neither man managed to double-check that their ML17 acronym for the flight was wrong.   

It also appears that Steele did not realise that US intelligence officers were already briefing the press that a Russian-made Buk missile had been fired at the aircraft. Winer appeared unaware that Secretary of State Kerry had announced that the US had satellite  images of the missile attack.  If, as the Obama Administration was claiming publicly, the Russian military command and the Kremlin were responsible for the shoot-down, Steele’s report failed to tell Nuland this was so. His three purported sources at the Security Council meeting on July 22 failed to hear a discussion of the US actions following the shoot-down.

“Speaking in confidence to a compatriot after the Russian National Security Council meeting on 22 July 2014, three middle ranking officials/advisers with direct access to leadership participants outlined the proceedings of this event. There had been no consensus reached at the meeting on policy towards Ukraine post ML17 and four clear factions had emerged from the discussions. The most hardline of these, articulated by RNSC Secretary Patrushev had argued for an aggressive response. They had no fear of western sanctions and were prepared to support even a ground invasion of eastern Ukraine. They were however a minority.”

“The second faction which was more numerous, and behind which President Putin had aligned himself, could be characterized as ‘pragmatic nationalist’ wanted to try to contain the crisis, rather than escalate it. They found sanctions worrying for themselves and the Russian economy and looked to try to return to the status quo ante (ML17) by cooperating with the West up to a point (on the crash investigation etc). They wanted an easy tactical shortcut out but one which they could not immediately identify. Head of Presidential Administration Sergei Ivanov was in this camp too, and in private was seeking to blame Patrushev, Igor Sechin and Dmitriy Rogozin for the predicament Russia was in.”

“The two remaining factions within the RNSC as now constituted were the ‘economic pragmatists’ around premier Medvedev, who regarded western sanctions as a burden already, and a serious threat to the Russian economy in the short-medium term, especially if escalated. Their primary concern was to guard the country’s macro-economic stability. Finally there was a minority of ‘diplomatists’ like Foreign Minister Lavrov who were not afraid of sanctions personally and wanted an effective climb-down over Ukraine, using ML17 as the game changer. This faction was the weakest however and the least likely to prevail.”

The Kremlin record of the Security Council meeting of July 22, 2014, shows an unusually large group of officials attending, including General Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff, and the Mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin (1st and 2nd left). Patrushev was seated at the head of the table, on Putin’s right next to Medvedev,  while Ivanov was seated opposite them on Putin’s left. Lavrov is not visible and appears not to have been present. Putin issued a public warning to the Kiev forces not to attack,  and assembled the largest possible group of officials to show the unanimity of Russian preparedness to resist.  “Yesterday when the militia forces were handing over the so-called black boxes, the armed forces of Ukraine launched a tank attack at the city of Donetsk. The tanks battled through to the railway station and opened fire at it. International experts who came to investigate the disaster site could not stick their heads out. It was clearly not the militia forces shooting at themselves.We should finally call on the Kiev authorities to comply with elementary norms of human decency and introduce a cease-fire for at least some short period of time to make the investigation possible.” The Kremlin record of the period also reveals that Putin telephoned the Dutch, Australian, French and German heads of government to warn against NATO military action.  On July 21 he reiterated the warning publicly: “I believe that if military operations had not resumed in eastern Ukraine on June 28, this tragedy probably could have been avoided. At the same time, no one should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals.”

Winer told Jones and Nuland “the material is great”, as he and Steele took off for their summer holidays.  In mid-August Steele sent Nuland a new report on Russian military reinforcement for the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists. Russian knowledge of the NATO invasion plan for easterrn Ukraine – widely discussed in Moscow and in the Donvbass region – had entirely escaped their “sources”.

The new report, revealed in the subject line of a Nuland email of August 14, has not been declassified in the State Department disclosures to the Senate.

Cape Cod blue-eyed scallops: https://ediblecapecod.ediblecommunities.com/

On August 21, Steele reported to Nuland that Putin, surrounded by demoralised defeatists,  was buckling under the US and NATO pressure. Steele and Winer had still not noticed that they were misnaming the Malaysia Airlines flight.  “As the Ukraine crisis has intensified since the shooting down of ML17 [sic] in July, President PUTIN has become increasingly isolated within the Russian leadership and has taken more decisions himself. He has narrowed the group whose advice he listens to, limiting these only to people who are hawkish on Ukraine and anti-western. Among these, Head of Presidential Administration IVANOV has emerged as the key figure, advocating that Russia turns to China to fill the growing vacuum of financial and economic relations with the west.”

In terms of PUTIN’s approach to Ukraine itself, the Russian President’s aims of dividing the US and EU appeared to have been shattered by the downing of ML17. It was also the case that PUTIN’s wish to extend the insurgency more widely into eastern Ukraine, to encompass for example Kharkiv and Odessa, had failed due to a lack of local support among the population. Even in Donetsk and Lugansk, the ethnic Russian majority disliked the rather odious leaders of the insurgency, one reason the Kremlin had forced a number of them out prior to the resumption of negotiations with Kiev. This meant PUTIN was left with a stop-gap, two pronged approach hoping increased hardship for Ukraine with the onset of winter would strengthen his position. It comprised of supplying the rebels with enough weaponry to survive whilst appearing to support efforts to internationalize negotiations on the issue with foreign powers.”

Steele told Winer he was planning a trip to Washington in September, and hoped he could meet Nuland personally. Winer began preparing. Steele told Nuland the Russian regime was collapsing. “A top Russian oligarch claimed the full force of sanctions had yet to be felt. S/he  [sic] reckoned that by the end of the year there would be a ‘string’ of serious corporate defaults and in 6- 12 months the regime could be ‘on its knees’. At the heart of the problem, it was not clear where Russia was going to obtain the credit required to service its foreign private corporate debts. There simply was no alternative here to engagement with the western banking system, on which the whole credit side of the economy had been built up over many years.”

Jones, still in charge of Russia and the Ukraine for State under Nuland, was delighted.

The record of Steele’s meetings with Jones and Nuland has not been released publicly.



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