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Trump's Remarks Provide Dose of Reality for Moscow

  • Luis Ramirez

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's assertion that there is no such thing as a reset with Russia and his belief that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party computers are being read in Europe as a sign that there is no guarantee relations between the U.S. and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be good.

At the same time, questions continue to mount about the quality of a controversial 35-page intelligence dossier on Trump that has now been traced, according to news reports, to a London-based private intelligence firm run by a former British spy.

"It is an intermediate work product at best," said Andrew Wordsworth, a private intelligence executive whose company, Raedas, works on Russia-related projects. "Why anyone thought it was so good is difficult to understand," he told VOA.

Reporters gathered Thursday outside the offices of Orbis Business Intelligence, the London firm that reports say put together the dossier, which included tawdry and compromising information that could have been used to discredit Trump.

The main entrance to a building where offices of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. are located is seen in central London, Jan. 12, 2017.
The main entrance to a building where offices of Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd. are located is seen in central London, Jan. 12, 2017.

Author identified

Sources identified the author as Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer. On Thursday, the sources said Steele and his family had gone into hiding.

Among other things, the report contained allegations that remain unverified, including a claim that Michael Cohen, one of Trump's attorneys, had traveled to the Czech Republic and had met with Russian operatives. Cohen told U.S. media he had never been to that country, while Czech intelligence officials said they had no record of his ever arriving at any airport there.

The president-elect called the report fake.

Trump, in his first news conference since the election, sought Wednesday to dispel any notion of collusion with or kowtowing to Russia.

"There's no reset button. We're either going to get along, or we're not. I hope we get along, but if we don't, that's possible, too," he told reporters.

Analysts saw the words as a departure from what many expected would be a close and warm relationship between the new U.S. leader and Russia.

"In a sense, there is a bit of a threat to Mr. Putin as well, which is, 'You'd better get on with me because you will know that I am a much tougher enemy than anyone else if you get on my bad side,' " said Alan Mendoza, a political analyst at the Henry Jackson Society in London.

FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Dec. 23, 2016.
FILE - Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual news conference in Moscow, Dec. 23, 2016.

"Although we've been hearing all this syrupy language toward Putin, which also has been very welcome in the Kremlin, I think we saw a very different side [Wednesday], which might just send a few concerns in the Kremlin about what happens should interests diverge," Mendoza said.

'A major shift'

Analysts in Russia agreed the statement marked a change.

"It showed a major shift from what Mr. Trump used to talk about Russia, used to say about Russia, and how he actually views Russia, in my perspective," said Ilya Kravchenko, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council in Moscow. "I don't think that people in the Kremlin, especially Putin, do not understand this, and that they were so naive to believe that Trump will be their friend in the Oval Office," he said.

The allegations contained in the reported Orbis dossier have been met with skepticism among observers and the international intelligence community.

"Most people don't believe them to be true. I mean, there's a lot of inaccuracies [that] have been pointed out about them. I think the story tells you more about possibly the nature of the relationship between Mr. Trump and his own intelligence agencies right now," Mendoza said.

A rift between the incoming U.S. leader and American intelligence services is something that analysts say Putin is more likely to be watching now.

Assist to protectors

But some analysts say the uproar caused by revelations of the dossier, however questionable its quality may be, may actually be serving the interests of those whose job it is to protect the American president.

"When you become a senior politician, it's a very important part for the security apparatus to literally protect the incoming head of state from bribery and subversion, and making sure no aspect of his private life is subject to exploitation," said Tim Evans, a public policy expert at Middlesex University in London.

Evans and others interviewed said having the allegations surface now could deflate any future attempt by Russia, should there ever be one, to discredit Trump.

"It would be denuding the Russians and protecting the U.S. president," he said, "if they ever tried it."

VOA's Daniel Schearf in Moscow contributed to this report.

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