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On a late afternoon in March, a large military aircraft bearing the Russian Federation insignia descended into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Its mission: to deliver personal protective equipment and ventilators to nearby hospitals scrambling to treat patients during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had pleaded for weeks with the federal government for additional resources, particularly ventilators, to treat the thousands of COVID-19 patients across the state. Yet news of the Russian delivery surprised those in the governor’s office working to obtain additional medical equipment. They’d thought the ventilator support would come from the U.S. stockpile or from an American company.
Officials in the U.S. State Department were surprised, too. Despite a department press release announcing the delivery, several senior officials working on the Russia portfolio in the department and elsewhere in the national security apparatus were unaware exactly how the 45 ventilators had ended up on American soil. Half of the shipment was paid for by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), one of the country’s sovereign wealth funds, which is under U.S. sanctions. (The sanctions do not prohibit all transactions between U.S. entities and the firm, but they have limited the fund’s interactions with American businesses.) And the fund’s CEO, Kirill Dmitriev, had been scrutinized by Congress and former special counsel Robert Mueller for his communications with Trump transition officials shortly after Moscow had meddled in the 2016 election.
For years, the Trump administration had attempted to find ways to cooperate with Russia on the world stage but largely failed in those efforts because Moscow has continued to engage in activity that threatens U.S. national security, from hacking operations to reportedly offering bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan. A public display of Russian supplies being offloaded caught some officials in the Trump administration off guard.
But there was a simple answer to the whodunit. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) told The Daily Beast it had assigned the State Department “to represent the U.S. in the transaction with the Government of Russia.” But it was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who helped facilitate the ventilator delivery, according to two senior administration officials. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Kushner headed “Project Airbridge”—the medical supply delivery program that worked to fast-track the delivery of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies by using federal funding to underwrite the cost of shipping. In an effort to supply New York City hospitals with the medical equipment they needed, Kushner looked in multiple places for the equipment and found a safe bet in Moscow, those officials said. While the State Department had been involved in the logistics of the onboarding and offloading, it was Kushner who helped strike the deal.
The ventilators turned out to be faulty and were cast aside by officials in New York and New Jersey, according to local officials who spoke with The Daily Beast. During that same time period, the city of Los Angeles was told by representatives of the federal government that it had lost a bid for N95 masks to a Russian entity, according to two people familiar with the matter. The L.A. officials were never told the Russian outfit’s name.
Kushner held the details of the New York shipment closely and accelerated the order by leaning on his personal relationship with Dmitriev, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin who’d been dispatched to make inroads with the inexperienced 2016 Trump transition team.
Dmitriev was one of the main participants in the infamous January 2017 Seychelles meeting with former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, in which the two discussed a roadmap for U.S.-Russia cooperation in the new administration. In the years since, Kushner and Dmitriev have communicated—often at a distance, and at times through intermediaries—about ways the U.S. and Russia could work together. The conversations have touched on everything from creating a joint business council to increase investment, to working on a Middle East peace deal, to helping lead negotiations on a recent OPEC deal, to delivering those medical supplies, according to multiple senior officials.
More than a dozen Trump administration officials, current and former, described Kushner’s relationship with Dmitriev as a byproduct of President Trump’s deep-rooted beliefs that he was unfairly punished for beating Hillary Clinton and that the sprawling investigation into his campaign’s Russia contacts was a hoax. Trump distrusted the national security and intelligence communities and saw the officials operating in that apparatus as harboring “Deep State” actors whose goal it was to remove him from office.
The career officials Trump distrusted have nevertheless attempted to do their jobs—which included safeguarding the U.S. from Russian aggression, officials said. As Fiona Hill, Trump’s former top Russia adviser, once put it during her impeachment testimony, officials in her orbit tried to help “with President Trump’s stated goal of improving relations with Russia while still implementing policies meant to deter Russian conduct that threatens the United States, including the unprecedented and successful Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” Most of the time, officials said, it didn’t work.
“It was a vicious cycle where, even though we were doing a lot of concrete things to take punitive measures against Russia, the president’s own personal behavior and how that was portrayed in the domestic context didn’t allow us to say, ‘We have a coherent Russia policy,’” one former senior official said, referring to later actions the administration took to punish Russia, including expelling diplomats from the country, enacting a slew of sanctions on Russian actors, and pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019.
Four other former senior officials described years of frustration—of trying to push ahead on a Russia strategy only to get sidelined from conversations in the White House because, as the investigations into his campaign ramped up, the president grew more distrustful of the people around him.
Instead Trump relied on his closest allies—often Kushner—to handle the business of government. Trump depended on his son-in-law to go and deliver on the promises he’d made publicly from the outset, including establishing closer ties with Moscow. As Hill and other top officials who worked on Russia began to step away from their jobs—in some cases because they had been forced out of government—Kushner stepped even further into the vacuum. He emerged as one of the most powerful people in the White House, former National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a recent interview with CNN.
The Treasury Department and the State Department did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The White House did not comment on the record. The Russian Direct Investment Fund and Dmitriev also did not respond to requests for comment.
“Jared Kushner has worked closely with our NSC team. Prior to my becoming the National Security Adviser, I worked with Jared on hostage recoveries and his support of the President’s efforts was critical in bringing several of our hostages and detainees home,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement. “As the NSA, I have seen first-hand how Jared and his office coordinate their work with the NSC and other U.S. Government departments and agencies as he assists President Trump on important foreign and domestic issues.”
As the U.S. and Russia have struggled to partner on a host of issues—from counterterrorism intelligence sharing to deconfliction of forces in Syria—Kushner and Dmitriev have continued to communicate about alternative ways Moscow and Washington can cooperate.
“Dmitriev came into the picture because Putin was always saying, ‘Talk to my guy because he can help you with the Gulf and with the Middle East peace plan, we can help stabilize,’” said one former senior administration official. “A lot was going on behind the scenes… they kept it to themselves.”
While those close to Kushner praise the president’s son-in-law’s efforts to find ways to circumvent the bureaucratic process of communicating with Russia and “get things done”—as one individual who has worked with him put it—others have been disturbed by the sidelining of career officials on critical matters of national security.
Current and former officials tell The Daily Beast the hollowing out of the Russia policy teams across the administration and Trump’s continued lack of trust in that community has left the administration without a cohesive, coordinated approach to handling Moscow. Not only have the two countries failed to reach the rapprochement that Trump so badly wanted, but the U.S. and Russia also are now engaged in an active dispute over Moscow’s use of anti-satellite missiles, its attempts to hack into the networks of U.S. coronavirus vaccine-makers, and its efforts to meddle in the 2020 presidential election.
“It’s as bad as it’s ever been,” one former senior national security official said in describing the administration’s relationship with Russia.
After the 2016 election, President Putin himself tasked Dmitriev directly with trying to make inroads with Trump’s transition team, according to a recent report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee and Robert Mueller’s special counsel report. Dmitriev got to work, actively trying to connect with members of Trump’s inner circle who would eventually wield influence in a new administration. He was particularly interested in connecting with Kushner, those reports said.
Dmitriev began his outreach to Kushner by connecting with George Nader, a Lebanese-American politico close to the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed in the United Arab Emirates who helped broker meetings with the incoming Trump administration. Dmitriev’s fund, RDIF, had co-invested with the Emirati sovereign wealth fund on a series of projects and the two men had been in frequent contact. Dmitriev invited Nader to a chess tournament and asked him to invite Kushner, though Nader never passed on the message, the reports said. Over the next several weeks, Dmitriev continued to speak with Nader about the possibility of meeting transition officials like Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. (Nader was later sentenced on child pornography charges in the Eastern District of Virginia).
Dmitriev also reached out to Rick Gerson, who ran a New York hedge fund and was a close friend of Kushner’s. According to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, “Dmitriev told Gerson that Putin had tasked him with developing a reconciliation plan for United States-Russia relations.” Dmitriev’s team previously pushed back on his connection with Putin in a series of articles The Daily Beast published in 2018.
Gerson told Dmitriev that he would find the right people to talk to about the plan. In the following days, the pair drafted bullet points for the plan and Dmitriev communicated that he had shared the document with Putin.
Days later, Dmitriev flew to the remote archipelago of the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. Executives from across the world had gathered on the island to meet with the crown prince. Several of them stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel in villas overlooking the water. One of those individuals was Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, who was close with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and throughout the campaign had tried to connect to Trump’s circle.
Prince met with Dmitriev, who was there with his wife, twice while on the island. Prince later told congressional investigators that he’d run into Dmitriev by chance and spoke with the Russian fund manager over a beer. But Prince was made aware of Dmitriev’s planned trip to the island through Nader, who sent Prince Dmitriev’s bio ahead of time, according to the Mueller report.
Dmitriev and Prince discussed opportunities to improve the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship under the incoming Trump administration and the bullet points that Gerson had helped draft. Nader was also present. The Daily Beast previously obtained the reconciliation plan Dmitriev had worked on with Gerson and which Dmitriev sent to Gerson for final approval Jan. 17—five days after his meeting in the Seychelles with Prince. In his congressional testimony in November 2017, Prince said he told Dmitriev that “if Franklin Roosevelt can work with Joseph Stalin after the Ukraine terror famine, after killing tens of millions of his own citizens, we can certainly at least cooperate with the Russians in a productive way to defeat the Islamic State.”
The reconciliation plan called for, among other things, improvement of U.S.-Russian relations over a one-year period, which included building a pathway for the countries to develop “win-win economic investment initiatives.” It noted that Russian companies would “make investments with RDIF financing to serve the U.S. market in the Midwest, creating real jobs for hard hit areas with high employment.”
The next day, Gerson went to see Kushner at the White House to brief him on Dmitriev and hand him the reconciliation plan. Kushner told the Senate Intelligence Committee during an interview that he gave a copy of that plan to Bannon and incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to a recent committee report.
In the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration, senior officials in the White House who worked alongside the transition team said it became clear that Trump’s inner circle, including Kushner, were going to bypass career officials to make critical national security decisions. In the early days of his administration, Trump didn’t meet with the national security team on Russia policy.
“We were still coming to terms with the aggressiveness with which [the Russians] attacked our electorate process. The whole kit and caboodle—the leaks, the information campaign, the social media initiatives. The new administration just seemed to ignore that,” that same official said. “There was a general feeling that we could accommodate the Russians in some way.”
Wild ideas flew—withdrawing U.S. troops from the Baltics just to please Putin, cooperating with the Russian military to such an extent it would have broken the law. One former official said there were “whispers” of the Trump team attempting to roll back sanctions on Russia for the election attack and for its invasion of Ukraine. “Their thought was… if we scale back sanctions we can work with them in the Middle East. That was just stupid because the Russians had already offered and asked to work with us,” the official said. “Our idea was: Don’t give up the shit that’s free.”
Ships in the Saudi Night
Two individuals familiar with the matter said Trump was briefed on the Dmitriev U.S.-Russia reconciliation plan ahead of his first call with Putin on Jan. 28, 2017. A White House readout of the call said Trump and Putin spoke for about an hour on subjects ranging from mutual cooperation in defeating ISIS to creating investment opportunities for both countries—two bullet points included in that reconciliation memo.
During the same time period, Kushner was beginning to lay the groundwork for the development of a Middle East peace plan—one Team Trump thought could evolve with considerable international buy-in, including from Russia. The idea for a peace plan had been in the works before Trump took into office, officials said. At an event before his inauguration, Trump spoke with reporters from the Times of London about the idea, saying Kushner would lead the peace plan process.
Meanwhile, stories began to leak to the press that Trump’s inner circle had worked for weeks behind the scenes to backchannel with Russian officials. In February, The Washington Post reported a series of stories saying National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had spoken with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak about sanctions and lied to the FBI about it. In February 2017, Flynn was pushed out of his national security job after the news broke that he’d lied to the feds. Before long, talk of rolling back sanctions began to recede.
Russian business executives, lawyers, and lobbyists—including some of those connected to RDIF—tried to ease the financial burden by promoting opportunities for American businesses in Russia. RDIF was beginning to develop major partnerships with sovereign wealth funds and other large financial hubs, co-investing in large projects related to oil, transportation, technology, and medicine. The hope was that the Trump administration could help promote business relations between the two countries. One former senior official said Putin had tapped Dmitriev specifically to try to work with American companies.
Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, held business roundtables at the embassy, in an effort to help push forward conversations about creating business opportunities for American companies in Moscow with the help of RDIF.
Dmitriev looked to California, where RDIF already had an investment in Los Angeles-based technology company Virgin Hyperloop One, headed by British businessman Sir Richard Branson.
In Washington, Hill moved into her position as the National Security Council’s top Russia hand in April 2017. Slowly, officials under the new national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, fleshed out a concrete Russia strategy for the administration.
“We had a brief moment after Flynn had been retired —a window under McMaster—to put together a Russia policy,” one senior former official said.
The document called for closer cooperation on fighting ISIS in Syria while ramping up deconfliction efforts in the country, working toward a non-aggression pact in cyberspace, and laying out a roadmap for a dialogue on arms control. But it did little to provide focus to the administration’s approach to handling Moscow, officials said, because the national security, diplomatic, and intelligence communities were often ostracized from conversations with Trump’s inner circle. As officials in those communities took steps to try and hold Russia accountable for meddling in domestic politics, they found themselves held back from making progress because the president publicly sided with Putin.
Meanwhile, Kushner was quickly becoming Trump’s go-to on all things foreign policy, tapped not only for the Middle East Peace plan but also for engaging with Middle Eastern leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Zayed in the UAE and Mohammed Bin Salman in Saudi Arabia.
“I’d always worried that he’d go and say something that he shouldn’t and that it would blow up in all our faces.”
National security and intelligence officials worried about Kushner’s interactions with world leaders, and not only because he lacked government experience and had not been briefed on critical national security matters. Officials said they were also concerned about how his former business ties played into his communications with certain individuals.
“I’d always worried that he’d go and say something that he shouldn’t and that it would blow up in all our faces,” one former senior official said.
In October 2017, Kushner, who had settled into his role as one of the interlocutors of meetings with foreign officials, took an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia. Then-Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who traveled with Kushner to Riyadh, would become one of the plan’s key designers. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell also joined. The Kremlin—and specifically Dmitriev—was seen as having a significant role to play. The White House did not give details of who Kushner met with while in Riyadh.
During that same week, the kingdom hosted the Future Investment Initiative—a conference that Branson and Dmitriev both attended. Dmitriev told reporters there that he would invest “billions” in NEOM, a high-tech, futuristic project led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the northwestern part of the country. Several individuals who attended the conference said Kushner met with individuals on the sidelines of the summit, though they could not remember if the president’s son-in-law spoke with Dmitriev in a sit-down setting. One senior official said Kushner and Dmitriev did not meet at the conference.
That same month, Dmitriev announced that RDIF pledged to invest again, this time with the Chinese Investment Corporation—China’s sovereign wealth fund—in Branson’s Hyperloop.
“There were questions being asked about where Russia might want to spend its money. Dmitriev was the money guy and held the strings,” one former U.S. senior official said. “And the idea on Russia’s part was, ‘We can sell to Jared and everyone else on Middle East peace.’”
The details of Kushner’s conversations with foreign officials about the peace plan and other areas for business opportunities for the U.S. remained closely held throughout the next two years.
As the president’s son-in-law continued to use his personal relationships with foreign leaders to advance the White House and President Trump’s goals, the administration’s Russia policy fell into disarray, as career officials struggled to balance the national security interests of the country with the reality that Trump did not want to address Russia’s interference head on. Officials said that tension grew increasingly worse as Congress demanded the administration punish Russia for its actions.
In January 2018, Congress, which was working on implementing the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, asked the Treasury Department to provide a list of oligarchs with links to Putin. One of those individuals was Oleg Deripaska, the owner of one of the world’s largest aluminum companies, and former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort’s one-time paymaster. The decision to add Deripaska to the list for Congress was “fast and not thoroughly researched,” as one former senior administration official put it. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control sanctioned Deripaska and two companies in which he held stakes, including aluminum giant Rusal and EN+, an energy and metals company. The listings would later cause a massive uproar on Capitol Hill and among European leaders who relied on Rusal for products such as aircraft.
The chaos didn’t stop there. In the fall of 2017 and winter of 2018, the U.S. State Department and Pentagon had engaged in conversations about whether to send Ukraine Javelins—anti tank weapons—and whether the U.S. would provide those weapons through federal funding.
“The Secretary [Tillerson] went in to see the president and whether or not we should be doing this—giving Ukraine the Javelins. And the president’s reaction was, ‘Are you out of your fucking mind? Why are we giving them anything?” one former senior official told The Daily Beast. “His whole attitude was [the sale] would hurt the Russians. I wondered at that time what it was about the Ukrainians that particularly irritated him. Of course, we later found out.” Tillerson was fired in March 2018.
“He really wanted to get on track with Putin and we kept having to react.”
Later that month, Trump ignored the advice of his national security team, choosing on a phone call with Putin to congratulate him—instead of condemning him for Moscow’s election interference or its alleged nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. Trump even floated the idea that Putin visit the White House.
“He really wanted to get on track with Putin and we kept having to react,” one former senior official said. President Trump fired McMaster just a few days later, replacing him with Bolton.
Officials said various Cabinet officials, including new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Bolton, had varying ideas on how to approach the “Russia problem,” as one former senior official put it.
Not long after, Trump went to Helsinki for a summit to discuss bilateral relations with Putin. The meeting became instantly infamous when Trump publicly rebuked the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered in the previous election.
Bolton found it curious for another reason. “What both of them [Putin and Trump] really wanted to discuss was increasing U.S. trade and investment in Russia, a conversation that lasted a surprisingly long time given there was so little to say, with so few U.S. businesses really eager to dive into the Russian political and economic morass,” Bolton wrote in his book. It was a point Dmitriev and Kushner had been trying to get across for a long time.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, senior U.S. officials attempted to engage in intelligence sharing with Russia, including information on terrorist financing. But when the U.S. shared intelligence with Moscow, it was rarely reciprocated—and when it was, the information was unhelpful, officials said.
“Moscow took a lot of license to really push our boundaries and our buttons very harshly,” as one senior official described it.
Things were only made worse for national security officials when, under pressure from allies, the Treasury Department was forced to walk back its previous sanctions designations on Deripaska and Rusal in December 2018.
Officials said when Congress asked for the names of oligarchs earlier that year, the Treasury Department panicked. It didn’t want to be seen as soft on Russia, and it didn’t want to piss off the White House. So the department made a quick decision. One former senior official said the department drafted the list with such speed that it had not had the chance to fully understand what sanctioning Rusal would do to the world’s aluminum industry. And, that official said, the department hadn’t “unpacked the Rusal ownership structure.” When the Trump administration announced the sanctions, global metal prices skyrocketed.
“At the time we had to get that list out, Mnuchin thought he had to do something demonstrative that we were going to punish Russia for election meddling,” one former senior official said. “You had all of the Europeans asking us to delist and for understandable reasons. So, we went through a painful process of trying to force Deripaska out of Rusal so we could delist Rusal.”
Tensions between the national security community and the White House persisted. Kushner carried out negotiations on his peace plan and included Dmitriev in those talks. The contents of those conversations stayed within Kushner’s circle. One individual familiar with the matter said Kushner met Dmitriev in person “for the first time” in May 2019, though this official close to the president’s son-in-law refused to say where the meeting took place. The official said Huntsman, then the U.S. ambassador in Moscow, introduced the two. During this same time period, Kushner spoke publicly about the Middle East peace plan process and appeared at a Washington think tank’s annual dinner for a panel about his work on the issue.
Two months later, in June 2019, Kushner and his team flew to Manama, Bahrain, to attend a summit for a series of meetings on how to implement one of the major aspects of his plan—investing in Palestine. Hundreds of foreign dignitaries, and investors from across the globe, including Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, attended the lavish event at Manama’s Ritz-Carlton. They gathered in ballrooms for panels and speeches. Kushner gave a presentation on investing in the Palestinian territories. Dmitriev attended. An official with knowledge said Kushner and Dmitriev “crossed paths” at the conference but did not offer more details about their interaction.
“No one ever really knew what Jared was up to.”
That summit spurred additional conversations in Bahrain and afterward among Kushner’s peace plan team, Dmitrev, and a host of other financiers and banking executives on how best to bring about investments in the Palestinian territories. But the details of those conversations remained closely held within Kushner’s inner circle.
“No one ever really knew what Jared was up to,” one former official said.
Another former senior official said they heard bits and pieces of the Kushner peace plan—and word of Russia’s involvement in helping craft portions of it—but that officials in the State Department and National Security Council were primarily kept in the dark.
“There were maybe three or four people who really knew what Jared was up to and who he was speaking with and what was included in the plan,” that official said. “But they didn’t dish to anyone. And sometimes even people working with Jared didn’t know exactly who or how he was communicating with foreign officials.”
On Aug. 14, Kushner, along with President Trump, announced a deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates that marked a significant step in establishing peace in the Middle East. Kushner was the lead negotiator on the deal, in which Israel and the UAE, among other things, signed on to establishing embassies, increasing trade, and partnering on the fight against the coronavirus. Under the agreement, Israel also promised to temporarily suspend annexation of the West Bank.
Multiple senior officials said they expect the president’s son-in-law in the next several weeks to deliver similar agreements between Israel and other Arab nations. Kushner is in conversations with several countries about those deals, including Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Bahrain, those officials said.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
Kushner wasn’t Trump’s only agent of behind the scenes diplomacy. Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, along with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, worked to deliver messages to Ukraine that officials there should announce investigations into Joe Biden and his son Hunter. In December 2019 the Senate officially launched an impeachment trial into whether the president had withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for President Volodymyr Zelensky announcing an investigation into the Bidens and the allegations that a Ukrainian company had interfered in the 2016 election.
Trump was acquitted of a charge of abuse of power with a 58-42 vote and of a charge of obstruction of justice by a vote of 53-47. By that time, key Russia experts, including Hill and Tim Morrison, who took her place on the council, had left the administration.
“It all slowly unraveled and by the end we felt like we didn’t have a Russia policy at all,” one former senior official said.
Now, in the lead-up to the November election, the Trump team is focusing on trying to create a situation through which the U.S. and Russia could work together on arms control. But officials are not optimistic about the chances of brokering any kind of serious negotiations. Not at a time when Moscow is batting off allegations that it paid bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan—and is actively interfering in the 2020 campaign.
Dmitriev, meanwhile, has continued to try and work with U.S. officials on creating a business council where the U.S. and Russia could look for mutually beneficial investment opportunities. In January 2020, Dmitriev went to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to push the message.
“I think business cooperation between Russia and the U.S. is important. It’s non-existent right now,” Dmitriev said, adding that he believed sanctions are “wrong… Particularly U.S. sanctions, because they really undermine the U.S. long term.”
Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, and Secretary Mnuchin were at Davos as well, leading the American delegation.
This spring, a few days after that Russian plane loaded with protective gear landed in New York City—the shipment made possible in part by Kushner’s “Project Airbridge”—Saudi Arabia and Russia struck a deal to cut oil production in order to stabilize the market that had been rattled by the coronavirus. OPEC and its allies agreed to cut production by 9.7 million barrels a day in May and June after oil prices fell to 18-year lows. One senior administration official said Kushner and Dmitriev worked behind the scenes to help negotiate the deal.
During the last-minute negotiations, Dmitriev published an op-ed with CNBC saying the U.S. and Russia should work together to defeat the coronavirus.
“During World War II, American and Russian soldiers fought side by side against a common enemy,” Dmitriev wrote. “Just as our grandfathers stood shoulder to shoulder… now our countries must show unity and leadership to win the war against the coronavirus.”
Dmitriev’s article was viewed in the administration as the most recent proposal by the Russians to work with the United States. He often appears on television and publishes opinion articles in CNBC and other American media outlets proposing new pathways for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. He also pitches ideas publicly at international forums, including in Davos. Dmitriev’s plan for cooperation on the virus seemed to those working on the Russia portfolio like a way the two countries could legitimately partner on a major international crisis.
In May, a U.S. Air Force aircraft landed in Moscow. Officials with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) carried out the delivery of a $5.6 billion shipment with ventilators meant to help Russia fight the virus—even though USAID ceased operations in the country in 2012. The agency did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
In its communiqué, the U.S. State Department used language similar to Dmitriev’s: “Particularly in times of crisis, we must work together—much like we did during the Second World War, when the people of our two nations and other allies fought valiantly, suffered great losses, and endured great hardship.”
Two months after that, the U.S. and United Kingdom intelligence communities accused hackers working for the Kremlin of breaking into the networks of groups working on a COVID-19 vaccine.