Trump’s fondness for Vladimir Putin is not debatable, but Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election absolutely has been. For many of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, Russia was the election’s hidden hand—feeding damaging leaks to Julian Assange and possibly even coordinating with Trump and his campaign. Trump himself was sometimes presented as a kind of Siberian candidate, working with Russian backers and handlers (in some of these theories, under duress) to deliver a pro-Russian U.S. government. There wasn’t any evidence that Russia was trying to swing the election to Donald Trump, though using Wikileaks broadly fits the script used by Russia in a number of countries, insofar as it damages people’s faith in democracy and their government.
But a day after the election, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that there were, in fact, contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” Rybakov said. “Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions. I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.” Trump spokesman Hope Hicks denied a connection, however. “The campaign had no contact with Russian officials,” she said in an email to The Washington Post.
So what’s going on here? Ryabkov might just be poking the bear to create further division and distrust in a country full of it. The Russian government dismissed the connection, telling the Post, “It seems to me that you’re not far from having your own 1937. They’ll be putting people in prison as Russian spies.” But given the Trump campaign’s Russian ties—former campaign chief Paul Manafort used to work for the pro-Russian Ukrainian government—it seems totally plausible, even if it may not be as nefarious as some want it to be.