‘The perfect target’: Russia cultivated Trump as asset for 40 years – ex-KGB spy

The KGB ‘played the game as if they were immensely impressed by his personality’, Yuri Shvets, a key source for a new book, tells the Guardian


David Smith
in Washington@smithinamericaFri 29 Jan 2021 08.00 GMT

Donald Trump was cultivated as a Russian asset over 40 years and proved so willing to parrot anti-western propaganda that there were celebrations in Moscow, a former KGB spy has told the Guardian.

Yuri Shvets, posted to Washington by the Soviet Union in the 1980s, compares the former US president to “the Cambridge five”, the British spy ring that passed secrets to Moscow during the second world war and early cold war.

Now 67, Shvets is a key source for American Kompromat, a new book by journalist Craig Unger, whose previous works include House of Trump, House of Putin. The book also explores the former president’s relationship with the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.

“This is an example where people were recruited when they were just students and then they rose to important positions; something like that was happening with Trump,” Shvets said by phone on Monday from his home in Virginia.

Shvets, a KGB major, had a cover job as a correspondent in Washington for the Russian news agency Tass during the 1980s. He moved to the US permanently in 1993 and gained American citizenship. He works as a corporate security investigator and was a partner of Alexander Litvinenko, who was assassinated in London in 2006.

Unger describes how Trump first appeared on the Russians’ radar in 1977 when he married his first wife, Ivana Zelnickova, a Czech model. Trump became the target of a spying operation overseen by Czechoslovakia’s intelligence service in cooperation with the KGB.

Three years later Trump opened his first big property development, the Grand Hyatt New York hotel near Grand Central station. Trump bought 200 television sets for the hotel from Semyon Kislin, a Soviet émigré who co-owned Joy-Lud electronics on Fifth Avenue.

According to Shvets, Joy-Lud was controlled by the KGB and Kislin worked as a so-called “spotter agent” who identified Trump, a young businessman on the rise, as a potential asset. Kislin denies that he had a relationship with the KGB.

Then, in 1987, Trump and Ivana visited Moscow and St Petersburg for the first time. Shvets said he was fed by KGB talking points and flattered by KGB operatives who floated the idea that he should go into the politics.

The ex-major recalled: “For the KGB, it was a charm offensive. They had collected a lot of information on his personality so they knew who he was personally. The feeling was that he was extremely vulnerable intellectually, and psychologically, and he was prone to flattery.

“This is what they exploited. They played the game as if they were immensely impressed by his personality and believed this is the guy who should be the president of the United States one day: it is people like him who could change the world. They fed him these so-called active measures soundbites and it happened. So it was a big achievement for the KGB active measures at the time.”

Soon after he returned to the US, Trump began exploring a run for the Republican nomination for president and even held a campaign rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On 1 September, he took out a full-page advert in the New York Times, Washington Post and Boston Globe headlined: “There’s nothing wrong with America’s Foreign Defense Policy that a little backbone can’t cure.”

The ad offered some highly unorthodox opinionsin Ronald Reagan’s cold war America, accusing ally Japan of exploiting the US and expressing scepticism about US participation in Nato. It took the form of an open letter to the American people “on why America should stop paying to defend countries that can afford to defend themselves”.

The bizarre intervention was cause for astonishment and jubilation in Russia. A few days later Shvets, who had returned home by now, was at the headquarters of the KGB’s first chief directorate in Yasenevo when he received a cable celebrating the ad as a successful “active measure” executed by a new KGB asset.

“It was unprecedented. I am pretty well familiar with KGB active measures starting in the early 70s and 80s, and then afterwards with Russia active measures, and I haven’t heard anything like that or anything similar – until Trump became the president of this country – because it was just silly. It was hard to believe that somebody would publish it under his name and that it will impress real serious people in the west but it did and, finally, this guy became the president.”

Trump’s election win in 2016 was again welcomed by Moscow. Special counsel Robert Mueller did not establish a conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. But the Moscow Project, an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, found the Trump campaign and transition team had at least 272 known contacts and at least 38 known meetings with Russia-linked operatives.

Shvets, who has carried out his own investigation, said: “For me, the Mueller report was a big disappointment because people expected that it will be a thorough investigation of all ties between Trump and Moscow, when in fact what we got was an investigation of just crime-related issues. There were no counterintelligence aspects of the relationship between Trump and Moscow.”

He added: “This is what basically we decided to correct. So I did my investigation and then got together with Craig. So we believe that his book will pick up where Mueller left off.”

Unger, the author of seven books and a former contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine, said of Trump: “He was an asset. It was not this grand, ingenious plan that we’re going to develop this guy and 40 years later he’ll be president. At the time it started, which was around 1980, the Russians were trying to recruit like crazy and going after dozens and dozens of people.”

“Trump was the perfect target in a lot of ways: his vanity, narcissism made him a natural target to recruit. He was cultivated over a 40-year period, right up through his election.”

23 comments

  • What a surprise. Said no one whatsoever.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Problem with Trump, he came out with a lot of statements, too many, that took Putin’s side. He doubted Russia poisoned Litvinenko. He said Crimea was Russian, because they spoke the language, and he said it might have been a Russian missile that hit MH17, but anyone could have fired it, we’ll never know.

      Liked by 6 people

    • Yes, of course, now the words of a KGB spy are the gospel…….lmfao!!
      I refuse to give any legitimacy to what a rabid KGB Putinite says and a journalist that has a series of hit pieces on Trump. Yes, Trump, the same guy that increased sanctions, kicked out Russian diplomats, closed embassies and consulates, stopped Nord Stream 2, let broken treaties expire, shoved Russia out of billions and billions in gas and oil sales, armed Ukraine, killed hundreds of Wagners in Syria but was guilty of tweaking the press during the barrage of unfair Russia allegations. Sometimes people are just myopic and see what they want to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      • A Russian agent by definition is a person who works for the interests of Russia for either ideological reasons, financial or both. Stone, Manafort, Flynn, Giuliani and many, many others exactly fit that description. The common denominator is that they are all very close to Trump, who we know is incredibly pro-putler and anti-Ukraine because of the actual words that came out his mouth. Repeatedly.
        The KGB guy is not a ‘rabid putinite’; far from it. He was a partner of the highly honourable Alexander Litvinenko.
        The article does not claim that Trump was an agent; merely that he was cultivated as one because of the incredible encouragement he gave them.
        He is indeed drawn to evil causes; during his Democrat days he was the guest of honour at a fundraising dinner party for the IRA. He sat next to its leader. A bit like Flynn sitting next to putler at that dinner in Moscow for RaT.
        The job of the KGB and its successors is to talent spot future leaders. It would be more surprising if Trump had not been tapped.
        Dave Cameron was tapped more than once. It was clear from very early on that he was going to achieve high office and so he was approached on a holiday in Crimea. They tried the honey trap method twice. They weren’t sure if he was gay or straight, so they covered off both angles.
        What factual claims in the article do you dispute?

        Liked by 3 people

        • I respect your opinion Sir Scradge, we all have those. I generally do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I have opinions Redders, just as we all have. Eg: I can say that the putinazis are evil. Opinion not fact. But if you see what I wrote above, it is fact, not opinion.

            Liked by 1 person

            • That’s what I wrote;
              “…we all have those.”
              If someone is 1% pro-RuSSki is he an agent of Russia? Since Reagan compromised with the Soviets was he a Russian agent too? You speak as though Trump did nothing detrimental to Russia and Putin when in reality he helped Ukraine more than any other American since Reagan, perhaps anyone since Reagan.
              This article is a good example of my point. Putin wouldn’t budge in the negotiations because he didn’t want inspections or any transparency. But in your world he was working for Putin. It just doesn’t make sense no matter how many times you say it Scradge. If 1% makes you a Russian agent then I guess I am too.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I said that Stone, Manafort, Flynn and the Pauls are Russian agents because by the definition I gave, they are. I did not say that Trump was or is. Merely that he surrounded himself for years with the vilest putler shills, constantly praises the tiny poisoner and denigrates Ukraine. You know what Michael Savage says about Russia and Ukraine right? Wouldn’t you want to punch his face, rather than invite him and his wife to Mar-A-Lago, as Trump did. Savage even flew with Trump on AF1. Can you imagine what poisonous lies people like Savage have drilled into him?
                PS: Trump pardoned some of Ukraine’s most evil enemies in America : Flynn, Manafort and Stone.

                Liked by 3 people

                • I’ve always agreed Manafort deserves everything he gets but many of the others on your Blacklist I just disagree with you on. Stone was a shock jock wannabe dunce in my book. Flynn is a US General and yes he ate dinner sitting next to Putin but I haven’t heard a peep from the military, FBI, CIA or anyone that doubts his patriotism. Savage, I don’t know who he is, probably another shock jock. The Pauls are generally anti-war and have some half-baked ideas but that doesn’t make them Russian agents.
                  So these are the main guys that are destroying the world in your view? Absolutely nobody on the left ever gets mentioned. Hmmm, I wonder why?…

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I’m afraid you are hopelessly misinformed on this topic. It was the company that Stone and Manafort founded that skanked Yanukovich into power with trickery, lies, deception and an unlimited budget courtesy of their sponsor. Twice. They share equal responsibility with putler for the death and misery their actions caused. There could hardly be a worse enemy of Ukraine than those two. They have done more damage than Medvedchuk.
                    The Pauls were outed as Russian agents by John McCain. They did not sue. They are both fanatical supporters of the putler regime.
                    Flynn has now sworn allegiance to QAnon, an insane Russian-originated conspiracy group. He is madder than a shithouse rat.
                    The left in the US are not affiliated to putler. They prefer Cuba/Venezuela etc. The exceptions are Gabbard and the communist fool Noam Chomsky, who is almost dead. If you know of any more, let me know.

                    Liked by 2 people

    • No surprise because it’s BS. The intel apparatus was not in the habit of wasting resources and Trump had nothing to offer. The article is just another in Guardian’s long line of myth and fantasy.

      Like

      • Nothing to do with the Guardian you dumb troll. The article references a book by a Russian defector, who as a putler jackboot licker you would regard as a traitor.

        Like

  • It could be true, what this ex-KGB guy is claiming, especially after seeing Trump’s love affair with the rug rat. But, this is a Ruskie and an ex-KGB guy, so it could be a big fat lie.
    Who knows?

    Liked by 5 people

  • KGB traitor? Does not exist. If his claims were true he would already have fallen out of a window diving onto a grenade after having stabbed himself in the back with a spoon.

    Liked by 3 people

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