By Tim Mak
Kremlin-linked Russian politician Alexander Torshin traveled frequently between Moscow and various destinations in the United States to build relationships with figures on the American right starting as early as 2009, beyond his previously known contacts with the National Rifle Association.
Documents newly obtained by NPR show how he traveled throughout the United States to cultivate ties in ways well beyond his formal role as a member of the Russian legislature and later as a top official at the Russian central bank. These are steps a former top CIA official believes Torshin took in order to advance Moscow’s long-term objectives in the United States, in part by establishing common political interests with American conservatives.
“[Vladimir] Putin and probably the Russian intelligence services saw [Torshin’s connections] as something that they could leverage in the United States,” said Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations. “They reach out to a guy like Torshin and say, ‘Hey, can you make contact with the NRA and some other conservatives … so that we can have connectivity from Moscow into those conservative parts of American politics should we need them?’ And that’s basically just wiring the United States for sound, if you will, in preparation for whatever they might need down the road.”
From 2012 to 2016, Torshin began making regular visits to the United States that suggested Russians were trying to find common cause on issues like religion and guns. Torshin attended every National Rifle Association convention during this time and met high-ranking NRA officials.
Torshin’s trips took him to Alaska, where he requested a visit with former Gov. Sarah Palin; to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.; to Nashville, where he was an election observer for the 2012 presidential race; and to every NRA convention, in various American cities, between 2012 and 2016.
But the jig is up. Last month, Torshin was designated for sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department.
“We can conclude that the administration thought he was acting to advance Putin’s malign agenda, but what precisely [he did] they did not make clear,” said Daniel Fried, a former State Department coordinator for sanctions policy who helped craft the sanctions that ultimately were employed against Torshin. …