Alexander Torshin
Alexander Torshin (middle), Russian mob boss, deputy head of the Central Bank of Russia, and friend of the NRA.

The NRA, The Right to Bear Arms and the Trump Campaign – The Russian Connection

While everyone focused on the direct links between the Trump campaign and Russia, little attention has been paid to the indirect links through the NRA, The Right to Bear Arms and the Trump campaign. The Right to Bear Arms is an NGO, believed to be financed by Putin, yet Russians do not have the right to bear arms, and Putin does not want to give them that right. Russians are not allowed to own handguns and long guns must be licensed and registered. The group portrays themselves as the Russian equivalent to the NRA, but their ties to top Putin allies suggest otherwise. In April 2016, President Vladimir Putin, announced the formation of a new National Guard, and declared one of its key functions would be to control firearms. Furthermore, the NRA has never criticized Russian gun laws, and has made no attempt to lobby for more gun rights in Russia.

Instead, of advocating for changes in Russia’s gun laws, the relationship seems to be all about the US sanctions against Russia. Those sanctions include firearms exports by Russian gun maker Kalashnikov, which the NRA have vocally opposed. While the NRA leadership publicly criticized Russia and Putin during Trump’s campaign, behind the scenes, they were going to great lengths to court Putin’s closest allies. After the election the public charade disappeared. The NRA now openly attack anyone who supports the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election. On January 2, 2017, David Keene, former President of the National Rifle Association, published an op-ed in the Washington Times in which he reversed his previous opposition to Vladimir Putin.

The Right to Bear Arms appears to have been created as a honey pot to attract right-wing American conservative organizations like the NRA, and it worked. The group managed to bring together the NRA with key Russians whose ultimate goal was to remove US sanctions on the Russian government. The Kremlin first used The Right to Bear Arms to develop relationships within the NRA, and from there to the Trump campaign. The three Russians involved were: Alexander Torshin, a former senator in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party who has extensive ties the FSB; Maria Butina, the head of The Right to Bear Arms and advocate for the removal of sanctions; and Dmitry Rogozin,a deputy to Vladimir Putin who was individually sanctioned by the US after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, who advocates for the restoration of the Russian Empire that includes Alaska.

Alexander Torshin

The NRA’s relationship with Russia began when a Nashville lawyer , G. Kline Preston IV, introduced NRA President David Keene to Alexander Torshin. A senator in Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, Torshin has extensive ties the FSB. According to a Spanish investigation, he was also involved in laundering money for the Taganskaya mafia in Moscow. The following year, Preston invited Torshin to monitor voting in Nashville, Tennessee during the presidential election. Both men immediately began spewing the same propaganda, that US elections were full of fraud and Russia’s elections were free and fair. Torshin was back in the US in 2013 to attend the NRA’s annual meeting in Houston, Texas. A few months later, in the fall of 2013, Keene traveled to Russia for a conference hosted by an organization called The Right to Bear Arms.

In January 2015, Alexander Torshin left parliament and was appointed the deputy head of the Central Bank of Russia. In May 2016, the NRA endorsed Trump for president and went on to spend $30 million to elect him. At their convention, Torshin shared a table with Donald Trump Jr. at one of the event’s private dinners at a Louisville restaurant.

Torshin also attended the NRA’s annual meeting in April, 2015, in Nashville, TN. There, Torshin also ran into Donald Trump, whom he originally met in 2010. According to Bloomberg,  Torshin remembered T asking him, “When are you going to invade Latvia?”

Maria Butina

Maria Butina, the head of The Right to Bear Arms, was a liaison between the Trump transition team and Russia. She also enjoys a close relationship with Alexander Torshin. She also has attended several NRA meetings in the US over the last few years, including the NRA’s annual meeting  in Indianapolis in 2014, when she was as a special guest of the NRA leadership.

Maria ButinaIn August 2014, The Right to Bear Arms hosted Paul Erickson, a prominent NRA member and a friend of Andrew Breitbart, in Moscow. From there, Erickson introduced her to the administration through Becky Norton Dunlop, who served with Erickson on the board of the American Conservative Union, and was a senior member of the Trump transition team.

In April 2015, Maria Butina, now an assistant to Alexander Torshin at the Central Bank of Russia, was given a private tour of the NRA’s headquarters in Virginia. On June 12, 2015, Butina then published an op-ed in The National Interest on June 12, 2015 in which she questioned the sanctions against Russia. In that piece she stated that, “It may take the election of a Republican to the White House in 2016 to improve relations between the Russian Federation and the United States.”

In July, 2015, Butina was invited to speak at the exclusive Ring of Freedom in Las Vegas. At a dinner for donors who gave more than $1 million to the NRA, she pretended to be a reporter, and asked Trump a question. “If you will be elected as president, what will be your foreign politics, especially in the relationships with my country? Do you want to continue the policy of sanctions that are damaging both economies?” Trump replied, “I know Putin, and I’ll tell you what, we’ll get along with Putin. I would get along very nicely with Putin, I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”

Since February 10, 2016, Butina has also been the sole organizer of Bridges LLC, incorporated in South Dakota with an office at 4904 Oxbow Avenue, Suite, 305, Sioux Falls, 57106. The agent of Butina’s South Dakota corporation is Paul Erickson. In September 2010, Erickson organized another business from that same address, called Investing with Dignity LLC which was dissolved by the state in April 2015, after he failed to file his annual reports for several years. Erickson got Investing with Dignity LLC reinstated in 2016.

Butina celebrated her birthday on November 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. Several of Trump’s campaign consultants attended the party. On Inauguration Day, Maria Butina attended the invitation-only Freedom Ball. In April, Yahoo News reported that a February 2 meeting between Torshin, Butina and President Trump at the National Prayer Breakfast was canceled at the last minute. No reason  was ever given for the cancellation.

Dmitry Rogozi

Dmitry RogozinIn March 2014, the Obama sanctioned Dmitry Rogozin, a hardline deputy to Vladimir Putin, the head of Russia’s defense industry, in retaliation for the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. In December 2015 an NRA delegation went to Moscow to meet with him. The meeting with Rogozin is not illegal unless the two sides do business together. Keene, the former NRA president and current board member, insisted the meeting had nothing whatsoever to do with geopolitics. So it is wasn’t business, and it wasn’t politics, what was it about? Rogozin is chairman of the Russian Shooting Federation, but given their joint opposition to sanctions, and their joint support for the Trump campaign, it is unlikely that politics weren’t discussed. After all, among the NRA delegation was a Trump surrogate, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin sheriff David A. Clarke. The Right to Bear Arms paid Clarke’s expenses for the trip. It was also the same week that Michael Flynn had dinner with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Conclusion

A Washington Post story on April 30, 2017, titled Guns and Religion: How American conservatives grew closer to Putin’s Russia, set out the growing cultural and ideological similarities between American conservatives and Putin’s Russia, but there seems to be more going on here. To me, it seems like Putin has used their alignment on issues like terrorism, gay rights, and white supremacy to further the only issue he really cares about,  which is US sanctions. The same thread runs through every piece of evidence we have on the collusion between the Trump campaign and administration, and the Russians. The Trump campaign wanted dirt on Clinton, and Putin wanted the sanctions lifted. Both had a common ally, the NRA, which spent $30.3 million to elect Trump, fifty percent more than even the top Trump super PAC, which spent just $20.3 million.

Wil Donnelly

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