Christmas really does come twice in Russia and this week’s events in the US are surely the best present President Vladimir Putin could have asked for, writes Fiona Clark.
Way back in the early 1990’s, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, I spent the odd night in Moscow’s Intourist Hotel. Without fail, at some stage during the night, a young woman would knock on the door offering her services for an hour or so. Whether or not they were sent by Russia’s infamous KGB is an open question but it was common knowledge that anyone who did partake in a midnight dalliance could well find themselves in a compromised situation.
Today the Ritz Carlton, where US President-elect Donald Trump is accused of having intimate relations which were apparently caught on tape, sits on the very spot where the Intourist Hotel once stood – at the bottom end of Tverskaya St, just across the road from the Kremlin.
It’s an irony probably not lost on Putin, a former lieutenant colonel in the KGB. He’d be well aware of the tactics his former employer used to gain leverage over unsuspecting foreigners or to discredit internal enemies of the state.
While both Trump and the Kremlin deny the existence of such tapes, this kind of tactic is a tried and true KGB (now FSB) speciality. It didn’t die with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In 1999, Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Skuratov was forced to resign after a tape showing a man who looked like him in bed with two prostitutes was aired on state-run TV. The footage emerged shortly after he announced he was going to investigate several prominent figures for corruption.
Ten years later there were two other tape-related scandals. A British diplomat lost his job after being pictured with two women in a compromising manner in a brothel and an American diplomat was also embroiled in a sex-scandal that the US claimed was fabricated.
Sometimes though, the plan backfires. Apparently it was tried on an Indonesian public figure who was filmed having sex with two women. It’s alleged that when he was shown the tape he was quite pleased with his performance and asked for extra copies as he thought it would be good publicity.
Others have got wise fast. Eight years ago the ‘honey pot’ tactic was tried on Ilya Yashin, a colleague of murdered opposition leader, Boris Nemstov. The New York Times published his description of the event which basically says a woman called Mumu had made contact with him, they’d dated for a couple of weeks, then she invited him over to an apartment and another woman was there. Things started to get a little steamy with whips but when the bag of sex toys and cocaine came out he thought enough was enough and left. He says the tape was never aired, surmising that it wasn’t compromising enough. But he claims footage filmed in the same flat of others did see the light of day.
Old tactics die hard
So, there’s a pattern here. And I can’t tell you the number of expat women who have said to me that they’re afraid of going on holiday and leaving their husbands behind because when they do, the approaches begin.
Given Trump had a long history of trying to do business with Russia in the 90’s and then later with the Miss Universe pageant, it’s not unreasonable to assume that Russia’s security services would have files on him. It would be unusual if they didn’t. The Czech’s are said to have had files on him as far back as the 1970s.
Usually though you wouldn’t reveal your trump card publicly as your leverage would be lost – unless, of course, you had an entirely different plan in mind.
The Kremlin labels allegations about the tapes existence as ‘pulp fiction’ but there must be some form of quiet enjoyment it’s reveling in as it watches the US tear itself apart. First with the hacking allegations and the role it may have played in getting Trump elected, and now with talks of impeachment before he’s even sworn in. It’s a disaster. Utter political disarray. And if Trump is looking for support at home, he may have to change his tune as, let’s face it, he hasn’t got off on a great start with his own intelligence agencies. If he doesn’t, they may well rain on his parade.
And all of this as Russia enjoys its Orthodox Christmas. Who could ask for more? Putin speaks fluent German so perhaps the word that’s floating through his mind as he gazes across the square from the Kremlin to the Ritz Carlton – feeling a little inner glow – is schadenfreude.