So we have our first reason to understand why Montana’s junior senator is heading to Moscow on American Independence Day: Steve Daines is going there to “personally assess the threats Russia poses.”
Couching his excuse behind the military and patriotism, Daines noted that he had just toured Malmstrom Air Force Base and talked about missile defense. Senator Daines, who has been in office for four years and has been on both the Department of Homeland Defense Cybersecurity and Defense Appropriations committees apparently has no idea what threats Russia presents. He then went on to talk “tough” on how hard he is on Russia. Meanwhile the Russians are claiming this trip promises to bring something “big” and will receive policy promises that would be “acceptable to Russia.” So, yeah, really tough stuff!
Here is what I think is going on, and it is a feeling shared by a group of intensely savvy Russia watchers I hang with: Russia is looking for sanctions relief, big business is looking for opportunities with Russian oligarchs and the Kremlin, and four senators are going because they can help pave the way for sanctions relief in Congress because they are beholden to those businesses and Trump.
Congress and the former president put sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of sovereign territory in neighboring Ukraine. They have been one of the most effective deterrents to Russian politicians and oligarchs getting more funding to unleash their authoritarian ways across the globe. If you want to study an affective way to combat Moscow, Senator Daines, take a look at how the sanctions work and make them stronger. You do not need to travel for that, just read a policy brief. Oh and fun fact… Daines took a visit from a sanctioned member of that invasion last fall who also has business interests in sanctions relief. Daines never said why he took this odd visit. But now it sure is getting clearer.
So excuse one (there will be more) is couched in military deterrence because that is the easiest sell to Daines’ Republican base. I am hoping they will not fall for it because it is ridiculous and ludicrous on its face. It is just as unbelievable as when Sarah Palin claimed to be able to understand the Russian threat because she could see it from her house. Actually, hey, Daines could understand the threat and save us a taxpayer-funded junket by just going to Palin’s house.
So next up should be business or agricultural interests Daines can get from Russia. He really should have saved his All American excuse until the end though, because patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.