In what Russian officials called the most "significant" United States congressional visit in at least a decade, according to The Washington Post, a Republican-only group of U.S. senators spent their own country's Independence Day, and the two days leading up to July 4, in Moscow.
On Tuesday, as the Inquisitr reported, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report not only confirming that the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election for the purpose of boosting Donald Trump, but that further evidence supporting that conclusion in the year since the intelligence agencies made it public.
"The Russian effort was extensive and sophisticated, and its goals were to undermine public faith in the democratic process, to hurt Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and to help Donald Trump," said the committee's vice-chair, Democrat Mark Warner, quoted by The Independent newspaper.
But Tuesday was also the day that Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (pictured above left) leader of the GOP group that met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (pictured above right) to tell him, "we have some common interests. We are competitors, but we don't necessarily need to be adversaries," as quoted by CNBC.
Shelby did not bring up the topic of Russia's interference in the 2016 election with Lavrov, but earlier he told Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia's parliament, "I'm not here today to accuse Russia of this or that or so forth. I'm saying that we should all strive for a better relationship," according to The Post.
Russian President Vladimir Putin snubbed the Republican Senators, telling them through a spokesperson that he had no time to meet with them, the Post report said.
Lavrov was named in the "Steele Dossier" — the private intelligence document detailing deep ties between the Trump campaign and Russia — as the official who originated the plan to intervene in the U.S. election, according to a Post report. When the operation seemed to be failing, and Clinton's election appeared inevitable, Putin became so infuriated that he considered firing Lavrov, whom he appointed to be foreign minister in 2004, the dossier said.
The Steele Dossier is available to read online, published in 2017 by BuzzFeed.
It was also Lavrov, along with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who met with Trump behind closed doors in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017, the day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over what Trump called in an NBC News interview, "this Russia thing with Trump and Russia."
In that meeting, as the Inquisitr reported, Trump told Lavrov and Kislyak that firing Comey relieved "great pressure" on him. He then went on to pass the two Russian officials highly classified information about an anti-terrorist operation conducted in Syria.
Why were the Republican senators in Russia seeking the friendship of Russian officials, even as investigators back home confirm that Russia attacked the 2016 election?
One answer may be found in a report by The Dallas Morning News from last year that detailed extensive contributions, well into the millions, flowed from Russian oligarchs linked to Putin into the Republican party during the 2016 campaign.
Another factor may be, as detailed in a Politico report from July of 2017, that Putin has made considerable effort to position himself and Russia as the final bastion of "traditional values," blasting what he called the "genderless and infertile" liberal values of the U.S. and other Western nations.
In 2013, under Putin's direction, the Russian parliament passed a draconian anti-gay law banning "homosexual propaganda," and according to The Council for Global Equality, "LGBT people are being targeted by anti-LGBT propaganda and foreign agents laws" by Putin's government.
In fact, also in 2013, a Kremlin-linked think tank called the Center for Strategic Communications released a report entitled, "Putin: World Conservatism's New Leader."
Putin's public pronouncement of his right-wing views appears designed to win the favor of American conservatives, according to Brookings Institute researcher James Kirchik, who authored the Politico article on Republican's admiration for Putin.
Putin himself, by his own declaration according to the Russian news agency Interfax, was a longtime member of the Communist Party in the former Soviet Union. As recently as 2016, he told an audience in Russia, "I was not, as you know, a party member by necessity. I liked Communist and socialist ideas very much and I like them still."
But he attempted to reconcile his fondness for "Communist and socialist ideas" with his hard-right "traditional" views by claiming that communism originates in the Bible, Interfax reported.