President Donald Trump was first approached by Russian operatives in 1987 when the man who would go on to become Soviet ambassador Yuri Dubinin opened discussions with Trump about a Moscow real estate project.
However, according to a Politico report published Sunday, Trump appeared on Soviet spy agency the KGB's radar nearly a decade earlier when he married Czech model Ivana Zelnickova.
"During the Cold War, Czech spies were known for their professionalism. Czech and Hungarian officers were typically used in espionage actions abroad, especially in the United States and Latin America. They were less obvious than Soviet operatives sent by Moscow," wrote Luke Harding.
Because of her country of origin, Soviet and U.S. intelligence agencies would be routinely monitoring the woman who became Ivana Trump and her new husband, but the first attempt to activate Trump as a Russian asset came when Natalia Dubinin brought her father Yuri to Trump Tower.
In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union was moving to cultivate non-traditional assets in the U.S., leaving aside the communist rallies and trade unions of mid-century Cold War spycraft. Recruiters were urged to look for people susceptible to money and flattery and the newly minted Manhattan real estate baron fit the bill.
“Further improvement in operational work with agents calls for fuller and wider utilisation of confidential and special unofficial contacts. These should be acquired chiefly among prominent figures in politics and society, and important representatives of business and science,” said a Soviet spy manual of the era.
"These should not only 'supply valuable information' but also 'actively influence' a country’s foreign policy 'in a direction of advantage to the USSR.'” Harding said.
In January of 1987, Dubinin invited Trump to Moscow, which intelligence agencies now view as a "classic cultivation exercise."
In Moscow, Trump was reportedly showered with luxuries and "lavish hospitality," said Harding.
“Everything is free. There are good parties with nice girls. It could be a sauna and girls and who knows what else,” said former KGB -- and its successor the GRU -- agent Viktor Suvorov. All premises Trump visited on the trip would have been under “24-hour control" and surveillance.
“The interest is only one," Suvorov explained. "To collect some information and keep that information about him for the future.”
The KGB cultivated a number of young potential assets this way including students from around the world, Suvorov said. Some would go on to be "nobodies," but others would eventually rise to positions of power and prominence.
“It’s at this point you say: ‘Knock, knock! Do you remember the marvelous time in Moscow? It was a wonderful evening. You were so drunk. You don’t remember? We just show you something for your good memory,'" said the former spy.
"Nothing came of the trip -- at least nothing in terms of business opportunities inside Russia," wrote Harding. "This pattern of failure would be repeated in Trump’s subsequent trips to Moscow. But Trump flew back to New York with a new sense of strategic direction. For the first time he gave serious indications that he was considering a career in politics. Not as mayor or governor or senator."
"Trump," Harding said, "was thinking about running for president."