Sarah Palin may not have been able to see Russia from her house, as Tina Fey once joked, but it seems that a Russian operative did his best to see Sarah Palin in her own home state.
Newly unearthed documents obtained by NPR reveal that Russian politician Alexander Torshin has been making regular trips to the United States since 2009 in an effort to court American conservatives into having a more favorable opinion of Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Among other things, Torshin once traveled to Alaska, where he tried to score a visit with former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. He also attended every single NRA convention from 2012 through 2016, and even scored a role as an elections observer in Tennessee during the 2012 presidential election.
"Putin and probably the Russian intelligence services saw [Torshin's connections] as something that they could leverage in the United States," Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russian operations, tells NPR. "They reach out to guy like Torshin and say, 'Hey, can you make contact with the NRA and some other conservatives... so that we can have connectivity from Moscow into those conservative parts of American politics should we need them?' And that's basically just wiring the United States for sound, if you will, in preparation for whatever they might need down the road."
Hall says that Russia used its government's notorious disdain for LGBT rights as a gateway to pitch itself to American conservative Christians as a government that shared a lot of their own concerns.
"You know, we don't like LGBT causes anymore than you conservatives on the right in the United States do, we are interested in engaging the NRA... the church plays an important role in Russia just as it should in the United States," said Hall, summarizing Russian operatives' pitch to conservatives.