There isn’t a single person inside the Bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died. Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it
Mikhail Lesin was found dead in DuPont Circle Hotel room in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 2015. He was a well-known media tycoon, former Russian Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications, an ex-CEO in Gazprom-Media and a creator of Russian state-owned propaganda channel Russia Today (RT). He became yet another Russian businessman who had died under mysterious circumstances. Some questions remain unanswered – for example: what exactly had happened to Lesin and who could be interested in his death?
In late October 2016, the U.S. police closed the investigation and Lesin’s death was classified as an accident. In a rather confusing report, it was mentioned that Lesin “entered his hotel room in the morning on November 4, 2015 after days of excessive consumption of alcohol, and then while being alone in the room he suffered trauma that led to his death. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to skull in addition to trauma to neck, chest and limbs which were caused by falls in a state of ’acute alcohol intoxication’.”
On July 28, 2017, BuzzFeed published new investigative material regarding the circumstances of Lesin’s death. Based on the comments of two FBI agents and a U.S. intelligence officer, the authors claimed that Lesin was assassinated in Washington on the eve of his meeting with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) officials. Allegedly, he was beaten to death with a baseball bat. BuzzFeed quoted the medical examiner’s office statement that the death was caused by a “blunt force injuries of the head”. Besides the injuries just mentioned, it was discovered that “he had fractured ribs.” “What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the Bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died. Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it,” – said one of the BuzzFeed sources. This view is based on information that Lesin was going to be interviewed by the DOJ officials who were interested in the inner workings of RT, Russian TV network.
There is a common practice that under these circumstances, DOJ would pay for an informant’s accommodation. And that can explain the fact that Lesin was staying at a 4-star DuPont Circle hotel with a cost of $250-$300 per night, contrary to his habitual accommodation at more upscale establishments, such as Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, which he knew well, and for which the DOJ must not have been willing to shell out $500-$800 per night.
What information could Lesin provide to U.S. law enforcement officials? What information could be so damaging to someone who made a decision to eliminate him? To answer these questions, we should look back to 2005 when Russian Government approved Lesin’s initiative to create RT, a TV network that would broadcast its content in foreign languages, primarily in English.
However, Lesin did not have any influence on editorial policy from the very beginning. According to Margarita Simonyan, RT Editor-In-Chief, sometime during the period between June 6, 2005 (when the decision was made to create RT) and September 14, 2005 (when broadcasting began), Lesin lamented to her in his office:
You have ruined my idea… You have not even started and you know how they already call you?
I know. Pah-Russia* Today.
That’s right! It was my idea.
* This is a play on words. “Pah-Russia” is a phonetic imitation of an obscene Russian colloquial term, which means “latrine” but that also rhymes with English pronunciation of the word “Russia”.
These days, “Pah-Russia Todaу” broadcasts in more than a hundred countries around the world. After Russian invasion in Georgia in 2008, Russia Today was rebranded as “RT” for PR reasons and now viewers don’t always realize that what they are watching is, in fact, a Russian propaganda channel. At least, the word “Russia” is not immediately obvious from the name “RT“.
The network is financed from the Russian Federation’s federal budget. And if in 2005-2006, the network was getting approximately $30 million in financing per year, during the later years – e.g., 2008-2009 – such financing amounted to as much as approximately $100 million per year. To-wit, in 2014, due to Russian invasion into Ukraine, RT was granted $445 million to provide propaganda support; in 2015, this amount was still considerable – approximately $236 million or $320 million, depending on the source; and in 2016 – it was approximately $210 million or $250 million, depending on the source. (By comparison, the annual budget of the BBC, which is funded by the British Government, is $375 million).
Just once RT has publicly reported its expenses and that report consisted of 3 (three) lines. That is why it is literally impossible to know for sure how much funding went to RT from the Russian Federation’s budget and how it was used.
In Russia, stealing from the Government is a business that brings the highest return. The greater the budget – the greater the opportunities to generate profit therefrom. Former Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications (1999-2004), Advisor to the President of Russia (2004-2009), Russia Today’s founder (2005), general manager of Gazprom-Media (2013-2015) Mikhail Lesin was, generally speaking, not a poor man. He traveled a lot; he was very fond of his yacht and fishing; he owned villas in Los Angeles, California, as a family property. On September 25, 2015, just a few weeks before his death, his daughter Tamara was born. The baby’s mother was ex-model and ex-flight attendant Victoria Rakhimbayeva, Lesin’s last romantic interest.
Лесин перевез свою новою жену в США, где хотел начать новую жизнь. В сентябре 2015 у него родилась дочь. pic.twitter.com/2l74kB6Jbx— Записки сумасшедшего (@Pavel_XII) 6 квітня 2016 р.
In fact, Lesin’s personal life was receiving extensive media coverage. Victoria Rakhimbayeva’s photos frequently appeared in popular magazines and on Internet sites. Simple calculations showed that the amounts of money Lesin had at his disposal could not have been earned during his years in Government and in TV business. After his death, his two Los Angeles, California, mansions were put up for sale for $51 million.
However, let us not moralize: this article is not intended to determine how much money was taken from the Russian Federation’s budget by the then-Government official Mikhail Lesin. There is another point of interest: the State of Russia, all the Russian law enforcement institutions and the State-owned international company Russia Today – all these years, they all appeared to have been fully satisfied with Lesin’s financial integrity. That could lead to a speculation that he acted in line with what was expected of him by some superior authority. And for a long period of time, the “superior authority” for Lesin meant Vladimir Putin.
In 2014, after Russia occupied Crimea and invaded Eastern Ukraine, a number of Russian companies and individuals were subjected to U.S. sanctions. On July 29, 2014, Lesin found himself in a precarious position: U.S. Senator from Mississippi Roger Wicker asked the DOJ to investigate the origin of the funds that Lesin, who was characterized as Putin's propaganda Chief, had used in 2009 to purchase his $28 million mansion in Los Angeles, California. Lesin replied that the real estate in question was his children’s property. This kind of response was not sufficient to convince the U.S. officials, especially after they secured the cooperation of Lesin’s friend and junior partner, Alexei Yazlovsky, who was also a head of Russia Today’s U.S. branch.
A Soviet emigre, Yazlovsky knew Lesin since their college years. They both attended Moscow Institute of Civil Engineering (MISI). Lesin graduated in 1984. They both joined MISI’s KVN* team, where Lesin acted as a team manager. There were many future TV stars on that team: showman and TV personality Leonid Yakubovich, TV shows host (Out of the Mouths of Babes, Hundred-To-One) Alexandr Gurevich, producer of these shows and also of a Jeopardy-like show (My Game) Sergey Pekhletsky, producer of TV channel Business Russia Aleksandr Akopov, Video International president Yuri Zapol, writer and producer of Funny Guys Andrei Knishev.
*) Footnote for KVN – an improvisational game show, during which the teams from different universities competed among themselves and which was (and continues to be) quite popular in Russia/USSR.
After graduation, they all were dispersed all over the Soviet Union and beyond. Lesin, in particular, was sent to Mongolia. Yazlovsky continued his education in State Institute for Theatre Arts (GITIS). When Lesin returned from Mongolia, Yazlovsky offered his old friend a position of a manager in a newly-established theater called “Panopticum”. In 1990, their first joint venture was registered – it was a production company called “MA” after their first names’ initials (Mikhail and Alexei). But in 1991, Yazlovsky left Russia for the United States, and Lesin and another college friend, Yuri Zapol, founded another company, RTV (Radio and Television) that would be later rebranded as an advertising agency, Video International.
Though he had officially emigrated, Yazlovsky kept his hand in Russian TV industry. As a director, he took part in producing several shows, such as “Good Evening” with Igor Ugolnikov where Lesin served as co-producer since January 1997. Yazlovsky even made an attempt to dabble in acting in “Funny Guys.” In 2001, he directed a Russian TV film “Let’s Go” dedicated to the first Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin. In U.S., he directed a TV series titled “Letters from America,” with Alexander Genis as a host. During the same period, Lesin enjoyed the positions within the Russian Government as a Minister of Press, Broadcasting and Mass Communications in Russia, and was actively involved in a TV industry.
In June of 2005, after plans were announced to create a new 24-hour-a-day English-speaking informational channel “Russia Today”, Yazlovsky, who became U.S. citizen in 2002, registered companies named RTTV America, Inc. and RTTV Studios, Inc. with himself as a president of both. By virtue of that, Yazlovsky personally became a creator of the trademark “Russia Today”. However, the legal rights to the RT logo were transferred from Yazlovsky to TV-Novosti (a company that owns Russia Today) only in 2010.
It is worth noting that there were about 45 people on RTTV America, Inc.’s staff. On paper, the company produced TV and video content for Russia Today. In reality, Yazlovsky acted, and was in fact, the owner of the U.S. branch of RT, also known as RT America. That must have been the reason that these companies stated the same address on their U.S. tax returns. In fact, RTTV America’s offices in four U.S. cities – Washington, D. C., New York, Miami and Los Angeles – were situated at the same locations as the local bureaus of Russia Today. Moreover, on their individual tax returns, including W-2 forms, U.S. employees of RT America stated that they were employed by Yazlovsky’s company, RTTV America. Additionally, Yazlovsky exercised control over Voice of Russia radio station, which, in 2013, by Putin’s decree, was closed, reorganized and incorporated into Russia Today. All those activities were supervised by Lesin.
Yazlovsky had strong connections not only with Lesin, but with Lesin’s children as well. In late 2009, Mikhail Lesin moved to California where his children had already lived. After that, his daughter Ekaterina became RT America’s producer, and his son Anton started to produce movies in Hollywood, with three of his films having being released during these years. Yazlovsky was credited as a co-producer of one of them – namely, “Haunt” (2014).
Thus, all in all, it would appear that Yazlovsky maintained strong connections with Lesin, his family and his business, including the inner workings of Russia Today. Accordingly, he must have known that Russia Today was running a multi-million-dollar money laundering scheme in the U.S. through fake employment records and phony contracts. Likewise, just as he must have known that Lesin pocketed his share of that money, he must have pocketed his own share as well. (Yazlovsky bought a house for $1.873 million in Potomac, Maryland (a suburb of Washington, D. C.), as well as an apartment in New York City and a summer home in Naples, Florida) There was a very close circle of people who knew how the money laundered on behalf of Russia Today was spent. It appears that both Lesin and Yazlovsky were inside that circle.
Yazlovsky signed an agreement that obligated him to disclose to U.S. law enforcement all the information about two companies affiliated with Russia Today
DOJ got interested in Alexei Yazlovsky almost accidentally. In 2007, some of the DOJ officials suspected UBS AG, a prominent Swiss bank, of involvement in certain dubious financial operations. As the aftermath of this, the Swiss officials started an investigation over financial activities of three Israeli banks, Napoalim, Leumi and Mizrahi-Tefahot. As a result, in September 2011, two managers of a U.S. tax return preparation company (United Revenue Service, Inc. (URS)), with 12 branches in U.S., named David Kalai and Nadav Kalai, as well as another URS employee, David Almog, an Israeli citizen, have been charged with conspiracy and tax evasion by virtue of establishing undeclared bank accounts for clients at Luxembourg and Switzerland branches of Israeli banks. In 2000-2001, all three of these individuals appear to have helped clients set up undeclared accounts at the branches of two Israeli banks and establish offshore companies in Belize and elsewhere, all “to act as named account holders on the undeclared bank accounts” in order to hide the clients' ownership of funds and conceal the clients' income from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). By sheer happenstance, and unfortunately for him, Alexei Yazlovsky, happened to have been one of the Kalais’ clients. In 2012, he began to cooperate with the investigation.
First legal documents evidencing such cooperation of Yazlovsky were signed by Yazlovsky on December 14, 2012. On May 3, 2013, Yazlovsky was arrested in the U.S. and charged with tax evasion; he was released on the same day on a $50,000 bail. Under the conditions of his release, he was restricted from leaving U.S. and was ordered to turn in his two passports: Russian passport № SI 4979912, issued in May 2011, and U.S. passport № 017168567, issued in September 2003. On May 16, 2013, he signed an agreement that obligated him to disclose to U.S. law enforcement officials all the information in his possession concerning practices and activities of the two companies affiliated with Russia Today that he had established – RTTV America, Inc. and RTTV Studios, LLC.
On July 1, 2013, Yazlovsky pleaded guilty to tax fraud and admitted that he intentionally misinformed the IRS and concealed $2.6 million from U.S. taxation in 2008. In return for his plea, in November 2013, the judge allowed him to have his passports for one week to make a business trip to Moscow. DOJ’s charges against Yazlovsky were made public on April 1, 2014, when Washington Free Beacon’s reporter Alana Goodman published an article on Yazlovsky’s trial.
That seemingly insignificant, and, for the time being, the only U.S. publication about Yazlovsky, caused real panic in Russia Today. Moscow started to suspect that among other things, U.S. investigators had gotten access to information on Lesin’s and RT’s money laundering activities. That is why as soon as April 8, 2014, RT, through a publication in a Moscow newspaper Kommersant, made an attempt to reject stipulations regarding Yazlovsky’s connection to Russia Today:
”Alexei Yazlovsky, owner of RTTV America, has been charged with tax fraud by U.S. authorities. Investigation considers him to be an actual owner of American branch of Russian state TV channel RT (Russia Today). The company itself stated that Mr. Yazlovsky was one of the channel’s counterparties, but not a branch owner by any means. RT’s Editor-In-Chief, Margarita Simonyan, declared that Mr. Yazlovsky was counterparty, one of the hundreds RT dealt with: ‘RTTV America is a commercial legal entity, it independently reports to revenue service. RT has no right and no ability to monitor or verify their business practices and tax integrity.”
According to Simonyan, the investigation itself was a “regular and routine story,” which Western media had inflated up to a level of a “wild scandal.” Ms. Simonyan was sure that “no one would ever care about this kind of story” if Yazlovsky were not be linked to RT. According to her, RT was going to terminate its contract with RTTV America due to reputational losses RT suffered. “We vigorously disagree with an assumption that American authorities’ tax claims to our counterparty have anything to do with Russia Today.”
At the same time RT’s commercial representative Roman Tokman, nephew of Yazlovsky’s wife Svetlana Ryabaya, told Washington Free Beacon that “Yazlovsky is not RT America’s president”, that he merely ran a video production, “organized camera crews and content transfers, and provided TV studio equipment”. According to Mr. Tokman, Russia Today was just a buyer of all of these services, and it controlled RT America, but had no connection with RTTV America.
It was hard to believe all this in view of RTTV America having officially hired RT America’s staff, signed their paychecks and covered their expenses. In fact, only in the summer of 2014, after Goodman’s article, had RT America’s management announced that those functions were to be handled by T&R Productions, a company registered to Mikhail Solodovnikov, RT America’s news director.
On March 9, 2015, the United States District Court for the Central District of California had sentenced Yazlovsky to a year of supervised release, a $60,000 fine and 640 hours of community service. It was difficult to imagine a lighter sentence.
Evidently, in 2013, DOJ were not very interested in Yazlovsky’s case and his money laundering activities in collaboration with Russia Today. In 2013, nobody had any idea about Putin’s plan to occupy Crimea, start a war on Ukraine and interfere with American Presidential election. IRS were only investigating the Israeli banks at the time. Several “large” amounts were referenced in court papers concerning Yazlovsky case. There were $2.6 million transferred by Yazlovsky’s “Russian client” to an account in a Luxembourg branch of an Israeli bank; $2.83 million transferred by Yazlovsky’s “Russian client” to an RTTV Studios account in the U.S.; $900,000 “buried” in one of Nadav Kalai’s companies. In addition, there were $7.65 million that Yazlovsky attempted to hide from U.S. taxation through a different plan. In that regard, Nadav Kalai’s personal reward of $642,000 was also mentioned. But all those amounts could not be compared in magnitude with, for example, $400-million fine that was rendered to U.S. Treasury by Leumi Bank alone in the course of Kalais’ affair.
All in all, no money laundering charges were brought against Yazlovsky. He managed to maintain control over two RT-related companies that kept working in the “business-as-usual” mode. Russia Today also didn’t make any claims against Yazlovsky, which is only understandable in light of the fact that both sides were busy laundering Russian Federation’s Government funds under the supervision of the Kremlin.
The name “Alexei Yazlovsky” was so familiar to RT staff that even in February 2015, announcing report on provision shortage in the U.S., they wrongfully credited Alexei Yazlovsky as an author thereof, instead of RT reporter with a similarly-sounding name, Alexey Yaroshevsky: “Food insecurity is a major problem in the U.S., with more families struggling to put food on the table and live healthier lives. Along with this, Americans have been wasting a large amount of perfectly good, healthy food. RT’s Alexey Yazlovsky reports on the Baltimore-based charity Food Recovery Network, which is working to combat food insecurity and waste”.
They have their own lives. And I have mine. And I want to live it the way I like. I just cannot bear this madhouse anymore
Thus, in 2014, after the invasion of Russia into Ukraine and the Yazlovsky’s trial, Russia Today walked away without a scratch and did not become the subject of the U.S. Government’s sanctions or penalties. During the same period, Lesin was gradually retreating from affairs, partly because of the health issues resulting from a serious skiing accident involving spinal injury, which occurred in 2012 and from which he have never fully recovered.
His personal life has changed, too. In the middle of 2014, he started dating Victoria Rakhimbayeva and visiting U.S. more and more frequently. In 2013, he was there twice (from May 29 to June 6 and from August 28 to September 7). In 2014, there were four visits: January 8-12, March 2-9, July 10-20, December 15-25. In December 2014, he shared with Margarita Simonyan his plans to give up business and just to travel. Simonyan recalls:
“– I don’t understand how you could give it up! It would affect so many people!
– Listen, these people are not children. They have their own lives. And I have mine. And I want to live it the way I like. I just cannot bear this madhouse anymore.
– So what are you going to do?
– Just live. Travel with Vika to places I have never seen before. If there are such places left.
– I don’t understand.
– Someday you will. Or you will not.“
In 2015, not long before his death, Lesin suggested that Simonyan should leave Russia for America. In Soviet era, they called it “to become a defector”. But amidst election campaign in the U.S., it would be considered a betrayal of Putin. Probably we will never know if Simonyan told Putin about that conversation. In any case, she rejected that idea:
“– You should think about your future, you know. I am worried about you. How long can you be the Editor-In-Chief for Russia Today? You better move to Los Angeles. You will write scripts, Tigran [Keosayan, film director, Margarita Simonyan’s husband] will shoot films; I will be your producer.
– You know very well, Mikhail, I will never leave.
– Eh, you are an adult now and still you are a silly girl.“
Peter Aven recalls that he met Lesin in America in late August of 2015. He recalls: “[Lesin] was willing to come and support me after my wife died.”
(Elena Aven died on August 25, 2015). “He arrived in New York and went to East Hamptons. It was on August 30 or 31. He was very weak, and in bad shape in general.” During that time, Lesin stayed in U.S. until September 9, 2015. He left intending to return because Aven had invited him to a ceremony at the Woodrow Wilson International Center where Aven was going to receive an award for his contribution to Russian-American relationship. “After that, I met him in Moscow in September or in October, and I confirmed the invitation,“ – recalled Aven.
An awards dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington D.C., to be held in connection with the Woodrow Wilson International Center event, was scheduled for November 3, 2015. Lesin had promised to come and was listed among other numerous guests. It means that his potential presence could have been known to a large number of people, not all of whom were necessarily his well-wishers.
On October 21, 2015, Lesin flew to Los Angeles. From there, he traveled to Washington, D. C. and checked in to DuPont Circle Hotel on Monday, November 2. Such an arrival at the beginning of workweek looks quite natural if we were to keep in mind that he might have also been scheduled to have meetings with U.S. investigators. Afterwards, there were many reports in the media that, at least at the evening of November 2, he was already in the state of inebriation. On November 3, Lesin did not show up at the ceremonial dinner. Peter Aven tried to reach him by the phone and by text message – all to no avail. The last time DuPont Circle Hotel surveillance cameras registered Lesin’s presence was him entering the hotel at 10:48 am on November 4, 2015.
“I don’t believe in a KGB plot,”— said Peter Aven, -- “He could get drunk, he could get himself into a brawl. He has always been a brawler, especially when he drank. May be it was just a fight. May be his heart just stopped.” Under any circumstances, “just a fight” is considered a murder if it caused a death. Indeed, Lesin’s heart stopped eventually but only after he had suffered “blunt force trauma to skull in addition to trauma to neck, chest and limbs.”
Putin attacked Hillary Clinton from both sides
Lesin’s death in 2015 coincided with the events that still affect the whole world these days: Kremlin’s operation aiding Donald Trump in his U.S. Presidential Campaign. It was an operation unprecedented in global history, and Russia Today, as a Government’s propaganda channel, played a major role in it. Lesin was familiar with all Russia Today’s inner workings since he was in its upper management for a long time. At the same time, he was a corrupt individual with an alcoholic propensity who frequently visited U.S., owned expensive real estate in the U.S. and whose family lived in the U.S. Willingly or merely under the pressure of circumstances, he could become a source of information that potentially could fatally harm Putin’s multilayered plan.
Putin could not tolerate any risk of leaking that type of information. From now on, Russia Today was not just a TV company broadcasting for foreign countries. Russia Today acted as a liaison between the Kremlin and Russian agents involved in Putin’s plan. It became a key element of the entire operation aimed to put Donald Trump, who had been previously bribed, into the Oval Office.
Putin attacked Hillary Clinton from both sides. From the “Left”, the Kremlin used Jill Stein. In September 2015, as the Green Party’s candidate for the President, she attended Russia Today’s event in New York where she shook hands and had a friendly chat with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov who “accidentally” came along. In October-November 2015, Russia Today switched to the “Right” and got involved in a correspondence with Michael Flynn who had already received $11,250 as a bribe from two Russian companies, Volga-Dnepr Aviation and Kaspersky Lab. RT’s objective was to arrange Flynn’s visit to Moscow in December 2015 and his attendance at RT’s 10-year anniversary celebration.
In December 15, Stein and Flynn actually crossed paths in Moscow at RT’s 10-year anniversary celebration and sat at the same table as Putin. At the same time, Flynn publicly called for Clinton’s imprisonment and secretly promised to revoke U.S. sanctions against Russian interests and to work towards U.S. recognizing annexation of Crimea as legitimate. Stein, in turn, received her share of electoral votes during the Presidential Election 2016; incidentally, those were roughly the votes that deprived Clinton of presidency. For example, in Michigan, Stein earned 51,000 votes, while Trump was only 11,000 votes ahead of Clinton. Similarly, in Wisconsin, Trump received 23,000 votes more than Clinton, while Stein got 31,000 votes; and in Pennsylvania, Trump’s advantage amounted to 44,000 votes, while 50,000 votes went to Stein.
Flynn received remuneration from Putin for his efforts, including the $45,000 he was paid from the RT budget. Stein did not receive cash but RT was the only TV station in the U.S. that covered her Presidential Campaign and invited her to the studio starting from day one. RT even became a debate platform for the primaries of The Green Party that resulted in Stein’s victory. It doesn’t seem to be possible to estimate the cost of these PR efforts in real numbers but it is obvious that without Russia Today’s PR support, Stein would hardly be able to collect those critical votes.
Another RT “accomplishment” worth mentioning is the active employment of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks in favor of Trump.
On July 27, 2016, Trump addressed Putin with a request to make public those 30,000 of missing Clinton’s e-mails. “I will tell you this – Russia, if you’re listening; I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said.
Russia did find those emails. And on November 5, 2016, on the very eve of the Election Day, RT broadcasted Assange’s interview regarding Clinton’s e-mails, in which he assured U.S. voters that Russia had nothing to do with their publication, stating: “The Clinton camp has been able to project that kind of neo-McCarthy hysteria: that Russia is responsible for everything. Hillary Clinton stated multiple times, falsely, that seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies had determined that Russia was the source of our publications. That is false; we can say that the Russian Government is not the source”.
Millions of U.S. voters watched Assange’s interview before the Election Day. More than that, if you use Google to search for YouTube videos with Assange that were “uploaded by RT”, you would get a surprising number of 2,420,000. By the way, recall that on the famous photo of Putin, Flynn and Stein at the same table in Moscow in December 2015, they all appeared to be looking at something intently. It turns out that they were looking at a TV screen where Julian Assange was giving the above-described interview.
In light of the foregoing, it seems reasonable to agree with Elena Postnikova who, in an article for Newsweek from January 16, 2017, posited that under the U.S. law, RT should have obtained status of “foreign agent”, or with the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who suggested that “perhaps RT’s employees should be accredited as foreign agents rather than journalists.”
In fact, RT was never an informational channel. It was designed and created by the Kremlin as a propaganda tool to be used for 24/7 ideological indoctrination and sometimes even for interference in Presidential elections, and not only in the U.S. Putin’s stakes in this effort are extremely high. And when every single vote could affect the winner, it was getting too dangerous to have Lesin “on the loose” in Washington, D. C., in November 2015. Possible consequences of that loose end were unpredictable; he was a risk factor. His testimony and even his off-the-record conversations could pose a threat to already compromised activities of RT and wreck the “Trump for President” operation. It is possible that the Kremlin had no real reasons to be afraid of Lesin’s revelations but paranoia, traditional for Russian Secret Service, took its toll. One man’s life (it was not the first time, and it would not be the last one, as we discovered) was considered a reasonable price to ensure success of the most brilliant Russian undercover operation since the one that ended up bringing one FSB official, Vladimir Putin, to power in Russia in 2000.
Lesin who had health and alcohol addiction issues, was an easy target for those who were responsible for eliminating possible leaks – the leaks that eventually allowed American society and politicians to start to put together the pieces of a puzzle to get an unpleasant picture that they called “Russian interference” in the U.S. elections and “collusion with Russia.” And now Donald Trump, who had failed to secure those leaks, is facing the menace of impeachment.