One cannot observe U.S. news and politics in 2017 without careening headfirst into a Russia story. Naturally, this has everything to do with Donald Trump’s presidency, for the real estate mogul and reality star has been fixated on Russia for decades. And the obsession is mutual, although the American president has grown extraordinarily defensive over Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. Nearly every day sees Trump lash out at and completely trash anyone who alleges collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.
What has transpired may eventually go down as legend, something that is taught in history classes around the world for centuries to come. However, the truth is still out there, slowly being pieced together during investigations by the FBI and Congress. While the world witnesses these hearings over the coming weeks and months, this timeline of key events — involving Trump, his many associates, and Russia — reveals clear patterns of behavior and strategy on all sides. Whether or not Trump has been a knowing participant in the shadier aspects of these ties is up for debate, but the total effect of this timeline is staggering to witness.
- Unknown Date: Trump meets with Yori Dubinin, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the U.S., at a luncheon hosted by Leonard Lauder (son to Estee Lauder). Following a discussion about Trump Tower’s glitz and gleam, Trump revealed — in 1987’s Art of the Deal — “one thing led to another, and now I’m talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin.”
- Unknown Date: Soviet international tourism agency, Intourist, begins to court Trump, who soon travels to Moscow to begin scouting hotel sites. Although he meets with several advisors and economists from the Politburo (the policymaking body of the Communist party), he doesn’t get to hang with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbechev. Yet.
- December: Trump — who is eager to meet Gorbechev while he visits the U.S. — doesn’t realize that an imposter shakes his hand in New York City. The next night, Trump and then-wife Ivana attend a state dinner at the Reagan White House, where he finally encounters the real Gorbechev (awkward!), with whom he discusses hotels.
- Unknown Date: Michael Caputo, a future Trump campaign advisor who would later resign for mocking Corey Lewandowski on Twitter, works to enhance Putin’s image in the U.S. on behalf of Gazprom-Media.
- Unknown Date: Trump’s plans to build a Moscow hotel begin in earnest alongside the Bayrock Group, an international real estate development firm. He joins forces with one of the firm’s managing partners — a shady Russian-American businessman named Felix Sater — who enters and exits Trump’s life for the next several years. Ultimately, Sater’s shadowy, mafia-affiliated presence becomes a handicap for Trump, who later claims that he barely knows the guy. Still, Sater’s name somehow ends up on a “Senior Advisor To Donald Trump” business card for the Trump Organization.
- March 22: Political strategist Paul Manafort begins working for a Russian billionaire oligarch on a $10 million annual contract. His job duties reportedly aim to “advance the interests” of Putin. This includes hatching a plan to influence U.S. news and politics coverage, along with erasing anti-Russian global sentiments.
- September: Trump and Sater stand next to each other in a photograph while launching the Trump SoHo hotel, which Sater helped to develop.
- November: The mogul tries to make Trump Vodka — which debuts at the Moscow Millionaire’s Fair — become a thing in Russia. Despite a promising beginning, enthusiasm dampens within a few years.
- Unknown Date: Donald Trump Jr. tells a real estate conference about a lucrative source of the Trump Organization’s funding: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
- June: As Trump prepares to bring the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow, he tweets his excitement at how the event “will bring our countries together!” Trump also muses about whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend, and “if so, will he become my new best friend?”
- November: During an MSNBC interview, Trump is asked whether he had any “sway or influence” that would indicate a relationship with Putin. The real estate mogul answers, “I do have a relationship … He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.”