Natalia Veselnitskaya has a tendency to appear from out of nowhere and become the center of attention. Before a now-infamous meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower last summer—one that also involved a former Soviet counterintelligence officer and current American citizen and D.C. lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin—Veselnitskaya was a relatively unknown figure, even in Moscow. When her name did find its way into the international news, it was because of her spirited defense of some of Russia’s least defensible actions.
“She’s like tank,” says her friend, the Russian-born film director Andrei Nekrasov. “Maybe she overstepped some bounds when she was there [in New York last June]. But she felt she could do something on behalf of Russia. That’s the kind of person she is. She could get misty-eyed talking about this stuff. She’s a patriot.”
And it was evidently this sense of patriotism that took her from obscure origins as a regional prosecutor in Russia to Trump Tower last summer—and from there to the center of a scandal engulfing the American president.
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Veselnitskaya, 42, once served as a prosecutor in the Moscow region, an area that encompasses the vast Moscow suburbs, military towns, and dacha communities. The region is both rich and rife with corruption and organized crime. It is this relatively rough and provincial background that makes Russian observers skeptical about Veselnitskaya’s sudden entrée into the distant scandals of Washington. “Instead of the highest [Russian] officials, spies, and the famous diplomat [Sergei] Kislyak, we now get a Moscow region mover and shaker with a reputation for as a ‘fixer,’ who fits into the scandals at the local, regional level, but seems absurd as part of the world of geopolitics,” writes the Russian journalist Oleg Kashin.