From Russia without kid gloves

by on July 20, 2018

WHILE President Trump dissembles over whether he can’t see “why it would be Russia” or why it “wouldn’t be” and prefers Vladimir Putin’s denial over his own intelligence services, all the evidence points to Russia. First, why, one might ask, would anyone trust the US intelligence services, after the post 9/11 call on Iraq’s so-called weapons of mass destruction?

The answer is because they learned a lot from that. President Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, in his book Facts and Fears, says the intelligence community did several things as a result.

First, they made it a rule to always speak truth to power. Second, they vowed not to blur the lines between what is known, what is unknown and what is conjecture. Third, they vowed to avoid policy recommendations and just state the facts. Fourth, and most important, they got their act together and instead of each agency guarding its own turf, they co-operated and shared information.

Clapper did his best to organise a smooth transition after Trump won, but was ignored and rebuffed. In October 2016, before the election, he concluded with damning evidence that the Russians were meddling on Trump’s side. The intelligence agencies made that public. Alas, they did so on the very day that Trump’s infamous “pussy” statement came out and it was buried.

Malcolm Nance in his book, The Plot to Destroy Democracy, makes a convincing case that not only did Russia meddle, but it colluded with the Trump campaign in doing so and explains how it was done.

The turning point here is not that Trump’s performance at the meeting with Putin in Helsinki will swing many, if any, of his deluded supporters. Rather, it is that he has so inflamed the US intelligence community that it will be galvanised to greater efforts to uncover the truth and speak that truth to power: not to the President, but to the Congress, prosecutors and the judiciary.

Remember, special prosecutor Robert Meuller was director of the FBI for 12 years under both a Republican and Democrat President. It is only a matter of time.

But now to the background and evidence. Vladimir Putin was a KGB agent in the former Soviet Union. In 1987, Ronald Reagan, the President of the US, the Soviet Union’s greatest adversary, came to West Berlin and said, “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall”.

The wall came down. The Soviet Union collapsed.

Then one after the other, 10 former Soviet Bloc Warsaw Pact nations and three former Yugoslav republics joined NATO, the treaty whose main military power was the US.

The result was that the West’s military power was brought to the very border of the Russian Federation.

On the economic front, 12 nations which were once part of the Soviet bloc – Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia – joined the European Union. And others attempted to, particularly Ukraine.

Other eastern parts of the Soviet Union also broke from Russia, but in the long run reverted to accepting Russian influence.

These were the colour revolutions, in which people seeking liberal democracy chose a colour as a symbol.

In the former Yugoslavia, NATO (if belatedly) was the architect of the humiliation of the Slavic Serbs whose leaders ended up in the International Criminal Court.

You can see how these events would affect a former KGB agent. Liberal democracy, led by NATO and the EU were Russia’s enemies. The lesson for Putin was to slowly buy, crush or neutralise the key elements of liberal democracy: an independent judiciary, free media, fair elections, and political oppositions, but to keep up a veneer of democracy in which people go to the polls to elect him.

The US was the No 1 enemy because it was economically strong and militarily active. It had a long history of invasions and interference to effect regime change: Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq and others.

In the face of that, Putin appealed to Russian nationalism – a white, Christian nationalism – to create an authoritarian state. It was the Soviet Union all over again without the idiotic dogma or collective ownership.

All of the methods of the KGB were kept and improved. The murder of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940 was replicated by Putin’s regime, 14 murders on British soil alone, according to US intelligence. The most famous was the polonium poisoning of Russian spy defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. You need to be a nuclear power to get hold of polonium.

The attempted murder of Russian defector Sergei Skripa and his daughter using the nerve agent Novichok (available to the military of only a very few countries) fits the pattern.

Journalists were similarly intimidated and murdered.

When a regime orders murders on foreign soil, collusion in foreign election meddling is minor.

Ukraine was a special threat with its 2000km land border with Russia. Putin armed Russian minorities on the Ukrainian side who used the arms to (among other things) shoot down a Malaysia airliner in the presumed belief it was a military aircraft. In 2014, he annexed Crimea (with its Black Sea port) by force with thousands of deaths, rather than pressing for a referendum which would have seen the territory peacefully pass back to Russia anyway.

This led to EU-US sanctions against Russia and more importantly personally against the oligarchs who had enriched themselves by buying at next-to-nothing prices state property on the collapse of the Soviet Union. The oligarchs either sided with Putin or were repressed or jailed by him on trumped up charges with their assets renationalised.

The Putin-supporting oligarchs have been especially hard hit by sanctions. Putin needs to keep them onside, so he has been desperate to get rid of the sanctions. He would not get rid of them by behaving himself, so he went the other way. He set out to undermine the liberal democracy and cohesion of those who had imposed them – the EU and the US.

He used cyber war with propaganda through social media to sway the Brexit referendum and the US election in 2016. Nance’s book outlines how the use of fake news, “bots”, and social media influenced opinion through posting to targeted audiences of hundreds of thousands (with the alleged help of Cambridge Analytica which has Trump connections) on Facebook and Twitter.

He has used the same tactics to help authoritarian parties in EU countries (some of them in power) to destabilise the union.

Most informed people in the US, including Republicans in Congress, realise that with enemies like Russia, you need friends. Trump does not realise that. Nor does he realise he has been utterly duped by the Russians and is little more than their puppet.

It has been an even more masterful intelligence operation than the KGB’s running of the Cambridge spy ring in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s – and of the same parentage. We just have to wait for Meuller to get to the bottom of it.
CRSIPIN HULL
This article was first published in The Canberra Times and other Fairfax Media on 21 July 2018.

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