The latest revelations and speculations concerning possible Trump Campaign collusion with Russia and its government have centered on a 20-minute meeting between between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner with Natalia Veselnitskaya show a disturbing pattern.
Apparently Veselnitskaya also was seen eight days later with the US Ambassador to Russia at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Assuming that the Velnitskaya meeting is not totally innocent, it may be an example of a very different game that Russia may be playing than the narrative for either side is portraying.
To understand this pattern it is necessary to have a look at some recent Russian history. Arkady Ostrovsky, the Russia editor for The Economist examines the recent history of the country once know as the Soviet Union in his 2016 work The Invention of Russia. Where Ostrovsky breaks new ground is in his description of the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev s glasnost policy, which involved the abrupt abolition of censorship in the USSR. Suddenly situations that had been talked about only verbally, or as illegal samizdat (the unauthorized distribution of literature prohibited by the Soviet state), were discussed openly in the Russian press. The impact on Russia at the time was profoundly destabilizing.
Suddenly the news feed Russians were receiving was unpredictable. It became difficult, if not impossible, for Russians to distinguish fact from fiction, “real news” from “fake news”. And it proved to be (although no one knew it at the time) the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and the onset of a very dark time in Russian history. It became a time of economic collapse, the sale of state,assets and natural resources to managers, who emerged as today’s ruling “oligarchs”.
Furthermore, a period of hyperinflation, inadequate pensions and the death of millions of Russians, particularly the elderly and disabled as Russian oligarchs scrambled to comply with the neoliberal “shock therapy” prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The experience was highly traumatic for Russians, and it has led to what Russians view as an authoritarian, but “safe” Putin regime. But it may also have given members of Russia’s intelligence community an appreciation for the degree to which intelligence and news can be weaponized.
The pattern of 2016 and so far 2017 suggests that news has indeed been weaponized at some level. The Democratic National Committee is hacked, and emails that disclose collaboration between the DNC and the Clinton campaign are published by Wikileaks. A cyber trail seems to lead to Russia, and US intelligence agencies are alarmed, though nothing conclusive is proven.
A plausible trail can also be hypothesized as leading to whistle-blowers in the DNC, or even US intelligence agencies. Nothing is provable and no one is arrested for it. Enough Americans care more about the content of the leaks than their disposition to elect Donald Trump.
After the election a dossier surfaces claiming that the Russians have compromising evidence on Trump. The lurid dossier, compiled by the well-respected former MI6 Agent Christopher Steele, is largely shown to be false but not before it is leaked to the Washington Post. And the information does apparently come from Russian sources. Apparently there is more than one way to create kompromat.
Then, shortly before leaving office, President Obama issues an executive order unwisely permitting information sharing and perhaps with identities of parties unmasked, making the leaking of information to the press safe for, even if still illegal, for perpetrators. Details surface of some ham-handed attempts by hackers linked to Russia to actually access voter registration.
And it is game on, with organized (and what is certain to be drawn out ) efforts to impeach and remove President Trump along with equally partisan efforts to protect him. Suddenly the United States starts to look a lot like the USSR during glasnost.
All of this starts to make sense if we entertain the idea that Russia, far from having an interest in a Trump victory, might be aiming at weakening the American administration, no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Had Hillary Clinton won the White House it is quite likely that serious moves would be afoot to impeach her too. And Russian connections such as the Uranium One deal involving the Clintons might well feature prominently in this effort.
Ordinarily both the press and the intelligence agencies might have stumbled on the realization that Russia has done Donald Trump no more favors by now than it did for Hillary. But we appear to be at a moment in US history in which each side finds the other so abhorrent that it is more invested in using evidence and narrative as a,weapon than finding common ground and a consensus with which to govern the country. Thus we are,at a moment when Russia may be able to use a combination of disinformation (which is silver) and truth (which is gold) in much the same way George Soros’s Open Society initiative did during glasnost.
Nation states for the most part do not engage in destabilizing other nations simply to get revenge. And Russia is no exception. So what does Russia get that justifies the risks involved in undermining the US?
While the United States is obsessing about impeaching President Trump, which may or may not succeed but is likely to be a long drawn out process in any case, it is impossible for President Trump to build a consensus for any major troop commitment barring of course a,major attack on either US troops, or on the American homeland. That creates a window of opportunity in which a fait accompli can be created to work to the advantage of Russia and it’s allies.
The most obvious place this approach seems to be happening is in Syria, Iraq, and possibly Jordan. In Jordan a land supply line has been created in the Syrian Desert from Iraq to Damascus, and it is also where the US has found it necessary to agree to a cease fire that leaves Russian troops as peacekeepers policing southwest Syria adjacent to Israel. That is already a troubling situation for Israel, one that enables Syria, Russia and Iran to put pressure on the adjacent Jordanian monarchy.
It would require either an expanded US troop commitment, or Israeli intervention, to reverse this set of conditions. And there is the distinct possibility that Iraq, increasingly dominated by Iran, could ask the US to pull it’s troops out of Iraq now that Mosul has fallen. The US is in no position to engage in any initiatives as long as its chief executive potentially faces impeachment.
And closer to home for Russia, that also includes efforts to build a movement aimed at overthrowing Putin, which has been mooted and which neoconservatives have advocated in the recent past. The Maidan Coup in Ukraine seems to have crossed a red line as far as Russia is concerned. Russia through its actions showed that it was not about to allow a government in Ukraine inclined toward the West without some border adjustments. It would certainly not allow such a government to.rule Crimea and the port and base of Sevastopol.
It may be conjectured that it was at that point that the Russians may have decided that despite past business dealings not to permit Hillary Clinton to become president in peacetime. They certainly would have been appalled if she, as appeared likely, would appoint Victoria Nuland, reputed architect of the Maidan Coup as Secretary of State. And Edward Snowden, who.may be Russia’s most valuable defector from the US, would be able to give Russian agencies a great deal of information on how NSA intelligence-gathering works in order to make it possible to spoof it