Boris Yeltsin Once Played The Clown Role In His Relation To Bill Clinton-- Now Putin Has Señor Trumpanzee
Is Britain worried that after January 20th the Trumpy States of America might side with Putin in his war against democracy? A report this weekend from London Times' Defense Editor Deborah Haynes, states flatly that "Russia is waging a 'campaign' of propaganda and unconventional warfare against Britain, government officials have acknowledged for the first time. Moscow is behind a concerted drive to undermine the UK through espionage, misinformation, cyberattacks and fake news, senior Whitehall figures believe. Theresa May will chair a National Security Council session within weeks to examine Russian actions towards Britain and its allies and discuss possible responses."
The alarms being raised by the British government sound a lot like early stages of overt McCarthyism, jarringly so:
The alarms being raised by the British government sound a lot like early stages of overt McCarthyism, jarringly so:
Concerns have been raised that British institutions and companies have been penetrated by Russian agents, including UK citizens, and last night it emerged that several academics at Cambridge University have stepped down from an intelligence forum over fears of Kremlin influence.Michael Crowley, writing this weekend for Politico, wrote that Putin is looking for revenge after seeing his country humiliated in the 1990s-- and that he may be winning a kind of new Cold War. Long ago, ex-KGB agent Putin had called the collapse of the Soviet Union-- which many Russians see as a U.S. coup-- "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century." As Crowley explains it, in the '90s "Russia was a defeated nation. It had lost the Cold War, and along with it millions of square miles of territory, as imperial possessions dating to the czarist era declared their independence. The country’s economy collapsed, impoverishing most everyone except the insiders who looted public assets. Alcoholism and prostitution boomed. Life expectancy shrank." A few years later, Putin, who had clawed his way to the top of his country's ruling elite, told Russian troops on the first day of the new millennium that their mission included "restoring Russia’s honor and dignity."
The head of the armed forces has taken the unusual step of calling for increased efforts to catch moles. “We . . . need to pay more attention to counterespionage and counterintelligence to protect our hard-won research, pro- tect our industry and protect our competitive advantage,” Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach said this week.
Although he did not specify the nationality of the agents, the number of Russian spies and “agents of influence”-- such as useful MPs wooed by the Russians-- in Britain is thought to be higher than during the Cold War.
Military intelligence officials are working more closely with MI5 on Russian issues, including the need to flush out spies. Examples of the new Russian “hybrid” warfare include:
• State-run news outlets, including RT and Sputnik, spreading propaganda to influence British audiences, particularly over key issues such as Brexit and the Scottish independence referendum. The activities of Russian propaganda outfits in Britain were exposed by a Times investigation in July;The various Russian hostile activities have been designated as a “campaign” in Whitehall to bring together departments’ efforts to combat the tactics.
• Fears that attempts will be made to discredit hundreds of British troops who will deploy to Estonia next year by orchestrating bogus traffic accidents and pub brawls to smear them;
• Suspected cyberattacks against British companies and infrastructure, though Britain has a policy not to confirm which state or entity conducted the attack;
• The deployment of Mr Putin’s only aircraft carrier and a fleet of escort ships directly through the English Channel last month en route to join the bombing campaign in Syria.
“They have just woken up to Russia,” a Russia expert and former adviser to the government said. “They are embarrassed to admit it. They don’t really know what to do because the logic is we should increase our defence spending and we should create a cross-governmental strategy for defending ourselves against this.”
The Russian threat will be discussed by Mrs May and senior intelligence, military and other officials at one of the first meetings of the National Security Council next year. The prime minister is facing calls from security experts to set up a “war cabinet” to respond to Russian hybrid warfare-- or at least develop a cross-government strategy that draws together the weaponry that is being used against the West.
Today, as the U.S. grapples with a Russia with resurgent global ambitions, with a Kremlin that hacks our emails, manipulates our news-- and, according to the CIA, actively worked to elect Donald Trump-- it’s important to realize that for Putin, it’s not just a constant move for advantage. Yes, Putin is pressing Russia’s current interests. But in scheming to defeat Hillary Clinton, and by subjecting American democracy itself to Russian influence, he is also closing a loop opened in part by the Clintons 20 years ago. Putin can’t undo Russia’s Cold War defeat by America. But he can avenge it. And in Donald Trump-- the man who defeated Hillary Clinton and seems ready to deal with Putin on terms that few other American politicians would countenance-- he hopes he has found a willing partner.
Says Strobe Talbott, a Russia specialist who served as deputy secretary of state under Bill Clinton: “He basically wants to make Russia great again.”
...The Bush-Putin relationship deteriorated for many reasons. But one of them, ironically, was a charge of election interference. Putin was furious when Washington backed a popular, pro-Western movement challenging the outcome of Ukraine’s 2004 presidential election. He lashed out at what he called U.S. interference in a former Soviet republic that had long been a possession of the Russian empire. The U.S. was pursuing a “dictatorship of international affairs,” Putin said, disguised with “beautiful pseudo-democratic phraseology.”
Putin saw another kind of political agenda in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, with which he did battle over a territorial dispute in August 2008. In a television interview he implied that the Bush administration had goaded Georgia’s Western-friendly government into a fight.
“The suspicion would arise that someone in the United States created this conflict on purpose to stir up the situation and to create an advantage for one of the candidates in the competitive race for the presidency in the United States,” Putin told CNN at the time. “They needed a small victorious war.”
Some Russia experts and U.S. officials call Putin’s increasingly public grievances about America a contrivance-- a narrative to support what the Russian-born journalist Arkady Ostrovsky, in his recent book The Invention of Russia, calls Putin’s “restoration ideology.” By this line of thinking, Putin has sold nationalism and militarism to his public to cover for a weak economy highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the price of its oil exports. It was this atmosphere of hostility that a newly elected Barack Obama sought to cool with his Russia “reset,” a mission led by his secretary of state: Hillary Clinton. Whatever Clinton thought she might accomplish, she couldn’t have imagined what it would eventually mean for her own political future.
...One was Putin’s belief that America blithely staged military interventions around the world with little regard for international-- or at least Russian-- opinion. Hillary Clinton had been a supporter of the 2003 Iraq War and Obama’s 2011 intervention in Libya. Putin opposed both those campaigns-- and, as a paranoid autocrat, particularly resented Washington’s record of regime-change policies. It didn’t help that the Clinton name already reminded Russian officials of the 1990s U.S.-led NATO interventions in the Balkans, which many hardliners considered to be outrageous Western aggression against their Slavic brothers.
Related was Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm for NATO’s further expansion into Eastern Europe. That process was based on the well-founded idea that Eastern Europe needed-- indeed, was asking for-- protection from Russia aggression. But Russia’s military establishment treated it as a slow-rolling invasion of their sphere of influence.
This reaction, too, had its roots under Bill Clinton. An expanded NATO would help ensure democracy, prosperity and stability across Europe, he believed. Moscow took a sharply different view. After one 1994 summit at which Yeltsin gave Bill Clinton his blessing to the addition of new NATO members-- including Poland and Hungary, both former Soviet satellites-- a communist newspaper fumed about “the capitulation of Russian policy before NATO and the U.S.” One of Yeltsin’s main political opponents said he had allowed “his friend Bill [to] kick him in the rear.” He compared the agreement to the treatment of Germany at Versailles after World War I-- a recurring theme among Russian officials since the Cold War’s end.
Some of Bill Clinton’s top advisers correctly predicted that NATO expansion would produce a backlash in Moscow, and would create a handy narrative for would-be nationalists to posture against the West. Clinton’s secretary of defense, William Perry, told Politico this summer that he considered resigning over the issue out of concern for its effect on U.S.-Russia relations. But Clinton pressed ahead, kicking off a process that added a dozen new members over the next 20 years, from the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia through Eastern Europe (the Czech Republic and Romania) and into the former Yugoslavia-- all places where Russia had once enjoyed uncontested influence.
As Obama kept the NATO train rolling, his secretary of state was fully on board. “There can be no question that NATO will continue to keep its doors open to new members,” Clinton said in February 2010.
Whatever the real-world effect on Russia’s interests, it felt like a provocation to the Kremlin. “NATO enlargement didn't actually harm Russia. It didn't pose a security risk,” says James P. Rubin, a former spokesman in Bill Clinton’s State Department. “It only made Russian elites feel bad, and made them feel that their great power status was somehow weakened.”
Among those elites was Putin, for whom NATO’s expansion fit with the 1990s-humiliation narrative. In a recent interview with the filmmaker Oliver Stone, Putin acknowledged that Russia reacts to the alliance’s expansion “emotionally,” adding that Russia is “forced to take countermeasures” against it. “That is, to aim our missile systems at those facilities which we think pose a threat to us,” Putin explained.
For Putin, the last way Hillary Clinton stoked resentments about the end of the Cold War might have been the most important. Clinton’s “reset” policy briefly improved relations between Washington and Moscow. But Putin was still resentful about Bush-era U.S. political influence in Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet republics. Putin saw steadily rising American funding for civil society and democracy programs in Europe, Central Asia and Russia itself as a form of subversion.
...But it wasn’t until December 2011 that Putin came to see Hillary Clinton as a direct threat to his power. That was when unusually large protests appeared in the frigid streets of Moscow. Though sparked by allegedly rigged parliamentary elections, the demonstrations morphed into something more, with shouts of “Putin is a thief!” and “Russia without Putin.” Putin had seen nothing like it since first coming to power more than a decade earlier. For an autocrat and former spy who U.S. officials call both paranoid and rightfully conscious that a sudden loss of power could land him in jail or worse, it was a dire threat.
And in Putin’s view, Clinton piled on. She offered supportive words about the protests, expressing “concerns” about the parliamentary elections and saying the U.S. “supports the rights and aspirations of the Russian people.” To Western ears, it was boilerplate pro-democracy talk, not exactly a call to arms against the government in Moscow. But Putin treated it that way. He fumed that Clinton had “sent a signal” to the protesters and accused the U.S. of backing election observers who, he said, had a subversive agenda. “We need to safeguard ourselves from this interference in our internal affairs and defend our sovereignty,” Putin said.
Some U.S. officials believed that Putin-- like so many autocrats who finger foreigner provocateurs for domestic unrest-- had found a handy political villain in Clinton. But Clinton herself came to believe he was out for vengeance, as she told donors at a closed-door event on December 15. And other Russia experts believe Putin was genuinely infuriated.
“He was incensed,” said Dmitri Trenin, director of the Moscow Center at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The State Department became more sinister in the eyes of the Russian media than the CIA was during the Cold War.”
...In a March 2014 address shortly after claiming Crimea, Putin made clear that he was re-establishing Russia’s place in the global order. He said the world had to “accept the obvious fact: Russia is an independent, active participant in international affairs. Like other countries, it has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.” Translation: Russia would no longer be seated at the kids’ table while Washington dictated world events.
Increasingly, it has become clear that another foreign nation where Russia has exercised its new influence is the United States itself, where Hillary Clinton’s campaign was beset for months by a steady flow of stolen emails-- hacked, according to U.S. intelligence officials, by agents of the Kremlin, likely at Putin’s personal direction.
It’s impossible to measure the precise effect of the leaked emails on Clinton’s candidacy. But her defeat was unquestionably a win for Putin, who will soon greet an American president leading what could be the most Russia-friendly administration in U.S. history. Putin sent Donald Trump his congratulations within an hour of Clinton’s concession. And when word of Trump’s election reached the Russian Duma, spontaneous applause broke out in the room.
And why not? Trump has questioned NATO’s value and relevance, and raised doubts about whether he will guarantee the defense of its most vulnerable members, including the Baltic states-- positions no American president has ever so much as entertained. He has suggested he would consider removing sanctions imposed over Ukraine and perhaps even recognize Crimea as part of Russia, despite bipartisan revulsion at the idea in Congress.
This is not the future Bill Clinton had hoped for two decades ago. He foresaw a rejuvenated Russia-- but one that would be integrated into Europe, with a blossoming democracy, a free market, and a contributor to stability and security there. Instead the opposite has happened: Russia has become a repressive security state that is working to undermine Western democracy while it rattles a nuclear saber at NATO.
For all his bare-chested-on-horseback posturing, Putin’s Russia is still beset by problems. Its economy remains stunted, hobbled in part by U.S. and European sanctions over Ukraine. Russia experts and U.S. officials say Moscow remains deeply insecure over its place in the world. But there is also a new optimism in the Kremlin, they say-- particularly now that America, perhaps with Russian assistance, has elected Trump.
“I think Russia has bounced back since the end of the Cold War,” said Trenin. “Russia is a rare major power that has bounced back after a historical defeat." Trenin wouldn’t go so far as to say that the country that lost the Cold War has now managed to win the aftermath. But, he said: “Russia is getting back on its feet as a major power.”
Whatever else Trump augurs for the world, it’s clear what he means for Russia: His surprise victory ended the Clintons’ long run at the center of American power, and his avowed respect for the autocratic Putin marks a decisive recovery from the embarrassment and second-tier status that has needled the Kremlin leader for two decades.