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American Tinkering with the Russian Polity Opened the Halls of Power to Vladimir Putin
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American Tinkering with the Russian Polity Opened the Halls of Power to Vladimir Putin

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USA Really presents the essay applied for The Global Democracy Award (The John Reed nominee).

“Computational propaganda is…the use of information and communication technologies to manipulate perceptions, affect cognition and influence behavior”

Geopolitical tensions are running at fever pitch as the powers that should not be foam at the mouth with apoplectic outrage.  Sacrosanct American elections…as clean as the white driven snow and the highest expression of democratic governance since Aristotle enlightened Western civilization… have been sullied by dirty Russian trolls and their twitter bots.  

Angry rhetoric and sanctions, the prelude to war…are wielded as federal indictments are unsealed, Russians taken to jail and offensive cyber operations launched.  Have we been here before?  It turns out that American meddling in the Russian presidential election of 1996 opened doors for the meteoric rise of one Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.  Oh, the irony of it all.

Whomsoever is suspected of using web sites and social media to merely attempt to influence discourse in America under the banner of freedom of speech can expect the full wrath of the unamused, mighty U.S. government.

Of course, American meddling in Russia (and everywhere else) goes far back before 1996.   Instituting the Federal Reserve in 1913 and fighting to make the world safe for democracy while codifying racial segregation across all federal government offices in Washington, D.C…President Woodrow Wilson sent in the Marines to crush Trotsky’s Red Army as the fledgling RSFSR aimed to establish a multi-racial workers’ and peasants’ paradise on the ruins of the defunct Russian Empire.  Lenin and Trotsky finally succeeded in 1922 but the State Department refused to recognize the USSR.

Muckraking journalist John Reed, the only American buried at the Kremlin, wrote in glowing terms about the Red Army that the State Department wanted defeated.   Reed was accused of treason, surveilled, interrogated, harassed and had his papers and effects confiscated during the first Red Scare.  He met an untimely death at the age of 33.  So, there is nothing new about going after Americans who exercise their constitutional rights when it comes to anything Russian.

Fast forward to the denouement of the Soviet era circa 1989. Mr. New World Order himself keeps a hopelessly naive Mikhail Gorbachev in the dark about NATO intentions and assists him to accelerate the break up the USSR. This followed Operation Cyclone, a Carter era Brzezinski scheme to fund Islamic terrorism and bait Brezhnev into a bloody, un-winnable military quagmire in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires .  The strategy worked brilliantly.

Where clandestine activities and direct military action are not feasible, diplomacy worthy of Talleyrand (read: deception) is deployed.  Gullible players like Gorbachev and Yeltsin were suckers.   They took at face value the assurances that NATO would never expand eastward.

Thus the table was set for Bill Clinton to do just that in the 1990s.   A generation later, we are at the brink of nuclear holocaust.  All of this was predictable.  Instead of a Peace Dividend and a world of plenty after the Cold War was won, the NeoCons brought us 9/11, the Strategy of Tension and Cold War 2.0

Before Russia allegedly tried to flip the American presidential election of 2016, America really did alter the outcome of a pivotal presidential election in Russia. The year was 1996 and Boris Yeltsin wanted a second term.  Bill Clinton was determined to intervene:  “I want this guy to win so bad,” he told Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, “it hurts.”

On Yeltsin’s watch, the average male life expectancy dropped by an astonishing six years. When Yeltsin began his reelection campaign in January 1996, his approval rating stood at just six percent.

The Clinton administration sprang into action. It lobbied the International Monetary Fund to give Russia a $10 billion loan, some of which Yeltsin used to buy votes. Upon arriving in a given city, he often announced, “My pockets are full.”

Three American political consultants—including Richard Dresner, a veteran of Clinton’s campaigns in Arkansas—went to work on Yeltsin’s reelection bid. Every week, Dresner sent the White House the Yeltsin campaign’s internal polling. And before traveling to meet Yeltsin in April, Clinton asked Dresner what he should say in Moscow to boost his buddy’s campaign

It worked. In a stunning turnaround, Yeltsin…who had begun the campaign in last place...defeated chief rival in the election’s final round by 13 percentage points. Talbott declared that “a number of international observers have judged this to be a free and fair election.”

American Tinkering with the Russian Polity Opened the Halls of Power to Vladimir Putin

In fact, there had been widespread voter fraud and the Americans knew it.  In Chechnya for example, which contained fewer than 500,000 adults, one million people voted and Yeltsin…despite prosecuting an unpopular war in the region…won exactly 70 percent.  Thomas Graham, who served as the chief political analyst at the U.S. embassy in Moscow during the campaign, later conceded that Clinton officials knew the election wasn’t truly fair. “This was a classic case,” he admitted, “of the ends justifying the means.” 

American advisors used polls, focus groups, negative ads and anything else they could think of to make Boris Yeltsin win.  At the end of the day, everything became a function of how many resources could be thrown at the election until the desired result was obtained.  Billions of dollars were spent to keep Yeltsin in power.  Rich, greedy people don’t give anything away for free.  Billions were spent because billions more were expected in return.  

It was this general malaise and milieu of corruption that opened the doors for a former KGB colonel to step in and clean house…but not before proving his loyalty to the big boss. The reason Yeltsin hand-picked Putin as his successor is because Yeltsin didn't want any investigations into his conduct as president.  When Putin came to power, he gave Yeltsin and his acolytes immunity from all corruption charges. Yeltsin allowed the privatization of the vast and obsolete Russian industrial base for pennies on the dollar to insiders known as oligarchs. He never understood the necessity of building a functioning legal system, including a framework for the enforcement of contracts, or of maintaining an adequate law enforcement apparatus. Here too, Putin, a lawyer, was the right choice to make amends.  Having surrounded himself with corrupt cronies and financiers, Yeltsin paid only lip service to fighting crime and corruption. He presided over an unprecedented deterioration in Russia’s internal security and acquiesced to the eastward march of NATO. The Russian people became disgruntled as bandits ruled the streets and businesses balked at investing. Then came the total financial collapse of 1998.   Taken together, the failures of the post-communist transformation and the inability to construct even a minimal social safety net lowered the already meager standard of living of the vast majority of Russians.  Here too, the United States played an unwitting role in Putin’s ascension to power by promoting Chicago School laissez-faire economics and shock therapy that created intolerable conditions inside Russia.   It was inevitable that a true nationalist and decisive personality like Putin would step in to clean the Augean stables, bring order out of chaos and restore Russia’s standing in the world.  The only way that could be achieved is by strengthening the condign power of state to eclipse the compensatory power of Russia’s nouveau riche.. Two decades of hindsight make it clear that Yeltsin made the right choice for a successor who would make Russia great again…to the great chagrin of the American oligarchy who thought Russia had been handed over to them for keeps.  In 2013, they got Ukraine as a consolation prize after billions of dollars spent on influence campaigns in that country… so similar to Russia.

American funding of election campaigns of one candidate but not another…the dissemination of damaging information or disinformation…training locals of one side in campaign tactics and get-out-the-vote techniques..helping one side design campaign materials…making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate… providing or withdrawing foreign aid…false flag violence as in Ukraine and Syria… these are the tools, in addition to the outright dissemination of cash…that the State Department uses to influence political outcomes everywhere, including Russia on Putin’s watch.  There should be no surprise that Russia might attempt to do the same to the US. 

In 2016, the National Endowment for Democracy spent nearly seven million dollars influencing politics in Russia.  Putin’s political rivals, e.g. Navalny, enjoy financial support from the United States.  Time and again, American efforts to sway outcomes away from Vladimir Putin wind up backfiring.  Now, the US dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency is being called into question as sanctions are levied on country after country after country.   Perhaps one day the Department of State will learn the principal of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.  Maybe then the Department of State will also learn about the constitution of the United States, find out what it means to us and get over its contempt and loathing for the citizens of the United States. After all, it is in our name that it exhorts Russia to cease and desist from further influence campaigns…it is in our name that it goes all over the world violating the rights and sensibilities of people who never raised a hand against the United States…

For further reading:

https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/19950601.pdf 

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3247154/2-Record-of-Dinner-Conversation-between.pdf

https://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/20/world/the-soviet-crisis-bush-condemns-soviet-coup-and-calls-for-its-reversal.html

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3247155/3-Memorandum-of-Telephone-Conversation-Bush.pdf

https://www.forbes.com/sites/dougbandow/2017/08/01/interfering-in-democratic-elections-russia-against-the-u-s-but-u-s-against-the-world/#79be193e6644

https://fas.org/irp/congress/2000_rpt/russias-road.pdf

Author: Daniel Bruno