The storm concerning alleged Russian hacking during the US presidential election campaign continues to be an issue in the two countries’ bilateral relations, as well as in US domestic politics.
In October 2016, the CIA released a report via CNN stating that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Convention, allegedly resulting in the release of damaging emails regarding Hillary Clinton. The CIA went on to claim that this was part of a Kremlin plot to get Trump elected.
As CNN put it: “The CIA’s new conclusion was based on its latest and most complete analysis of intelligence on the hacking, including the finding that Russian hackers breached GOP [Republican Party] individuals and organisations prior to the election, including Republican House members, thought leaders and non-profits to the GOP, a former senior law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the hack investigation told CNN.” (Russian hacking and the 2016 election: what you need to know by Jeremy Diamond, 16 December 2016)
A breakdown of this statement reveals the vacuous nature of the accusations against Russia. The argument is entirely tautological. For how can it be that the “conclusion was based on … the finding that Russian hackers breached GOP individuals prior to the election”. This means nothing more than ‘the Russians interfered with the election because the Russians interfered in the election’. In this case, the evidence is the conclusion and the conclusion the evidence. This amounts only to sophistry and rhetoric.
The specifics of the allegation are that whilst in Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, Trump was spied on by Russian secret services. What they are supposed to have found is Trump liaising in a hotel with prostitutes. Therefore, Putin holds this over Trump. With this over Trump, Putin and Russia have worked to get Trump elected. They supposedly did this by creating ‘troll farms’, hacking the DNC and releasing the damaging Clinton emails. Consequently, Putin would hold significant leverage over the US president. So the theory goes.
The report itself was compiled by former MI6 spook Christopher Steele, described by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as a “fugitive crook”. In a typically unbalanced, anti-Russian article in the Guardian there is at least one interestingly contradictory claim: “Steele has been described by colleagues as well-sourced and credible, though it is believed he did not travel to Russia to conduct the research.” (Putin says those behind Trump dossier are ‘worse than prostitutes’ by Shaun Walker, 17 January 2017)
So on the one hand we are to believe that Steele is credible, and on the other that he never set foot in Russia when conducting his ‘research’. This would mean that of the hundreds certainly, thousands perhaps, of foreign agents working clandestinely in Russia, not one of them found or released this information. Not one solitary CIA man managed to uncover these supposed facts. But a man not even working in the field, and not even present in the country, did manage to make the discovery. Either Steele is exceptionally brilliant or the agents actually working in Russia are not very good at their job.
The view in Russia
In Russia, both supporters and critics of the government are unconvinced by the report. “The lack of concrete evidence included in the report to back up its claims, as well as the use of out-of-date background information, has led to it being ridiculed by some Russian officials.
“‘A mountain gave birth to a mouse: all the accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and assumptions. The US was equally sure about [Saddam] Hussein possessing WMD [weapons of mass destruction],’ Alexei Pushkov, a member of the defence and security committee of the upper house of the Russian parliament, wrote on Twitter.
“The report incorrectly says that Mr Pushkov is the head of the lower house’s foreign affairs committee, a post he left in September. It also claims that Mr Pushkov’s daughter, Darya, heads RT’s London bureau, but she has not been employed by RT since March 2015.
“Another detail that seems to point to the authors’ lack of in-depth knowledge of Russia is that a Russian newspaper article dated 07/04/2012 is described as being published on July 4, 2012. Russia uses the European ‘day-month-year’ dating style, rather than the US ‘month-day-year’ format.
“[The report is] poorly sourced, full of inaccuracies/outdated info and generally a flop,” Alexei Kovalev, a fierce Kremlin critic who often exposes Russian state media propaganda, said. Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of RT, also mocked the report, calling it the “laugh of the year”. (The Times, 9 January 2017)
For his part, President Putin said that those who order and use such fakes are “worse than prostitutes”, adding: “They have no moral restrictions whatsoever, and it highlights a significant degree of degradation of political elites in the west, including in the United States.”
Furthermore: “The Russian leader ridiculed the authors of the Trump dossier for alleging that Russian spy agencies were collecting compromising material on Trump when he visited Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant.
“‘He wasn’t a politician, we didn’t even know about his political ambitions,’ Putin said. ‘Do they think that our special services are hunting for every US billionaire?’” (Putin accuses Obama administration of acting ‘worse than prostitutes’ for spreading Trump dirty dossier, Mail Online, 17 January 2017)
Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also made the point that even if the cyber attacks could be traced to Russia, this does not mean the Russian state is behind them. He said: “Putin’s website is attacked daily by several tens of hackers. Many of the attacks are traced to US territory. However, we don’t blame the White House or Langley [headquarters of the CIA] each time this happens.” (US accuses Russia of trying to interfere with 2016 election by Evan Perez and Theodore Schleifer, CNN, 18 October 2016)
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov also responded to US accusations: “Lavrov said US spies were using diplomatic cover for activity within Russia, employing wigs, fake eyebrows and occasionally cross-dressing in their attempts to avoid detection. Lavrov claimed US diplomats in disguise had been spotted at opposition protests and that they used hire cars, rather than diplomatic vehicles, to drive around the country in the hope of avoiding detection.
“He also claimed American counterintelligence had been more active in recent years in its attempts to recruit Russian diplomats based in the US as double agents. He alleged that one diplomat had been approached with an attempt to turn him while picking up medicines from a doctor’s surgery, while another had $10,000 (£8,200) in cash placed in his car by US agents as an offer to begin cooperation.” (Guardian, op cit)
The view in the US
One of the dying acts of the Obama regime, dubbed by Lavrov as “messianic”, was to expel 35 Russian diplomats as a ‘response’ to the hacking scandal. The hypocrite Obama stated: “I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections that we need to take action and we will at a time and place of our own choosing.” Russia has so far not retaliated. (CNN, op cit, 16 December 2016)
It would be apt to mention in passing that it is the US that has all the form for interfering in the affairs of foreign countries. Of course, there are far too many crimes to list here, but we can remind our readers of the US’s role in promoting the election of Yeltsin as Russian president, which Time magazine boasted about at the time:
“In the end the Russian people chose – and chose decisively – to reject the past. Voting in the final round of the presidential election last week, they preferred Boris Yeltsin to his communist rival Gennadi Zyuganov by a margin of 13 percentage points …
“The outcome was by no means inevitable. Last winter Yeltsin’s approval ratings were in the single digits. There are many reasons for his change in fortune, but a crucial one has remained a secret. For four months, a group of American political consultants clandestinely participated in guiding Yeltsin’s campaign.”
And the article concluded: “Last week Russia took a historic step away from its totalitarian past. Democracy triumphed – and along with it came the tools of modern campaigns, including the trickery and slickery Americans know so well. If those tools are not always admirable, the result they helped achieve in Russia surely is.” (Rescuing Boris by Michael Kramer, 15 July 1996)
And then there are Obama’s own violent actions against the democratically elected President Assad of Syria. Likewise, we should remember the treatment of whistle blowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, the latter having to flee to the safety of Russia. It was Snowden who revealed that the US was spying on allies, including Britain, and on individual leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel. With what other motive can we assume the US conducted the said operations, other than with the intention of interference in the said countries, and perhaps even to blackmail foreign heads of state?
For his part, the new president Donald Trump has brushed off the report as phoney. Since then, US media have attempted to spin matters. For instance, Reuters online ran with the headline: ‘Trump acknowledges Russia role in US election hacking: aide’. This was on the basis that Trump aide Reince Priebus told Fox News that Trump “accepts the fact that in this particular case [it] was entities in Russia, so that’s not the issue”. (Toni Clarke and Dustin Volz, 9 January 2017)
However, the point is precisely as stated by Foreign Minister Lavrov above: namely that Russia and Putin’s website is hacked all the time, and many of the hacks have been sourced to the US. But this does not mean the US government was behind the hacks – although they do have form. It only proves the hacks come from the US; it does not disprove the possibility that they are the work of individual citizens or other entities. Similarly, Trump has only accepted that the hacks may have come from Russia, not that they are the work of the Russian state. But logic matters little to the bourgeois media.
Unsurprisingly, there is no unanimity of opinion within Trump’s administration. Even before his inauguration some of his leading appointments spoke out against Russia. For example, Mike Pompeo, the man chosen by Trump to head the CIA, statedthat the report “has an analytical product that is sound”, going on to say: “This was an aggressive action taken by the senior leadership in Russia.”
According to the Guardian: “Pompeo also committed to ‘follow the facts wherever they lead’ in terms of any CIA examination of Trump’s ties to the Russians …
“Pompeo hit out at Russia at practically every opportunity the panel afforded him, despite Trump’s stated interest in forging closer ties with Moscow. He said Russia’s goal in the election was to sow discord in the US and affirmed that Russia had intentionally targeted civilians in military attacks in Syria, which he said was ‘absolutely a violation of the law of war’ …
“Contradicting Trump, Pompeo said Russia was ‘doing nothing to aid in the destruction and defeat of Isis’.” (Russia is trying to smash Nato, James Mattis says in confirmation hearing by Spencer Ackerman and Lauren Gambino, 12 January 2017)
Similarly, new defence secretary James Mattis opined: “Since Yalta, we have a long list of times we’ve tried to engage positively with Russia. We have a relatively short list of successes in that regard … The most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with in Mr Putin and we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the steps … to defend ourselves where we must.” (Placing Russia first among threats, defence nominee warns of Kremlin attempts to ‘break’ Nato by Missy Ryan and Dan Lamothe, Washington Post, 12 January 2017)
The future of the neo-nazi Nato alliance
Mattis’s words offer a salient reminder of a fundamental point of conflict between the US and Russia. The existence of the cold war relic that is Nato is an affront to nearly all Russians, and with good reason. Supposedly founded to defend western Europe from Soviet attack, Nato in fact exists today, as it always did, to encroach upon first the Soviet Union’s and now Russia’s borders.
Far from inaugurating a ‘peace dividend’ when the USSR fell, Nato has gone on to wage brutal and bloody wars of suppression in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya, and has added 12 full new members in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war. Imperialism is necessarily expansionist.
Whilst the new president has been presented as somewhat of a Nato sceptic (and the outrage and fury with which the dominant financial-military ruling elite of the US have greeted his election would seem to confirm this), it has also been argued that he has consistently pushed for the strengthening of Nato.
Nato rules state that member states must spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defence, but in practice very few do this. Trump has repeatedly called for all members to meet this obligation, which would mean a ramping up of arms spending in Europe and lead to an even greater military threat on Russia’s doorstep. Rather than weakening Nato, there are those who consider Trump will seek to strengthen it, by means of a substantial increase in military spending. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the US’s cash-strapped Nato allies would be prepared to go along with any such plan.
Unless Trump can somehow pull Nato back, or at least check its growth, then the issue will remain a festering sore between Russia and the imperialist powers, and Nato will continue to pose a ever-present threat to the peace and security of the peoples of the world.
Any such pull back would be a remarkable achievement, considering that Nato is in its essence an unmercifully expansionist, imperialist entity. Such an achievement would be all the more remarkable given the leading figures Trump has chosen to surround himself, such as Pompeo and ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, not to mention the pressures of a ruling class in a seemingly continual state of enmity towards Russia and an arms industry dependent on the existence of supposed threats.
The very release of the documents through the collaboration of CNN, the New York Times, the CIA and others highlights the bitter conflicts that are presently tearing the US ruling class apart. Time will tell if Trump is either willing or able to implement his policies and promises. Simply put, in a bourgeois republic the ‘ruler’ requires the support of key sections of the ruling class in order to govern. Even the great emperors of the past could not rule in a vacuum, alienated from the material world: Julius Caesar fell when he could no longer depend on the support of the aristocracy, paying with a knife in the back.