First off, let me be clear. I think all foreign electoral interference is wrong. In any country. And if it’s eventually proven that Russians meddled in America’s 2016 presidential election, I certainly won’t condone it. But I’ve have always doubted that the Russian state organized some heinous plan to tilt the contest to Donald Trump, so I’ll be shocked if something of this nature is ever proven.
Instead, I’ve always imagined the greatest extent of Russian ‘interference’ was probably some half-baked playing around by private individuals. Something akin to a “social media marketing campaign,” as the New Yorker’s Adrian Chan believes. And on a relatively minute scale, to boot. Because – given the billions of dollars swirling around American stumping – anything bar a full-scale FSB/GRU, all-hands-on-deck operation would probably amount to little more than a hill of beans.
By the same token, I was stunned back in 2011 when the Moscow Times (a pro-US title, overwhelmingly written by Westerners, despite its name) reported how ex-vice president Joe Biden had told fringe Russian opposition figures that “it would be better for Russia if Putin did not run” in the 2012 election. Indeed, when you see the opprobrium directed today towards US Green leader Jill Stein for once attending an RT banquet where Putin was present, its shows one hell of a double standard.
Being relatively new to Russia in those days, and far from Moscow, it also seemed bizarre when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a “full investigation” of alleged irregularities in 2011’s parliamentary elections. And, even more absurd, that she did it in front of Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, at an OSCE meeting attended by 56 countries. Indeed, it seemed like a teacher wagging her finger at an errant student in front of his classmates, and not how you’d interact with the emissary of a powerful country.
At the time, something interesting happened. Many of my then-relatively new Russian friends had expressed concern about the vote, and a good few supported calls for a fresh ballot. However, once Clinton stuck her oar in, their anger switched to the American; with the attitude quickly transforming into outrage at her arrogance in trying to tell Russians how to manage their internal affairs. Last night, I reminded one of them, Vova, and he said: “Yeah, what did she think? That we were one of those sh*tty little countries the Americans can just push around?” This morning, he emailed me joking, “You know very well, I am not a huge fan of Putin but as soon as Hillary started that nonsense, it smelled to me of the Yeltsin years. I’d rather eat rats than go through that again.”
And this brings us to 1996. Back then, Russia’s economy was in serious trouble. American-backed neoliberal economic reforms had reduced ordinary Russians to penury. And Washington turned a blind eye when Yeltsin essentially dismantled the country’s nascent democracy in 1993, going so far as to take over the parliament in a tank battle, killing 187 people. He also banned opposition parties and newspapers. Of course, somewhat amazingly, Yeltsin is remembered as a “democrat” in the West – which is actually code for “he defended American interests.”
Anyway, by the spring of 1996, Yeltsin was in serious bother. The Communist Party, which had combusted in 1991, was back in business, with its new leader, Gennady Zyuganov, well ahead in the polls. And at this point, Uncle Sam got busy, in events which have been widely catalogued and even spawned a Hollywood movie, with the tagline “electing a Russian president, the American way.”
As Thomas Graham, who served as the chief political analyst at the US embassy in Moscow at the time, has admitted, the Americans “thought it was imperative that Yeltsin win, or that someone like Yeltsin win in June of 1996, in order to continue the reform process.”
“This was a classic case of the ends justifying the means, and we did get the result that we wanted,” he added.
Furthermore, in case you think the diplomats were on a solo run, Strobe Talbott, the main “Russia hand” to Bill Clinton, has detailed the then-president’s words at the time. “I know the Russian people have to pick a president,” Clinton told his close advisor, “and I know that means we’ve got to stop short of giving a nominating speech for the guy. But we’ve got to go all the way in helping in every other respect.”
As Jacobin’s Sean Guillory has outlined in a compelling piece (which I have used as a valuable reference here) on the interference, “The Americans (three consultants hired to assist Yeltsin) were sequestered in Moscow’s Presidential Hotel — the Yeltsin campaign headquarters — in a suite across the hall from the president’s daughter and campaign head, Tatyana Dyanchenko. They assisted in opinion polling; suggested a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign that would include planting ‘truth squads’ of hecklers to disrupt Zyuganov’s rallies; made Yeltsin’s ads slicker and his messages subtler; and urged him to travel around the country, stay on message, and connect with the Russian people.”
Guillory noted how “the Yeltsin campaign employ(ing) American consultants is hardly controversial.” But then pointed out that “the relay between Richard Dresner (one of the trio) and Clinton’s chief strategist Dick Morris, however, crossed the line. In his memoir ‘Behind the Oval Office,’ Morris notes that Dresner offered to keep him in the loop on the Russian presidential race. With Clinton’s approval, Morris received weekly opinion poll briefings that he would share with the president, who would in turn pass on recommendations to Dresner via Morris.
One can only imagine the outright hysteria if it were discovered today that a Trump advisor, especially one who advocated “dirty tricks” against Clinton, had been receiving suggestions from Vladimir Putin. But this is literally what happened in Russia.
Two years after the Americans had got the result they wanted, Russia defaulted on its debts and ordinary people had their meagre savings wiped out. This isn’t forgotten, and is widely blamed on pro-US ‘reformers’ such as Anatoly Chubais, once described by the the New York Times as “the most hated man in Russia.”
Even today, prominent Americans can’t shake their belief that US interference in Russia is legitimate, but any Russian responses are inadmissible.
For instance, just last weekend, Biden, who has admitted ordering Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to sack his prosecutor general, delivered an absurd speech in Munich. In Germany’s southern capital, he suggested sanctions and NATO pressure will make Russians look out of a “black hole.” He also declared that Russia’s leaders had an “illegal grip on power” – which is complete nonsense, no matter your opinion of the Kremlin.
But Barack Obama’s former sidekick didn’t even drop the most arrogant statement of the weekend. Instead, that dubious honor belonged to ex-CIA director James Woolsey, who admitted to Fox News that the US “probably” meddles in other countries elections.
The exchange was beyond parody.
Fox host Laura Ingraham: “Okay, but we don’t mess with other people’s elections right?”
Woolsey: “Well huehueyumyumyumyum… but only for a very good cause.”
At which point, the pair burst into laughter.
This topic might have been a joke for the CIA and Fox, but it’s not a laughing matter for victims of American intervention around the world. And US-establishment hysteria over alleged (and clearly minor and haphazard and perfunctory, if it existed at all) Russian meddlesomeness in 2016 betrays one key fact: America’s elite thinks it has a divine right to control the world and these guys are unable to adjust to the new reality where the US no longer enjoys the status of sole hegemon. And this makes the world a very dangerous place right now.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.