Has anyone noticed that throughout the entire Russian situation involving our election, no one has speculated as to “why” the Russians would have an interest in who was running our country? During the Cold War, there was a constant effort on the part of the Soviet Union to destroy our democratic capitalist way of life. Their overwhelming motivation was to spread the doctrine of Communism, with a capital “C”, throughout the world. Our policy was to fight that spread on a humanitarian and an economic level. That was why we fought in Korea and in Vietnam, and why we went to the Moon, and why we encouraged defections and spent billions on projects like Radio Free Europe and the United Nations.
After the second Russian revolution in 1989-90, Communism as we had always known it was no longer an overriding threat to our democracy or our economic survival. What happened in Russia that led them to meddle in our presidential election? After all, the fall of the U.S.S.R. was only twenty-five years ago. What could have caused Russia to take the path that they have taken? Let’s look at the 1990’s and examine what happened with the Russian economy.
First of all, it didn’t take long for Russians to recognize that capitalism wasn’t so bad. Becoming part of the world society again brought a flood of consumer goods and Western culture to people starving for everything new and exciting. Freedom was an amazingly transformative concept. Moving from a State owned and controlled economy to one that required private ownership was a difficult one, and required unusual solutions. What emerged was a system where concentration of industrial wealth was the easiest answer. The energy sector, the mineral reserves, the manufacturing sector, were all distributed to a very small group of influential former Communist Party officials, especially those that were part of the old K.G.B., and the rise of Vladimir Putin and the super wealthy Oligarchs was the result. No longer was Communism their motivating force. Money and the protection of that great wealth became their prime objective.
What evolved from the revolution was a system of organized crime like the world had never seen before. Organized crime breeds corruption, and we only need to look as far as our own history with the Mafia in America to understand how this system works. People who are a threat to the survival of the organization are eliminated. Consolidation of power is paramount in such a world. A free press in Russia was the first institution that had to be eliminated. The assassination of journalists was meant to send a signal to all media that their very lives depended upon compliance with the demands of the Oligarchy and its leaders. Political resistance was the next thing to be crushed. More high profile murders became commonplace, and they persist today. So, when did the United Sates and other powerful Western economies become such a threat to this illegal enterprise?
Let’s examine what was happening in the former Soviet Republics. First there was Georgia. An uprising there by factions against these powerful crime syndicates was quashed by Russian tanks and soldiers. The message was sent to all the new democracies that unless they fell in line with Moscow’s leaders, their futures would be in doubt. For awhile, that intimidation worked, but then there was The Ukraine. A Moscow puppet, Yanukovych (Communist Party of the Soviet Union member, 1980-1991), was ruling the country. It didn’t take long for Ukrainians to realize that their country had been hijacked by this man and his “friends”. They wanted to be closer to Europe and the economic system that was proving beneficial in countries like Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. This was a major threat to Moscow, not for ideological reasons, but for the survival of their corrupt enterprise. When massive demonstrations sent Yanukovych packing to Moscow, Putin did what any “godfather” would have done in the same situation. He invaded Ukraine, as he had done in Georgia, and annexed Crimea as a show of nationalistic force. His plans, however, were stymied by a rebellious Ukrainian populace, and by a coalition of Western countries who saw the invasion as a threat to global stability. Harsh economic sanctions were immediately slapped on Moscow and its powerful oligarchs, and those sanctions were effective, causing an immediate recession in the Russian economy. The Russian people suffered, and a suffering populace, who had seen such a rise in their standard of living under capitalism, became an immediate threat to Putin and his friends.
Although the Russian military continued its provocative harassment of Western forces, further incursions were not the answer for Moscow, but finding a way to escape from the suffocating sanctions became their only hope. They turned to the only weapons that they had available at this point, cyber attacks. If they could somehow exploit the weaknesses inherent in free and open societies, they might succeed in changing the leadership in those capitals, and through that change, have the sanctions relaxed or lifted completely. Remember, these are very, very, wealthy people who will stop at nothing to protect that wealth.
Barack Obama led the push for international economic sanctions, and any successor to him, whether Democrat or Republican, who would perpetuate those sanctions, needed to be stopped. Enter Donald Trump.
Trump, through his “birther” conspiracies, had already established himself as an ally of the radical Right in American politics. Even before he entered the presidential race, he already had the backing of Breitbart News, and many other extreme actors who saw minorities, whether racial, ethnic, or religious, as threats to the America that they believed was disintegrating before their eyes. Trump became the vehicle that would allow these “alt-right” players to tap into a large portion of society who also felt threatened by these groups. He had also praised Putin as a great leader, and portrayed Obama as weak and ineffective.
At the same time, Trump was surrounding himself with characters who had been actively involved with helping Moscow to preserve its hold on wealth. Paul Manafort was the most powerful, but Michael Flynn, who was a disgruntled former General, had a direct line to Putin, himself. These men accepted millions from Putin, Yanukovych, and the powerful oligarchs, in exchange for their influence over American officials who might help to get the sanctions relaxed. Trump, because of his already widespread international financial entanglements, was a prime target in this effort, whether he realized it or not. So was his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. The stage was set for cyber meddling that would be aimed at anyone who might have stood in Trump’s way. All of this was a long shot, but in the world of international crime and corruption, it was about survival, and was well worth the gamble.
The support of Fox News early on propelled Trump’s candidacy in a way that was hard to counteract with established political principles, and the eventual endorsement by the full Republican Party sealed the Democratic Party’s fate. Putin and his wealthy friends rejoiced in what appeared to be the realization of everything for which they had worked. Now all they needed to do was keep the pressure on Trump’s associates, and the sanctions would be history.
Russia’s meddling was a tactic formulated to protect the billions of Rubles that had illegally enriched this small group of men, and you can be certain that these efforts will continue as long as they remain in power. Our resolve to eliminate this threat must be stronger than their ability to perpetuate it. As long as Donald Trump remains in office, that ability will be greatly compromised.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.