Russian Campaigns to Destroy Political Opponents

The U.S. media has been active at tying the election of Donald Trump to Russian hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, but that isn’t the greatest danger from the Russians. That hacking would not have had negative effects on the election if the principals in the Hillary Clinton campaign had not sent messages that were politically embarrassing. I know the Democrats are bent on believing they would have won if the Russians hadn’t interfered, but it seems to me the Democrats had a flawed candidate who didn’t connect with Middle America.

Despite that personal belief, there is something important to understand about the skill of the Russians in shaping opinion. The intelligence operations within the Soviet Union were amazingly effective at destroying political opponents, and Russian organizations are being quite effective at carrying that forward. A recent article describes how Russian “kompromat” is used to destroy political opponents with no facts required. The term is used to describe compromising material for blackmail of those who the Russians have determined to be dangerous. The process involves “.  .  .high quality faked documentation.” The documentation includes “.  .  .hints, images, videos, promises of disclosures, perhaps even some high-quality faked documentation. Sex or pornography often figures prominently.”

We can hope the media with a free press will be able to counteract false reports generated by Russian intelligence services. We’ll see who wins; the free press with freedom of speech or the Russians bent on destroying those they deem to be unfriendly. My primary message is that everyone should be skeptical of any negative Russian campaign against anyone.

The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate

spread-of-nuclear-weaponsThis book written by Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz is interesting because the two authors, as is indicated by the title, take radically different positions on the threat from the spread of nuclear weapons. I’ll let the authors explain further from the Preface. “What are the likely consequences of the spread of nuclear weapons? The answer is by no means certain or simple. Indeed, the readers will discover we disagree about the central issue. Kenneth Walsh argues that the fear of the spread of nuclear weapons is exaggerated: ‘More may be better’ since new nuclear states will use their weapons to deter other countries from attacking them. Scott Sagan argues that the spread of nuclear weapons will make the world less stable. ‘More will be worse’ since some new nuclear states will engage in preventive wars, fail to build survivable forces, or have serious nuclear weapons accidents.” That’s a good summary of what they say in the book, although I didn’t find out what the “fail to build survivable forces” has to do with the debate.

Kenneth Walsh takes the lead with his proposal that “More May be Better.” He points out that the world had “…enjoyed more years of peace since 1945 than had been known in modern history, if peace is defined as the absence of general war among the major states of the world.” He argues that, “War becomes less likely as the costs of war rise in relation to possible gains.” The incentive for the major nuclear powers to begin an exchange makes it clear to even the most insane leader that there will be little to gain since each side has sufficient nuclear stockpiles to destroy the other. That easy to understand fact has prevented World War III for seventy years while there have been nuclear weapon stockpiles in the many tens of thousands of weapons. “Deterrence is achieved not through the ability to defend but through the ability to punish.” Walsh writes, “Early in the Cold War, the United States deterred the Soviet Union, and in due course, the Soviet Union deterred the United States.” He observes that he believes “The presence of nuclear weapons makes war less likely…Nuclear weapons have not been fired in anger in a world in which more than one country has them.” Continue reading

Ukraine’s Nuclear Weapons and Russia

The recent aggression of the Russians against Ukraine made me wonder whether the Ukranians regretted sending their nuclear weapons back to Russia after declaring their independence from the Soviet Union. I realized I needed a history review to better understand the situation. According to the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State, the collapse of the Soviet Union arguably could be traced to Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to “…loosen the yoke of Soviet control over Eastern Europe.” That led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the overthrow of Communist rule throughout Eastern Europe. The Soviet destabilization continued until the attempted coup by hard-line Communists against Gorbachev in August 1991. That failed coup led Ukraine and Belarus to declare their independence.  Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan had nuclear weapons at that time.

The Ukrainian Week states, “Ukraine had to give up its nuclear weapons to become a sovereign state and have its independence recognized by the entire world.” The people of Ukraine were dominantly anti-nuclear as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.  Also, the nuclear weapons had been produced by the Soviet Union, and retaining them would have tied Ukraine to the Soviet (later Russian) military industrial complex.  Ukraine also judged that the criteria announced by the U.S. required that they disarm themselves of nuclear weapons to gain recognition. They remembered the sad experience of the 1920s when the West did not recognize Ukraine and it became a target of Bolshevik aggression. Recent events do not bode well for them trying a different approach to assuring their national sovereignty. Continue reading

Russian Adoption Politics

The posting last week was about Russian politicians retaliating against a U.S. law imposing human rights requirements on Russia. The Russian law, which would include banning adoptions of Russian children by Americans, is moving closer to reality. The law has been passed and Vladimir Putin has indicated he will approve it. A Reuters article by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Alissa de Carbonnel reports the law would cancel the placement of 46 Russian orphans in U.S. homes. There were 956 Russian Children adopted by Americans last year. An Associated Press article by Nataliya Vasilyeva and Mansur Mirovalev  on Yahoo reports that more than 60,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans in the past 20 years.  

The Russian law has sparked outrage in both Russia and the U.S. because the children “…aren’t offered to foreigners until they get a certain number of (adoption) refusals from Russians…” Many of them have difficulty being adopted because they have severe health problems or disabilities. There are “…about 740,000 children without parental care in Russia…” and many live in severely overcrowded orphanages.

It would seem the willingness of Americans to adopt Russian children, especially those with disabilities, would be welcomed. However, it is more complicated than just a political spat. The new Russian law is named Dima Ykolevlaw  “…after a Russian-born toddler who died of heat stroke after his American adoptive father left him locked in a sweltering car.” There was another disturbing case of a Russian-born child being raped by the American pedophile adoptive father. Continue reading

Russian Bill Retaliates Against New U.S. Law

The “reset button” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave to the Russians early in President Obama’s presidency with the hopes of improving relations between the U.S. and Russia is still failing. Business Week reports that Russian legislators have given initial overwhelming approval to a bill that would impose sanctions on Americans accused of human rights violations.

The U.S. bill that caused the newest dust-up was intended to open new export opportunities for Americans wanting to do business in Russia. However, there is one section named after Sergei Magnitsky. He was an activist lawyer who was jailed and refused medical treatment until his death. He was arrested after he accused that police officials had engaged in multi-million dollar tax fraud. Russian rights organizations point out that no one has been prosecuted and that some officials he had accused have been promoted.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman issued a statement after President Obama signed the U.S. bill into law saying it was “odious” and “blatant interference in our internal affairs.” The most troubling part of the story is the uncertainty about “what criteria would be used to assess human rights violations. The spokesman said “…targets could include people who abuse adopted Russian children and people responsible for creation of secret prisons.” I’m guessing that people in the U.S. considering adopting Russian children might want to know more about the law and the intent.

Another Reset in Russia and U.S. Relations

Diplomats had a good time three years ago when Hillary Clinton gave Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a “mock reset button” to symbolize U.S. hopes to improve relations with Moscow. The big news at that time was that the “peregruzka” label on the button that was intended to mean “reset” instead translated to “overcharged” or “overloaded.” The presentation of the button was said to have been in response to one of Vice President Biden’s gaffes. This one had something to do with the new administration wanting to reset ties with Russia after years of friction.

The recent termination of a U.S. aid organization’s activities by the Kremlin represents an ominous reset in relations. The September 20, 2012 English version of Pravda by Oleg Artyukov reported that the “…decision to terminate the activity of the United States Agency for International Development, USAID, in Russia has expectedly caused a great deal of noise. Human rights advocates are in shock…” The Russian Foreign Minister said the decision to shut down the agency was made “…due to attempts of the agency to influence political processes, civil society institutions, and elections…”

The agency had distributed $2.7 billion in Russia since 1992.  A State Department spokeswoman said, “…not very confidently…” that a third of the money went to “…development of democracy.”  A New York Times article by David M. Heszenhorn published in the September 23, 2012 Denver Post said the money funded “…programs touching nearly every facet of society in the former communist state — fighting the spread of tuberculosis and HIV, developing judicial systems and training lawyers and judges, promoting child welfare, job readiness, youth engagement, human rights and democracy, even helping modernize the electric grid.”

It is apparent there is justification for the Russian accusation that the agency was being used to meddle in Russia’s internal affairs in addition to all the positive activities. An association that monitors elections in Russia called “The Voice” put out a statement that “The hastiness and sudden nature of this decision is apparently related to the elections on October 14.” There are continuing protests about that election, and Vladimir Putin has sent another warning to the protestors.

The U.S. media coverage of the story is perhaps as interesting as the story itself. The story was published on page 23A of the Sunday Denver Post, and I found little else about it except on the English Pravda site.  Senator John McCain described the closure of the USAID mission as “an insult to the United States and a finger in the eye of the Obama Administration.”  Is it possible the U.S. media doesn’t want to publish news of a major setback to Mr. Obama’s foreign policies when there is an election coming up?

The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin

This book by Masha Gessen describes how Vladimir Putin rose from low-ranking member of the KGB to “…absolute—and absolutly corrupt—power…” as the leader of the Russian Federation. I was eager to read the book and post this review because the latest statistics on this web site indicated large numbers of readers in the Russian Federation and the Ukraine.

The story of Putin’s childhood is murky. His parents were a disabled man and a woman who had almost starved to death and had lost another son. They had a larger apartment and more amenities than neighbors. The apparent advantages of the parent’s living arrangement created rumors about what the father might have done to serve the KGB. There also are rumors that Putin was adopted. The author says what is indisputable is that he “…by the standards of his time, was a miracle child.”

The KGB expected new recruits to be skilled in hand-to hand combat, and Putin studied Sambo, a Soviet martial art. He was assigned to a unit created to fight dissidents and later trained as a spy. He was assigned to Dresden where there were few spying opportunities. Mikhail Gorbachev began the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika, and dissidents in Leningrad had been emboldened by the time Putin and his wife and family returned from Dresden.

The demolition of the Angleterre Hotel, a Leningrad historic site, spawned a revolution. Dissidents calling themselves “Informals” began gathering and giving speech in front of the site, which they called “Information Point.” Glasnost had released the power of freedom and brought about the rapid collapse of the Soviet system.

Putin claimed he resigned from the KGB when the Soviet Union was collapsing. A man named Sobchak worked himself into being chairman of the Leningrad City Council and hired Putin as an assistant. One theory was that Sobchak was said to know “…that it is wiser to pick your KGB handler yourself than to have one picked for you.” Putin convinced one after another higher ranking officials he could be both trusted and controlled amongst all the political intrigue.

Oligarchs became incredibly wealthy as the country lurched to corrupt enterprise. Russia defaulted on its debts in 1998 amidst hyperinflation. The turmoil opened opportunities for the nondescript Putin. He worked his way into the trust of Boris Yeltsin, who had launched democracy in the Russian Federation with great hope, but Russians quickly became disillusioned amidst terrible economic conditions. Yeltsin resigned and named Vladimir Putin prime minster of Russia August 9, 1999. Yeltsin probably picked him because he believed Putin would not prosecute or persecute him.

The date of Putin’s appointment was intended to make him the “…instant incumbent…” The Russian people and world leaders were “…relieved that unpredictable, embarrassing Yeltsin was gone …” Few understood Putin believed a “…country is as great as the fear it inspires, and the media should be loyal.” The American media was focused on the Bush-Gore election and paid no attention to the turmoil in Russia or Putin’s immediate moves to transform the country back to a Soviet-style government.

There is a story about a tobacco riot  that gives insight into the kind of desperation that led to the collapse of democracy. People were constantly forced to search for food and other commodities, and the stores were often empty. Several thousand people gathered in central Leningrad to demand cigarettes. City council members arrived to prevent violence. It was well after dark when a stash of cigarettes was located and delivered. The protestors lit up and dispersed. However, “…it seemed the city would run out of everything.”

Putin used state control of the media and, according to the author, intimidation, corruption, murder, and terrorism against Russian citizens to solidify his power. The book presents many chilling stories about his actions and how he used corruption to make himself an incredibly wealthy man. The most disturbing accusation is that the FSB, the replacement for the KGB, set off bombs in apartment buildings that killed hundreds of men, women and children. Sacks of the explosive hexogen labeled “sugar” that were used to demolish the apartment buildings were found in a FSB warehouse. It is speculated the bombings were intended to make people want stricter state control; Putin used them to justify canceling gubernatorial elections. The bombings were officially blamed on an Islamic terrorist group. The official response to terrorist attacks was to “…maximize bloodshed…aimed to multiply the fear and the horror.”

There are disturbing stories of Putin’s willingness to punish critics. Wealthy people and powerful public figures who decided to publically oppose Putin’s abandonment of democracy and development of a “tyranny of bureaucracy” paid with their freedom or their lives if they didn’t first escape the country. Some critics died of mysterious poisons such as the radioactive element polonium which could not be obtained by anyone other than a central government. Some critics were convicted of invented crimes and imprisoned by Putin’s imposition of the Stalin theory that the courts existed to “…do the bidding of the head of state and dole out punishment…” He didn’t just apply his “don’t mess with me” policy domestically. He also officially abandoned the “no first nuclear strike” policy against foreign foes. Disasters such as the failure to rescue men on the nuclear submarine Kursh and the slaughter of more than 300 people, mostly women and children, at a school in Breslan by terrorists seemed to cause Putin little concern.

Putin also apparently can’t resist taking things. He pocketed the diamond Super Bowl ring shown to him by New England Patriot owner Robert Kraft. Kraft later ended the embarrassment by saying the ring was a gift. Putin took a glass replica of a Kalashnikov filled with vodka shown to him at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The author calls him a pleonexia, which is a person who has “…the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others.”

Dmitry Medvedev (who is around five feet tall, although his height is classified) served as the stand-in when Putin had to leave office because of term limits. Medvedev publically admitted in 2011 that he and Putin had made arrangements for Medvedev to hold the office for Putin until Putin was once again eligible to be president.

All of this leads to the Epilogue, which gives a day-by-day description of the events immediately before and during the Russian Federation election in December 2011. Putin was announced to have been the winner, although the margin was narrow despite the suspected corruption of the election. Mikhail Gorbachev called for a re-vote. There was a Facebook posting “The Snow Revolution, or a Clean Slate.” Large numbers of people (the author estimates 150,000) arrived wearing white armbands or other white articles. I haven’t noticed U.S. coverage of what has happened since, but I intend to research the subject for a blog posting at that link.