There can be no further doubt. Vladimir Putin “hacked” the US election, authorising a cyber warfare offensive on the US that tilted the odds in favour of President Elect Donald Trump. This is an unprecedented act of interference, by an increasingly rogue state, in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.
Apart from the fact that it isn’t, and thus far it’s still unclear as to why (or indeed if, given the reliability of the western media) the Kremlin undertook such an action. There are no doubt multiple reasons why Moscow may or may not have preferred Donald Trump to come out ahead in the electoral race, none of which speaks to unprovoked malfeasance on the part of Russians themselves.
This is also not a novel occurrence. The US has a long-running history of interfering in the internal life of other nations. Whether we are dealing with overt and shockingly violent incidents of “regime change” (invasion to everyone else) or more subtle acts of subterfuge to place local allies in power, the Americans have no business acting innocent in the face of this latest episode of tension between Washington and Moscow. That some across the Atlantic are outraged at what Russia is alleged to have done speaks more of entrenched hypocrisy and ignorance of historical facts than anything more substantive.
You could no doubt write an entire book on American’s long history of aggression, interference and plain, simple brutalisation of other countries. It’d be in good company, given the fact that, thankfully, many authors and journalists continue to record such outrages with admirably clarity. What might be a more novel undertaking, however, is an analysis of why Moscow may have preferred the victory of Trump over Clinton.
Given Trump’s obvious ineptitude when it comes to foreign affairs, it seems downright peculiar why anyone would want to see him in the Oval Office over the undeniably more experienced Clinton. To understand the logic behind such an inquiry, it’s important to bear recent events in mind.
It’s no secret that President Obama has butted heads with Vladimir Putin on more than one occasion. As Obama’s Secretary of State until 2013, Hillary Clinton would have, at all times, been a clear and present factor in many such confrontations, ranking highly in Russian anxieties with regard to how to placate their superpower adversary. For Clinton to have simply gone from being a powerful contender in foreign affairs to taking the actual Presidency of the United States might have seemed like an unacceptable headache for a Russian government already knee-deep in border tension with NATO and ongoing conflict in Syria. Moscow doesn’t want more of the same, essentially.
Let’s be more specific. One of the focal points of Obama’s approach to foreign policy was the 2014 overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. After accepting a trade deal with his Russian neighbor in 2013, Yanukovych bore witness to sudden and widespread protests, seemingly due to the preference many Ukrainians had for an apparently more suitable agreement with the European Union.
Unwilling to compromise, the oligarchic Yanukovych initially dug his heels in, attempting to disperse the “Euromaidan” protest movement as part of a haphazard policy that swiftly spun out of control. As violence escalated, the President put up an increasingly ineffectual resistance in the face of an opposition movement now openly supported (and at times led) by the followers of WWII Quisling and far-right nationalist, Stepan Bandera. The infamous “Right Sector” and Svoboda, easily the most visible groups of Ukraine’s far-right, thus began to make their presence known on the streets, to the sizable alarm of both people at home and spectators overseas.
The presence of reactionary elements at Euromaidan is well known. Elements of the western media had initially been quite willing to report on the presence of the far-right within the protest movement. Regrettably, such clarity soon fell victim to a blanket propaganda campaign presenting the entirety of Euromaidan as a clear-cut, “good vs evil” struggle for human rights. An investigative approach aimed at exposing the mufti-faceted nature of Ukrainian politics thus gave way to a self-interested crudity that, at times, seemed to intentionally obscure the presence of the far-right.
And these people were not sitting idle. Both Right Sector and Svoboda introduced a notably thuggish aspect to clashes with government forces, appearing well drilled and equipped for hand to hand fighting with both riot police and individuals associated with the political left. They were also hardly shy in voicing their particular perspective on national politics, calling for a racially “clean Ukraine” and openly celebrating the memory of not only Bandera but the SS’s own Galicia Division.
Such a unit, being ultimately decimated in the closing years of WWII, was made up of ethnic Ukrainians that not only took part in military action on behalf of Germany, but also slaughtered thousands of Jews, Poles, Russians and other Ukrainians deemed friendly to the USSR. That such a horrific episode was being openly endorsed as “heroic” on the streets of the capital was itself simply nauseating. If there was ever cause for alarm at the prospect of a resurgent fascism then it was very much evident here.
The US response was typically Machiavellian, however. In addition to threatening an already flailing Ukrainian government with sanctions, Washington instructed its ambassador in Kiev to begin negotiations with the protestors, with the ambassador herself even going as far as to suggest a coup against what remained of the Yanukovych administration. The fact that such a coup would involve factions under the influence of the far-right doesn’t appear to have been a major concern.
Indeed, Svoboda in particular had previously been seen as remarkably amicable, with US Senator John McCain appearing in person in late 2013 to publicly support, embrace and endorse Euromaidan and its far-right compatriots. The ultimate collapse of the government and the flight of Yanukovych was subsequently portrayed as a popular revolution, one naturally conducive to the spread of freedom and civil liberties. Alarm from neighboring Russia and any Ukrainian citizen with the temerity to disagree was treated with idle contempt or ignored altogether by the mainstream press.
Yet we know without doubt that the post-Yanukovych government took a particularly dim view of the separatist ambitions of the largely Russian-speaking population of east Ukraine. Instead of accepting the notion that some Ukrainians were simply frightened and antagonized by the re-emergence of the far-right in mainstream politics, western media and political figures became fixated on the idea that eastern separatism was nothing more than a product of Russian intrigue. This misconception served Kiev particularly well when it came to attracting both foreign support and justifying ensuing violence.
Indeed, the new government, in addition to sporting several far-right nationalists in key positions, responded to mounting dissent by unleashing a sizable “anti-terror” operation involving the deployment of openly fascist militia groups. That such a decision was supported by the US is beyond doubt. That a large amount of American military equipment had been purchased by Ukraine is a fact. That such items may have subsequently been used in repeated and extreme acts of brutality against the civilian population is also likely.
That Russia would be increasingly alarmed by events just across the border and decide to take its own steps to rectify the situation is undeniable and understandable. That people would take up arms against repeated abuses, in addition to units of the Ukrainian military defecting rather than fire on their own people, is also hardly a surprise. Yet such people have been incessantly vilified across the western media, with Putin’s opposition to the use of force against east Ukrainians earning him a reputation as some kind of warmonger seeking to drag us back into the cold war.
This brings us to the question of the Russian “invasion” of Crimea. This may be a tricky subject to tackle, given the vast number of people who appear to have caught on to the misconception that Russian troops were invading in the sense of actually crossing borders for purposes of attacking and subjugating Ukrainian citizens. This is a crass exaggeration. A huge, even decisive, proportion of the soldiers involved had been based in Crimea for some considerable time, being part of collective security measures retained after the independence of Ukraine following events that led to the general breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
These forces were no more “invading” Crimea than British troops are currently invading Germany via their decades-long presence in that country. Granted, British forces in Germany are certainly not involved in a transfer of state power from one nation to another. Yet omission of the above facts, so prevalent in the mainstream media, is simply dishonest, and represents a fundamental absence of both professionalism and integrity for a great many journalists.
The subsequent (and much maligned) Crimean referendum is understandably a controversial topic. It’s not possible to know just how free and fair such a process really was, given that it took place in conditions of extreme anxiety and political and social dislocation. An easy answer, prolifically entertained in the west, is that Russian troops simply intimidated people into voting at gunpoint, not hesitating to discount troublesome results and silence any and all detractors. The Russians, as always, are simply bad people. We should fear them.
Unfortunately this one-sided and decidedly partisan perspective ignores a few key facts. We know that the decision to join the Russian Federation was met with celebrations on the streets, with revelers displaying an abundance of Russian flags and openly expressing relief at the result. Whilst it would be short-sighted to take such displays as clear-cut indications of uniform support across the region, the incessantly cynical coverage of these spectacles in the western media speaks volumes. It’s one thing to claim that a group of people are acting under duress, but to simply ignore that same group when a large proportion of them appear to break out in jubilation at said “duress” is just disingenuous.
It’s here we find American hypocrisy, specifically, particularly prominent. The US has military bases across the planet, with around one hundred and fifty thousand personnel currently “serving” overseas. These troops are not simply taking in the sights. US soldiers play an openly coercive and threatening role, from Korea to Japan to Turkey and Latin America. US naval assets routinely patrol the high seas, a sizable proportion of said assets being nuclear capable.
That such forces are regarded as protecting legitimate national interests or “peacekeeping” whilst Russian forces in Crimea, operating in conditions of open crisis, are apparently “invaders” is just so ridiculous it leaves one lost for words. Such a lie, however, repeated enough times, appears to have taken root. The Russians, as always, are simply terrible human beings. Don’t ever forget it.
Ukraine has thus served as a focal point for a resurgence of east/west antagonisms. In doing so, however, it has provided a much needed context with regard to the recent “hacking” controversy and what motive Moscow may have had, if any, in carrying out such an alleged action. That the Obama/Clinton/Kerry administration has hardly gone out of its way to soothe tensions is a clear and present reality. It’s hammering Russia with sanctions that have hit multiple sectors of an already fragile economy. Coupled with deliberate and ongoing attempts at intimidation via the redeployment of military forces, it’s safe to assume that the outgoing administration in Washington is eager to set a further precedent for escalation.
It also goes without saying that “progressive” Obama and his adjutant, Hillary Clinton, have been personally instrumental in such actions. Given that Russian statesmen would have become used to dealing with them both, it’s likely that the Kremlin would have identified Clinton, specifically, with policies that have led to serious instability in a neighboring state of sizable political, economic and cultural importance.
That they would have become increasingly disconcerted at what a Clinton Presidency might mean for future relations is also understandable. That they might plausibly take action, in some form, to prevent such an outcome is remarkable only in that some seem genuinely surprised by such an alleged move. The supposed “hacking” of the US election is thus an arguably minor repercussion in response to a prolonged, deliberate and self-evident policy of overt interference, aggression and escalation.
Let’s not forget Clinton’s history. The role her husband played in Russian woes when it was his turn at the helm of state power is well documented. As the USSR imploded (despite the wishes of the majority of its population) Bill Clinton’s America played a markedly aggressive role, helping to enforce crippling economic measures via IMF “shock therapy” that left millions in poverty.
Attempts by the Supreme Soviet to offset such calamity in the face of an increasingly bellicose President Yelstin led to the crisis of ’93, where Yeltsin, with the support of Clinton, used armed force to bombard his own legislature into submission. It is highly unlikely that the Russians have forgotten this sorry episode when contemplating the repercussions of yet another Clinton taking up occupancy in the White House. Attempting to avoid such an event would seem prudent.
Still unsure? Just look at the number of American troops in Eastern Europe. Look at the open support for the far-right at Euromaidan. Look at the loss of life in the Washington approved onslaught on the separatist enclaves, from the shelling of Donetsk to the massacre at Odessa. Look at the US navy in the Black Sea. Look at the sanctions. Listen to the bellicose rhetoric. All having taken place under Obama’s tenure. All, hypothetically, part of an aggressive policy framework highly likely to continue under a Clinton Presidency.
We can thus hardly be surprised at Russian attempts to gain further room for maneuver. Seeking to ensure the election of a President known for speaking favorably of co-operation with Russia may, plausibly, be a means to such an end. That’s assuming, of course, that this latest scandal isn’t just more Moscow-baiting from a power renowned across the world for incessant interference in the affairs of others.
Daniel Read is a UK-based journalist specialising in human rights and international affairs. He originally studied journalism at Kingston University, London, prior to obtaining post-graduate degrees in both human rights and global politics. He blogs at uncommonsense.me and tweets at @DanielTRead.