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Taibbi writes: "For all the fears about Trump being a Manchurian Candidate bent on destroying America from within, the far more likely nightmare endgame involves our political establishment egging the moron Trump into a shooting war as a means of proving his not-puppetness."

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (photo: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty)
Russian president Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. (photo: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians?

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

21 July 17

Russia isn't as strong as we think, but they do have nukes – which is why beating the war drum is a mistake

ast Wednesday, former adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton Paul Begala stepped out of his usual milquetoast centrist costume and made a chest-thumping pronouncement on CNN.

"We were and are under attack by a hostile foreign power," he said. "We should be debating how many sanctions we should place on Russia, or whether we should blow up the KGB."

Begala's is the latest in a string of comments from prominent pols and pundits suggesting we are (or should be) in a state of war with nuclear-armed Russia.

Former DNC chair Donna Brazile tweeting this week, "The Communists are dictating the terms of the debate" – and not bothering to delete the error – is another weird example of what feels like intense longing in the Beltway to reignite the Cold War. (Begala wanting to blow up the long-dead KGB is another.)

James Clapper this spring saying Russians are "genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor" also recalled the Sovietology era, when Russians were cast as evil, emotionless manipulators, cold as their icy homeland. CNN reporter Michael Weiss casting suspicion on people with Russian spouses is another creepy recent example.

For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.

Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge, or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the Putin regime.

There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to restore Russia to an archenemy role.

For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections. This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time. We even made a Hollywood movie on the topic (Spinning Boris, starring Jeff Goldblum and Anthony LaPaglia!).

After Boris Yeltsin won re-election in 1996, Time magazine ran a gloating cover story – YANKS TO THE RESCUE! – about three American advisers sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin devise campaign strategy. Picture Putin sending envoys to work out of the White House to help coordinate Trump's re-election campaign, and you can imagine how this played in Russia.

Former Yeltsin administration chief Sergei Filatov denied that the three advisers did anything of value for Yeltsin. But even if Filatov is right, American interference throughout the Nineties was extensive.

For one thing, the privatization effort under Yeltsin, much of which was coordinated by Americans, helped lead to a little-understood devil's bargain that sealed Yeltsin's electoral victory.

Essentially, Yeltsin agreed to privatize the jewels of Russian industry into the hands of a few insiders – we call them oligarchs now – in return for their overwhelming financial and media support in the '96 race against surging communist Gennady Zyuganov. The likes of Vladimir Potanin, Boris Berezovsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky were gifted huge fortunes before bankrolling Yeltsin's re-election bid.

How much of a hand we had in that infamous trade has never been explained. But Americans surely helped usher in the oligarch era by guiding Russia through its warped privatization process. In some expat circles back then, you found Americans who believed that by creating a cadre of super-wealthy Russians, we would create a social class that would be pre-motivated to beat back a communist revival.

This may have prevented a backslide into communism, but a by-product was accelerating a descent into gangsterism and oligarchy.

The West also aided Yeltsin during that election season by providing a $10.2 billion IMF loan that just happened to almost exactly match the cost of Yeltsin's vicious and idiotic invasion of Chechnya. (Yeltsin had been under fire for the cash crunch caused by the war.) Le Monde called the timely giganto-loan "an implicit vote in favor of candidate Yeltsin."

What most Americans don't understand is that the Putin regime at least in part was a reaction to exactly this kind of Western meddling.

The Yeltsin regime, which incidentally also saw wide-scale assassinations of journalists and other human rights abuses, was widely understood to be a pseudo-puppet state, beholden to the West.

The conceit of the Putin regime, on the other hand, was that while Putin was a gangster, he was at least the Russians' own gangster.

It's debatable how much success Putin really had at arresting the flight of Russian capital abroad that began in the Yeltsin years. But the legend that he would at least try to keep Russia's wealth in Russia was a key reason for his initial popularity.

Russians also have an opposite take on their "aggression" in Ukraine and Crimea, one that is colored by a history few in America know or understand.

When asked about the roots of the current Russian-American divide, former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, the author of excellent books like Whistleblower in the CIA and Failure of Intelligence, points to a 1990 deal struck between Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

The two men brokered a quid pro quo: The Soviets wouldn't oppose a re-united Germany, if the Americans promised not to "leapfrog" East Germany into the Russians' former sphere of influence.

Goodman later interviewed both men, who confirmed the key details. "They both used the word 'leapfrog,'" he says. "The Russians think we broke that deal."

Russia believes the U.S. reneged on the "leapfrog" deal by seeking to add the Baltics, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Georgia and even Ukraine to the NATO alliance.

To Russia, American denunciations of Russian adventurism in Crimea and eastern Ukraine seem absurd, when all they see is NATO leapfrogging its way ever-closer to their borders.

This is not to say that the Russians were right to move into Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. But it's easy to see why Russians would be frosty about America trying to put border states under the umbrella of NATO, or wigged out by Americans conducting war games in places like Latvia. Imagine, for instance, the response here in the States if the Russians conducted amphibious military exercises in the Baja Peninsula after promising to honor the Monroe doctrine.

As Goodman and others have pointed out, failing to predict the Soviet collapse was probably the biggest intelligence failure in our history. While Ronald Reagan and his cronies politicized intelligence and overhyped the Soviets as a mighty and monolithic force, the on-the-ground reality was that the Soviet Union was a crumbling third-world state besotted with crippling economic and infrastructural problems.

We missed countless opportunities for easier, safer and cheaper relations with the Russians by consistently mistaking their disintegrating Potemkin Empire for an ascendant threat.

It's not exactly the same story now, but it's close. Putin's Russia certainly has global ambitions, just as the Soviets did. But the game now is much more about connections and hot money than about geopolitics or territory. There's evidence that the Russians have tried to burrow their way into America's commercial and political establishment, but by most accounts the main route of entry has been financial.

If indeed Trump was a target of Russian efforts, we'll likely discover that this was not something that was exclusive to Trump but rather just one data point amid a broad, holistic strategy to curry favor and make connections across the American political class.

Still, these efforts are probably far more limited in scope than we've been led to imagine. DNC hack or no DNC hack, Russia is still a comparatively weak country with limited power to influence a nation like the U.S., especially since it's still dogged internally by those same massive economic and infrastructural problems it's always had. Putin's political grip on power at home is also far less sure than our pundits and politicians are letting on.

The generalized plan to create chaos in other industrialized states by seeding/spreading corruption and political confusion – which many in the intelligence community believe is an aim of Russian intelligence efforts – is revealing in itself. It's the strategy of a weak and unstable third-world state looking for a cheap way to stay in the game (and bolster its profile) versus more powerful industrial rivals. Hyping Russia as an all-powerful menace actually plays into this strategy.

But the Russians still have nukes, which is why we have to be very careful about letting rhetoric get too hot, especially with the president we now have.

For all the fears about Trump being a Manchurian Candidate bent on destroying America from within, the far more likely nightmare endgame involves our political establishment egging the moron Trump into a shooting war as a means of proving his not-puppetness.

This already almost happened once, when Trump fired missiles into Syria with Russian troops on the ground, seemingly as a means of derailing a Russiagate furor that was really spiraling that particular week. That episode proved that the absolute worst time to bang the war drum under Trump is when he's feeling vulnerable on Russia – which he clearly is now.

Rising anti-Russian hysteria and a nuclear button-holder in the White House who acts before he thinks is a very bad combination. We should try to chill while we still can, especially since the Russians, once again, probably aren't as powerful as we think. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

-8 # 2017-07-21 13:50
"This is not to say that the Russians were right to move into Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. "

Taibbi ignores the disgusting COUP that installed neo-nazi thugs in power. He's another mainstream, corporate mouthpiece, despite his criticism.
+27 # harleysch 2017-07-21 14:05
Finally, a competent article on Putin and Russia. While I don't agree with all of Matt's conclusions, at least he is clear that there is hysteria in the west, that is putting us on a dangerous course with Russia.

I would be interested in his views on the Trump-Putin talks on cooperation in Syria, to end the fighting, and on Trump's stated commitment to put an end to regime change wars. Also, what does he think of the role of Brennan, Comey and Clapper in leading the opposition to Trump's efforts to change the direction of Obama's policies.

For those running "Russiagate" stories round the clock, there seems to be little understanding of the actual bigger strategic issues involved. No President, no matter how reviled he might be by the opposition, should be under attack for wishing to engage in a dialogue with our supposed adversaries.
+27 # elizabethblock 2017-07-21 14:38
Then there's all the other countries whose elections we've meddled in.....
+29 # dotlady 2017-07-21 14:57
Thanks Matt Taibbi - good to be reminded of the privatization project in Russia run by the old Milton Friedman Chicago boys. So the class of oligarchs, like so many things the US is fighting today, was caused or moved forward by US design. Wish the NY Times would remind us of these things before goading "his orangeness" and cohort to prove his manliness. Putin has his hands full with restlessness at home, as does this administration. Birds of a feather - better "together" than at war.
+19 # Johnny 2017-07-21 15:06
So why is the deep state through its mainstream media whipping the U.S. masses into a froth of hatred for Russia? Cui bono?
+1 # wrknight 2017-07-28 23:05
Isn't it obvious? War is profitable for those who manufacture and feed the war machines; and a cold war is the most profitable kind of war.

The national security industry thrives on fear and hate.
+18 # 2017-07-21 15:16
War feeds it`s self and needs no additional help. Remain calm and back off!
+13 # angelfish 2017-07-21 15:34
Everyone KNOWS Trump is an Incompetent Moron and has NO business in our Government, let ALONE, our White House. SO, my question is this. WHY are they letting him destroy us as a, once, Leader in the Free World? He wandered around like the Cadaver at the Feast during the G-20 Talks, except for when he was kissing up to Putin. This is unconscionable and totally inappropriate. Then, his Idiot Son get into the act and digs his hole deeper and DEEPER, as well as his own! The Nepotism REEKS to High Heaven, he has NOT divested from his Business Venues and has benefited $$$ greatly from his position as he coerces Heads of State and others of importance to use his Shoddy Hotels when in America! This is NOT to be borne! Allowing his Daughter to sit in on a meeting for him is Out of Order! Now, he's looking for ways to Pardon them ALL, as well as himself! Incredible! HE is out of Order and MUST be, along with his ENTIRE Administration, Impeached!
+29 # PABLO DIABLO 2017-07-21 16:13
The Democrats just can't seem to accept that Hillary lost to the worst candidate in history. They are desperate for a scapegoat (Russian meddling). Trump has been doing "business" with shady Russians for a long time. He does not want that to see daylight. And I don't want a President Pence (a war monger hiding behind "Christian" values).
0 # ericlipps 2017-07-21 16:13
Trump's no Manchurian Candidate, but he was perfectly willing to exploit the espionage apparatus of a foreign power to undermine his opponent in the 2016 presidential election--and the Putin regime was, and is, perfectly willing to do business with him. Unfortunately for Putin, now that Trump is under suspicion for possible collusion with Moscow in tampering with the election, he has to act tough at Moscow's expense. If the investigation of this matter produces nothing damning (which is increasingly unlikely), it'll be back to comfy collaboration at the expense of ordinary Americans and Russians.
+3 # John S. Browne 2017-07-21 16:30

Of course "T(R)ump" is a Manchurian candidate! NO ONE gets into the office of U.S. president anymore without being a globalist, hand-picked by the Bilderberg group, the international totalitarian corporate-fasci sts who run the U.S., the West and the world, and who are seeking, through setting up their "New World (Dis-)Order" [Orwell's "1984" in real life], one-world government enslavement.

"Elections" are nothing but show, and to fool the American people into believing that they have a true say in who gets elected, and into continuing to falsely believe they have a "representative government", "of the People, by the People, for the People". But we no longer have a truly representative government; and, instead, we have a government "of, by and for the totally corrupt corporations, CEOs, corporate fascists, and lawyers", who are successfully bringing about the foregoing as well as the absolute subjugation, control, enslavement and exploitation of us all.

These fascist scum don't want any of us, other than themselves, to be free; and their "freedom" amounts to subjugating and exploiting everyone and everything, until most of life, both human and other species, on planet earth is eradicated. Their lord and master, Satan, knows that Jesus the Christ is going to return relatively soon, so he and his human minions figure they might as well destroy the earth for all it's worth, sucking it dry of all resources, and exterminating most life thereon.

Stop them, people!

+12 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-21 16:55
Thanks Matt for this dose of sanity; It is truly uncanny how so many of the new Cold Warriors can't don't seem to know about the changes in Russia in the alst 30 years. The idiot Clint Watts in his testimony before the senate committee kept saying "the Soviets." He did not seem to know that he was ignorant of the changes. Same with Begala -- blow up the KGB.

And these are the people whom we call "experts" and "leaders of the free world." I have always thought Trump was ignorant and stupid, but these assholes actually make Trump look smart.

It may be true that Russia is weak but it is part of an alliance -- the BRICS nations -- that does not seek "strength" in the macho, military, colonialist way that the US and Europe always have. Their strength is in their numbers and productivity. They comprise well over half of the wrold's people and about half of the world's GDP. They are the fastest growing part of the world. And they are committed to improving the living standards of all people, their own and the rest of the world.

Russia is part of the world's future. The US and Europe are dying. They are in their death throes now. That's what all this anti-Russian hysteria really is about. Death agony. Someone has to be blamed.
+21 # librarian1984 2017-07-21 18:31
"But the game now is more about connections and hot money than about geopolitics or territory."

It is difficult to comprehend how very very bad our foreign policy has been for decades, starting with our choice to be the world's arms dealer and policeman, continuing with our rogue actions and treaty breaking, meddling in other nations' leadership and elections and exporting our corrupted system, from creating an oligarch class in Russia to banning unions in Iraq, all the while pillaging and bombing, looting and firing depleted uranium into civilian populations.

It's not just that it's immoral. It's also short-sighted. We subsidize fossil fuels. We fund 1000 bases. Very 20th century. And both parties act this way -- so maybe the answer is elsewhere, like the CIA, working for our very own oligarchs.

Why are we behind the world in education, building a green economy, health care? We are turning into a third world country while our pols become millionaires.

How long are we going to allow these m-f-ers to destroy our country? I suppose when Trump is gone anyone else will seem great, so we'll be complascent again, teaching TPTB to throw a monster into the mix every once in a while, for a pleasant, and demoralizing, contrast.

Look at the Israel Anti-Boycott bill. THAT is the insidious influence on our democracy.

Bernie Sanders has woken up the base, something that doesn't happen too often.

Rise up. Strike while the iron is hot.
+10 # librarian1984 2017-07-21 23:40
Why has no legislation been introduced to analyze and fix our elections? Don't we need to get started on that to be ready and secure for 2018? As usual there's a lot of hot air coming from Washington but not much action

As he walked out the door, Obama handed the national system to DHS .. but what does that mean, and why the timing? I'm surprised Kobach had to request information from secretaries of state. Doesn't the NSA (and therefore the DNI) have all this, everybody's everything? Does that mean the administration can't get the info from the intel agencies? Are any of them cooperating? Does Sessions have it? I think we see the tip of the iceberg in the Trump-MIIC internecine war. Not that anyone would bother to tell US. Heaven forbid the press would do their f^ing job. I made myself watch Maddow tonight, the whole excruciating hour. Every single minute about Russia. Not one second on the Anti-Israel Boycott bill. I watched CNN and MSDNC all day, and not one second from any of them.

They may be obsessed with Russia but their focus is selective. Nothing about the Clinton involvement with Russian interests. Nothing, really, about Trump either. What are his financial dealings in Russia? There are rumors he laundered Russian mob money. Any reporters working on that? I resent there are so few FACTS and everyone seems okay with that.

What a dismal time for journalism -- and pathetic wankery from the Democrats. So, business as usual.
0 # Observer 47 2017-07-26 08:55
To answer your initial question, no legislation has been introduced to "fix" our elections because, to the real powers that be, there's nothing wrong with them. Most Americans still think there are two major political parties, and that casting votes determines who holds office. Neither of those things has been true for decades, if ever in our history. It's to the advantage of the entities that actually run the country to keep these fictions alive, so there will never be a genuine attempt to "fix" the situation.
+1 # kerwinskeepers 2017-07-22 11:42
I think I accidentally cancelled my comment. It was just before Pablo Diablo comment.
Can it be reinstated? Thanks
+10 # Mainiac 2017-07-22 12:33
We have forgotten, it seems. the lies that the MSM told us about Iraq and Saddam Hussein after 9/11. Remember the scare about Saddam having Weapons of Mass Destruction?? Weapons that he could use to bomb American cities. And the news about yellow cake and the punishment meted out to the former US ambassador and his wife who worked for the CIA after he declared the information that came from Niger to be false. Some may also remember the testimony before a congressional committee by a young woman who reported that Saddam’s troops had tossed premature babies from their incubators? She turned out to be a Kuwaiti diplomat’s daughter. And Judith Mikker’s erroneous reports that appeared on the front pages of the New York Times?
+10 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-07-22 15:39
Just one correction:

"This is not to say that the Russians were right to move into Crimea or Eastern Ukraine."

Why repeat the lie spread by the mass media.

1. Russia did not move into Crimea. On March 16, 2014, the people of Crimea held a Crimean Status Referendum. 96.77% voted to give up autonomous status and join Russia. In normal circumstances this is called the "right of political self determination." Crimea was always Russian but was given to the Ukrainian administration under Kruschev.

2. Russia did not move into Eastern Ukraine. that is a lie promoted by the nazi government in Kiev. Russia has opened its borders and accepted about a half million refugees from the bombing by Kiev. Russia has provided some weapons and money. Russia has not meddled in the status of Eastern Ukraine, though the people their want to join Russia and probably will soon.

It is important not to repeat lies. Repeating lies is one of the chief methods of propaganda. Soon they are just taken as truth.
0 # Observer 47 2017-07-26 08:57
Thank you for this clarification. It does not appear often enough!
0 # wrknight 2017-07-28 23:25
Absolutely correct. Furthermore, the Russians didn't have to move into the Crimea because they had already been there for over 200 years. It was the Russians, not Ukrainians, that defeated the Ottomans in Crimea in the Russo-Turkish war (1774-76).

Also, consider the fact that Sevastopol, Crimea's major city, has long been to Russia as Norfolk, VA is to the U.S., namely Russia's principal major naval port and military establishment.
+6 # Texas Aggie 2017-07-22 23:27
"we'll likely discover that this was not something that was exclusive to Trump but rather just one data point amid a broad, holistic strategy"

The fact that so many of drumpf's administration has had financial dealing with the Russians, mostly the Mafia, suggests that this is true. How many more people not associated with drumpf have also had connections with Russian money laundering that just haven't been exposed in the media?

While it may not be deliberate sabotage of our system (the narco gangs have also been laundering billions of dollars through our financial system and aren't deliberately trying to overthrow our political and social system), in effect, it amounts to the same thing. Washing dirty money in such quantities and through such targets (banks, real estate, hedge funds, etc.) has the effect of destroying our financial system and thus the rest of our society so it might as well be on purpose.

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