Make Russias open interference a Pyrrhic Putin - Trump victory
Why Russia should be so openly celebrating Donald Trump’s election, and even flaunting the consultations Trump’s team denied, is clear. Whether painless and ongoing triumph is guaranteed must be less so.
Russia’s obvious jubilation at Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections felt like bitter confirmation that all was lost, certainly for Ukraine, and possibly for other former Soviet republics. What other interpretation was possible after Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, his suggestion that he would look at removing sanctions, recognizing Ukrainian Crimea as ‘Russian,’ his direct challenge to a fundamental principle of NATO protection?
This is certainly a victory for Moscow who did everything to prevent Hillary Clinton’s election. Judging by the number of statements since the elections by Russian officials, the Kremlin is openly flaunting its role. Why not indeed? The US elections have now demonstrated that Russia could use hackers to achieve the result it wants with relatively little resistance. We have seen the favoured candidate publicly reject state intelligence reports confirming Russian interference, while continuing to keep his tax returns secret despite their manifest significance for national security. None of this, nor a multitude of other scandals, prevented his election. Small wonder that Russia should be openly celebrating its victory.
How much of a victory, however, should not only depend on Trump and the undisclosed reasons for his support for Putin.
There were almost certainly large numbers of Americans with Ukrainian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Polish and other Eastern European roots who voted for Trump. It appears that they genuinely believed that he and/or the Republican Party would ‘stand up to Putin.’
While the amount of evidence to the contrary may seem overwhelming, let’s hope that they had a point. Since the Republican Party did not try to dissuade them from this view, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and Senate should be held to that.
It seens to be generally accepted that, at very least, the USA under Trump will distances itself from Europe, and that may well be what many of his voters actually want. Europe needs to be united enough to defend itself and counter efforts by Russia to weaken the EU and its members states. Caving in to Russia now and removing sanctions over its aggression against Ukraine would be a disaster.
There are active ways in which those who see the danger can help. Russia is spending vast amounts of money on information and hybrid war tactics aimed at pushing its narrative about Ukraine, the Baltic States, and destabilizing governments who take a strong stand against it. There has been a concentrated attack on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, and this is likely to intensify as elections loom in 2017. There are more battles in Europe that could be lost in the next year, with far-right, pro-Kremlin parties coming to power with obvious Russian help.
The last months saw enormous social network activity, mainly, however, used to share texts confirming our own position and to establish which ‘friends’ we had that there was no point arguing with.
We could now utilize social networks, other grassroots movements to counter a dangerous Russian narrative which Trump and his people have clearly tuned into. Information can be a powerful weapon.
If you look at Trump’s statements on Crimea, they were disturbingly indifferent to Russia’s clear violation of international law and they said nothing about the appalling deterioration in human rights since Russia’s invasion. With a president-elect who in 2014 often praised Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and claimed that Moscow had mass local support, it is crucially important to set the record straight and to push for that record being in the public eye.
Very many Americans took part in campaigns in support of Soviet political prisoners who were serving 5 or 10-year labour camp sentences for so-called ‘anti-Soviet propaganda.’ Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov is currently serving a 20-year sentence for opposing Russia’s invasion of Crimea, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko – 10 years. There is an ever-increasing number of Crimean Tatar prisoners, including those clearly imprisoned either for human rights activities, or simply for being Muslim.
Russia is pushing disinformation about Crimea, about a pseudo-referendum in March 2014. It was a scam run by soldiers and paramilitaries with machine guns, and ‘observed’ by a motley bunch of politicians from far-right, neo-Nazi or some neo-Stalinist parties, and even then didn’t get the support it was seeking. This is all documented, and needs to be made quite clear to people. Moscow wins when we let it get away with misinforming the public, who will then say nothing if Trump or other politicians seek to please Putin by recognizing Russia’s land-grab.
There is an army out there of Internet trolls pushing the line taken by the Kremlin-funded media, including Russia Today and Sputnik. At present, there are a few journalists occasionally writing about the obvious attacks on Merkel, the considerable financial help Russia is providing the far-right National Front in France, etc. There is a special EEAS East StratCom Task Force regularly producing a vital Disinformation Review. It’s excellent that it exists, but of limited use if read only by those who are already aware of the propaganda dangers.
Without public support and public engagement in countering the disinformation, there is little chance of fighting it. How successful any attempts can be, can seem in serious question but the danger is real, and at least we’ll have not left the barricades without a fight.