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What Russiagate Skeptics Get Wrong

The Left can call for military deescalation while still holding Putin accountable for electoral meddling.

BY John Feffer

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Putin’s movement is founded on “traditional” values of Christianity, homophobia, and anti-feminist and anti-immigrant sentiment. OR “What Putin is really guilty of is calling for a multipolar world, not one dominated by the U.S.”

Imagine if the rightwing government of Shinzo Abe in Japan had interfered in the 2016 election in support of Donald Trump. Following which, Trump held a summit with Abe to endorse Japanese territorial claims in Asia as well as Abe’s efforts to remilitarize his country.

The American Left would never countenance a rightwing Japanese nationalist interfering in American politics. But, of course, it wasn’t Japan that hacked into U.S. computers and weaponized the information with the help of WikiLeaks. Nor did Japan make a big social media buy or direct an army of internet trolls to help make Trump’s unlikely victory happen.

It was Russia, where President Vladimir Putin, a rightwing militarist, aspires to lead a global conservative movement with Moscow at its hub. Putin’s movement is founded on “traditional” values of Christianity, homophobia, and anti-feminist and anti-immigrant sentiment. Yet some on the Left give the Kremlin a pass on its interference in U.S. elections (now commonly referred to as Russiagate), due to the mistaken belief that Putin represents a check on U.S. hegemony. “What Putin is really guilty of is calling for a multipolar world, not one dominated by the U.S.,” writes Colin Todhunter in CounterPunch.

In the pages of The Nation, the reporting of Glenn Greenwald, the analysis of Consortium News and the alternative TV broadcasts of the Real News Network—not to mention Moscow’s own RT (formerly Russia Today) and Sputnik—certain progressives sought to debunk Russiagate.

The “core narrative” of Russiagate, as Stephen Cohen has written in The Nation, is an example of “rubbish in, rubbish out,” a fabrication by the U.S. intelligence community.

The skeptics mentioned here effectively agreed with Trump that the news media and liberals everywhere had launched a “witch hunt” against Trump (and Putin). They disputed claims like the identity of the hackers who broke into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers and the connections between the Kremlin and far-right political movements. But their debunking efforts relied on misreading, misinterpretation and outright falsification. In a June commentary in Consortium News, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern was still trying to prove that Guccifer 2.0, the DNC hacker, was not Russian. One month later, the indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller provided copious information on the Russian hackers behind the Guccifer 2.0 avatar.

Much of the reams of nonsense published over the last 18 months has veered into the territory of conspiracy theory. Really, how could you possibly believe that DNC staffer Seth Rich gave all that material to WikiLeaks on the basis of a single, unsubstantiated Julian Assange claim to that effect? The evidence that Mueller has compiled—resulting in the recent indictments of 12 Russian military officers—should have satisfied skeptics.

Yet Russiagate skeptics continue their crusade, albeit shifting focus in the wake of July’s Trump-Putin Helsinki summit. Even if Russia did interfere in the election, they argue, there’s no proof of collusion. More importantly—and here the skeptics are joined by sensible advocates of foreign policy realism in a call published by The Nation—the value of improving U.S.-Russian relations overrides all other considerations.

A continuation of the Russiagate inquiry and an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations are not mutually exclusive. It’s essential to keep investigating Trump’s links to Russia, including the money laundering that Trump may have done for Russian clients close to the Kremlin, because these links reveal how Russia strengthens the political influence of oligarchs and boosts the fortunes of farright politicians. At the same time, we must support U.S.-Russian cooperation, particularly on arms control.

At the Helsinki summit, Putin showed interest in extending the New START Treaty, concluding the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, ending the conflict in Syria and supporting the nuclear deal with Iran.

Trump, however, did not. He has ridiculed the New START Treaty, pledged to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, continued—along with Putin—to bomb Syria, and reneged on the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States needs to address Russia diplomatically to solve problems of mutual and global interest, despite Trump’s obvious lack of interest. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that Putin is anything more than a ruthless, corrupt autocrat who uses nationalism to promote his own interests.


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John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His most recent book, Frostlands, comes out in November (Haymarket).

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