Russian interference in American politics is totally welcome so long as it helps turn public opinion against a “multipolar” Russia, glorifies American democracy, and serves U.S. interests.
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was ostensibly a conflict between two ideologies, two socio-economic systems.
All that seems to be over. The day of a new socialism may dawn unexpectedly, but today capitalism rules the world. Now the United States and Russia are engaged in a no-holds-barred fight between capitalists. At first glance, it may seem to be a classic clash between rival capitalists. And yet, once again an ideological conflict is emerging, one which divides capitalists themselves, even in Russia and in the United States itself. It is the conflict between globalists and sovereignists, between a unipolar and a multipolar world. The conflict will not be confined to the two main nuclear powers.
The defeat of communism was brutally announced in a certain “capitalist manifesto” dating from the early 1990s that proclaimed: “Our guiding light is Profit, acquired in a strictly legal way. Our Lord is His Majesty, Money, for it is only He who can lead us to wealth as the norm in life.”
The authors of this bold tract were Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who went on to become the richest man in Russia, before spending ten years in a Russian jail, and his business partner at the time, Leonid Nevzlin, who has since retired comfortably to Israel.
Loans For Shares
Those were the good old days in the 1990s when the Clinton administration was propping up Yeltsin as he let Russia be ripped off by the joint efforts of such ambitious well-placed Russians and their Western sponsors, notably using the “loans for shares” trick.
In a 2012 Vanity Fair article on her hero, Khodorkovsky, the vehemently anti-Putin journalist Masha Gessen frankly summed up how this worked:
The new oligarchs—a dozen men who had begun to exercise the power that money brought—concocted a scheme. They would lend the government money, which it badly needed, and in return the government would put up as collateral blocks of stock amounting to a controlling interest in the major state-owned companies. When the government defaulted, as both the oligarchs and the government knew it would, the oligarchs would take them over. By this maneuver the Yeltsin administration privatized oil, gas, minerals, and other enterprises without parliamentary approval.”
This worked so well that from his position in the Communist youth organization, Khodorkovsky used his connections to get control of Russia’s petroleum company Yukos and become the richest oligarch in Russia, worth some $15 billion, of which he still controls a chunk despite his years in jail (2003-2013). His arrest made him a hero of democracy in the United States, where he had many friends, especially those business partners who were helping him sell pieces of Yukos to Chevron and Exxon. Khodorkovsky, a charming and generous young man, easily convinced his American partners that he was Russia’s number one champion of democracy and the rule of law, especially of those laws which allow domestic capital to flee to foreign banks and foreign capital to take control of Russian resources.
Vladimir Putin didn’t see it that way. Without restoring socialism, he dispossessed Khodorkovsky of Yukos and essentially transformed the oil and gas industry from the “open society” model tolerated by Yeltsin to a national capitalist industry. Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were accused of having stolen all the oil that Yukos had produced in the years 1998 to 2003, tried, convicted and sentenced to 14 years of prison each. This shift ruined U.S. plans, already underway, to “balkanize” Russia between its many provinces, thereby allowing Western capital to pursue its capture of the Russian economy.
The dispossession of Khodorkovsky was certainly a major milestone in the conflict between President Putin and Washington. On November 18, 2005, the Senate unanimously adopted Resolution 322 introduced by Joe Biden denouncing the treatment of the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as politically motivated.
Who Influences Whom?
Now let’s take a look at the history of Russian influence in the United States. It is obvious that a Russian who can get the Senate to adopt a resolution in his favor has a certain influence. But when the “deep state” growls about Russian influence, it isn’t talking about Khodorkovsky. It’s talking about a joking response Trump made to a reporter’s snide question during the presidential campaign. In a variation of the classic “when did you stop beating your wife?” the reporter asked if he would call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stay out” of the election.
Since a stupid question does not deserve a serious answer, Trump said he had “nothing to do with Putin” before adding, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Aha! Went the Trump haters. This proves it! Irony is almost as unwelcome in American politics as honesty.
When President Trump revoked his security clearance earlier this month, former CIA chef John Brennan got his chance to spew out his hatred in the complacent pages of the New York Times.
Someone supposed to be smart enough to head an intelligence agency actually took Trump’s joking invitation as a genuine request. “By issuing such a statement,” Brennan wrote, “Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.”
The Russians, Brennan declared, “troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters.”
Which Russians do that? And who are those “individuals”?
“The Fixer in Chief”
To understand the way Washington works, nothing is more instructive than to examine the career of lawyer Jonathan M. Winer, who proudly repeats that in early 2017, the head of the Carnegie Endowment Bill Burns introduced him as “the Fixer in Chief”. Winer has long been unknown to the general public, but this may soon change.
Let’s see what the fixer has fixed.
Under the presidency of fellow YalieBill Clinton, Winer served as the State Department’s first Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Law Enforcement, from 1994-1999. One may question the selectivity of Bill Clinton’s concern for international law enforcement, which certainly did not cover violating international law by bombing defenseless countries. In any case, in 1999, Winer was awarded for “virtually unprecedented achievements”. Later we shall examine one of those important achievements.
At the end of the Clinton administration, from 2008 to 2013, the Fixer in Chief worked as high up consultant at one of the world’s most powerful PR and lobbying firms, APCO Worldwide. This is how the Washington revolving door functions: after a few years in government finding out how things work, one then goes into highly paid “consultancy” to sell this insider information and influential contacts to private clients.
APCO got off to a big start some thirty years ago lobbying for Philip Morris and the tobacco industry in general.
In 2002, APCO launched something called the “Friends of Science” to promote skepticism concerning the harmful effects of smoking. In 1993, the campaign described its goals and objectives “encouraging the public to question – from the grassroots up – the validity of scientific studies.”
While Winer was at APCO, one of its major activities was hyping the Clinton Global Initiative, an international networking platform promoting the Clinton Foundation. APCO president and CEO Margery Kraus explained that the consultancy was there to “help other CGI members garner interest for the causes they are addressing, demonstrate their success and highlight the wide-ranging achievements of CGI as a whole.” Considering that only 5% of Clinton Foundation turnover went to donations, they needed all the PR they could get.
Significantly, donations to the Clinton Global Initiative have dried up since Hillary lost the presidential election. According to the Observer: “Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work.”
This helps explain Hillary Clinton’s panic when she lost in 2016. How in the world can she ever reward her multi-million-dollar donors with the favors they expected?
As well as the tobacco industry and the Clinton Foundation, APCO also works for Khodorkovsky. To be precise, according to public listings, the fourth biggest of APCO’s many clients is the Corbiere Trust, owned by Khodorkovsky and registered in Guernsey. The trust tends and distributes some of the billions that the oligarch got out of Russia before he was jailed. Corbiere money was spent to lobby both for Resolution 322 (supporting Khodorkovky after his arrest in Russia) and for the Magnitsky Act (more later). Margery Kraus, APCO’s president and CEO, is a member of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s son Pavel’s Institute of Modern Russia, devoted to “promoting democratic values” – in other words, to building political opposition to Vladimir Putin.
In 2009 Jonathan Winer went back to the State Department where he was given a distinguished service award for having somehow rescued thousands of stranded members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq from their bases in Iraq they were trying to overthrow the Iranian government. The MeK, once officially recognized as a terrorist organization by the State Department, has become a pet instrument in U.S. and Israeli regime change operations directed at Iran.
However, it was Winer’s extracurricular activities at State that finally brought him into the public spotlight early this year – or rather, the spotlight of the House Intelligence Committee, whose chairman Devin Nunes (R-Cal) named him as one of a network promoting the notorious “Steele Dossier” which accused Trump of illicit financial dealing and compromising sexual activities in Russia. By Winer’s own account, he had been friends with former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele since his days at APCO. Back at State, he regularly channeled Steele reports, ostensibly drawn from contacts with friendly Russian intelligence agents, to Victoria Nuland, in charge of Russian affairs, and top Russian experts. These included the infamous “Steele dossier”. In September 2016, Winer’s old friend Sidney Blumenthal – a particularly close advisor to Hillary Clinton – gave him notes written by a more mysterious Clinton insider named Cody Shearer, repeating the salacious attacks.
All this dirt was spread through government agencies and mainstream media before being revealed publicly just before Trump’s inauguration, used to stimulate the “Russiagate” investigation by Robert Mueller. The dossier has been discredited but the investigation goes on and on.
So, it is all right to take seriously information allegedly obtained from “Russian agents” and spread it around, so long as it can damage Trump. As with so much else in Washington, double standards are the rule.
Jonathan Winer and the Magnitsky Act
Jonathan Winer played a major role in Congressional adoption of the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” (the Magnitsky Act), a measure that effectively ended post-Cold War hopes for normal relations between Washington and Moscow. This act was based on a highly contentious version of the November 16, 2009 death in prison of accountant Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, as told to Congress by hedge fund manager Bill Browder (grandson of Earl Browder, head of the Communist Party USA 1934-1945). According to Browder, Magnitsky was a lawyer beaten to death in prison as a result of his crusade for human rights.
However, as convincingly established by dissident Russian film-maker Andrei Nekrasov’s (banned) investigative documentary, the unfortunate Magnitsky was neither a human rights crusader, nor a lawyer, nor beaten to death. He was an accountant jailed for his role in Browder’s business dealings, who died of natural causes as a result of inadequate medical treatment. The case was hyped up as a major human rights drama by Browder in order to discredit Russian charges against himself.
In any case, by adopting a law punishing Magnitsky’s alleged persecutors, the U.S. Congress acted as a supreme court judging internal Russian legal issues.
The Magnitsky Act also condemns legal prosecution of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Browder, on a much smaller scale, also made a fortune ripping off Russians during the Yeltsin years, and later got into trouble with Russian tax collectors. Since Browder had given up his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes, he had reason to fear Russian efforts to extradite him for tax evasion and other financial misdeeds.
It was Jonathan Winer who found a solution to Browder’s predicament.
As Winer tells it, “When Browder consulted me, […] I suggested creating a new law to impose economic and travel sanctions on human-rights violators involved in grand corruption. Browder decided this could secure a measure of justice for Magnitsky. He initiated a campaign that led to the enactment of the Magnitsky Act. Soon other countries enacted their own Magnitsky Acts, including Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and most recently, the United Kingdom.”
Russian authorities are still trying to pursue their case against Browder. In his press conference following the Helsinki meeting with Trump, Vladimir Putin suggested allowing U.S. authorities to question the Russians named in the Mueller indictment in exchange for allowing Russian officials to question individuals involved in the Browder case, including Winer and former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul. Putin observed that such an exchange was possible under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed between the two countries in 1999, back in the Yeltsin days when America was posing as Russia’s best friend.
But the naïve Russians did not measure the craftiness of American lawyers.
As Winer wrote, “Under that treaty, Russia’s procurator general can ask the U.S. attorney general … to arrange for Americans to be ordered to testify to assist in a criminal case. But there is a fundamental exception: The attorney general can provide no such assistance in a politically motivated case.” (My emphasis.)
“I know this”, he wrote, “because I was among those who helped put it there. Back in 1999, when we were negotiating the agreement with Russia, I was the senior State Department official managing U.S.-Russia law-enforcement relations.”
So, the Fixer in Chief could have said to the worried Browder, “No problem. All that we need to do is make your case a politically motivated case. Then they can’t touch you.”
Winer’s clever treaty is a perfect Catch-22. The treaty doesn’t apply to a case if it is politically motivated, and if it is Russian, it must be politically motivated.
In a July 15, 2016, complaint to the Justice Department, Browder’s Heritage Capital Management accused both American and Russian opponents of the Magnitsky Act of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA; adopted in 19938 with Nazis in mind). Among the “lobbyists” cited was the late Ron Dellums (falsely identified in the complaint as a “former Republican congressman”).
The Heritage Capital Management brief declared that: “While lawyers representing foreign principals are exempt from filing under FARA, this is only true if the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client.” However, by disseminating anti-Magnitsky material to Congress, any Russian lawyer was “clearly trying to influence policy” was therefore in violation of FARA filing requirements.”
Catch-22 all over again.
Needless to say, Khodorkovsky’s Corbiere Trust lobbied heavily to get Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which also repeated its defense of Khodorkovsky himself. This type of “Russian interference intended to influence policy” is not even noticed, while U.S. authorities scour cyberspace for evidence of trolls.
A Unipolar America and Multipolar Russia
The basic ideological conflict here is between Unipolar America and Multipolar Russia. Russia’s position, as Vladimir Putin made clear in his historic speech at the 2007 Munich security conference, is to allow countries to enjoy national sovereignty and develop in their own way. The current Russian government is against interference in other countries’ politics on principle. It would naturally prefer an American government willing to allow this.
The United States, in contrast, is in favor of interference in other countries on principle: because it seeks a Unipolar world, with a single “democratic” system, and considers itself the final authority as to which regime a country should have and how it should run its affairs.
So, if Russians were trying to interfere in U.S. domestic politics, they would not be trying to change the U.S. system but to prevent it from trying to change their own. Russian leaders clearly are sufficiently cultivated to realize that historic processes do not depend on some childish trick played on somebody’s computer.
U.S. policy-makers practice interference every day. And they are perfectly willing to allow Russians to interfere in American politics – so long as those Russians are “unipolar” like themselves, like Khodorkovsky, who aspire to precisely the same unipolar world sought by the State Department and George Soros. Indeed, the American empire depends on such interference from Iraqis, Libyans, Iranians, Russians, Cubans – all those who come to Washington to try to get U.S. power to settle old scores or overthrow the government in the country they came from. All those are perfectly welcome to lobby for a world ruled by America.
Russian interference in American politics is totally welcome so long as it helps turn public opinion against “multipolar” Putin, glorifies American democracy, serves U.S. interests including the military-industrial complex, helps break down national borders (except those of the United States and Israel) and puts money in appropriate pockets in the halls of Congress.
Top Photo | Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former owner of the Yukos Oil Company, poses for a photograph after being interviewed by The Associated Press in London, July 24, 2018. Matt Dunham | AP
Diana Johnstone is a political writer, focusing primarily on European politics and Western foreign policy. She received a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and was active in the movement against the Vietnam War. Johnstone was European editor of the U.S. weekly In These Times from 1979 to 1990, and continues to be a correspondent for the publication. She was press officer of the Green group in the European Parliament from 1990 to 1996. Her books include Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton, CounterPunch Books (2016) and Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions, Pluto Press (2002).
Source | The Unz Review