Tag Archives: collusion

MI6/Navalny ‘Collusion’ Video

After RT published a video released by the Russian Federal Security Service showing the head of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation meeting with an alleged MI6 agent, I rushed out a quick blog post. After a minute or two, I then deleted it, as I believed that the issue needed deeper reflection. I have now rewritten the piece, and it has been published by RT here.

To make life easier for you all, I have copied the text into this blog post below. I’ve also added in the RT report with the FSB video (I embedded the Russian version as the English one, for some reason, doesn’t include the excerpt I cite below, but if you don’t speak Russian, don’t worry – in the key bits of the video they are speaking in English. Just fast forward to the segments in black and white). Here it is:

Continue reading MI6/Navalny ‘Collusion’ Video

Proof of collusion at last!

Despite the secondary roles played some bit part actors in the Russiagate drama, the central figure in allegations that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to be elected as president of the United States has always been Trumps’ onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort. The recent US Senate report on Russian ‘interference’ in the 2016 presidential election thus started off its analysis with a long exposé of Manafort’s comings and goings.

Simply put, the thesis is as follows: while working in Ukraine as an advisor to ‘pro-Russian’ Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, Manafort was in effect working on behalf of the Russian state via ‘pro-Russian’ Ukrainian oligarchs as well as Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska (a man with ‘close ties’ to the Kremlin). Also suspicious was Manafort’s close relationship with one Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the US Senate claims is a Russia intelligence agent. All these connections meant that while in Ukraine, Manafort was helping the Russian Federation spread its malign influence. On returning to the USA and joining the Trump campaign, he then continued to fulfill the same role.

The fundamental flaw in this thesis has always been the well-known fact that while advising Yanukovich, Manafort took anything but a ‘pro-Russian’ position, but instead pressed him to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU). Since gaining independence, Ukraine had avoided being sucked either into the Western or the Russian camp. But the rise of two competing geopolitical projects – the EU and the Russia-backed Eurasian Union – was making this stance increasingly impossible, and Ukraine was being put in a position where it would be forced to choose. This was because the two Unions are incompatible – one can’t be in two customs unions simultaneously, when they levy different tariffs and have different rules. Association with the EU meant an end to the prospect of Ukraine joining the Eurasian Union. It was therefore a goal which was entirely incompatible with Russian interests, which required that Ukraine turn instead towards Eurasia.

Manafort’s position on this matter therefore worked against Russia. Even The Guardian journalist Luke Harding had to concede this in his book Collusion, citing a former Ukrainian official Oleg Voloshin that, ‘Manafort was an advocate for US interests. So much so that the joke inside [Yanunkovich’s] Party of Regions was that he actually worked for the USA.’

If anyone had any doubts about this, they can now put them aside. On Monday, the news agency BNE Intellinews announced that it had received a leak of hundreds of Kilimnik’s emails detailing his relationship with Manafort and Yanukovich. The story they tell is not at all what the US Senate and other proponents of the Trump-Russia collusion fantasy would have you believe. As BNE reports:

Today the Yanukovych narrative is that he was a stool pigeon for Russian President Vladimir Putin from the start, but after winning the presidency he actually worked very hard to take Ukraine into the European family. As bne IntelliNews  has already reported, Manafort’s flight records also show how he crisscrossed Europe in an effort to build support in Brussels for Yanukovych in the run up to the EU Vilnius summit. …

On March 1, his first foreign trip as newly minted president was to the EU capital of Brussels. … The leaked emails show that Manafort influenced Yanukovych’s decision to visit Brussels as first stop, working in concert with his assistant Konstantin Kilimnik … In a memorandum entitled ‘Purpose of President Yanukovych Trip to Brussels,’ Manafort argued that the decision to visit Brussels first would underscore Yanukovych’s mission to “bring European values to Ukraine,” and kick start negotiations on the Association Agreement.

The memorandum on the Brussels visit was the first of many from Manafort and Kilimnik to Yanukovych, in which they pushed Yanukovych to signal a clear pro-EU line and to carry out reforms to back this up. …

To handle Yanukovych’s off-message antics, Manafort and Kilimnik created a back channel to Yanukovych for Western politicians – in particular those known to appreciate Ukraine’s geopolitical significance vis-à-vis Russia. In Europe, these were Sweden’s then foreign minister Carl Bildt, Poland’s then foreign minister Radosław Sikorski and European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, and in the US, Vice President Joe Biden.

“We need to launch a ‘Friends of Ukraine’ programme to help us use informal channels in talks on the free trade zone and modernisation of the gas transport system,” Manafort and Kilimnik wrote to Yanukovych in September 2010. “Carl Bildt is the foundation of this informal group and has sufficient weight with his colleagues in questions connected to Ukraine and the Eastern Partnership. (…) but he needs to be able to say that he has a direct channel to the President, and he knows that President Yanukovych remains committed to European integration.”

Beyond this, the emails show that Manafort and Kilimnik also tried hard to arrange a meeting between Yanukovich and US President Barack Obama, and urged Yanukovich to show leniency to former Prime Minister Yuliia Timoshenko (who was imprisoned for fraud).

It is noticeable that the members of the ‘back channel’ Manafort and Kilimnik created to lobby on behalf of Ukraine in the EU included some of the most notably Russophobic European politicians of the time, such as Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski. Moreover, nowhere in any of what they did can you find anything that could remotely be described as ‘pro-Russian’. Indeed, the opposite is true. As previously noted, Ukraine’s bid for an EU agreement directly challenged a key Russian interest – the expansion of the Eurasian Union to include Ukraine. Manafort and Kilimnik were therefore very much working against Russia, not for it.

The idea, therefore, that Paul Manafort was an agent of influence for the Russian government flies against everything we know about what he actually did. As for Kilimnik, maybe he is a Russian intelligence agent – I’m not in a position to say. But if he is, he’s a very weird one, who spent years actively pushing the Ukrainian government to pursue a policy which directly contradicted Russian interests.

None of this, needless to say, appears in the US Senate report. Instead, the report chooses to focus on the apparently shocking revelation that Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with Kilimnik, as if this sharing of private information was in some ways a massive threat to national security and proof that Manafort was working for the Russians. The fact that both Manafort and Kilimnik spent years doing their damnedest to undermine Russia is simply ignored. Go figure!

My inner Pobedonostsev

Watching the unfolding drama of Brexit and the fall out of the Mueller report in the United States, one can’t help but feel more than a little despairing about the state of Anglo-Saxon liberal democracy. For sure, I’m glad to live under such a system of government, but at the same time moments like this make one realize that it’s not all that it’s sometimes cracked up to be. Meanwhile, the Chinese go on from strength to strength. It’s enough to bring out one’s inner Pobedonostsev.

I refer, of course, to the late Tsarist-era Procurator of the Holy Synod, Konstantin Pobedonostsev, known generally as the arch reactionary of the reigns of Alexander III and Nicholas II. Pobedonostsev had a few choice words to say about liberal democracy and the free press. As a rule, historians use these words to indicate the negative role he had on Russian political development. But on days like today, some of what he said doesn’t look so unreasonable after all.

The problem with democracy, Pobedonostsev argued, was that although it claims to represent the ‘general will’, it fact it gives power not to the ‘people’ but to those minority groups which are best organized. ‘In theory,’ he wrote, ‘the elected candidate must be the favourite of the majority; in fact, he is the favorite of a minority, sometimes very small, but representing an organized force, while the majority, like sand, has no coherence, and is therefore incapable of resisting.’

This pretty much summarizes what Mancur Olson called the ‘logic of collective action’ and nowadays comes under the rubric of ‘public choice theory’ – the theory that government favours concentrated minority interests over diffused majority ones. There’s quite a lot of evidence to suggest that this is indeed what happens. Where the Procurator of the Holy Synod went wrong was in assuming that it only happens in democracies. In his imagination, an autocrat could stand above all this and represent the general will. But politics happens even within authoritarian states, and the results are often much the same. In fact the situation may even be worse in authoritarian states because the ‘general will’ has no alternative means of expression, such as a free press.

But Pobedonostsev was sceptical of the value of that too. Indeed he said some pretty harsh things about the ‘fourth estate’, remarking that:

The press is one of the falsest institutions of our time. … The healthy taste of the public is not to be relied upon. The great majority of readers … is ruled less by a few healthy instincts than by a base and despicable hankering for idle amusement; and the support of the people may be secured for any editor who provider for the satisfaction of these hankerings.

This, I think, is a fairly good description of the dynamics behind Russiagate. Anti-Trumpers were desperate for some salacious scandal which would discredit the US president, and so the editors of the American media gave it to them. And, from the editors’ point of view, it worked. The more they played the collusion card, the more their ratings went up. Take the example of the leading Russia propagandist MSNBC. As Vanity Fair reports:

The ratings don’t lie. Five or six years ago, MSNBC’s viewership was down, and the network was flailing. As with the rest of the news media, the Trump saga has given it a turbocharge. Indeed, MSNBC had its best ever year in 2018, wrapping up with about 1.1 million daily viewers on average, a 121 percent increase from the first quarter of 2016, according to the network. Compared to the first quarter of 2017, right before Mueller got to work, ratings are now up 43 percent, the network’s data shows. In other words, if Trump helped bring MSNBC back to life, Mueller cranked up the electricity running through its veins.

If democracy was really what its name implies, now that the collusion claim has been shown to be false, those who peddled it should be expected to pay a price. In reality, there’s little chance that those responsible for the deceit will be held to account. For as Pobedonostsev pointed out,

The journalist … derives his authority from no election, he receives support from no one. His newspaper becomes an authority in the State, and for this authority no endorsement is required. … How often have superficial and unscrupulous journalists paved the way for revolution, fomented irritation into enmity, and brought about desolate wars! … It is hard to imagine a despotism more irresponsible and violent than the despotism of printed words.

At this point, bearing in mind the free press’s culpability in ‘fomenting irritation in enmity’ via Russiagate (which has poisoned American minds against Russia) and in bringing ‘about desolate wars’ (such as the invasion of Iraq), one has to admit that Pobedonostsev was onto something. Of course, his solution – censorship – was hardly any better, and probably a whole lot worse. But the basic critique is on the nail. Too much of the Western press is all too ready to spread all sorts of toxic nonsense just to improve its ratings, and it is completely unaccountable. This can hardly be said to be the ‘rule of the people’.

Do I have a solution to this problem? No, I don’t. It could be that there isn’t one, that we just have to accept Churchill’s dictum that democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others. I’m sure that if I did have a solution it wouldn’t be Pobedonostev-style autocracy, any more than it would be communism, or any other authoritarian system. But if we are to find answers to problems, we first need to admit that we have them. And for that, my inner Pobedonostsev may actually have a useful role to play.