Tag Archives: Luke Harding

Latest RussiaGate Allegation

In an article today on the RT website (which you can read here), I discuss the latest Russiagate allegation coming out of the stable of Luke Harding and The Guardian. This takes the form of a claim that the Guardian has seen top secret Kremlin documents which detail a decision by the Russian National Security Council in 2016 to exert all efforts to ensure Donald Trump’s election as US president.

I assume Harding isn’t lying about seeing some documents. But are they real? Or are they forgeries? Without seeing them, without knowing a lot more about how the Guardian got them, and without a whole lot more additional information, we just can’t tell. How can one assess something one only knows about from somebody else? One can’t. But as I explain in my article, there are some reasons to doubt their veracity – not to 100% rule out the possibility that they’re real, that’s kind of hard when we know next to nothing about them – but certainly to treat the story with a large dose of salt.

What makes me take this stance is not just the source of the information – Harding is not no. 1 on my list of reliable journalists (see my review of his book Collusion for an explanation of why). Deeper than that, my issue is that the documents seems to me to be exactly what some Russiagate conspiracy theorist would come up with if s/he was to sitting in his/her basement trying to imagine what a Russian plot to steal the US election would look like. In that sense, they seem to be a reflection of anti-Trump American views of the world, rather than Russian ones. That doesn’t mean they’re fake, but it’s a reason not to take the Guardian’s claims at face value.

Let me explain.

First, as I say in my article, there’s no mention of Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton and her perceived hostility to Russia. Nor is there any discussion of Trump’s election promises to improve relations with the Russian Federation. This is odd. One would have thought that this would have been a prime motivation for any Russian conspiracy to elect Trump.

Instead, the supposed motivation for the Russian campaign of election ‘meddling’ is to ‘destabilize’ the US. As I see it, Russian leaders have never shown any particular interest in this. I’m not aware of anyone in authority ever even have expressed a preference for an unstable America. On the contrary, they tend to emphasize stability. So, the internal condition of the USA is not an obvious Russian concern.

But it is an American concern. Paranoia about internal instability became a big thing during Trump’s rule. But – and here’s another thing – it took a bit of time for that to happen. In other words, it was a big American concern, but not until a bit after the 2016 election. In that sense, the idea that the Kremlin was plotting in early 2016 to ‘destabilize’ the USA seems like a retroactive reflection of the later worries of American anti-Trumpers.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the Kremlin hierarchy wasn’t amazingly prescient, nor that it wasn’t saying one thing while secretly believing another. But it’s certainly a reason for a being a little bit suspicious.

Then, there’s a bit in the documents in which the Russians supposedly call Trump ‘mentally unstable’ and revel in the chaos that having such a lunatic in the White House will cause in America. Again, this strikes me as a particularly anti-Trump American take on things. Trump’s crazy – all anti-Trumpers know that. But would that have been how Russian officials in early 2016 looked at things? Well, maybe. One can’t rule it out. But I have to wonder.

And finally, there’s the implication in the documents that the entire Russiagate plot to ‘interfere’ in the US elections was a highly centralized, carefully coordinated campaign directed by Putin himself.

Yes, indeed, it is possible that such a thing was decided centrally and supervised from the very top. But the concept of Russia as an autocratic system in which Putin and his inner circle decide everything strikes me once again as fitting very neatly into Western conceptions of how Russia operates rather than what is necessarily the case.

I’m not going to say that the Guardian’s documents are fake. As I said, you can’t do that without much more information. But do I think that anybody can use them as proof of a Russian plot against American democracy? No, not without a whole lot more corroboration. Claim after claim about the alleged Trump-Russia relationship has been used to ‘prove’ that Russia got Trump elected and that Trump colluded with the Russians in the process, and claim after claim has been shown to be total bunk. In the circumstances, scepticism seems to me to be the only justified response.

Collusion

The investigation into suspected collusion between US President Donald Trump and the Russian government has claimed its first three victims: one (Paul Manafort) for completely unconnected money laundering charges, and two (George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn) for lying to investigators about things which were not themselves criminal, and which are therefore crimes which would never have happened had there never been an investigation. To date, the evidence of direct collusion between Trump and the Russians is looking a little thin, to say the least. Now, into this maelstrom steps Guardian reporter Luke Harding with his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russian Helped Donald Trump Win.

Collusion spends over 300 pages insinuating that Trump is a long-standing agent of the Russian secret services, and hinting, without ever providing any firm evidence, that Trump and his team acted on orders from the Kremlin to subvert American democracy. I’ll be honest, and admit that I picked this book up expecting it to be a series of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, and to be utterly unbalanced in its analysis, and in that sense I’m not an unbiased reader. At the same time, I was interested to see if Harding had come up with anything that everybody else had not, and was willing to give him a chance. I needn’t have bothered. For alas, my worst suspicions proved to be true, and then some.

collusion

Continue reading Collusion

Lazy Journalism

One of my main gripes with Russia-bashing journalists is the apparent laziness of much of their output. There are lots of stories which could legitimately be used to paint Russia in a bad light (I’ll discuss one of those later this week). But instead of doing the hard work of investigatory journalism, they instead propose radical ideas based on wild speculation. In this way, their work comes to resemble the ‘Russian propaganda’ they so like to despise.

Take, for instance, the latest Guardian article by Luke Harding. This contains a veritable smorgasbord of allegations which are not only unsubstantiated but also quite extreme.

First, Harding lists a whole load of things that ‘Putin wants’, which may indeed be what Putin wants, but then again may not be, as Harding doesn’t tell us how he knows what Putin is privately thinking. Next, having mentioned that Western countries have sanctioned various members of the Russian president’s entourage, he adds, ‘It’s widely believed in Washington that their assets are Putin’s, running into the hundreds of billions of dollars.’ The last time I heard this rumour, Putin was reported to be worth $40 billion. Now, ‘it’s hundreds of billions’. Where on earth does this figure come from?

Whatever the answer, Harding imagines that Putin has found a use for his hypothetical ill-gotten cash – giving it to Donald Trump. Harding mentions Trump’s connections to Paul Manafort, who was previously an advisor to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. On the basis of this connection, he says: ‘It’s unclear how much Russian cash underpins Trump’s sprawling property portfolio.’ By ‘unclear’, he means that he doesn’t actually have any evidence that Trump is bankrolled by the Russians. His only support is a quotation from Francis Fukuyama to the effect that Trump has never said anything negative about Putin. ‘Fukuyama asked if Putin had “hidden leverage”, “perhaps in the form of debts to Russian sources that keep his business empire afloat”,’ Harding notes

Does Trump actually owe the Russians a lot of money? ‘Again, no one knows,’ says Harding. Nevertheless, he feels confident enough to add, ‘For months, lurid theories have circulated about what compromising information Russia’s spy agencies may have on Trump. The FSB – the successor agency to the KGB, once run by Putin – specialises in gathering kompromat, material that might be used for blackmail. The agency is adept at bugging, clandestine video surveillance and other covert tricks.’ On a visit to Moscow, Trump stayed in the Ritz Carlton Hotel. The Russian secret services may have filmed him there and got something to blackmail him with, Harding says. ‘There is no proof that any compromising video exists,’ he writes, ‘But the FSB would certainly have been interested in this kind of stuff: this is, after all, what it does.’ Actually, not only is there ‘no proof’; there’s no evidence at all!

Put all this together, and what do we have? ‘It’s widely believed’; ‘it’s unclear’; ‘perhaps’; ‘no one knows’; ‘lurid theories’; ‘there is no proof’. Surely the Kremlin critics can do better than this?