The Russia collusion narrative obscures a problem that rhymes with Lenin’s quote: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Vladimir’s foot soldiers in his asymmetric war are American.
For example, Breitbart needed partisan coal for the furnace. Moscow obliged. It’s been suggested that, in July 2016 alone, Breitbart pushed Russian propaganda to its fans here, here, here and here, in addition to many more occasions.
Acting as a Kremlin propaganda repeater station is not putting America first.
The “MAGA” (Make American great again) crowd has company on the other side of the aisle. The police shootings, Charlottesville, immigration, Black Lives Matter, the Dakota Access Pipeline, Catalonia, Pizzagate, the NFL — the list goes on. Russia rings the dinner bell, and partisans belly up to the table.
In 2014, Foreign Policy magazine ran an article, Preparing for War With Ukraine’s Fascist Defenders of Freedom, about a Ukraine beset with Nazis. The Daily Beast, Bloomberg, Canada's National Post, Reuters, the New York Times and others created an echo chamber.
It was propaganda. Ukraine has no Nazi infestation.
In 2015, Vladimir Putin enlisted Rep. John ConyersJohn James ConyersThe faith community can help pass a reparations bill California comes to terms with the costs and consequences of slavery Democrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote MORE (D-Mich.). Conyers submitted an amendment prohibiting aid to Ukrainian Nazis. It passed; Russia received endless propaganda copy. Who snookered Conyers? In 2015, the Ukrainians fingered Paul Manafort, but, ultimately, we do not know because of the amount of money pouring into Washington.
Some of it can appear benign. For example, Novatek is the only real alternative to Gazprom. Mercury LLC represents them for $50,000 per quarter. But dig deeper: The sanctioned Putin associate Gennady Timchenko owns 23 percent of it through his holding company, Volga Group. Pro tip: You do not have to represent the Russian government to work for them. The line separating Kremlin and commerce in Russia is, at best, porous.
Some money is clearly malign. For example, Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) represent the sanctioned Gazprombank; the Podesta Group represented sanctioned Sberbank; and McLarty Associates represented Nord Stream 2, a Russian scheme to tighten its energy stranglehold on Europe.
Unlike the Cold War, there is a relative free-flow of commerce with Russia, so it is everywhere. Russian money funds U.S. hedge funds, banks, and think tanks. Normally, free commerce is good, but not if it obscures an effort to undermine us.
Not all Putin foot soldiers are blinded by political agenda or profit. Again, paraphrasing Lenin, Russia uses "willful idiots," too.
Take the case of Charles Bausman, the American founder of the propaganda outlet Russia Insider, a site supposedly to correct the “biased and inaccurate” reporting about Russia. Russia Insider is allegedly partially funded by the sanctioned oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, one of the chief supporters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Moreover, Bausman is rumored to want to publish Russia Insider from the leafy green confines of Greenwich, Connecticut instead of Moscow.
Dupes, money, fools — Putin has assembled a constellation of Americans who chant anesthetic mood music: Russia is our friend. Yet, while members of the chorus make millions, the country pays the tab.
The New York Times described Russia’s asymmetric attacks, especially its information warfare, as unstoppable. That is silly, though fighting information warfare, especially in Connecticut, necessarily bumps up against the First Amendment. We have also been down the dark (and pointless) road of blacklisting people, so we certainly must resist that urge, too.
Start small: Why doesn't the press ask Democratic Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThis week: Democrats hit make-or-break moment for Biden Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE their thoughts about their Russian agent constituent?
Then, broaden the aperture.
The U.S. government can play an important role in bathing Russia’s actions in sunlight. Release as much information as possible on everything Russian. Putin has so destroyed Russian credibility, and his efforts to undermine the West have been so aggressive, that everything that comes out of Russia merits deeper inspection.
More information means fewer dupes. The U.S. government can attach a provenance to an oligarch’s money, for example.
Third, Congress codified sanctions on Russia. Now Congress should make it more difficult for everyone else to get around them.
Fourth, help our allies build asymmetric defenses. NATO is not about preventing Russia from sending tanks through the Fulda Gap. It is about mutual defense. At the moment, each member is individually fending off Russia’s hybrid warfare.
Forget the Red Army of Red Dawn. Experts loudly mocked Russia’s 5th generation fighter (even Russia is only buying 12), and the Russian Navy’s capital ship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, smokes like it is on fire. But Russia’s asymmetric warfare, like political and information warfare or simply stoking corruption, is effective — largely because it weaponizes Americans. That, not bolstering conventional forces, must be first our focus.
Kristofer Harrison worked for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was a foreign policy advisor to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTrump-backed challenger to Cheney decried him as 'racist,' 'xenophobic' in 2016: report FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE’s presidential campaign. He advises investment managers on geopolitics and macroeconomics.