Who’s Been Interfering in Whose Politics?

photo who is interfering in whose

by Gordon M. Hahn

We are hearing much about Russian efforts to interfere in American politics. This is justifiable if overstated. Less justified is the deadly silence in the Western media regarding persistent post-cold war American meddling in Russian domestic politics, including the same interference by Americans and the American government in Russian elections that Russians and the Russian government are accused of regarding the recent U.S. elections. A key instrument is America’s and the West’s elaborate and robust ‘strategic communications’ or propaganda network, spearheaded by Radio Free Liberty/Free Europe (RFERL). Aside from propaganda efforts, direct involvement has occurred in Russian and other countries’ internal politics. Indeed, U.S. government entities acknowledge this openly in their internal discussions. For example, a Marine Corps University Journal article explicitly stated that democracy-promotion and stratcomm support prodemocratic parties “to bring about a crisis” in regimes deemed authoritarian in order “to encourage a democratic transition.” In examining democracy-promotion’s “international dimension,” the article discusses “coercive” and “intrusive” measures in support of creating democratic regimes in authoritarian states as well as more benign methods of “prodemocratic public diplomacy.” Its author defined democracy promotion as “combined action of government agencies and private partners” that seeks to “influence opinion and mobilize the public in ways that support interests and policies of foreign states” within the target state. Its “essence” is “strategic communication,” which is modern-speak for propaganda and “aims to capture the hearts and minds of the general public in recipient countries” (my emphasis from Alessandra Pinna, “The International Dimension of Democratization: Actors, Motivations, and Strategies,” Marine Corps University Journal, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 27-57, at pp. 49-50 and 55). More importantly, the US has a long history of actually destabilizing regimes to the benefit of its own interests, not just democracy. 

To mention just a few U.S. democracy-promotion efforts in Russia, the U.S. promoted a Russian privatization scheme in the early 1990s that handed over tens of billions of dollars in state property to former ‘red directors’ and newly-minted oligarchs rather than to Russian citizens. This led to massive corruption well before Vladimir Putin ever saw the inside of the Kremlin and would help ensure that later he would run the shop. Talking about ‘interfering in elections’, the Clinton administration’s lent direct financial support to the Yeltsin 1996 presidential campaign. However, America’s interference appears far more aggressive and detrimental and includes the moral and propaganda support of jihadi terrorists in Russia.

Like the Kremlin, the US has used government-financed media, in particular RFERL, to back both the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya (ChRI) ultra-nationalist separatists and their jihadi successor organization, the Al Qa`ida-allied Caucasus Emirate (CE), recently turned into the ISIS affiliate, the Caucasus Vilaiyat of the Islamic State, joined by almost all the CE mujahedin who had not yet exited to Syria and Iraq. For example, RFERL engaged in outright advocacy for the Chechen mujahedin, something that has colored their work to the point of cheerleading for the ChRI and CE.  U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has agitated actively to deny the existence or at least play down the seriousness of the Caucasus Emirate and to support the radical Chechen national separatists, who have fought against Moscow and at times allied themselves with and supported the ChRI’s and CE’s jihadists.  In one of the most striking examples, RFERL’s chief Caucasus correspondent Liz Fuller essentially heaps praise on the Caucasus Emirate’s ‘fatherly’ amirs: “If these young men (the CE’s younger mujahedin) have not become the callous brutes Khasbulatov anticipated, much of the credit must surely lie with the older commanders who were fathers before they became fighters, and have since assumed the role of father figures to the younger generation of insurgents: the natural-born pedagogue Abdullayev; Tarhan; Mansur; and even Umarov, seen receiving a filial embrace from Hadji-Murat at the very end of this clip.”[1] This ode was written on the same day that two CE mujahedin carried out suicide bombings in Gubden, Dagestan killing and wounding tens of Muslims and only three weeks after another bomber trained by the CE ‘fathers’ had detonated his suicide belt in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, killing 25 and wounding 180 civilians.  A month after her ode to the fathers, RFERL published Fuller’s fawning eulogy “Remembering Mansur” in honor of Chechen amir and “Islamic scholar” ‘Mansur’ Arbi Yevmirzaev of the ChRI mujahedin until Umarov’s declaration of the CE in October 2007, who then fought independently until he was killed in March 2010:

Every insurgency produces its share of legendary leaders; but not all such men are unconditionally respected and loved by their comrades-in-arms.  One who met those criteria was the Chechen commander and Islamic scholar Arbi Yovmirzayev (nom de guerre Sheikh Mansur), who died one year ago after treading on a land mine during a trek from one mountain base to another.  He was 37.  The fighter who sat by his head as he lay dying on a snow-covered hillside was openly weeping….

“The numerous video clips featuring Yovmirzayev, posted on YouTube and on the website djama1at.com, testify to his physical courage, his total dedication to the cause of Chechen independence, and his unfailing cheerfulness.
He was wounded at least twice: in 2006 he sustained a serious chest wound, apparently from a shell fragment, and two years later he was wounded in the leg. (We see him here giving a running commentary as he cleans and dresses that wound himself.)

“In footage filmed just a couple of days before his death, he is seen joking with two fellow fighters digging a new hideout. But even here he swiftly turns serious, warning: “We’re preparing for a fight. We are not the sort to talk big. We know we were created weak. But if the occupiers don’t leave us in peace, we’ll make them run screaming for their mothers.”[2] 

RFERL has functioned almost as a mouthpiece for Akhmed Zakayev, former Chechen filed commander, the former ChRI’s London-based “foreign minister” and leader of its putatively ‘moderate’ nationalist and Sufi-oriented wing, despite his long-standing ties and assistance to ChRI and CE terrorists (see below).  Zakaev was given two full-length interviews in 2010 alone, and between November 2006 and April 2011 he has been quoted in more than sixty RFERL pieces.[3]  The CE, on the other hand, was mentioned in fewer than 25 articles, and was not featured in any article.  RFERL has repeatedly played up Zakayev’s completely unsubstantiated claim that Umarov’s declaration of the CE was the result of an operation by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) to discredit the ChRI by manipulating Umarov into declaring a holy war and thereby connect it to the global jihad and AQ.[4] For other examples of US stratcomm distorting the facts in support of jihadi terrorism against Russia, see https://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/18/caucasus-jihadism-through-western-eyes-the-failure-of-american-rusology-to-understand-the-north-caucasus-mujahedin/. Finally, it should be added that a few years ago President Putin claimed that US intelligence had assisted the ChRI ultranationalist separatists in the early 2000s; a charge no present or former US official has ever denied to my knowledge (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/05/06/putin-u-s-intell-assisted-chechnyas-chri-in-the-early-2000s/).

It is important to reiterate that this false American stratcomm/propaganda supported international jihadi terrorism against Russia and came from an organization funded by the U.S. government, which at the same time was supporting secular opposition groups inside Russia and expanding world history’s most powerful military bloc to Russia’s borders. This explains some of the testy remarks and suspicions expressed by Russian officials about Washington’s role in the region and American double standards regarding Russia and the ‘war on terror.’ It also explains Moscow’s lack of compunction today about interfering in US politics. So the Kremlin was trying to incite interethnic violence and such during the US presidential election (www.foxnews.com/tech/2017/11/01/here-are-russia-facebook-ads-that-tried-to-dupe.html), but it was only engaging in an old American trick of endorsing violence against a perceived foe.

* For more examples of American bias and disinformation supporting the ChRI and CE jihadi terrorists, see Gordon M. Hahn, “Caucasus Jihadism Through Western Eyes,” Russian and Eurasian Politics, 18 February 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/18/caucasus-jihadism-through-western-eyes-the-failure-of-american-rusology-to-understand-the-north-caucasus-mujahedin/.

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FOOTNOTES

[1] Liz Fuller, “Chechnya’s Youngest Insurgents,” RFE/RL, 14 February 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/blog/2308952.html.

[2] Liz Fuler “Remembering Mansur,” RFE/RL, 17 March 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/caucasus_report_remembering_mansur/2341725.html.

[3] “Interview: Zakayev Says ‘No Irresolvable Issues’ Between Russia, Chechnya,” RFE/RL, 23 September 2010, http://www.rferl.org/content/Interview_Zakayev_Says_No_Irresolvable_Issues_Between_Russia_Chechnya/2166048.html and “Chechen Separatist Leader Says He’s In Poland, Dismisses Interpol Arrest Threat,” RFE/RL, 16 September 2010, 17:05, http://www.rferl.org/content/Chechen_Separatist_Leader_Says_Arrest_Threat_Wont_Keep_Him_From_Conference/2158981.html.

[4] “A. Zakaev: ‘Proekt “Emirat” – eto spetsoperatsiya FSB RF’,” Chechenpress.org, 23 October 2007, http://www.chechenpress.org/events/2007/10/23/index.shtml.

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About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org; an expert analyst at Corr Analytics, www.canalyt.com; and an analyst at Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation (Chicago), www.geostrategicforecasting.com.

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book from McFarland Publishers Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War. Previously, and three well-received published books: Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction Publishers, 2002);  Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007); and The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media and has served as a consultant and provided expert testimony to the U.S. government.

Dr. Hahn also has taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia. He has been a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Kennan Institute in Washington DC as well as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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About Gordon M. Hahn