We Too: Russian Borrowing from, Imitation of, and Payback to the West

by Gordon M. Hahn

Contrary to their compatriots in the arts, Russian political leaders have not necessarily been all that creative. Smart, yes. Clever and tricky in the Russian peasant’s way, yes. But creative – not so much. In fact, through the centuries Russians have been imitators of, and borrowers from the West. Sometimes it has taken the good from the West, sometimes the not-so-good. Not surprisingly, the much heralded “Moscow playbook”, as the new Washington meme puts it, has been largely stolen from Washington and Brussels.

The founding of the first united Russian state, Kievan Rus, occurred when Russian invited three Viking (Varangian) brothers to rule after infighting broke out, each given a separate territory. In the 10th century Kievan Rus’s Grand Prince Vladimir adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire after entertaining conversion to Catholicism, Islam and Judaism. Soon the entire population had rejected paganism in favor of Christianity. Peter the Great travelled Europe and brought in thousands of Europeans into Russia in order to modernize Russia’s society, technology and military. Catherine the Great corresponded with the French philosophs, incorporated Montesquieu’s ‘Spirt of the Laws’ into her quasi-constitutional nakaz, modernized the state bureaucracy, local governance and religious affairs more in line with Europe, and began the first official discussions of eliminating serfdom, long abolished in Europe. Alexander I endeavored to move Catherine’s Europeanization further under the ‘Great Reform’ until Napoleon decided to bring “liberte’, egalite’, fraternite’” equality and brotherhood” to Russia by force. Nicholas I used modern European police state methods to crush free speech. Alexander II liberated the serfs, instituted land and other reforms. On his way to sign a Russian constitution that would have brought Russia up to pace with Europe, he was assassinated by terrorists who had borrowed their ideology from Europeans. Under Alexander III another crackdown on dissent was accompanied by rapid economic and social modernization, and growing European-borrowed liberalist-, socialist- and communist-oriented opposition. These trends continued under Nicholas II until the 1905 revolution forced him to adopt major political reforms, including the establishment of the parliamentary State Duma. However, World War I along with continuing socioeconomic modernization and revolutionary activism led to the downfall of the Romanov dynasty in February 1917 and the establishment of totalitarian regime under the USSR inspired by Lenin’s and then Stalin’s adaptation of European communism as outlined by Karl Marx. The Soviet regime’s collapse was led by those seeking Russia’s full reunification with, and reform in accordance with Europe and the West after it had been cut off from its ‘significant Other’ for 74 years; a Europe which, unlike Russia, had managed to avoid the red plague but fell victim to the brown plague, another of its very own inventions.

Post-Soviet Russia continues to borrow and in some ways imitate what it regards as ‘true Europe’, using Vyacheslav Morozov’s analysis of the more reactionary elements in Russian discourse, or the ‘true West’, even as it rejects what it designates as ‘false Europe’ or the ‘false West’ [Vyacheslav Morozov, Russike i Drugie: Identichnost’ i granitsy politicheskogo soobshchestvo (Moscow: Novoe Literaturnoe Obozrenie, 2009), pp. 249-94]. However, the perestroika-induced wave of wholesale imitation from the West was downgraded largely to selective borrowing — and not for the first time in Russian history — Washington’s and Brussels’ overreach in deciding not just to enlarge the EU but to expand world history’s most powerful military alliance, NATO, to Russia’s borders against Russia’s will. This was and remains for now ‘Napoleon lite’: democracy-promotion militarized. By the late Putin era Russian borrowing from the West has become even more selective and imitation is confined almost exclusively to the realm of foreign and national security policy methodologies, in particular: alliance-building; military intervention; and political intervention in the model of hybrid warfare.

Alliance-Building

Russia under Putin has imitated the West in much of its foreign conduct. I will limit myself here mostly to its more strategic efforts, but keeping mind that there are a myriad of tactical borrowings and imitations. In response to the West’s defiance of Russian national interests along its Western border by expanding the NATO alliance and the EU, Putin borrowed from Washington’s playbook. He intensified Russia’s alliance networking, which previously had been limited to the largely dormant Commonwealth of Independent States and the only slightly more vigorous Russian-Belorussian Customs Union and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Moscow countered the EU and upgraded the Customs Union with its own Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in a move to block eventually the EU’s advance West to Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and the like among the former Soviet republics. In addition to its five members (Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan), the EEU has Moldova as an observer member, has signed free trade agreements with Vietnam and Singapore. China, India, Egypt and a handful of other countries are negotiating an FTW with EEU. In its effort to counter NATO in Eurasia, Russia convinced China to create the inially economic, but increasingly political-military Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to supplement and thus bolster the CSTO. In addition to its five original (Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), SCO has added three new full members (Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan) since 2015 and has four observer members (Belarus, Iran, Afghanistan, and Mongolia, with Iran having submitted an application for full membership) and six dialogue partners Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In addition, there is BRICS (Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa), which is a global project but could be utilized against the West by Russia and China in Eurasia.

Military Intervention

As the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO engaged in its first out-of-area operation with the Gulf War against Sadaam Hussein in response to the latter’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Moscow supported this effort, but the West then turned its attentions to Russia’s traditional ally Serbia. In a war where all sides were to blame for its outbreak and then proceeded to commit war crimes, the West intervened, defeated and singled out for prosecution in the Hague Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevicz and his minions. The Clinton Administration intervened in Serbia’s war with Kosovar separatists on behalf of the latter, doing so in violation of international law in lacking a UN mandate. Then, by recognizing Kosovo’s independence in 2008, the West violated UN resolution, which it sponsored requiring the preservation of Serbia’s territorial integrity.

The West then backed anti-Russian color revolutionaries in traditionally Russian-allied countries Serbia (Bulldozer revolution in 2000), Georgia (Rose Revolution, 2004), Ukraine (Orange revolution, 2004), and Ukraine again (Maidan Revolution, 2014), among others. This was part of the political intervention that supported NATO expansion and necessitated at times military intervention. With Rose revolution leader and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s intervention in South Ossetiya on 7 August 2008, Russia imitated the Western protege’s interventionist method, sending forces through the Roki Tunnel to rout Saakashvili’s invasion. Russia then imitated the West’s recognition of Kosovar independence by recognizing South Ossetiya’s and Abkhaziya’s independence. It is important to note that Abkhaziyan and South Ossetyan support for independence from Georgia was no less robust that Kosovar support for its own independence.

Ukraine’s Maidan revolt featured the West’s: massive financial and other support for the organizations that made the revolt; ignoring the violation of an EU-Russian sponsored transition pact that could have avoided the worst internecine bloodshed, Crimea’s annexation, the Donbass civil war, and Russia’s limited ‘hybrid’ intervention there; covering up the Maidan-led snipers’ massacre and blaming it on Yanukovych to justify his overthrow. Russia imitated the West’s color revolution methodology in crude form in Crimea to begin the annexation process. It is important to note again that support in Crimea for independence from Ukraine and reunification with Russia was no less robust that Kosovars’ support for its own independence. Russia’s hybrid warfare methods in Donbass borrow extensively from prior US military doctrine and Washington’s conduct in Egypt, Libya and Syria: full propaganda support for the opposition, arms supplies, much indirect military and intelligence involvement, and limited direct military involvement (https://gordonhahn.com/2016/12/11/hybrid-warfare-from-centcomm-to-slavdom/).

Political intervention

The new method of political intervention is not new either for Moscow or Washington. The US and the West have been heavily involved in regime change in Russia and the former post-communist states ever since the communist era moving forward into the post-Soviet era as needed. Rightly so in principle. often wrongly so in methods, Washington and probably Brussels were constantly trying to overthrow communist regimes across the globe throughout the Cold War, and they did not lose their ‘know-how’. The West was indirectly involved in the Soviet collapse. As future US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, then a Stanford professor and frequent visitor to the 1996 Boris Yeltsin presidential campaign headquarters himself, noted at the time: “Since 1990, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute have conducted hundreds of seminars, conferences, and exchanges on party organization, message development, focus groups, polling methods, television ads, and so on” (www.weeklystandard.com/yanks-brag-press-bites/article/8538). These institutions have the thinnest of veneer between themselves and the US government.

In the post-Soviet period, in addition to the color revolutions supported by the West outside Russia, the West has been involved inside Russia as well. Washington was also involved in helping Boris Yeltsin resist the August 1991 and October 1993 coups. Washington was indirectly involved in Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign. As I have mentioned several times, a VERY reliable source confided to me that the xerox copying paper box filled with half a million dollars being transported for later use by Yeltsin’s pro-democracy camp but intercepted by Yeltsin’s hardline operatives consisted of U.S. funds. For a less revealng inkling of the kind of involvement see Time magazine’s July 1996 article “Saving Boris”(http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19960715,00.html or https://offgraun.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/201612201405.pdf). McFaul noted that the three American consultants to Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 re-election campaign — George Gorton, Joe Shumate, and Richard Dresner — contracted by Oleg Soskovets, a former first deputy prime minister whom Yeltsin named head of his campaign, were “breaking Russia’s law against foreigners’ working directly in campaigns” (www.weeklystandard.com/yanks-brag-press-bites/article/8538). In addition, the IMF released a several billion dollar tranche of economic assistance on the election’s eve to buttress Yeltsin further. Yeltsin’s government was infested with US advisors, some of whom engaged in corrupt practices of insider trading on the Russian stock market as part of their ‘democracy-promotion’ efforts.

The U.S. government’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, among other government organs, carried out propaganda defending post-Soviet Russia’s jihadi separatists for years (see https://gordonhahn.com/2015/02/18/caucasus-jihadism-through-western-eyes-the-failure-of-american-rusology-to-understand-the-north-caucasus-mujahedin/ and https://gordonhahn.com/2017/11/04/whos-been-interfering-in-whose-politics/). One ‘small’ example among very many was noted in a paper I published seven years ago: “Less than three weeks after  CE (Caucasus Emirate or ‘Imarat Kavkaz’) amir Umarov sent a suicide bomber to attack Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport killing 37 and wounding more than 200, RFERL’s ‘chief Caucasus correspondent’ Liz Fuller praised him as a ‘father’ who restrains the mujahideen: “If these young men [the CE’s younger mujahideen] 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 ghters, and have since assumed the role of father gures to the younger generation of insurgents: the natural-born pedagogue Abdullayev; Tarhan; Mansur; and even Umarov, seen receiving a lial embrace from Hadji-Murat at the very end of this clip” [Liz Fuller, “Chechnya’s Youngest Insurgents,” RFERL, February 14, 2011, www.rferl.org/content/blog/2308952.html, last accessed on 28 February 2018 and cited in Gordon M. Hahn, Getting the Caucasus Emirate Right (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 2011), p. 14, fn 14]. Again, the ‘Umarov’ RFERL’s Liz Fuller, whose salary was paid from your taxes, was the amir of the Caucasus Emirate while it carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings and several thousand other terrorist attacks in Russia from 2007-2013, after which the bulk of its ‘Chechen national resistance’ fighters (most not frm Chechnya but from Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria and elsewehere in Russia as well as from abroad) ensconced to Syria and Iraq to ‘fight for Chechen independence’ while those back home officially joined the Islamic State (ISIS). For a similar Fuller article hailing the ‘work’ of the small Islamo-ultranationalist Chechen, non-CE terrorist cell, see “Remembering Mansur,” RFERL, March 17, 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/caucasus_re- port_remembering_mansur/2341725.html.

The main reason for Russia’s restrictions on NGO activity inside the country is that the very same Western government-tied organizations that funded color revolutionary activity in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and elsewhere — USAID, NED, DNI, RNI, and so on — were funding indirectly Russian political opposition-oriented organizations. The reason media are now included under these restrictive regime lies in the West’s massive propaganda, disinformation, and strategic communications infrastructure – typified in its output by articles such as the one supporting jihadi and Islamo-nationalist terrorists in Russia –  in comparison with which Russia’s is a weak imitation (https://gordonhahn.com/2018/01/22/russian-propaganda-machine-much-ado-about-little-as-compared-with-western-stratcomm-update/).

It has been in response to such abominable Western meddling in Russia and its environs that Moscow under Putin has rediscovered and re-deployed similar means, borrowing and imitating again from recent Western innovations as well as the information age’s new technological capabilities. But their efforts pale in comparison with Western efforts and seem half-hearted experiments. Yes, they are involved in political intervention, including opposition-promotion activities that mirror but are minimal compared with the Western efforts they impersonate. Let’s take the evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.

There were three types of alleged meddling: (1) the hacking of the Democratic Party (the DNC, Hillary Clinton’s computers, and those of her campaign manager John Podesta); (2) hacking of state election systems; (3) collusion between Russia and Presidential candidate Donald Trump and/or his campaign staff; and (4) Russia’s St. Petersburg troll farm.

DNC Hacks Unproven

Regarding the hacking of Democrats computers, nothing has been proven even on the margins or circumstantially on any of these counts. Moreover, the FBI failed to examine the affected computers, and we now know that FBI deputy head and other FBI top officials were scheming to undermine Trump in support of Hillary Clinton’s election and that Clinton’s campaign had colluded with the Russians to produce the Steele dossier, for which the FBI also paid for. Moreover still, independent research has demonstrated that the hack is most likely to have occurred from inside DNC headquarters.

Even if Russia did hack the DNC – and I am sure it has at least tried to hack US government computer systems as well – one needs to be beyond naïve to believe that US intelligence has not hacked Russian government computers. Indeed, the NSA has hacked the government computers of such close US allies as Germany and France (www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/04/us-nsa-gerhard-schroeder-surveillance and http://www.bbc.com/news/33248484). It is clear that much of the material in the recent indictment of 13 Russians was garnered by U.S. intelligence accessing Russian computer systems, perhaps some governmental systems. For example, the indictment references an intercepted email. One can be sure that some of the compromising materials on Russian officials that appear in American and perhaps even Russian media come from NSA hacking. Russian hacking is a drop in the bucket compared with the scale and scope of methods the West has used to target Russia and its allies in the former USSR since the end of the first cold war.

State Hacks Never Happened

All or most of the charges that the Kremlin hacked state voting systems have been retracted. Even if it did, ditto the previous paragraph.

Russia-Trump ‘Collusion’

The Russia-Trump collusion charges have fallen flat on their face. The only semi-maningful result of former FBi Director Robert Mueller’s ‘counter-intelligence investigation’ is that a one-time campaign advisor Paul Manafort was indicted for corrupt collusion with Ukraine’s corrupt Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions that occurred before Manafort was on Trump’s campaign staff. Furthermore, contrary to the Western view, Yanukovych was anything but a ‘Putin puppet.’ This fact is well-illustrated by then Ukrainian president’s willingness to sign the EU Association Agreement in November 2013, a signing which was only aborted by an exorbitant offer by Putin of $15 billion in loans and natural gas price reductions on the background of Ukraine being on the verge of bankruptcy and the EU offering far less.

Russia’s Troll Farm – An Inconsequential Spontaneous Experiment

The newest sensation in the ‘hunt for Red October’ is the Kremlin-tied troll farm. Assuming that Putin’s close associate and cook is indeed tied to this small effort, then the US government has finally found an incident of ‘Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election’ in the United States. Unfortunately, the effort was minimal and nothing to write home about or worth a multi-million government investigation. It is more on the level of a research report farmed out to one of the government-oriented and often-funded DC think tanks with a small $5-10,000 grant attached. Indeed, RFERL already had written about the very same operation as did an Internet news site based, in all places, in ‘Putin’s Russia.’ The 13 indictments were handed down not for the troll activity under an operation called ‘Lakhta’ – 99 percent of which was merely posting advertisements and comments on the Internet from “around” May 2014 to several months after the US presidential campaign – but for other crimes such as money-laundering. To be sure, the effort to pit American against American by calling opposing radical groups to the same location for potentially explosive counter-demonstrations is nasty stuff. But such cases amounted to less than a handful.

Ultimately, operation Lakhta appears to have been a rather inconsequential experiment, since prior to the US presidential campaign it had focused almost exclusively on trolling Russian politics, expanding to foreign issues like Ukraine and then to the US. The FBI indictment sites the budget of ‘Lakhta’ was several million dollars per year. Elsewhere the indictment states that by September 2016 ‘Lakhta’ had a monthly budget of $1.3 million (www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download, pp. 5 and 7). Again, this is a drop in the bucket compared to Western disinformation operations in general and the US political campaign expenditures. This is equivalent to about 10 percent of the cost of congressional campaign, about 1 percent of the the amount Trump and Clinton spent on Internet activity (much of which was similar trolling with ads and comments), and a fraction of a percent of the billions of dollars the two candidates paid on their campaigns. Moreover, this tactical campaign amounts to far less than the routine, much more strategic disinformation communications carried out by the US government and allied media on a continuing basis since the first cold war’s end (see, for example, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/09/19/putin-is-crazy-and-sick-the-lows-of-american-rusology/ and https://gordonhahn.com/2015/11/11/the-myth-of-an-imminent-anti-putin-coup-rusological-fail-or-stratcomm/).

Opposition-Promotion

In imitation and exacting revenge against past Western support for democratic and other opposition organizations and individuals in Russia and elsewhere under various and sundry democracy-promotion programs and much else, Russia has turned to cooperating with nationalist and populist opposition parties in the West. However, that effort is, again, very limited and gravely overstated by Western pundits and politicians. It amounts almost entirely to an alleged one-time contribution to Marie Le Pen’s nationalist-populist National Front party in France. Some in the US are making much noise about a forum of legal European nationalist and populist parties hosted in 2015 in St. Petersburg, Russia (www.kommersant.ru/doc/2683403 and www.interpretermag.com/the-far-right-international-russian-conservative-forum-to-take-place-in-russia/). A second conference is scheduled there on 8 April 2018 (http://realpatriot.ru/en/). Presumably, these conferences could be held elsewhere. Is it crucial that they are hosted by Russia? Does it matter where such conferences are held? As a US presidential candidate once said: “Where’s the beef?” Does it matter more than US-government RFERL whitewashing jihadi Caucasus terrorists who killed thousands of Russians over some six years or falsifying the reality of the 20 February 2014 Maidan snipers’ massacre in Kiev? Does it matter more than the fact that Europeans have produced such parties and why they have produced them? Should Europeans be absolved of their agency, so blame can be redirected onto Russia? Moreover, one researcher has convincingly demonstrated that Russia’s cooperation with such parties has more to do with an overlap or “confluence” of interests and ideology between some in Moscow and the Western far-right rather than the former’s influence on the latter (www.ponarseurasia.org/memo/russian-and-american-far-right-connections-confluence-not-influence).

Moreover, the radical jihadist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, regarded by almost all terrorism experts as a precursor and recruitment organization for jihdism and jihadi groups, holds an annual convention and several other events in the United States every year (https://hizb-america.org/events/), with similar operations across the West. Weeks ago one of America’s leading conservative political organizations, the Conservative Political Action Committee or CPAC, had Marie Le Pen’s daughter Marion Marechal`-Le Pen, the United Kingdom’s Independent Party’s populist firebrand and former leader Nigel Farage, among other European populists speak at their annual convention.

Russia may move into more threatening territory, if it begins to support rising ethno-national separatism in places in Europe or the West more generally like Catalonia. The foreign ministry of South Ossetiya, the Russian-backed breakaway region of Georgia, opened up a “representative office” in Catalonia in October (www.eng.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/41274/). This could be even more dangerous territory for Moscow’s ‘me-two-ism’ to tread on. On the other hand, the West violated its own UN-sponsored resolution on Kosovo committing to Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity.

Conclusion

Russia is using the tools of the West, those the latter has deployed against Russia since the collapse of the Berlin wall, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the dawn of the new world order and a ‘united Europe from Vancouver to Vladivostok.’ The West moved first to back anti-Russian parties in the former USSR and opposition parties in Russia, so Russia has now begun to back anti-American parties and opposition parties in the West. The West first used the Internet against Russia and its allies, and Russia followed suit using it against the West. The West interfered in Russian presidential campaigns and other aspects of Russia’s internal political life and that of its allies, and Russia is responding in kind. The West has backed revolutions (a priori facto and ex post facto) and separatism, including jihadism, against Russia and its allies, and Russia began to do the same (minus the support for jihadists) against the West.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, http://www.canalyt.com and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California, www.cetisresearch.org.

Dr. Hahn is the author of Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the ‘New Cold War (McFarland Publishers, 2017) and three previously and well-received 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.

2 thoughts on “We Too: Russian Borrowing from, Imitation of, and Payback to the West

  1. A good overview except for the word “annexation” in reference to Crimea (because, in this context “annexation” implies violence and there was no violence when Crimea decided to return to Russia).

    Like

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About Gordon M. Hahn