TPL_ESW_EASYPEASY_MAIN_CONTENT
how-putin-meddles-in-western-democracies
The Rape of Europa. 1908. Felix Vallotton. Source: Wikiart.org

How Putin meddles in Western Democracies

IN THE late 1980s, as Mikhail Gorbachev launched perestroika, Russia made peace with the West. It was possible to believe that each would give up trying to subvert the other with lies and cold-war conspiracy theories. With the indictment of 13 Russians on February 16th by the American special counsel, Robert Mueller, it is clear just how fragile that belief was.

Mr Mueller alleges that in 2014 Russia launched a conspiracy against America’s democracy, and he believes he has the evidence to withstand Russian denials and a court’s scrutiny. Perhaps because Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, thought the CIA was fomenting an uprising in Ukraine, the Internet Research Agency, backed by an oligarch with links to the Kremlin, set up a trolling team, payments systems and false identities. Its aim was to widen divisions in America and, latterly, to tilt the vote in 2016 from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump.

Europe has been targeted, too. Although the details are sketchier, and this is not the focus of the Mueller probe, Russia is thought to have financed extremist politicians, hacked computer systems, organised marches and spread lies. Again, its aim seems to have been to deepen divides.

It is futile to speculate how much Russia’s efforts succeeded in altering the outcomes of votes and poisoning politics. The answer is unknowable. But the conspiracies are wrong in themselves and their extent raises worries about the vulnerabilities of Western democracies. If the West is going to protect itself against Russia and other attackers, it needs to treat Mr Mueller’s indictments as a rallying cry.

Trolleology

They hold three uncomfortable lessons. One is that social media are a more potent tool than the 1960s techniques of planting stories and bribing journalists. It does not cost much to use Facebook to spot sympathisers, ferret out potential converts and perfect the catchiest taglines (see article). With ingenuity, you can fool the system into favouring your tweets and posts. If you hack the computers of Democratic bigwigs, as the Russians did, you have a network of bots ready to dish the dirt.

With a modest budget, of a little over $1m a month, and working mostly from the safety of St Petersburg, the Russians managed botnets and false profiles, earning millions of retweets and likes. Other, better-funded, groups exploit similar techniques. Nobody yet knows how the outrage they generate changes politics, but it is a fair guess that it deepens partisanship and limits the scope for compromise.

Hence the second lesson, that the Russia campaign did not create divisions in America so much as hold up a warped mirror to them. It played up race, urging black voters to see Mrs Clinton as an enemy and stay at home on polling day. It sought to inflame white resentment, even as it called on progressives to vote for Jill Stein, of the Green Party. After Mr Trump’s victory, which it had worked to bring about, it organised an anti-Trump rally in Manhattan. Right after the Parkland school shooting, Russian bots began to pile into the debate about gun control (see article). Europeans are to a lesser degree divided, too, especially in Brexit Britain. The divisions that run so deep within Western democracies leave them open to intruders.

The most important lesson is that the Western response has been woefully weak. In the cold war, America fought Russian misinformation with diplomats and spies. By contrast, Mr Mueller acted because two presidents fell short. Barack Obama agonised over evidence of Russian interference but held back before eventually imposing sanctions, perhaps because he assumed Mr Trump would lose and that for him to speak out would only feed suspicions that, as a Democrat, he was manipulating the contest. That was a grave misjudgment.

Mr Trump’s failing is of a different order. Despite having access to intelligence from the day he was elected, he has treated the Russian scandal purely in terms of his own legitimacy. He should have spoken out against Mr Putin and protected America against Russian hostility. Instead, abetted by a number of congressional Republicans, he has devoted himself to discrediting the agencies investigating the conspiracy and hinted at firing Mr Mueller or his minders in the Justice Department, just as he fired James Comey as head of the FBI. Mr Mueller is not done. Among other things, he still has to say whether the conspiracy extended to the Trump campaign. Were Mr Trump to sack him now, it would amount to a confession.

How to win the woke citizens vote

For democracy to thrive, Western leaders need to find a way to regain the confidence of voters. This starts with transparency. Europe needs more formal investigations with the authority of Mr Mueller’s. Although they risk revealing intelligence sources and methods and may even please Russia—because proof of its success sows mistrust—they also lay the ground for action. Party-funding laws need to identify who has given money to whom. And social media should be open to scrutiny, so that anyone can identify who is paying for ads and so that researchers can more easily root out subterfuge.

Then comes resilience, which starts at the top. Angela Merkel successfully warned Mr Putin that there would be consequences if he interfered in German elections. In France Emmanuel Macron frustrated Russian hackers by planting fake e-mails among real ones, which discredited later leaks when they were shown to contain false information. Finland teaches media literacy and the national press works together to purge fake news and correct misinformation.

Resilience comes more easily to Germany, France and Finland, where trust is higher than in America. That is why retaliation and deterrence also matter—not, as in the cold war, through dirty tricks, but by linking American co-operation over, say, diplomatic missions, to Russia’s conduct and, if need be, by sanctions. Republican leaders in Congress are failing their country: at the least they should hold emergency hearings to protect America from subversion in the mid-term elections. Just now, with Mr Trump obsessively blaming the FBI and Democrats, it looks as if America does not believe democracy is worth fighting for.

Published on The Economist on February 24, 2018 (Print Edition)

    • Brexit Is Hell

      HAROLD JAMES World Politics
      brexit-is-hell

       

      Over time, public conceptions of hell have migrated from the realm of religious belief to that of literature and political aphorism. And nowhere is the idea of eternal damnation as punishment for one's own choices more appropriate than in the case of the United Kingdom as it hurdles toward the Brexit abyss.

       

      PRINCETON – European Council President Donald Tusk recently sparked controversy by saying there is a “special place in hell” for those who advocated Brexit “without a plan.” To angry Brexiteers, the statement epitomizes the unfeeling, moralistic attitude of the European Union technocracy in Brussels. British Prime Minister Theresa May duly issued a statement rebuking Tusk for his remark.

    • Four numbers for 2019

      Martin Jan Stránský Science
      four-numbers-for-2019

      Four statistics from 2018 portent trends for 2019. All have to do with human health, and none of them are good. 

       

      22 million

       

      Yemen is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 1 million people infected with cholera, over 8 million people at the brink of starvation and 22 million in need of humanitarian aid. The crisis is the direct result of the ongoing armed conflict between Muslim rebels and a weak president, supported by Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the US.

       

      Yemen is a model of armed conflict in the 21stcentury: the business enterprise of arms sales to regimes to prop up meaningless conflicts under the guise of “promoting regional stability.” The resulting billions pad the pockets of governments and arms-makers and ensure continuity of the current decadent Western lifestyle which reliably ignores the fact that Yemen even exists. This despite the fact that, unlike the Holocaust or Stalin’s persecutions, the crisis in Yemen is extensively documented for all the world to see on a daily basis.

    • Intellectual paths in central Europe

      Samuel Abrahám World Politics
      intellectual-paths-in-central-europe

      How can intellectuals of central Europe maintain their moral principles and independence, yet support democracy, in an age when the region is again traversing a rocky road paved with nationalism and populism?

    • The Curious Case of Paul N. Whelan

      Igor Lukeš World Politics
      the-curious-case-of-paul-n-whelan

      How likely is it that Paul Whelan is an American spy?

       

      At the end of December 2018 Russian authorities announced the arrest of Paul Whelan. He had received a USB flash drive from a Russian man who came to his hotel room in Moscow. Minutes later Mr. Whelan was arrested, charged with espionage, and taken to Lefortovo prison. If convicted, he would face 10 to 20 years in prison.

       

      Mr. Whelan, 48, is not an accredited diplomat. He is Canadian by birth, and also a citizen of the United States, Great Britain, and Ireland. He was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve but left with a “Bad Conduct Discharge,” having been court-martialed for larceny on the grounds that he had attempted to misappropriate more than $10,000 and was guilty of writing bad checks. It was subsequently reported that Mr. Whelan, prior to his current trip, had been to Russia several times and was a passionate collector of Russian souvenirs. His family claims he had gone to Moscow to attend a wedding of an American friend who was getting married to a Russian citizen. His most recent job in the United States has been described as providing security for the facilities of an automotive components’ supplier.

    • The “full truth” is unobtainable

      John Lloyd, red. Přítomnosti Society
      the-full-truth-is-unobtainable

      Ideal journalist characteristics by John Lloyd.

    • Momentous ‘eights’ in Czecho-Slovak history

      Jacques Rupnik Czech Politics
      momentous-eights-in-czecho-slovak-history

      Et n’oublions pas le Goofus Bird, oiseau qui vole en arrière car il ne se soucie pas de savoir où il va, mais d’où il vient. (J. L. Borges, Le livre des êtres imaginaires.)

    • The Anti-European Tradition of Europe

      Andrei Plesu World Politics
      the-antieuropean-tradition-of-europe-andre-plesu

      Our featured year-end article explores the dichotomies of the formation of today’s Europe and the conflicts, tensions, and solutions therein.

       

      Europe has a long tradition of self-segregation, of multi-dimensionality, of debates on national identity that can go as far as internal conflict. The first failure of our ‘common home’ was the fracturing of the Roman Empire into a western and an eastern segment. Rome broke away from Byzantium, Catholicism from Orthodoxy, Protestantism from Catholicism, the Empire from the Papacy, East from West, North from South, the Germanic from the Latin, communism from capitalism, Britain from the rest of the continent. We easily perceive the differences that make up our identity; we are able at any time to distance ourselves from ourselves. We invented both colonialism and anti-colonialism; we invented Eurocentrism and the relativisation of Europeanism. The world wars of the last century began as intra-European wars; the European West and East were for decades kept apart by a ‘cold war’. An impossible ‘conjugal’ triangle has constantly inflamed spirits: the German, the Latin and the Slavic worlds.

    • Czech Security Information Service's straightforward Annual Report

      European Values Think-Tank Czech Politics
      czech-security-information-service-s-straightforward-annual-report

      Compared to most of the security institutions in Central Europe, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) managed to describe Russian and Chinese intelligence activities in the Czech Republic in a remarkable detail. There are several points in the latest Annual Report we would like to highlight:

       

      • Russian and Chinese activities threatening the Czech security and other interests are a continuous priority for the BIS. While Russian activities “continuously focused primarily on influence operations and exploitation of Czech sources”, the Chinese changed up their tactics and focused more on intelligence infiltration instead of influence.
      • The size of the Russian diplomatic mission which includes a high number of individuals with affiliation to the Russian intelligence services represents several risks, especially because of the reckless attitude of Czech politicians and civil servants towards unclassified but non-public information.
    • Please, start taking pro-Kremlin disinformation seriously

      Vydavatelstvi MJS World Politics
      please-start-taking-pro-kremlin-disinformation-seriously

      Open Letter by European Security Experts to President of the European Commission J. C. Juncker and High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

       

       

    • Zeman a nuclear power

      Dalibor Rohac Czech Politics
      zeman-a-nuclear-power

      Murky Nuclear Business in New Europe.

    • One Hundred Years of Czech Provincialism

      Igor Lukeš Politika
      one-hundred-years-of-czech-provincialism

      Dear readers, in conjunction with the 100 – year anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia we are pleased to present the following article by renowned historian Igor Lukeš. (Martin Jan Stránský, Publisher)

       

      Despite years of Nazi and communist occupation, the Czech Republic is now a member of NATO and its relations with the United States and other allies in the West are strong. It was heartwarming to see General James Mattis observing the Czech Army’s pass-in-review on October 28th. Given the Czech Republic’s geographic location, this is not a small achievement, and it is good to celebrate it.

       

      At the same time, we need to anticipate problems and prepare to face them before they become insurmountable. It is a truism but one worth repeating that friends not only support and sustain each another, they also tell each other the truth, even when it is uncomfortable, inconvenient, or outright painful. This is what I propose to do today. I will argue that the Czech Republic

    • One Day can Change a Country

      Anna Stransky World Politics
      one-day-can-change-a-country

      The Netherland’s relationship with Russia drastically changed after July 17th, 2014, when the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down.

    • Why is chain migration so controversial?

      The Economist World Politics
      why-is-chain-migration-so-controversial

      The American president’s family benefited from it. He himself is less keen.

    • The Czech Republic’s present for its 100 year anniversary: an alcohol-basted pig

      Martin Jan Stránský Czech Politics
      the-czech-republic-s-present-for-its-100-year-anniversary-an-alcohol-basted-pig

      “I like reporters, perhaps I will invite them for dinner to the Saudi consulate“.

       

      Thus spoke the president of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman on Oct 24.  Besides his acknowledged alcoholic dysfunction, the current president is an outspoken supporter of Russia and an avid hater of journalists.

       

      So Czech Republic, happy birthday to you and to your citizens, who tolerate being represented by a foul-mouthed drunk on this, the centennial anniversary of the country. 

       

      But to be fair, the Czech Republic is not alone. On the other side of the pond there is another country that is trying to ignore the surrealistic nightmare of its current president as well.  Both presidents are hostage to their pathologic narcissism, with its resultant degradation of values.

       

      Martin J Stránský MD

      Publisher, Přítomnost and The New Presence (www.pritomnost.cz)

      Great-grandson of Adolf Stránský the country’s first Minister of Commerce in 1918 and one of Czechoslovakia’s founders.

    • We are the future of Europe, says Viktor Orban

      Martin Jan Stránský World Politics
      we-are-the-future-of-europe-says-viktor-orban

      When we lose, we stay. And we will return.

      – excerpts from a private speech by Viktor Orban.

    • Russia´s post-invasion trauma

      Vydavatelstvi MJS World Politics
      russia-s-post-invasion-trauma2

      From the Friday´s Fleet Sheet Edition.

Our Supporters:

                                                    30 05 2018 KJ                 30 05 2018 Uprazeno 

Our Partners:

logo pozadi cervena udalostiart-for-good-logo1Xantypacd12 8DeSYo4 HLIDACIPESlogoFINALv6 2016-10-02 Logo RR 2016 1

logo big   cze-logo   Peroutak logo1