Reading on Russia Roundup #18

Is Donald Trump carrying Vladimir Putin’s baby? Just trust me here – the article‘s not as ludicrous as it sounds. Though flawed, it does a good job of challenging the Trump-Putin alliance myth and it’s definitely one of Eliot Borenstein’s better essays on the All the Russias’ blog in recent memory.

The obsession with Putin as a personality is a Western problem.  The media insist on personalizing everything that happens in Russia as the product of Putin’s will, as if not a single sparrow could fall to the ground without Putin knowing it.   Our preoccupation with Putin is primarily our own projection, our insistence on his personal centrality to an extent that doesn’t quite match his own style.  Putin is both the creator and product of an entire system; the best thing we could say when invoking “Putin” as an explanation is that it is a shorthand, not a proper name.

Trump is, of course, the opposite: he is, first and foremost, the name Trump, the brand. Trump’s ego and narcissism combine with our obsessive attention to make a perfect feedback loop.  When we watch the news, we want more Trump.  When Trump watches the news, he wants the same.

“Турки молодцы! Может тоже повторим?” Will Russians come out to support Putin in the case of a coup? No, says Anatoly Karlin, because the chances of a prospective Russian coup are nil.

In contrast to both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Putin has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings, and the respect of the military and siloviks in particular. He can speak their language and has furnished lavish spending on both the military and the security services. The current Defense Minister, Sergey Shoigu, is highly popular without harboring much in the way of personal political ambitions of his own. This is in contrast to his predecessor Anatoly Serdyukov, who was highly unpopular for his questionable reforms and blatant corruption. He was eventually dismissed from his post, but the corruption investigation went nowhere and was eventually quietly shut down. Although the legal impunity of the Russian political elites is one of the few real sources of popular discontent with Putinism, it may also play a role as a political safety valve. Bureaucrats who steal too much – Serdyukov, Yakunin, Luzhkov, etc. – might get dismissed, but don’t tend to go overtly hostile because, apart from their low chances of success and high risk of ruin, they also know that the next regime might not be so forgiving towards them.

DNC leaks. Adam Johnson reporting for FAIR. With the DNC leaks, a former “conspiracy theory”is now true – but it’s apparently not a big deal.

So what was once dismissed out of hand—that the DNC was actively working against the Sanders campaign—is now obviously true, but not a big deal. This is a textbook PR spin pattern seen time and time again, what might be called the Snowden Cycle: X is a flaky conspiracy theory → X is revealed to be true → X is totally obvious and not newsworthy.

Instead, Clinton partisans decided to focus on the alleged Russian links behind the DNC hack. Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall (7/23/16) released a rather paranoid rundown the day of the leaks on how Putin was conspiring with Trump (a fairly good debunking of which can be found here), soon after dismissing the substance of the leaks as Russian propaganda white noise. Many soon followed suit: The DNC leaks as Russian spy operation was the preferred talking point of the day, omitting or glossing over what the leaks actually entailed.

The actual culpability of Russia for those leaks, it’s worth noting, is still unproven. […] Six weeks since the hack was first revealed by the Washington Post (6/14/16), no one in the US government, including the FBI and White House (who have reportedly reviewed the situation in detail), have implicated or even suggested Russian involvement in the leak–neither on the record nor anonymously.

The Hawks’ election strategy. Neocons and liberal hawks alike are insinuating that Trump is a Russian agent. If that’s the case, then MY GLOD, Russia, even your intel has declined! There really is no hope for That Country.

We may deplore Donald Trump for his abridgment of the protocols of honest debate, his pandering to racial and religious prejudice, his contempt for plain facts and his lack of acquaintance with facts. But to picture Trump as an agent or enabler of Vladimir Putin—and to insinuate that anyone who seeks diplomatic arrangements with Moscow in preference to a new Cold War must be “soft”—does nothing to elevate the political discourse of the moment. It takes us out of the sewer and leads us into the cesspool.


Honorable mentions. Stories that didn’t make the roundup.



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