Deconstructing Russiagate, Part 1: Introduction

“If you’re going to do anything bold or innovative, you’re going to have to do things through irregular channels”-Oliver North 

On September 12, 2014, the United States and European Union issued their fourth round of sanctions on Russia since the start of the “civil war” in Ukraine. This came partially as an extension of previous sanctions that banned Western companies from “providing high technology for Russian deep water, Arctic and shale exploration.” In Europe, 24 individuals “including Russian lawmakers and others who have supported President Vladimir V. Putin over Ukraine” were banned from traveling and their accounts were frozen, while America “blocked the assets of five Russian state-owned defense technology firms.” However, the EU-Russia gas relationship was not only not disrupted, but deepend during this time. Meanwhile, Putin’s massive effort to stockpile gold, started in the early 2000s, proceeded apace. 

As William Rhind, CEO of World Gold Trust Services, told CNBC in 2014, of all the central banks that make their reserve actions public, Russia has been the “largest, most active” gold accumulator of the 21st Century. Russia wasn’t alone in becoming a “gold bug” in 2014. Similar to a massive surge in 2013, central banks bought 477.2 tons of gold, “close to a 50-year high.” As the linked report states, a “striking West to East shift in gold demand” occurred between 2012-2014; “Russia’s central bank was again the most prominent purchaser, adding 173t to its already sizable stocks…Conversely, sales of gold by central banks were limited. Ukraine’s sale of almost 19t was by far the most sizable.” Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Iraq also made sizable purchases. “Fortification and diversification of reserves, namely away from the US dollar, continues to be the driving force behind this activity.” (Emphasis mine). Three years later, BRICS began discussions on a “single gold trade system” with the Bank of Russia and the People’s Bank of China announcing, “plans to create a platform that would unite gold trading by the world’s two biggest gold buying countries.” 

Between the 2014 sanctions on Russia and the discussions between Russia and China to collaborate on getting BRICS off the US dollar, an incredible campaign spearheaded by American mass media, academia, official “left wing” NGO-activists, the intelligence community, and virtually the entire bourgeois political establishment, including the Democratic Party as well as the majority of the GOP, emerged. This campaign, now known as “Russiagate”, is by any rational definition a “conspiracy theory.” That is, the conclusion was arrived at long before any “evidence” was found to justify  it, and the conspiracists worked backwards to satisfy their confirmation bias. Additionally, all contradictory evidence was spun to actually prove the premise. 

This premise is that Donald J. Trump’s 2015-2016 campaign for the American presidency and his subsequent Presidential administration came about through “Russian interference” (or, among some of the bolder Russiagate conspiracy theorists, “Russian hacking”) in the American political system. In turn, Trump approved policies more or less entirely on behalf of Putin’s agenda for Russia, usually at the expense of the United States. A precise start date for this “interference” depends on what sect of Russiagaters one speaks to; for some, it started sometime in 2014-2015, for others it started after Trump announced his campaign in 2015, and for others, it started no later than 1987.

The Russians” (not Vladimir Putin, the FSB intelligence service, or the United Russia party, just “the Russians”) are usually depicted as having carried out this operation not only to subvert American “democracy” but as an act of war against democracy itself in the name of Putinist authoritarianism. This authoritarianism is usually implied to be something which “the Russians” have a supposedly historic, even genetic preference for and they become very upset with anybody else for not submitting to it. Thus, “Russiagate” quickly moved from a specific, potentially decades-long operation to get Donald Trump elected president of the United States to a world-historic Eurasian impulse to dominate and control the entirety of the Earth in the name of “authoritarianism.” Thus, it didn’t take long for Russiagaters to spring up in the UK blaming Putin for Brexit as well, and for “Russia” to become the sole purveyor of every contradiction in the capitalist world order. Sounds familiar right?

To make a long story short, Russiagate is bullshit. That is, not one version of it has ever been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, most of the “evidence” that emerged during numerous official and unofficial investigations consists of half-truths and accumulations of decontextualized or irrelevant facts, and the Trump administration itself, through numerous policy decisions, demonstrated more or less definitively that it had no interest in being “soft on Russia” much less soft on Russian “allies” such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran, or China. However, when we try to break down and analyze the purpose of the bullshit conspiracy theory now known as “Russiagate”, we must be weary of uncritically accepting one potential explanation; that Donald J. Trump had some genuine desire to overturn decades of neoconservative foreign policy, neoliberal economic policy, and to return the world to a cozy, JFK-style social democratic detente between West and East. This, I argue, is itself a version of “Russiagate” that still reroutes analysis of the actual material forces that led to the presidency of Donald Trump into a pro-America stance that distorts the real bourgeois interests at play in the current crisis.  

For instance, let’s look at an early and vocal critic of the Russiagate myth, Glenn Greenwald. On the American “Left” Greenwald is perceived either as Trump-appointed propagandist who turned on his supposedly “radical” values (or was driven “insane” by Twitter) or, on the other hand, as the last non-cucked “progressive”/”left-populist” who is willing to defend the honorable mission of Trump to defeat the neocon/neolib cabal that secretly pulls the strings in the “deep state.” Funnily enough, in decidedly reactionary mass media, such as Tucker Carlson (an “elite” “former” neocon himself who conveniently rebranded as a “populist” just in time for Trump’s “insurrection” into the GOP) Greenwald is seen as “one of the good” lefties, who still cares more about “the truth” than identity politics, political correctness, and so on. 

To be fair to Greenwald, he has been a diligent chronicler of the actual distortions of truth that have taken place during the Russiagate blitz. In Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story, Greenwald correctly points out, among other things, that Russian media outlet Russia Today did not hack into and take over C-SPAN, that Russian hackers did not “penetrate the U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont” as the Washington Post falsely reported, that Trump’s aide Anthony Scaramucci was not “involved in a Russian hedge-fund under Senate investigation” as CNN reported, and that there was no “sonic weapon” used to attack US diplomats at the Cuban Embassy as widely reported in 2017. 

Not long before Trump’s election, Greenwald also noted how the type of rhetoric that would become Russiagate had “migrated from Clinton-loyal pundits into the principal theme of the Clinton campaign itself.” This included a one-minute video that repeatedly alleges Trump’s “disloyalty”, the release of which was followed by an endorsement of Hillary from former CIA director (and undisclosed Clinton campaign consultant) Michael J. Morrell, who asserted, without a shred of evidence that, “Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” Lastly, Greenwald did a great job noting the bizarre phenomena of George W. Bush’s inner circle seeming to pivot from the Republican to the Democratic Party. This coverage includes an intriguing analysis of Russiagate’s first life cycle as an anti-Obama and anti-Clinton talking point emerging among conservative pundits who were clearly honing it as a main talking point in the event of a Hillary victory. 

For instance, on March 1, 2014, Bill Kristol published an article titled “Putin Acts, Obama Affirms” where he excoriated the Obama administration for not convincing, “Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and London to begin to isolate the Putin regime diplomatically, politically, and economically.” In Kristol’s now defunct neocon rag The Weekly Standard, a 2015 piece proclaimed “Putin Is the New Sheriff in Town” depicted Obama as ceding ground to Putin on the Syrian Civil War, relations with Turkey, and the Iran Nuclear Deal which was, predictably, depicted as somehow an attack on Israel. Hilariously, John Bolton, who would go on to become Trump’s National Security advisor from 2018-2019, was, in 2016, among the earliest pundits claiming that Putin was “toying with America’s political process by touting Donald Trump as the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.”

As Greenwald points out, a think tank cropped up not long after Trump’s election called the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD). ASD described itself as a “bipartisan, transatlantic initiative” that “will develop comprehensive strategies to defend against, deter, and raise the costs on Russian and other state actors’ efforts to undermine democracy and democratic institutions” by working to “publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.” The director of ASD, Laura Rosenberger, served as a foreign policy adviser for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and chief of staff to two Obama national security officials. Its second it command, Jamie Fly, served in various capacities in Bush Jr.’s Pentagon and National Security Council. Fly went on to counsel Marcio Rubio, Trump rival and one of the most hawkish members of the Senate, on foreign policy issues.

To quote Greenwald:

“Fly’s neocon pedigree is impressive indeed. During the Obama years, he wrote dozens of articles for the Weekly Standard — some co-authored with Bill Kristol himself — attacking Obama for insufficient belligerence toward Iran and terrorists generally, pronouncing Obama ‘increasingly ill suited to the world he faces as president’ by virtue of his supposed refusal to use military force frequently enough (Obama bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries during his time in office, including an average of 72 bombs dropped per day in 2016 alone).

The Democrats’ new partner Jamie Fly spent 2010 working in tandem with Bill Kristol urging military action — i.e., aggressive war — against Iran. In a 2010 Weekly Standard article co-written with Kristol, Fly argued that ‘the key to changing [Iran’s thinking about its nuclear program] is a serious debate about the military option,’ adding: ‘It’s time for Congress to seriously explore an Authorization of Military Force to halt Iran’s nuclear program.’”

So then what is my gripe with Greenwald? Well, among other things, Greenwald’s boss is one Pierre Omidyar, a billionaire whose mother fled Iran after the 1979 revolution and proceeded to have her work published by a federally contracted think tank led by a military psychologist. Omidyar and Obama attended the same private school in Honolulu, with Obama graduating one year before Omidyar. While Obama was President (and when The Intercept first got rolling by criticizing Obama “from the Left” and working with Edward Snowden) Omidyar met with him at the White House more than liberal billionaire darlings such as Google’s Eric Schmidt and Warren Buffet. In fact, only George Soros himself met with Obama more often than Omidyar. Furthermore, Omidyar made his billions by founding eBay, which popularized PayPal, one of Peter Thiel’s first big hits. This would probably be irrelevant if Greenwald didn’t have extensive ties to the Brooklyn “counterculture” that Thiel has spent millions to manufacture, to say nothing of Greenwald’s endorsement of Thiel Capital CEO Blake Masters senatorial campaign. 

Speaking of Thiel, he gave the FBI their own office at PayPal in 2001, months before 9/11. This collaboration was the seed of Thiel’s Palantir project, which received funding from In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s very own private hedge fund, in 2005. George Tenet, the second longest serving CIA director in history and one of the only people to serve in said capacity under presidents from two different parties (Clinton and Bush Jr.), brokered the deal that got In-Q-Tel an early round of investment. In this endeavor, Tenet collaborated with John Poindexter, who was convicted of lying to congress about his conduct during the Iran-Contra affair. Poindexter first became interested in Palantir after he had, “begun researching ways to develop a data-mining program” to use in Bush Jr’s War on Terror. 

During this same time period, Greenwald was working for the notorious Koch brothers, writing whitepapers for their CATO Institute and using his early op-ed page at Slate to defend Citizens United. He was also writing blog essays that sounded like they could have come straight out of Blake Masters or Donald Trump’s political ads. In a 2005 post, Greenwald wrote that “the “parade of evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known” and that said evils include wreaking havov “economically, socially, and culturally” making “a mockery of the rule of law” and being “disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone.” According to Greenwald, a “corporatist” wing of the GOP, “loves illegal immigration because of its use as a source of cheap labor” (apparently the Bush administration’s creation of Immigration Customs Enforcement wasn’t enough for Greenwald to proclaim it sufficiently tough on “open borders.”)

To return to the point, at the same time Greenwald was authoring breakdowns of the neofascist involvement in Ukraine’s 2014 “revolution” and civil war, his boss was receiving dividends on his investment in those same neofascists. According to the Kyiv Post, Omidyar’s business network, (part of the Omidyar Group which owns First Look Media and The Intercept) provided 36% of Center UA’s budget. As I noted in a previous essay, Center UA was an NGO founded by neocon darling and Ukrainian oligarch Oleh Rybachuk. Financial records show that the Omidyar Network covered costs for the expansion of Rybachuk’s anti-Yanukovych campaign  into regional cities including Poltava, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Ternopil, Sumy, and elsewhere. This propaganda ran mostly in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center, antagonizing them against the Russian speaking population and Russian-sympathetic Eastern Ukrainians in general.  

Furthermore, while Thiel and Omidyar have had something of a touch and go relationship since their PayPal Mafia days, Thiel remains a close personal friend and regular business associate of Reid Hoffman, whose own political investment profile is almost identical to Omidyar’s. In 2021, at the exact same time that Hoffman and Soros launched a “public benefit corporation” to “counter disinformation”, a project obviously inspired by Russiagate, Omidyar funded an almost identical project led by Bill Kristol, founder of the Weekly Standard and co-founder of the Project for a New American Century. If you didn’t know, PNAC is only the most notorious imperialist think tank of the Bush Jr. era, and Bill’s father, Irving Kristol, was the literal grandaddy of neoconservatism and a CIA asset to boot!

Thus, Greenwald’s framing of Russiagate, (along with that of many “anti-woke” Leftists) that it was only a neocon myth to be utilized against Hillary until Trump “interrupted” their plans, at which point the script was revised to make the neocons pro-Hillary and anti-Trump, is also bullshit and reproduces the main premise of the conspiracy theory but from the opposite point of view. In this version, Trump and “the Russians” (or Eurasians in general) have some earnest commitment to recreating a “multipolar world order” that is in direct contrast to neocon/neolib interests (but, conveniently, preserves capitalism itself as a globally ubiquitous mode of production). Not only does Greenwald perform an inverted version of Russiagate here, he also obscures his own role in the larger State bureaucracy of American imperialism and the larger purpose of Russiagate, which is an ideological tactical nuke deployed by said State bureaucracy in its struggle with the rising Eurasian bourgeoisie and their competing global institutions (BRICS, the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, China’s Belt and Road initiative, etc). 

Let’s return to September 2014. As the USA and EU were slapping Russia with a new round of sanctions, Russian and Ukrainian officials met in Belarus to try and settle the civil war. The so-called “Minsk Ceasefire Protocol” that emerged from these talks was never meant to succeed. In fact, as Mike Whitney pointed out at the time, “the meeting between the warring parties was not convened to stop the violence as much as it was to buy time for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) to retreat and regroup.” Indeed, as the agreement was being hashed out, two NATO warships entered the Black Sea, joining French and US destroyers already located in the area, conducting military exercises at the same time that coincided with NATO military drills in Latvia. These Latvian drills simulated the deployment of NATO soldiers and equipment during a crisis situation. Do the math. 

As Robert Parry reported in March 2015, a “poison pill” was inserted in the “Minsk 2” agreement, which arranged for talks between Kiev and authorities in the east. This was meant  to ultimately give those areas extensive self-rule by the end of 2015. This was only ratified by Ukraine’s parliament once a clause was slipped in requiring the rebels to formally surrender to the Ukrainian government and  allow Kiev to organize elections for them. As Parry wrote: “Kiev’s maneuver reflecting the bellicose position of neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and other US hardliners puts pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to either get Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko to return to the original understanding of Minsk-2 or watch the fighting resume.”


Over the course of 2022, we have seen how this created the precondition for the present crisis between NATO-supported Ukraine and the Russian government. It would appear that, ultimately, the United States wants a direct conflict with Russia. For instance, at the end of 2015, Ukraine’s parliament refused to pay $3 billion Russian loan and canceled a further $507 million of Ukrainian commercial debt held by Russian banks. The decision came after Moscow refused to join a creditors club organized by the International Monetary Fund and was followed by renewed pressure from NATO on Putin to remove Russian troops from eastern Ukraine. For the next seven years, the Minsk Agreements “only ever achieved a reduction in the intensity of the fighting, and even that is never permanent and changes constantly.” On June 16, 2015, while the Minsk Agreement was being set up to fail, Donald Trump announced he was running in the Republican Party’s presidential primary. He was no doubt inspired by his old friend Bill Clinton, who had phoned Trump several weeks earlier to encourage him to “play a larger role in the Republican Party.

Advertisement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s