Author: Amb. Giorgi Badridze, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
Recently not a day goes by without the revelations about the Kremlin’s involvement in some Western election campaign or a referendum. Of course, it was also known before that for example in France, Marin Le Pen’s far-right National Front was getting multi-million assistance (or loans, which is one and the same) from Russian sources; however, Russia’s involvement in the Western politics moved at the center of attention of the international community after the Presidential Elections in the United States.
Today it is possible to say that according to the information revealed during the investigation of the United States FBI, later covering whole of Western Europe, there has not been a single election or referendum in recent years which the Russian intelligence services did not try to influence. This is probably not very surprising – Russia has long worked very actively to expand its influence beyond its borders. Until the twentieth century, it employed the concept of the Orthodox Empire or The Third Rome, in the 1920s and 30s it was building Communist International in order to create a global empire based upon a new ideology, also actively working with communist or the so-called “progressive” forces during the Cold War. Hence, the main principle upon which the Russian or Soviet assistance was based was the ideological proximity of its partners.
Of course, both the Russian Empire as well as the Soviet Union worked primarily according to their geopolitical interests; however, it is also a fact that as their allies they mostly chose the groups holding ideologies similar to theirs.
The main thing that has changed is that the current beneficiaries of the Kremlin’s financial or other type of assistance (the fact that assistance does not only mean giving money will be discussed below) often hold differing, sometimes completely incompatible ideologies. This does not mean that the Kremlin does not favor far-right nationalist ideology; however, as it has become increasingly clear in recent years, Russia no longer limits itself with the principle of ideological proximity.
Let us now discuss who is getting Russian assistance and for what. First and the main (perhaps the only) criterion for gaining the Kremlin’s sympathies is the ability of the force in question to serve Russia’s interests in its home country. In the case of the Western countries this often does not even mean direct cooperation with Russia – it is enough for a party or a social movement to foster the weakening of NATO and the European Union, both so loathed by Russia. For example, Kremlin definitely does not dream about powerful UK or France, independent from Europe; however, as it was revealed, they did provide financial and informational support to the Leave campaign in the United Kingdom, just as they rooted for Marin Le Pen in the French Presidential Elections – Ms. Le Pen got not only financial assistance, but also a meeting with Putin and his open support. The task, as already pointed out, was to weaken the European Union, with which the Kremlin is unable to find common ground, hoping that it will be able to better promote its interests in Europe on a bilateral level (it is no coincidence if you remembered the old proverb about a quiver of arrows).
How do we know that Russia does not support strong UK, France or the United States? This becomes quite clear if we look at the beneficiaries of Russian assistance more closely. Yes, the British businessman linked to Russia, Aaron Banks, was the largest sponsor of the Brexit campaign. He dobnated at least seven million pounds to help those wishing to bring the UK out of the European Union. Currently, the actual origins of this money is being investigated; however, Aaron Bank’s ties with Russia are very clear – he is married to a Russian national Ekaterina Paderina. Ms. Paderina obtained the UK residence permit with the help of the one and same Michael Hancock (MP) who had another young Russian lady, Ekaterina Zatuliveter as his Parliamentary Secretary, giving her access to classified material, also arranged the. Ms. Zatuliveter, who was the daughter of an officer of Soviet and Russian intelligence, was officially investigated by the British counter intelligence service (MI5) on charges of cooperating with the representatives of the Russian foreign intelligence service in London. In his turn, Mr. Hancock later was exposed for of numerous non-ethical actions, as a result of which he lost his Parliamentary seat.
At the same time, it has been revealed that the Scottish separatists were also getting Russian assistance, together with their hyper-active support in the social media. This means that on the one hand Russia was assisting the supporters of the “independent” Britain, wielding the slogans similar to “Making Britain Great Again” in the social media, whilst on the other hand it was also supporting those wishing the dissolution of the United Kingdom, providing them with support in the social media as well.
For more than a year, the investigation of covert or open contacts of Donald Trump and his entourage with the representatives of Russia has been the main political intrigue in the United States. One FBI Director has already fallen victim to this investigation. However, the investigation continued in a special format with the former FBI Director, Robert Muller appointed as a Special Counsel. During Muller’s investigation, one of the leaders of the Trump Campaign and later his National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, has already pleaded guilty on lying about contacts with Russia. In addition, numerous other evidence emerges about Russia’s support to the Trump Campaign, first and foremost – the illegally obtaining and publication of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
However, Russia’s support was not uniform in this case either – the purpose of it was not to ensure Trump’s victory and a strong right-wing administration, but rather to ensure Clinton’s defeat. The fact that Russia did not support Trump’s Presidency in order to foster the success of the United States is further confirmed by the data regularly presented by the investigation after the elections. The involvement of the Russians in the hacking of the computers of the Democratic Party and handing over the acquired information to the Trump campaign, as well as the activities of the Russian “Troll Factory” in the social media in Trump’s favor was common knowledge. However, the new data increasingly show that after Trump’s victory, the numerous fake Twitter or Facebook accounts managed from Russia have been spreading the posts aimed against him with equal success. During the same current social event, for example the protests about disproportionate police violence against African Americans, Russian fake accounts were spreading the posts supporting white nationalists, who were Trump’s supporters, as well as posting anti-racist and anti-Trump content as well. Numerous serious investigations have been dedicated to this issue and the principal conclusion, based upon the material currently at hand, is that in reality Russian support is not intended to guarantee the success of the addressees, but rather aims to weaken the countries that Russia considers as adversaries.
This should have been clear earlier as well – it is very naïve to believe that the Kremlin loathes “Clinton’s America” but likes Republican, or “Trump’s America”. Putin’s goal is to weaken the United States and in order to achieve this goal he will support the forces, which, in his opinion, will harm their country the most, later also attempting to weaken the latter as well.
We should have learned this lesson a long time ago. There are forces in Georgia too, which are supported by Moscow in certain ways, albeit covertly. Recently, even a sort of competition could be observed among the anti-Western or openly pro-Russian forces in Georgia, with the pseudo-nationalist groups being more active than the others. The fact that Georgian ethno-nationalists are pro-Russian is especially baffling, since Russia has never even attempted to cover its total support towards the greatest enemies of Georgian statehood. These include not only all sorts of separatists, but also forces, which have performed the ethnic cleansing of Georgians twice in recent period.
Based upon all this, the conclusion is not difficult to make: Russia is currently helping numerous forces, which are often opposed to one another. It may support both far-right and left-wing forces, or nationalists and separatists. The reason of this is not the sympathies to specific forces or wish for their success, but rather the desire to weaken the Western political institutions, democratic states and their alliances. This concerns Georgia directly and everyone, discovering that they are being offered Russian money or other types of support, must know that Moscow considers them to be its allies in the task of harming their own country.