There’s increasing concern and speculation that Putin really does have some kind of ‘dirty’ dossier on Trump, featuring some rather unsavory things that the Orange Generalissimo may have done with prostitutes during business trips there.
But America also has a very long and deeply unpleasant history of interfering in the elections of independent states around the world. At its most extreme this takes the form of coups, but the US has also exerted its influence through more subtle means, like the financing of opposition candidates and parties, covert propaganda, threats to withhold aid and so on.
William Blum has a entire chapter on the US ‘Perverting Democracy’ in his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. And it includes a very, very long list of mostly developing nations, whose democratic processes the US government has attempted to suborn.
But one of the nations whose elections the Americans tried to influence was rather more important on the world state. In 1996 Bill Clinton and his team intervened in the Russian elections to secure the victory of neoliberal privatisers and booze-sozzled corrupt drunk, Boris Yeltsin. Blum writes
For four months (March-June), a group of veteran American political consultants worked secretly in Moscow in support of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential campaign. Although the Americans were working independently, President Clinton’s political guru, Dick Morris, acted as their middleman to the administration, and Clinton himself told Yeltsin in May that he wanted to “make sure everything the United States did would have a positive impact” on the Russians electoral campaign. Boris Yeltsin was being counted on to run with the globalized-free market ball and it was imperative that he cross the final goal line. The American’s scripted a Clinton-Yeltsin summit meeting in April to allow the Russian to “stand up to the West”, to match what the Russian Communist party-Yeltsin’s main opponent-was insisting they would do if they won.
The Americans emphasized sophisticated methods of message development, polling, focus groups, crowd staging, direct-mailing etc., urged more systematic domination of the state-owned media, and advised against public debates with the Communists. Most of all they encouraged the Yeltsin campaign to “go negative” against the Communists, painting frightening pictures of what the Communists would do if they took power, including much civic upheaval and violence, and, of course, a return to the worst of Stalinism. With a virtual media blackout against them, the Communists were extremely hard pressed to respond to the attacks or to shout the Russian equivalent of “It’s the economy, stupid.”
It is impossible to measure the value of the American consultants’ contribution to the Yeltsin campaign, for there’s no knowing which of their tactics the Russians would have employed anyhow if left to their own devices, how well they would have applied them, or how things would have turned out. But we do know that before the Americans came on board, Yeltsin was favoured by only six percent of the electorate. In the first round of voting, he edged the Communists 35 percent to 32, and was victorious in the second round 54 to 40 percent. “Democracy” declared Time magazine, “triumphed”. (pp. 230-1).
Putin is a murderous thug, who has had journalists and members of the opposition beaten and killed. And the Communist party was responsible for horrific repression. Gorbachev’s reforms, if allowed to continue, may have created something positive, and established Communist Russia as a true ‘workers’ state’, where working people had real power, both in elections and over their boss and his decisions at work. But he was overthrown by the hardliners before he could complete it.
As for Yeltsin, his rushed privatisation of anything that wasn’t nailed down resulted in economic meltdown. Millions of ordinary Russians found themselves thrown out of work, in a country that did not have any unemployment benefit schemes, because the state had always provided work. So too did massive inflation wipe out ordinary Russians’ pensions and savings. It’s partly as a reaction to that chaos that Putin was elected. He’s a thug and a strongman, but he offers his people stability and prosperity.
It’s grossly hypocritical for American politicos to whine about Putin interfering in their democratic process, when America has been doing just that all over the world, including Russia, since World War Two. The latest victim of American interference was Ukraine, where the Orange Revolution, far from being a spontaneous display of democracy, was carefully orchestrated by various American state NGOs, including the National Endowment for Democracy.
So as far as this issue is concerned, I’m sure that there are now many people in Russia and abroad who feel this way: ‘Payback’s a b*tch’.