How buzz on Russia dossier undermines bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington

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By Andrei Korobkov

The buzz surrounding the so-called “Russian trace” in the U.S. elections, started by former presidential candidate from the Democratic party Hillary Clinton during her 2016 failed presidential campaign, continues to evolve. New accusations spring up, leading to new investigations. Started in mid-2016 by Clinton’s claims about the Russian hackers, who allegedly disclosed information contained on the Democratic Party National Committee servers, it increasingly targets the members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle, including some of his family members. Appointed to deal initially with a narrow set of issues, the Independent Prosecutor Robert Mueller, the former FBI Director, has to deal with the quickly expanding set of claims and accusations.

Ironically, the former head of Trump’s presidential headquarter Paul Manafort, his partner Rick Gates, and the former campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos — the only people indicted up to this point as a result of this investigation — are accused of money laundering and other criminal activities related to earlier electoral campaigns in Ukraine, way before the 2016 elections. But this does not matter much for the current buzz organizers, as their real target is Trump, not Russia. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, the Russian-American relations turn into a collateral damage to this crisis. This creates a situation when anybody who has ever had any contacts with Russia or expressed sympathy to that country, might be accused of being a Russian agent.

The attacks continue to spread, increasingly affecting the Russian business interests (such as the Kaspersky Lab) and the information agencies, such as Sputnik and Russia Today, declared to be the Russian governmental agents. The results include the narrowing of the avenues of bilateral cooperation, the similar countermeasures against the American governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations in Russia, and the general worsening of political atmosphere in Russia.

Where the buzz on Russia dossier comes from

What are the real causes of the current buzz around the so-called Russia dossier? Both the figure of Donald Trump and his reform proposals represent a real threat to the interests of very influential political groups, who are actively working to prevent the foreign policy changes and to discredit Trump as well as his closest advisors and their families. Essentially, a very strange “alliance of convenience” has been formed that includes the leftist populist groups, the traditional liberal establishment, and the hard core right wing politicians in order to discredit Trump’s policies, turn the public opinion against him, and create a general feeling of instability in American society.

This coalition includes most of the conventional elites, including the political establishment, the governmental bureaucracy, the “mainstream” media, the entertainment industry, and most of the academic community. They are joined by the financial capital and the high tech industries, whose interests are threatened by Trump’s protectionist policies (essentially, the only elite group supporting Trump’s economic policies is the “real sector” of the economy—traditional manufacturing and agriculture, approving of his protectionist stance).

The goals of these groups differ significantly. The leftist opponents will resist any policies offered by Trump (including his immigration initiatives) in order to delegitimize and weaken him politically. The right-wing Republicans, whose mentality was formed during the Cold War, are trying to prevent the conceptual change of the geopolitical orientation of the US foreign policy — the shift from hostility to Russia to cooperation with it. Finally, the foreign policy and security bureaucracy is against any deep reforms and sharp turns of the foreign policy goals and methods: these people remember very well deep personnel cuts and structural reorganizations that followed in the footsteps of the triumphant celebrations of the end of the Cold War twenty-five years ago.

These groups will keep trying to discredit Trump’s policies, presenting them as illegal and unconstitutional, and to bloc the passage of his legislative initiatives through Congress – both to prevent the implementation of his policies and in order to create/find a reason to start the impeachment procedures, accusing him of violating the law and the Constitution. This is a new and a very dangerous trend in American political life.

Depoliticizing the intelligence

In an attempt to deal with this complicated political environment, Trump, in particular, promised to depoliticize the intelligence services, introducing both personnel and structural reforms, cutting down or completely eliminating a highly politicized Office of National Intelligence (all 16 US intelligence agencies report to its Director, who is a political appointee, and then he summarizes the intelligence information to report it to the President on a daily basis).

These steps were inspired by former U.S. President Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s attempts to get the US intelligence and other special services involved into this campaign to investigate Trump’s alleged ties with Russia and the Kremlin’s meddling into the American elections. They started with Hillary Clinton’s unsubstantiated claim that the intelligence had a proof (never presented credibly) of the Russian involvement in the US elections to support Donald Trump.

Trying to deal with the political bias of the American establishment, Trump is cutting the central office staffs of a number of other agencies, including that of the Department of State (by more than a third). Remarkably, he appointed an influential businessman with a vast international negotiations experience (Rex Tillerson) and three well known and respected generals (Herbert McMaster, James Mattis, John Kelly) to the key positions in the areas of foreign policy and national security, thus trying to lessen the influence in these spheres of the established political elites and special interests.

Resistance to Trump

The elite resistance to Trump will keep growing, as indicated by the examples of his predecessors in the Oval Office (Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and others). He will be lambasted for any attempts to propose economic and political reforms. Congress will block his political initiatives, while his opponents will keep looking for the ways of how to impeach him.

The anti-Trump consensus should not be underestimated. It turns into the anti-Russian one. This dynamics creates a whole series of potential threats to the US-Russian relations, up to the attempts to provoke a direct conflict between the two countries.

Andrei Korobkov is a professor of Political Science and Internaional Relations at Middle Tennessee State University. He graduated from Moscow State University and received a Ph. D. in Economics from the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia) and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Alabama. He has previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow and taught at the University of Alabama.

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