by William Skink
One of the unfortunate lessons that has been learned by Democrats in this last election cycle is that a Russia smear campaign can be effective. Just ask Trump, who had to jettison some alt-right baggage and lob a few missiles to get a pause from the non-stop anti-Russia hysteria emanating from partisans and pundits.
One might think the smears are not effective, considering Hillary Clinton lost the election. People who think that way don’t understand that the information war doesn’t stop when the election is over.
So what’s up with Rob Quist and his supporters suddenly whipping out the Russia card?
I don’t know, but the post that finally did it for me is from combat veteran and (spook?) propagandist Joshua Manning, subtly titled Gianoforte Need to Pick a Side….Russia or Montana?
First, to put his terrified audience at ease, Manning let’s us know there aren’t evil Russians lurking in every crevice of every wealthy man’s stock portfolio. After that little caveat comes the smear, which is the meat of the propaganda:
Not all Russian business has ill intentions and there is not evil behind every corner. However, most of the businesses Gianforte has chosen to stick with are involved with Russian President Vladimir’s Putin’s creeping annexation of nearby countries, brutal internal repression, and tied to many of the people named and highly suspected in the election interference of 2016. Keep in mind the date of this disclosure to the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives: March 17, 2017. Gianforte is signaling he continues to invest in these companies and said as much on debate stage this past weekend. It is important to remember Gianforte only answered that he invested in these stocks based on their performance when pressed by Quist and not anyone managing the debate.
What fabulous propaganda. Putin’s “creeping annexation” omits the western-backed coup in Ukraine. Putin’s “brutal internal repression” keeps the focus on Russia, ignoring brutal regimes, like Saudi Arabia, who help fuel the jihadi proxy wars across the ME. And what Russian smear-job would be complete without referencing how Russia is “highly suspected in the election interference of 2016”?
With those narratives established, Manning does touch on some important factors at play, specifically energy resources. But it’s cut from the same propaganda cloth:
Much has initially been made of the companies Gianforte funds for violating US sanctions. Russia faced sanctions for illegitimate military operations in Ukraine that led to it claiming Crimea as a Russian territory. The companies designated are oil and gas giants like Gazprom, Rosneft, Surgutneftegas, and Transneft along with major state-sponsored banks like Sberbank (Gianforte’s largest holding).
Beyond breaking international norms, Russia’s moves toward Ukraine bring a much larger concern. Ukraine, a former Soviet republic with a long memory of repression, serves as the conduit for natural gas into Europe. In the early 2000s this caused yearly problems because Ukraine refused to pay the hefty sums charged by companies like Gazprom, which the gas provider used to drain the Ukrainian budget. Russia in turn accused the Ukrainians of turning off pipelines and keeping gas for itself. Keep in mind this is during the height of harsh eastern European winters. Putin also eyed the problematic Ukraine because it also dared to make moves toward NATO for protection and to join the larger European-Atlantic community.
However, if Putin and his allies in the oil and gas industry can turn Ukraine toward Russian interests then they control the flows of natural gas into Europe. If upset with how Germany, France, or even NATO acts, then Russia can simply turn off the gas or charge a premium for its service. Gaining greater access into Ukraine also puts Russian intelligence and political forces on Europe’s doorstep. This would allow for gains into eastern and southeastern Europe. Russia also has interest in funding “alt-right” movements in the U.K., Germany, and France as they undercut the vote and promote neo-Nazi policies. Putin and his cronies finance all of this through their lucrative oil and gas interests and money laundering through state-owned or foreign banks. The very same companies and people in Gianforte’s portfolio mean to undercut U.S. interests in our main ally: Europe.
There is so much wrong and deceitful here. So much NOT being said. While Manning laments international norms, he willfully suppresses the clear consequences of the neoliberalism he not-so-covertly supports. Manning and his ilk believe markets are to be dominated by western interests, and any threat to that domination gets attacked.
Sometimes the attacks are financial, through sanctions and market manipulation. Sometimes the attacks are a-symetrical, like selling weapons to allies who then hand them to jihadists in places like Syria. Sometimes the attacks aren’t attacks at all, but blowback, like millions of displaced refugees fueling culture clashes in Europe, creating fertile ground for more boogeymen in the guise of the “alt-right” to sprout up.
Here is the conclusion of Manning propaganda piece:
Internally, the executives and families of these connected businesses form an important wing of the Russian government. Putin can trust them to stay in line, kickback their profits to those in the government, and help him expand the enterprise. These oligarchs count their money as Putin’s intelligence and police services kill opposition figures, viciously curb protests, and imprison anyone who dares question the system. Most of Russia’s top billionaires who support this head the companies in Gianforte’s portfolio. Gianforte, a billionaire himself, must have some sort of kindred connection to them.
Let us take Gianforte at his word during the Congressional debate—he is okay with these investments because they are making him money. Notice that he offered no apology or any explanation that maybe some of the companies are in the wrong. He, like his mentor Donald Trump, doubled down on his funding of oppression and authoritarianism. He wants to take those values to Congress and represent Montana. Think about that.
There is nothing in these two paragraphs that can’t be applied to this country, including intelligence services killing opposition. Or maybe you think journalists like Gary Webb really shot himself in the head, and Michael Hastings just accidentally sped his Mercedes into a tree, exploding into a ball of flames.
But Joshua Manning doesn’t want you thinking about any of that, no, no, no. Instead, contemplate the “kindred connection” Gianforte must have with Russian oligarchs. Then connect that to Donald Trump. And please, don’t for a second ask yourself how much oppression and authoritarianism America has been propping up since WWII, because those are the kind of dangerous thoughts that undermine the effectiveness of propaganda.
And who really wants that?