Expert Speak Atlantic Files
Published on Aug 11, 2016
The “Russian threat” seems to have emerged as one of the principal foreign policy issues in the US elections, though this is not the first time that the Russian involvement in the elections has been hinted at.
US elections and the "Russian threat"

With the US presidential elections barely three months away, it is interesting how the "Russian threat" has emerged as one of the principal foreign policy issues in the elections. The latest in the round of accusations against Russia is the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on July 22 — on the eve of the Democratic Party Convention — about 20,000 emails from the DNC were released by the WikiLeaks. Among the many revelations, it was reported that the DNC had shown favouritism towards eventual nominee Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders.

Though there is still no official statement from the US government, politicians, media and some unnamed intelligence officials are promoting the theory that the hack was sponsored by the Russian government. The DNC leak has also been viewed as Putin’s response to the Panama papers leak.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, has suggested that the Russians “have good reason to support Trump”. He was referring to Donald Trump’s interview with The New York Times where the Republican Party nominee had indicated that he might not support NATO nations if they came under attack from Russia unless he was convinced of their contribution to the Atlantic alliance.

On his part, Trump has dismissed the Democrats’ charge and regarded it as “a total deflection” during a press briefing in Florida. He also pointed out that if Russia was indeed behind the attack, it would also have likely been able to penetrate the private email server Clinton used as the Secretary of State. But, he does not appear to have done himself any good by asking Russian President Putin, even if satirically, to hack and make public the remaining emails, ostensibly deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

The campaign to blame Russia appears to be aimed more as a distraction from the major issue at hand — the DNC’s bias towards Hillary Clinton. For months, Bernie Sanders supporters had complained about iniquitous treatment from the DNC. But these concerns were dismissed repeatedly. While it is arguable if the bias was decisive in the 2016 Democratic primary race, it is clear now that the bias indeed existed. This view is supported by the immediate resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the apology from Donna Brazile, who replaced Schultz as the chair.

Meanwhile, those who have shown high confidence of Russian involvement in the leak have also alleged that the Russian hackers who broke into the Democratic Party computers purposefully left evidence to prove Russia's status as a “cyberpower”. There are two points that strike in this regard. First, if the Russians were really behind the hack, their purposefully leaving evidence sounds illogical. Second, there is a huge possibility that the National Security Agency (NSA) is aware of the source of hack, given it possesses XKeyscore — a form of wiretapping which can be used to intercept communications at a variety of points. Edward Snowden, the man who made XKeyscore public in 2013, feels that the decision to not share the source is eerie given that the knowledge of XKeyscore is now in the public domain. In fact, the FBI did not shy away from divulging details in order to prove North Korea’s role in the 2014 Sony Pictures hack. The decision to evade information in the present context is thus hard to fathom.

It is also pertinent to compare the official response from both the US and Russia in this regard. As mentioned earlier, the US government has not so far accused the Russian government publicly. In contrast, the Kremlin has denied the media allegations, terming them as “absurd”. When Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was questioned on the matter, he retorted saying, "I don't want to use four-letter words." Strangely, the US officials who have “high confidence” of the Russian meddling prefer to remain anonymous.

This is not the first time that the Russian involvement in the US elections has been hinted at. The Trump-Putin nexus has been long talked about, but never proven. While Putin may have several reasons to favour Trump over Hillary Clinton, his ability to influence the course of the US elections is rather unfounded. Most of the hype in the media is accountable to Trump’s praise of the President Putin. In fact, both the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump camps have religiously reprised Russian angle to suit their requirements. But surprisingly, both had refrained from evoking Russia directly at either the Cleveland or Philadelphia Conventions. It comes as no surprise then that the Russian officials believe that there is a "maniacal attempt to exploit the Russian theme in the US election campaign."

Probably, the most talked about theme in this presidential election is about Donald Trump’s links to Russia. There is no denying the fact some people around Trump do have links to Russia, but so does Hillary Clinton. The donors to her campaign, among others, include names like Leonard Blavatnik (American billionaire of Russian origin) and Maria Baibakova (daughter of Oleg Baibakov — a Russian industrialist and real estate developer). As for Trump, names like Paul Manafort (advisor to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych), Carter Page (formerly at Gazprom), among others, have been doing the rounds ever since the campaign began. The connections in both cases may or may not lead to anything, but the hype around them only distracts attention from the major event — the US elections and the Democrats’ bias for Hillary Clinton. As a report in Bloomberg put it, “the connections are everywhere: Russian money is essentially global, no matter what its origin.”

However, the Democratic Party seems to believe that highlighting Trump’s alleged empathy for Russia may convince people to vote for Hillary Clinton. The current media hype seems to support this belief. Such a hard-line against Russia, however, may be premature because regardless of who wins the elections, there are many areas (ISIS, for example) where the US and Russia need to work together.

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Nachiket Udupa

Nachiket Udupa

Nachiket Udupa Member Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan India

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