OPINION: Russian election hysteria spearheaded by non-experts

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Since the announcement of Russian influence on the presidential election of 2016, America has been drawn into hysteria involving a mass conspiracy over everything Russian. Emanating from a supposed revolutionary doctrine involving the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces, the United States is apparently under the direct influence of the Kremlin … or so it would be seem.

On Sept. 19, esteemed Russian scholar Morgan Freeman announced on behalf of the Committee to Investigate Russia, a non-profit organization, that the U.S. was “at war.”

The story goes like this: Vladimir Putin, supposedly enraged with the fall of the Soviet Union, makes his way through the Russian political system in order to establish a dictatorship and attack the U.S. As a former KGB spy, Putin sabotages American trust with “their media, their political processes and even their neighbors.” In the end, he wins.

The problem with this narrative is that pretty much everything about it is wrong.

First, by no accounts are we “at war” with Russia. Websites focused on war and foreign policy, such as War on the Rocks, have run a number of different simulations to show exactly what war with Russia might look like. The kicker? Most of them end in nuclear war due to Russia’s nuclear doctrine.

Indeed, due to worsening relations with Russia, we have been thrust into a “new Cold War.” This is something that has occurred over a period dating back to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

To summarize, following the collapse of the former communist state, Russia fell into chaos. Economically, Russia transitioned to an oil-reliant kleptocracy with property previously been held by the Soviet state transitioning to a few oligarchs.

Politically, the democratic reforms that Mikhail Gorbachev had made during the time of “perestroika” began to disappear as early as the first administration of the new Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin. Putin’s administration has only cemented the Kremlin’s hold on the average Russian citizen.

While Putin was in fact a KGB agent, he was never involved with cyberwarfare, as one would presume from the Committee to Investigate Russia’s video. Putin specifically worked in the counterintelligence division of the KGB, and according to his former supervisor Nikolai Leonov, Putin was a “mediocre agent” at best.

The notion that Putin was “enraged” with the fall of the Soviet Union is absurd, and point to repeated statements that demonstrate a flawed understanding of Putin’s ambitions for Russia. Russia’s attempts to influence the U.S. date as far back as the Stalin era of the Soviet Union. If anything, this represents a return to Russian geopolitics that began in the days of Peter the Great.

On the cyber front, Russia’s armed forces have increased the capabilities of their cyber forces drastically beginning with Putin’s first presidential administration. Russian cyber forces have been attacking our allies for at least a decade, attacking Estonia in 2007 and Georgia in 2008.

The Committee to Investigate Russia’s counterfactual video does not stop there. Freeman seems to maintain that information regarding Russia’s attempt to influence the election has not been released, even though a declassified report from the Director of National Intelligence was released to the public in January.

Upon entering the website for the Committee to Investigate Russia, you’ll discover a distorted take on U.S.-Russian relations. The website possesses an understandably American view of the situation and ignores key events in Russian political history, such as the era of stagnation, the Kremlin’s reaction to the U.S. bombing campaigns in Yugoslavia, the Russo-Georgian War, Euromaidan, etc.

The “How Russia Operates” section of the website explains the “Gerasimov Doctrine,” the alleged military doctrine put forth by Valery Gerasimov, the Russian chief of the general staff. The committee alleges that this is a revolutionary grand strategy to subvert the west via information warfare.

The problem? Use of propaganda between states is as old as the advent of war itself. Also, the “Gerasimov Doctrine” is not in fact an actual Russian doctrine, and the term has even been disavowed by Mark Galeotti, the Russian security expert who first coined the term in 2014.

Ultimately, the Committee to Investigate Russia is a symptom of a wider problem. Since the election, numerous pundits in the anti-Trump movement have become embroiled in trying a find a connection between the Kremlin and the Trump administration.

The problem is that very few of these individuals are actual experts on the issues at hand. The Committee to Investigate Russia’s advisory board possesses few individuals with a background pertaining to Russia specifically, with most of them being former American government officials.

One of the largest proponents of this idea of a U.S.-Russian “information war” is Molly McKew, former adviser to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. McKew has been adversarial toward Western journalists, saying they “don’t understand” Russia’s current scheming.

However, the journalists McKew is attacking have been the ones doing most of the pivotal reporting on Putin’s political crackdowns in Russia. McKew said she believes people who have dedicated their lives to the study of foreign countries cannot be trusted on foreign policy due to possible contamination of their ideals. Somewhere, George Kennan rolls in his grave.

We should be rightfully concerned with what Russia is doing. Each U.S. president since the inauguration of Putin in 2000 has seriously underestimated the threat Russia poses to the U.S. and her allies. Even in its first year, the Trump administration has made blunders that will cost the U.S. in the future, such as visa restrictions.

However, this hysteria regarding the Kremlin distracts from the Trump administration’s blatant scandals and gives the Kremlin strength within Russia itself. The anti-Trump movement should focus its energy on policy and matters directly pertaining to the Trump administration and stop focusing on matters that are outside of their expertise.

Joel Blankenship is a senior in political science and history. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to [email protected]

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