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Putin is not responsible for Trump or Brexit

SOLOMON HUGHES writes on the Russia Brexit and US election hacking claims

DID RUSSIA interfere in the US presidential election? Did Russia meddle in the Brexit referendum?

Probably yes. Probably no. Does this mean Vladimir Putin is responsible for Donald Trump winning the US election? Does it mean Russia caused Brexit?

It doesn’t. But a lot of confused liberals are pretending it does as a way of hiding from the real world in a fantasy land stalked by a bare-chested Russian ogre.

A moment’s thinking can come up with the many examples of one nation interfering in the affairs of another. The US has years of organising coups and trying to fix elections worldwide.

On BBC2 on Sunday nights you can watch John Singleton’s excellent drama “Snowfall.”

The background to the story is the US government arming and backing murderous “Contra” rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

It’s a shady, dirty story of how the US secretly supported a vicious militia fighting a left-wing Central American government.

The Contras funded themselves by drug dealing in the United States itself, but the US was so keen on the Contras and careless about their own citizens that it simultaneously armed Nicaraguan gangsters and helped gangsters deal drugs in California.

Sometimes it’s just interference by propaganda. In the 2000s the US funded the Iraqi National Congress (INC), based in London. The INC operated more as a propaganda group than an actual opposition to Saddam.

In 2002 the INC presented an invoice to the US government to justify its $33 million of funds. The invoice showed all the fake stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or terrorist links they had placed in the British press.

It was paid for getting “fake news” into the Sunday Times, Observer, Telegraph and other British newspapers, false stories which helped promote the Iraq war.

Just as the US “interfered” in far-off nations by backing its favoured political or propaganda groups, so too the former Soviet Union “interfered” in other nations by backing or supporting its favoured political groups, mostly around the communist parties.

That could mean, for example, supporting the African National Congress in its battle against apartheid. Or it could mean backing this newspaper, by buying loads of copies of it.

Many people on the left positively welcomed this “interference,” for obvious reasons. Other people got upset about “Moscow gold.”

Lots of rightwingers liked to claim that Russian-backed “communists” were the root of all trouble, even when trouble was so clearly the product of local conditions.

Faced with protests against racism, many a sheriff or governor in the southern US states would blame the communists for “stirring things up.”

Some of the liberals saying that Putin did Brexit or Putin made Trump happen seem like a weird version of this southern sheriff.

You can almost hear them say: “It’s only Putin stirring things up. Our humble folk wouldn’t be so riled up without that ‘Russkie’ meddling.”

Since the “fall of communism” and the end of the Soviet Union, I think Putin’s Russia has become much more opportunistic and less consistent about which foreign nations it backs and promotes.

In fact, it has become a bit more like the United States, though on a smaller scale. The US has covertly backed both right-wing death squads and non-communist liberals and, in one odd adventure, abstract expressionist art, to try to build US influence and undermine US rivals.

Similarly Putin plays with backing a variety of nationalist currents abroad, but also reaches out to more traditional “leftish” critics in the West. Some of this is “propaganda.” Some of it is “soft diplomacy.”

Personally, I think the evidence of Russian involvement in the US presidential election, by hacking Democrat Party emails, is convincing.

The first leaked emails were released by a website called DC Leaks, which does look like a Russian operation. However, the guy supposedly behind the biggest leaks of Democrat emails, the hacker known as Guccifer 2.0, doesn’t look unlike a Russian operation.

WikiLeaks says it didn’t get the hacked emails from Russia, but I imagine it would have received them through an intermediary, and in any case as a matter of principle WikiLeaks doesn’t identify its sources.

The evidence suggests this hack was more about annoying Hillary Clinton than trying to help Trump win — because nobody expected that until the very last weeks, including the Russians. It looks like mischief-making.

I think the US media is right to investigate Trump’s links to the Russians because, if nothing else, it shows Trump’s cynicism and sleaziness.

But to try to pretend Putin is the cause of Trump and ignore the long-term decay and corruption of the US political system is self-deception.

The US government is more and more dominated by big money, and offers less and less support to its own citizens.

Politicians substitute racism and bigotry for, say, the ability to run a health service. This has left a hollowed-out politics that Trump has exploited.

The Democratic emails leak had an impact because the emails were real, and they showed the Democratic leadership was part of that hollowing out.

They showed that Clinton was too close to big money donors, and was using the Democratic machine to freeze out the chance for actual social change with Bernie Sanders.

So while the emails may have been “phished” by someone close to the Russian state, they showed a real problem with US politics.

The case for Putin being behind Brexit seems by comparison vanishingly small.

The “Internet Research Agency,” a Russian PR firm that does government work, has a host of “trolls” churning out tweets and other social media posts in support of official Russian policy.

Its work seems to include a few fake personalities posting nasty divisive stuff about Britain.

But the idea that this had any impact on the enormity of the EU referendum vote is a bit laughable.

It seems to be a way of ignoring how all kinds of disillusion and feelings of abandonment — and tabloid-promoted anti-migrant feeling — flowed into the Brexit vote.

It’s a way of ignoring Britain’s real problems and blaming Putin.

Solomon Hughes writes every Friday in the Morning Star. Follow him on Twitter @SolHughesWriter.

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