By Dr MATTHEW GROSSTON
There is no doubt whatsoever that Russia has compiled ‘information’ on United States President Donald Trump. Russian intelligence considers it a rightful duty to compile information on persons of relevance, especially when they are conducting significant business or maintain political relations with Russia. Trump qualified under that definition long before he even thought about running for president. Even I have been followed, during my numerous times in Russia, both openly and tacitly. I have had my computer hacked and hotel phone bugged. And my affairs in Russia have come nowhere near to the financial or political relevance of Donald Trump.
However, there has been a breakdown in America when it comes to understanding how Russia would use such information if it indeed had a dossier of this type. Americans may love exposing things through the media with a voyeuristic passion, bringing the high down low. That’s just the nature of the beast today in America’s Kardashian culture. But this dossier of alleged Russian intelligence on Trump has nothing to do with American celebrity culture. If it truly exists, this would have been done under the edict of ‘national security’ for Russian geopolitical interests. As such, the proper Russian intelligence behavior would be to deny its existence and hold on to anything it has until a time deemed strategically best. The least efficient usage of that compromising material would be to just embarrass him publicly before he is inaugurated, TMZ ‘gotcha’ style. Russians simply don’t work that way. Rather, keeping it secret and using it in a non-public but strategically effective manner for their national interests is the Russian way.
For example, the even more infamous Wikileaks affair against Clinton was an example of Russians trying to smudge the character and momentum of Hillary, assuming she was indeed going to win the election. Clinton’s positions have been decidedly anti-Russian (to the Russians at least) over the past half dozen years, vociferously and publicly. The email leaks were a rather limp attempt to just slow that political train down before it took office, to make her pause and understand that she should treat Russia with a bit less shrill judgment.
“The Russian system has plenty of deficiencies, but no outsider could possibly find out what kinds of discussions are taking place in Putin’s office, who is angry at who, or any of that intimate detail,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chair of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. “Putin runs a very tight ship. No leaks. No rumors confirmed. He is, famously, very professional about it.” This estimation is totally true. Lukyanov is a very reliable source if you want opinions on Russia that you can consider astute and balanced: someone who is not hyperbolically pro-Kremlin but also not sheep-like anti-Russian either. Indeed, many of the more ‘famous’ Russian academics so often quoted and interviewed in the West are decidedly anti-Putin in their analyses, thereby effectively currying financial favor and scholarly status with Western think tanks and institutes.
As for the supposition that this dossier leak is a ‘victory’ for Putin regardless of its truthfulness, I hold the contrarian view: if Putin’s intelligence agencies do indeed have a dossier of compromising information on the President-elect, then the last thing Putin would consider a ‘victory’ would be the preemptive and uncontrolled leaking of that information all over social media by an unofficial foreign agent that he did not manage. This would be a loss, not a victory. It would mean Putin lost control of both the process of how to use the information and the narrative of just how to release the information to particular audiences for the greatest benefit to Russia. The leak of the dossier to everyone in the world means it does not truly benefit Russian interests at all. Just leaking it and embarrassing the president-elect, with no real proof or ‘smoking gun’ evidence attached and no ulterior geostrategic purpose achieved, means this story will fade away and be replaced by some other titillating report. To a large degree, this has already happened. Thus, the Russians have lost what they hoped to be tremendous strategic leverage behind the scenes and down the road. Ergo, no victory for Putin.
Americans still trying to position it as a victory for Putin are simply not astute in the ways of real geopolitics and strategy. And that applies even for the supposed Russian experts here in America, who do so much advising today to media and governmental elites. The current state of ‘Russian expertise’ in America is extremely disappointing and dull. We currently live in times that have Washington DC and the Slavic Studies community obsessed with pushing a very narrow and very cliché orthodox narrative about the Russian Federation and its motivations. That narrative pushes the idea that the only thing Kremlin officials do is to sit around tables recklessly and illogically pondering ways to ‘surpass’ the United States with no real calculation for national interests. Appending that two-page summary to the formal presidential briefing is confirmation of how far this relationship-environment between Washington and Moscow has fallen. The United States Intelligence Community basically felt reluctantly compelled to discuss what was nothing more than a de facto TMZ gossip report. That fact alone signals that the immediate future of Russian-American relations will remain dark and stormy.
* Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Rising Powers.
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