Europe 2017: Fake news might become routine

The Kremlin has no compromising materials on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump or his former rival at the presidential elections Democrat Hillary Clinton, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Jan. 11.

The Kremlin has no compromising materials on U.S. President-elect Donald Trump or his former rival at the presidential elections Democrat Hillary Clinton, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Jan. 11.

Reuters
A compilation of allegations, published by BuzzFeed, suggesting the Kremlin has been manipulating U.S President-elect Donald Trump reveals the strategy that opponents of dialogue with Russia are likely to pursue most ferociously in Europe throughout the year.

The assortment of memos, 35 pages in total, compiled by an unidentified former British intelligence official – who is reportedly collaborating with Trump's political opponents – contain potentially damaging accusations related to the U.S. President-elect’s personal and financial dealings.

The allegations in the dossier included suggestions that Moscow possesses original copies of Trump’s tax returns. The disclosure of his actual - rumored to be meagre - wealth would be devastating for Trump’s reputation and business.

The dossier also includes guesses at the scale of Trump’s business interests inside Russia and sleazy supposition that Russian intelligence could have “filmed Trump in an orgy while in Russia” and might use the ‘sex tape’ to blackmail the U.S. President-elect.

The memos were floating around Washington D.C. for months (the original dossier reportedly surfaced last summer) but were only made public on the eve of Tump’s inauguration - due Friday, January 20. No pure coincidence. It might be regarded as part of the hybrid war launched from within the as yet “drained swamp” against the new U.S. President.

'Murky' revelations

The most intriguing allegations refer to key figures close to Trump who allegedly met with Russian officials under undisclosed circumstances, which prompted the ‘source’ to assume that it could have been for no other purpose than plotting against Hillary Clinton or even aimed at undermining U.S. democracy.

The claims are of dubious value, to say the least. European news outlet POLITICO notes: “The details of these revelations remain murky and unverified.”

The report alleges that Michael Cohen, attorney for the Trump Organization, met with Russian government representatives in Prague.

Cohen has published a scan of his passport with the caption: “I have never been to Prague in my life.” Furthermore, as he told POLITICO, “The entire report is inaccurate” and added, “I have never met with any Russian, Kremlin officials. I have never been to Russia.”

The same line of ridicule and objections was followed by long-time informal Trump adviser Roger Stone who told POLITICO: “No substantiation, no confirmation, rife with misspellings”, and then concluded: “This is a bad joke.”

Zack Beauchamp of Vox news made waves with a report headlined “Bombshell CNN report: Russia might have dirt on Trump” and speculated about the assumption that Trump might be indebted to “Russian oligarchs and banks who are under the thumb of the Kremlin and Russian security services.”

Yet, he ends the story in a telling way: “To be crystal clear: I have no reason to believe any of these theories are correct. We don’t even know if the British intelligence officer’s report, the one the intel community is currently tracking down, is accurate.”

Cohen retorted: “Clearly, the person who created this did so from imagination or did so hoping that the liberal media would run with this fake story for whatever rationale they might have.”

Fake news

The motivation for BuzzFeed's editor in chief, Ben Smith, to publish the compilation of allegations might be a bit questionable. He took the trouble of explaining his decision to publish the story in a memo to staff: “So that Americans can make up their own minds.”

Smith admitted that proving the allegations may require testimony from key witnesses that have been “silenced” (by whom?) and that some claims are “potentially unverifiable.”

It was revealed that BuzzFeed News reporters in the U.S. and Europe investigated the claims but failed either to verify or dismiss them.

That begs the question: What is the benefit for the public in the U.S. and elsewhere to be offered unverified assertions that can serve only to delegitimize Trump on the eve of his inauguration?

Moreover, doesn’t the ‘murky’ (as termed by POLITICO) dossier fall into the lately much vilified category of “fake news”?

Smear campaign

Once again, as in the case of unproven ‘hacking’ by Moscow of the Democratic National Convention computers, the intention of the spin-doctors close to the outgoing administration was not so much to find truth but to cast a shadow of doubt over the foreign policy priorities outlined by President-elect.

The allegations “should shake every American to the core”, said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, who happens to be “a long-time Clinton ally”, POLITICO reports.

The four commentators at POLITICO (Eli Stokols, Shane Goldmacher, Josh Dawsey and Michael Crowley) are correct to pinpoint the purpose of the publication of the allegations that, “…provide fodder for critics hoping to block Trump’s planned realignment with Russia, who fear Trump could grant Moscow a freer hand in Syria, recognize Putin’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, lift U.S. sanctions, and even call for a reduced NATO presence in Eastern Europe.”

Trump’s alternative foreign policy agenda is expected to be built on dialogue with Moscow. This pivot runs counter to the unarticulated Obama administration’s war doctrine manifested in at least 26,171 bombs dropped in 2016 alone (72 bombs a day, or three bombs every hour) plus the project he inherited from Georg Bush - the extended and unaccountable CIA drone program dubbed “killing by remote control” by Medea Benjamin, cofounder of Codepink.

Presenting or rather painting Trump as either a Kremlin puppet or a dependable client who owes favors to Russian oligarchs is aimed not only at sabotaging his legitimacy but also at limiting his chances of a ‘reset’ in relations with Moscow.

More to come

Given that the first shots in the disinformation war have been fired, Moscow political strategists should better follow the sensible advice from the UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson who suggested Britain should adopt a policy towards Russia, as quoted in The Guardian, of “a twin-track policy of engagement and vigilance.”

However, one thing should be clarified: Since successive British governments have been consistently rupturing bi-lateral ties with Russia, was Johnson implying positive or negative engagement?

Surprisingly, the maverick-in-chief of the UK Foreign Office backtracked on his previous bellicose pronouncements. Despite reiterating the claim that Russia is “up to all sorts of very dirty tricks”, Johnson during his meeting with officials of the incoming Trump administration admitted: “…it would be folly further to demonize Russia or to push Russia into a corner.”

It might sound reassuring but the neoliberal political clans in Europe would hardly accept these tactics since the rise of popularity of the counter-elites bent on restoring state sovereignty constitute an existential threat to the concept of a globalized world, with countries deprived of cultural roots and national identity.

The coming elections in 2017 in The Netherlands, France and Germany might see a surge in the popularity of non-mainstream parties that are not out of touch with the people and the realities.

Fear of losing electorate ground and eventually power to the alternative political forces might well induce the opponents of “national state” resurgence to keep demonizing Russia and Putin personally – to explain why their credibility is gradually waning.

More dangerous is the likelihood that ‘fake news’ campaigns would be used to challenge the results of the elections if they do not fit into the expectations of the “globalist project” champions.

The explosive gearing up of the misinformation crusade targeting Russia, focused on searching for foreign enemies (reminiscent of the “Reds under the bed” of the 1950s) and Kremlin agents of influence, gives credence to a forecast: This witch-hunt campaign is most likely to dominate the 2017 elections landscape in Europe.

Vladimir Mikheev is a freelance commentator for Russia Beyond The Headlines. His opinion does not reflect the position of RBTH or its staff.

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