The Mafia State: Russia Since the “End” of the Cold War

We Americans thought it ended, anyhow — but we were wrong. The revanchism that in some sense was of high potential after the fall of the former Soviet Union indeed came to pass — and later to be accelerated by the rise of Vladimir Putin to power.

Along with that trajectory, a curious development path for the former Soviet state: mostly, a descent into organized crime at the highest echelons of government. In some sense, organized crime is the government.

Here’s a great #longread from the Guardian about the history of a modern-day mafia state.

Putin’s Playbook: Pull factions apart from center; exacerbate democratic crisis

While we wring our hands in the United States over whether or not such a strategy is even conceivable, the erstwhile President of Russia has been running this playbook out in the open in Ukraine and Eastern Europe for some time. With help from Propagandist-in-Chief Vladislav Surkov, Putin has leveraged the open secrets about the psychology of crowds we learned in the late 19th and early 20th century to stir up emotional antagonisms within the political spectrum — to predictable results.

It’s no accident that fascism is on the march in America. The conditions have been brewing for some time, predominantly since the Conservative movement began breaking away more militantly from democratic principles and towards authoritarian philosophy (elite rule by force: preferably invisible force via economic hegemony for the middle and upper classes, and violent force / the carceral state for The Undesirables) in the late 1970s and 1980s. All Putin had to do was make use of available prevailing conditions and tools — the rise of social media in the 2000s counterintuitively blew a gaping wide security hole in the American persuasion landscape that Cold War Soviet operatives of the 1960s would scarcely have believed.

Today, as in parts of Europe between the world wars, the U.S. has partisan gridlock within The Establishment sector of politics; this exacerbates the impatience with and contempt for the status quo (aka the Liberal world order) that in some sense naturally congeals at the far right and far left margins of the political spectrum as a simple consequence of the Normal Distribution (the Median Voter Theorem captures this tendency quite succinctly). Under such conditions, an influence campaign like the one Russia wielded against the United States during the 2016 election season was tasked merely with tilting the playing field a little further — a task that platforms like Facebook and Twitter were in some sense fundamentally engineered to accomplish, in exchange for ad revenue.

New World Order? Be careful what we wish for

“Both Italian and German fascists had done their best to make democracy work badly. But the deadlock of liberal constitutions was not something the fascists alone had brought about. ‘The collapse of the Liberal state,’ says Roberto Vivarelli, ‘occurred independently of fascism.’ At the time it was tempting to see the malfunction of democratic government after 1918 as a systemic crisis marking the historic terminus of liberalism. Since the revival of constitutional democracy since World War II, it has seemed more plausible to see it as a circumstantial crisis growing out of the strains of World War I, a sudden enlargement of democracy, and the Bolshevik Revolution. However we interpret the deadlock of democratic government, no fascist movement is likely to reach office without it.”

— Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

100 years on, it feels like we’re back at the start.

King of Trussia: The case for Donald Trump’s involvement with Russia

  • a. The Alfa Bank pinging server
  • b. Connections in the Trump campaign      
    • 1. Paul Manafort — former campaign manager who helped rig elections for Ukrainian pro-Moscow former president Viktor Yanukovich      
    • 2. Sergei Millian — head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US      
    • 3. Ivanka’s friendship with Putin’s girlfriend
  • c. Russian hacking of the DNC emails
  • d. Russian attempted hacks on state vote registration rolls
  • e. Russian bots and paid disinformation operatives influencing public opinion in the US presidential election
    • 1. Twitter      
    • 2. Medium      
    • 3. Facebook (?)      
    • 4. Darkweb
  • f. High probability of significant Russian investment in the Trump Organization, its subsidiaries, shell companies, or off-shore protectorates

Was Russia responsible for the DNC email hacks? Signs point to yes

I still see a lot of denialism on this point from the far-left (or the alt-left, depending on your favored terminology), which is a bit devastating to see as it essentially parrots the pro-Russian ideology of the far-right (both the alt-right and the neo-libertarian flavors). Green Party candidate Jill Stein is an especially pernicious promoter of this myth that Vladimir Putin is a poor, innocent, peaceful world leader who is being bullied by NATO (when in fact, Russia has been the aggressor since its annexation of Crimea in 2014).

DNC hack forensic evidence

Two separate Russian-affiliated adversaries were behind the attacks, according to a post-mortem by cyber-security firm CrowdStrike when the news of the intrusion first broke in early June, 2016. This has since been confirmed by other independent security firms including Fidelis, Mandiant, SecureWorks, and ThreatConnect as well as corroborated by analysis from Ars Technica and Edward Snowden.

At this point the US intelligence community is confident enough to formally accuse Russia of involvement in the hacks, and are currently investigating other breaches of voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois as well as in Florida — the key battleground state from the 2000 election that handed GWB an unfortunate victory. Elsewhere, there is ample evidence of Putin’s extensive disinformation campaign being waged online (including several experiences I have myself witnessed), which is the continuation of a long through line of wielding propaganda as a tool from the former head of the KGB.