After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, one would have thought that the enmity between Russia and the U.S.A. had come to a natural end. Hollywood movies still pitched Russian villains against American spies, but this was all in good fun and surely no longer to be taken seriously as a threat. However, since the election of President Donald Trump, the West seems to have fallen into old patterns of anti-Russia paranoia, with almost no evidence to warrant such hysteria.
During the Cold War, hostility between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was based on a clear ideological division: Communism versus Capitalism. Under the Truman Doctrine and a subsequent policy of Containment, the U.S. sought to limit communist expansion by means of propaganda, economic intervention, and proxy wars, in order to prevent a domino effect through which countries were predicted to fall to the communist ideology. But with the Soviet Union gone, what is the basis for antagonism between Russia and the establishment West, and why is Russia making a resurgence as the bogeyman for Europe and America?
Nobody could say that Russia is innocent; as with every country, it has significant flaws. But while the U.S. has close ties and diplomatic influence worldwide, Russia is one of the few nations that unapologetically insists on doing its own thing, making it a useful scapegoat.
RUSSIAN BOTS AND ELECTIONS
There actually is some evidence that Russia used social media to secretly boost Trump’s exposure during the 2016 election over Twitter – but the figures are a drop in the bucket, making up just 4.25% of Trump re-tweets and only 1% of total election-related tweets. Subsequently, the Trump-Russia collusion investigation has continued for a year with no real evidence, and top Democrats have started to blame “Russian bots” for almost any unfavorable social media swing against them, as evidenced by the #SchumerShutdown twitter trend, discussed by LN’s Mark Angelides.
Anti-Russia fever has already spread from Capitol Hill and is now infecting Europe, particularly E.U. member-states. The European Union is no friend to Russia, seeing the country as a competitor for dominance in the region, so it’s not surprising that Russia was accused of interfering in the recent Brexit vote. British Prime Minister Theresa May lately accused Russia of:
“Weaponiz[ing] information. Deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to sow discord in the west and undermine our institutions.”
A U.S. Senate report was released claiming the Kremlin had interfered in the Brexit referendum, prompting a British electoral inquiry. As such, we now know exactly how much money Russia spent spreading fake news for the pro-Brexit campaign on Facebook – 73 pence, equivalent to about $1. Facebook reported that they found just 3 ads that could be traced to Russian groups, with about 200 total views. Twitter found an additional 6 ads, and have admitted they haven’t been able to detect evidence linking Russia with the outcome of the Brexit vote.
But wait: the University of Edinburgh claims to have discovered some very disturbing evidence of Brexit interference. Researchers identified 419 fake Twitter accounts used by the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA). Professor Laura Cram, director of neuropolitics research at the university, told the Guardian that the fake accounts “tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times – mostly after the referendum had taken place [emphasis added].” One must admit, it would be a rather incredible propaganda campaign that could influence a vote after the result was actually announced.
Despite a complete lack of evidence, the British Defense Secretary took the hysteria to a new level this week, claiming that Russia was planning to kill thousands by targeting the UK’s energy grids:
“They are going to be thinking, ‘How can we just cause so much pain to Britain? Damage its economy, rip its infrastructure apart, actually cause thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths, but actually have an element of creating total chaos within the country.'”
RUSSIA MADE US DO IT!Emmanuel Macron
Not only is Russia being accused of interfering in elections, but such interference is being used to justify anti-democratic government conduct. Already in the U.S., Russian propaganda has been cited as a reason not to release the memo thought to hold evidence of FBI misconduct.
Recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron is using “Russian Fake News” as a pretext to stamp down on free speech in his own country, drafting legislation that would allow for media “content to be taken down, user accounts deleted and websites blocked if needed.” Macron accused Russia of targeting his campaign with false reports and email hacking in an (unsuccessful) attempt to stop him being elected. The only evidence linking Russia to the election is an admission by Facebook that around 20 false accounts had been created to imitate high ranking French officials in order to spy on the election – also unsuccessful as Facebook shut the accounts down.
Spain has also found a convenient scapegoat, blaming Russian fake news for stirring up anti-government sentiment following recent human rights violations in the Catalonia region, attempting to shift blame from Spanish police brutality onto Russian propaganda. Yet, even if Russia did stir the pot after the event, it could not have done so if the Spanish government did not behave violently in the first place.
It actually seems to be true that Russia is involved in some level of cyber espionage; in fact, it seems unlikely that there is a modern-day country not spying on and manipulating others through the internet. If Russia really is using fake news and hacking for political propaganda, then it should be rightfully identified, but every accusation made without evidence further discredits the theory, even as it fuels the paranoia.
As a student growing up in the post-Cold War years, it seemed unthinkable that there could ever be a return to what seemed like dizzying heights of paranoia, but it appears that those in charge have learned nothing – other than how to use fear and suspicion as a tool to create a useful enemy.