There are some very serious allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. These allegations have gripped Washington D.C. (and the rest of the world) and set into motion multiple investigations into the campaign of the United States’ 45th President, Donald J. Trump. At the root of these inquiries are concerns about the security of the U.S. electoral process and fears that a rival power could influence an election’s results.
President Trump has at times dismissed or downplayed claims that Russia interfered in the last presidential race and has consistently denied that his campaign coordinated with Russian agents in any way. While the investigations are ongoing, and could carry on for many more months, years or possibly through the entire term of President Trump, they have already prompted a former Trump administration official and a former campaign advisor to plead guilty to lying to federal agents about communications with Russian nationals.
What makes these allegations of Russia’s interference in the U.S. electoral process so serious is that it is alleged that it can be traced all the way back (and up) to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, one of the most significant and important political leaders of our age.
The two-part Frontline report, Putin’s Revenge tells the story of how Vladimir Putin came to see the United States as an enemy — and why he allegedly decided to target an American election. Part One of Putin’s Revenge is a portrait of what makes the Russian leader tick, and the events that shaped his belief that the U.S. has sought to undermine Russia dating back to the decline and fall of the Soviet Union.
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia is arguably one of the highest profile world leaders. His rise to power from the smouldering remains of the Soviet Union in 1991 is fascinating. Putin was a KGB foreign intelligence officer for sixteen years where he rose to the rank of Podpolkovnik or, Lieutenant Colonel.
Yevgenia Albats, Russian investigative journalist, political scientist, writer and radio host provides us with a tantalising and somewhat disturbing idea of Putin’s training and previous career in intelligence
Surprisingly, this career intelligence officer resigned in 1991 to enter politics in Saint Petersburg. Five years later, this relatively obscure politician moved to Moscow and joined President Boris Yeltsin’s administration, where he rose quickly through the ranks but remained still largely unknown. Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara–Murza gives us an idea of that pivotal point in history where Vladimir Putin becomes the second most powerful man in Russia to a rapidly deteriorating President Boris Yeltsin.
In September 1999 a series of explosions hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk, killing 293 and injuring more than 1000 people and spreading a wave of fear across the country. Within days, Chechen militants were blamed for the bombings. These horrific bombings gave Putin the opportunity to show Russia who he is and how he would act in response to the bombings. The language used in his response was brutal and unambiguous. Masha Gessen, Russian-American journalist, author, translator and activist explains.
Vladimir Putin’s handling of the crisis boosted his popularity and helped him attain presidency within a few months. On the 31st of December 1999, upon the resignation of Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, became acting President of Russia.
There is some evidence to suggest that the bombings were coordinated by the Russian state security services to bring Putin into the presidency. This view can be justified by several suspicious events, including bombs planted by FSB agents in the city of Ryazan, an announcement about bombing in the city of Volgodonsk three days before it had happened by Russian Duma speaker Gennadiy Seleznyov, weak evidence and denials by suspects – none of whom were Chechen, and the horrific poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko who wrote two books on the subject.
Putin won the 2000 presidential election by a 53% to 30% margin. He was re-elected president in 2004 with a staggering 72% of the vote. During his first presidency, the Russian economy grew for eight consecutive years, and GDP (measured in purchasing power) increased by 72%. This growth can be attributed to the 2000s commodities boom, high oil prices, and prudent economic and fiscal policies, yet in the universal style of most politicians, President Putin claimed responsibility for these political and economic successes. Due to constitutionally mandated term limits, Putin was ineligible to run for a third consecutive presidential term in 2008. In what came as no surprise, the 2008 presidential election was won by ardent political ally, Dmitry Medvedev, who, in turn, appointed Putin as Prime Minister, the beginning of what some describe as a tandemocracy.
In September 2011, after presidential terms were extended from four to six years, Putin unsurprisingly announced he would seek a third term as president. He won the 2012 presidential election with a convincing 64% of the vote.
Falling oil prices coupled with international sanctions imposed at the beginning of 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine led to GDP shrinking to almost 4%, President Putin needed a big show to distract Russia from its gloomy economic outlook and to show the world that Russia, under his leadership was still strong. The Sochi Winter Olympics provided that opportunity. Peter Baker, co-author of Kremlin Rising and former US deputy Secretary of State, William Burns explain.
In the March 2018 presidential vote, Putin gained an outstanding 76% of the vote and was re-elected for a six-year term that will end in 2024.
Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has scored poorly in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and experienced democratic backsliding according to both the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index and Freedom House’s Freedom in the World index – including a record low 20/100 rating in the 2017 Freedom in the World report, a rating not given since the darker days of the Soviet Union. It has got to the point where many Western analysts no longer consider Russia to be a democracy. Human rights organisations and activists have accused Putin of persecuting political critics and activists, as well as ordering them tortured or assassinated; The Russian president has consistently rejected all accusations of human rights abuses.
In a story that will continue to dominate the news for a while, officials of the U.S. government have accused President Putin of leading an interference program against Hillary Clinton in support of Donald Trump during the U.S. presidential election in 2016, which both Trump and Putin have frequently and vehemently denied and criticized.
Part Two of Putin’s Revenge delves into the riveting story of Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election, and how and why the Obama administration struggled to confront Putin about electoral interference. Deputy Secretary of State from 2015 to 2017, Antony Blinken provides us with some insight as to how deliberately blurred and obfuscated this intriguing story of our time has become.
But how do ordinary Russians view this story as it unfolds?
Putin has enjoyed high domestic approval ratings during his political career. Every week, Russian pollsters dispatch an army of workers to canvass the country’s eleven time zones for people’s views on President Putin, the economy and other issues. Putin’s ratings skyrocketed at the start of this geopolitical conflict with the West and have stayed there, week after week, month after month. Some sources cite his approval at over 85%. Russian political scientist, Nikolay Petrov explains this phenomenon in light of the U.S. election hacking allegations.
Against the backdrop of investigations by the FBI and Congress into the role Russia played in the 2016 U.S. election, Putin’s Revenge draws on more than sixty interviews with diplomats, intelligence officials, political leaders, journalists and primary sources to trace how Putin went from low-ranking KGB agent to long-serving president of a newly assertive Russia with the ability to wage cyber-war in the U.S. and across the globe.
Putin’s Revenge comes from Michael Kirk and the team behind The Choice 2016. Putin’s Revenge is a captivating look at how the U.S. struggled to confront Vladimir Putin over Russian involvement in the 2016 election, how revenge may have motivated Putin to target American democracy, how the U.S. responded under Presidents Obama and Trump and what drives this enigmatic world leader.
This is a story that will not go away.
By: R. J. Hawksworth
Image: Vladimir Putin , 8 July 2017, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (attribute www.kremlin.ru).