By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia
The Kremlin’s effort to affect the outcome of the 2016 US presidential elections has provoked one consequence Moscow has long wanted – the demoralization of the American elite – but it is having other less welcome ones on both that elite and the Russian one, something only becoming clear, Liliya Shevtsova says.
The American investigation into Russia’s involvement is rapidly spreading from a focus on the Trump campaign itself to the Clinton campaign and more generally to the American establishment, some of whose members have shown themselves interested in gaining wealth at any price, the Russian analyst says.
That has discredited the American elite, Shevtsova continues, but this is not the end of the story. On the one hand, the Russian scandal is spreading to Europe where 29 governments have already demanded the release of information about anonymous investors from Russia in businesses there.
And on the other, she says, it is sparking developments within the American elite as well as within the Russian elite as the members of both try to figure out ways to save themselves even if they have to sacrifice those with whom they were all too ready to cooperate in order to enrich themselves in the recent past.
“Over the course of decades of globalization, that is of open borders, the Russian elite has been able to form in the West a solid base for a comfortable existence. In its turn, the Western lobbyist leviathan, interested in corrupt Russia which had become for it a source of enrichment has created for the Russian autocracy a favorable international milieu.”
Had it not been for Putin’s decision to engage in election manipulations, Shevtsova says, this comfortable and mutually convenient arrangement “might have continued for a long time yet.” But now the ongoing investigations are going to bring all that to an inglorious and fateful end.
What has surfaced so far is “only the beginning,” she argues; and it is going to have an impact not only in the US and its relations with Russia but inside Russia as well. That is because those who will be exposed or fear being exposed in the US will seek to save themselves by denouncing Russia, and those involved in Russia will try to save themselves from sanctions by portraying themselves as opponents of what the Kremlin has been doing.
That is because both groups, focused only on gaining wealth, will conclude that there is no other way to “save themselves,” Shevtsova says. And that is what they will try to do. The American elite will become more hostile to Russia, and the Russian elite will find itself trapped by the Kremlin system.
Russians whose money in the West has allowed them a certain freedom aren’t going to want to repatriate that given conditions in their own country, but they also aren’t going to want to become victims of Western sanctions or other criminal penalties. They thus find themselves “hostages” to regime they are at odds with.
Until very recently, Shevtsova says, “the Russian system successfully made use in its own interests of Western ‘hypocrisy,’ but now the time has come when the US has the chance to make use of the hypocrisy of the Russian elite” about having money in countries they otherwise hate.
They want a way out of this trap, and Vladimir Putin clearly recognizes how dangerous this search could be for him. At the summit in Vietnam, he called for “turning the page” and forming “harmonious relations with the US,” not because he really believes in that but because he fears what will happen if that page is not turned and relations don’t change.
But unfortunately for Putin, the Trump administration can’t respond as the Kremlin leader hopes because any move toward warmer ties with the Russians “will become political suicide.”
How the US “will exploit the dependence of Russians is still unclear,” but it now has leverage and appears ready to use it. And consequently, members of the Russian elite, in many ways like the members of the American one, are asking what they have to do “in exchange for immunity and the preservation of their wealth.”
That challenge for the Russians is even greater than for the Americans, yet another way that Putin’s actions have backfired on his country and on himself.
By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia