“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is a proverbial expression about turning adversity into advantage. This is a strategy the Kremlin seems ignorant of, based on how the Russian hacker scandal is being handled.
Any Kremlin insider who doesn’t have a sour taste in his mouth over the hacking story must have muted taste buds. The story is getting headlines in the United States. Any American who’s paid any attention to this mainstream coverage is being deceived. Already-prevalent negative beliefs about Russia and Putin are being reinforced.
And how has the Kremlin responded to this avalanche of negativity? When questioned about the hack attacks Putin simply replied that he had no knowledge of the plot. I heard that he commented at the Valdai Club: “Does anyone seriously imagine that Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice?”
Well, duh. Yes! The news stream is indeed full of that anti-Putin claptrap about Russia’s illicit influence. Passive and gullible American media consumers are being taken in by this fake news right now as I write this.
This is one big lemon of a story that stands in the way of promoting a more accurate and positive world image for Russia.
What has Putin’s inner circle done to turn this lemon into lemonade? In a word, “nothing,” at least in terms of anything that has had a positive impact.
In the past I’ve been involved in several initiatives to advance propositions to Russia’s upper leadership. My anecdotal experience is that the farther away from Putin’s inner circle a decision is made, the more sensible and responsive to reality it will be.
The palace guard seems to treat sensible input with an air of not-invented-here disdain and rejection.
In 2013 I saw a quite persuasive plan to negate all the denigration and fear mongering that was preceding the Sochi Olympics. The plan was delivered to an inner-circle member by a distinguished and Kremlin-friendly business leader. He came back saying, “Boy, I’ll never try anything like that again.” He felt like he had just been kicked in the teeth over an honest attempt to offer vitally needed assistance.
On another occasion I saw good advice gain approval at the ministerial level, only with much of it going down in flames when it reached the Kremlin.
Who’s to blame for this kind of insular attitude and failure to put forth an effective strategy for handling issues of international reputation?
I’d start by pointing the finger at Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary. He has been exercising responsibility far beyond that of a mere spokesperson. This guy’s had a chance to turn around stories such as Putin’s bombing Russian apartment buildings, murdering Alexander Litvinenko, and invading Georgia.
How has Peskov responded to these and other challenges? He’s taken the yellow lemons that have been tossed at Putin and turned them brown. He’s been no help. It’s high time for Peskov to be shown the door. Maybe he can stay on just as a presidential spokesperson, delivering messages that someone with strategic brains hands him. But in his present role he’s doing far more harm than good.
In the instant situation, the Russian hacking scandal, there is a straightforward solution that doesn’t seem to even have occurred to the Kremlin.
To understand it, one must take a step back from the near-hysterical US headlines about Russia’s interfering in the American presidential election.
Just suppose the allegations are true. So what? What damage has been done? If you cut away the spin, what do you have left? It’s the nefarious inner workings of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Wasn’t that revelation a service to the democratic process? Responsible citizenship in a democracy requires an informed and vigilant electorate. The leaked emails, no matter who may or may not have played a role in their delivery, informed voters of some things they should have known about.
But is all that really the main news story here? I think not. And it reminds me of the situation that emerged in the 2006 Alexander Litvinenko death case.
There wasn’t much remarkable about a generally-unknown nobody like Litvinenko dying, even of an unorthodox poison. Yet his death became one of the biggest news stories of its time.
When a journalist is sent out to cover news, one of the first things he or she is supposed to ask is “what’s the story here?” In other words what is newsworthy. It surely was not the death of some obscure character like Litvinenko.
Several months after Litvinenko’s death I presented a peer reviewed report at the World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists. It showed that the basic allegation of Putin’s culpability was a sheer fabrication advanced by a political enemy of Putin’s.
In concluding my presentation I posed the question, “what’s the story here? My answer: the “story” is the story. More remarkable than Litvinenko’s death is the matter of why it became such a big worldwide news item. It had no factual basis.
Similarly, in the Russian hacking scandal I think the same thing applies. The “story” is the story. But no one is covering it.
It’s no secret that major countries covertly engage in information gathering about the inside workings of other countries. One scandal had Israel going after American secrets. Then there were American hacks of foreign leaders’ telephone conversations. Just to mention a few.
And as far as one country trying to influence the politics of another? Check out what the US has been doing around the world for years.
We’ve promoted the forcible removal of heads of state, propped up militant opposition actors, and even staged an invasion to take territory away from Serbia. So even if the allegations of Russia’s intent to influence a US election were proved to be true, it would pale in comparison.
However, there is a greater point here. I believe that we’ve been seeing an organized attempt to delegitimize Trump’s election. The Clinton camp seems to be angling for a legal coup in the vote of the Electoral College on December 19. That’s what the hacking scandal betrays on close examination.
Previously I warned of this and how Putin is playing into the hands of the Clintonites with the positive comments he’s made about Trump. I wrote an article titled “Someone Should Tell Putin to Shut Up about Trump Lest He Prompt an Upset When the Electoral College Votes” (http://bit.ly/2fmaZ6k). It drew a lot of negative reaction in some quarters, even ad hominem attacks.
But this scheme to negate Trump’s election is the real story here. That’s what the Kremlin should be pushing in a credible way.
Putin’s mere denial of allegations of hacking complicity is a waste of time. He should just be silent himself.
A credible and substantiatable case can be made of an ongoing attempt to unseat Trump.
It may be highly unlikely the attempt will succeed. Nonetheless the clue that it’s being attempted should be the big news here.