The Elephant in the Room:  Russia’s Role in the Demonstrations

The Elephant in the Room:  Russia’s Role in the Demonstations

One of the great unknowns  is the extent to which Russia may have stoked racial tensions and influenced the demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25.

Did they in some way help instigate the violence and the looting which took place?

Are they seeking to influence the demonstrations, now, in ways which might help Trump (e.g., calls to defund the police)?

There has been virtually zero reporting on these important issues.  Why?

We know that Russia has been stirring up racial and other tensions in the United States for a long time.

We know that Donald Trump has muzzled the Justice Department (including the FBI) through his subservient Attorney General, William Barr, and other appointments.

We know Trump has replaced the career officials at the head of the intelligence agencies with loyalists.  We know he has fired the Inspectors General for the intelligence agencies and the State Department, replacing them with loyalists—and thereby ensuring that no more whistleblower complaints will see the light of day, as occurred in the Ukraine affaire.

So the officials who have the capabilities to monitor what Russia is doing on the Internet, and elsewhere, are not talking.  They are not even talking to journalists on background.

For these same reasons, we are not likely to have any investigations or hear any findings about Russian interference in the 2020 elections.

That is, barring the appearance of a new Edward Snowden.

Trump’s and Russia’s Incentives

Russia clearly has strong incentives to interfere in the 2020 elections in favor of Trump and the Republicans.

While constrained by realists in the Senate, both Republian and Democratic, Trump has displayed strong preferences for foreign policy actions that favor Russia.

He has eased where he could sanctions against Russia, and has pushed for their revocation. He has pushed for the readmission to the G-7 of Russia, which was expelled from the group after its military invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in 2014.

He has withdrawn U.S. military forces from Syria, to the great advantage of the Russian forces intervening militarily to assist the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad. He reportedly did so over the objections of his Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, who resigned.

Trump has not vigorously opposed Russian military intervention in Libya in support of the rebel forces of Khalifa Haftar.

To be sure, the Trump administration has pushed back against Russia in some areas, in continuation of U.S. policies with strong support in Congress. But where Trump has been free to do so, he has often taken a pro-Russian line.

Even though  a number of Republicans in the Senate and the House have opposed Russia on some issues, it remains in Russia’s interest  to support them as they can block any efforts to remove Trump from office, as they did in January on the Ukraine issue. So long as they control either chamber, chances are Trump will be safe.

Nor should we forget the wide range of contacts Trump officials have maintained with Russian officials or go-betweens, as detailed in the Mueller report, both before and after the 2016 elctions.

Moreover, Trump’s selections of Michael Flynn as Director of the National Security Council, Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, and Paul Manafort as his 2016 campaign manager, all suggest he was looking for individuals with ties to Putin or his allies.

Reports indicate that Trump benefitted greatly from Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  His actions since then do not reveal a serious effort to keep Russia from doing so again.

What is Russia doing? How can we know?

What role has Russia played in the demonstrations?

What are they doing to interfere in the 2020 elections?

How will we know?

At a minimum, the House of Representatives should hold hearings, and subpoena government officials if they do not appear voluntarily, in order to monitor such Russian activities on an ongoing basis.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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