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Russian Influence Blown Out of Proportion

Binyamin Rose

“Red Scare” Only Feeds Russia’s National Delusions

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

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HIGH FEVER Anti-Russian fever hasn’t been running this high since the days of the Cold War and the media is feeding the fever (Photos: AFP/Imagebank)

Afew months before the US presidential election, the Rand Corporation, a think tank that offers research and analysis to the US armed forces, issued a stark warning.

A newly emboldened Russian army could slice through NATO’s three weakest members — the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia — in just 60 hours, handing NATO a rapid defeat and leaving them with a limited number of options — all bad.

With President Trump still issuing mixed signals on NATO, there is no way to tell how the US would react to such a Russian blitz.

But judging from some of the zanier headlines in the nation’s newspapers and the way Trump’s alleged Russian loyalties are being spun, Russia doesn’t need to flex its military muscles against US interests. After all, Putin’s already got Donald Trump and a few of his top cabinet officials bought off.

There’s much more smoke than fire. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made an unsound decision not to tell a senate confirmation hearing the whole truth about meetings he held with Russia’s US ambassador, but some of the stories that purportedly show Trump and the Russians in cahoots aren’t just unsound — they’re absurd. Like the report that Trump sold the oceanfront Palm Beach mansion he bought for $40 million to a Russian “fertilizer king” for $100 million — as if a $100 million, private real estate deal is huge business between citizens of two countries that do $20–$30 billion in annual trade.

If laws have indeed been broken, then prosecutors should investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice. But in the meantime, the neo-Cold War hysteria that’s gripped Washington and the news media only plays into one person’s hands — Vladimir Putin’s.

“I can only imagine the Russians are very happy with the things written about them because it portrays them as being much stronger and having more influence than they really do,” says Dr. Yuri Teper, a postdoctoral fellow who specializes in Russian politics at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “The e-mail hacking attack during the campaign took place. That’s a fact,” Dr. Teper says. “But to say this is something that decided the outcome of the American election is ridiculous. Russians are stigmatized, as is anyone in close contact with them, so if anything, Russian interference in American politics damaged Trump.”

The inability to separate fact from fiction will prejudice any legitimate probes into Trump’s Russian connections and could damage already sensitive relations between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions left some unanswered questions on Russia

Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and in Syria have put a real scare into the international community, especially coming at a time when the US, under President Obama, was moving to disengage from foreign entanglements.

But investing Russia, and President Putin, with an aura of infallibility regarding its foreign adventures exaggerates Moscow’s power and unwittingly feeds a dangerous, internal Russian narrative, says Anna Geifman, a senior research fellow in the political studies department at Bar-Ilan University. Dr. Geifman explains that narrative by way of a famous, four-part Russian proverb. Roughly translated, it reads: You cannot understand Russia through your intellect, nor can you measure Russia by the same yardstick as other nations. Its essence is special. All you can do is believe in its supremacy.

“It’s amazing how much this stands at the center of their belief system,” Dr. Geifman says. “While for Jews, being the Chosen People is part of our rational tradition, with Putin, it’s the opposite. He’s irrational — because his belief in this special purpose of Russia is based on random assumptions. What other country thinks about themselves this way? Yet he totally believes it.”

Dr. Geifman contends this brand of irrational thinking provides fertile ground in which conspiracy theories can breed, and many of them are generated in Russia, not the US.

“I don’t know many rational people who believe Trump is bought by Putin, but there are plenty of Russian journalists who think this way,” Dr. Geifman says. “Russians are very much into conspiracy theories. They don’t accept the normal standard answers. They don’t accept what’s visible, but only what’s hidden.”

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