A specter is haunting the White House: the specter of impeachment. The explosive news about the Russian plot tied to President Trump’s campaign with the arrest of three of his former staffers is only the beginning of an investigation that will blow the lid off the cesspool, and filter out the poison for the next several months, making Russian government participation in the last U.S. elections much more than a small story. And it could be part of the upcoming Mexican elections, as we will see below.
The phantom may spend some time hanging around before impeachment proceedings are invoked against the occupant of the White House – most likely it will take more than a year, since the current congressional Republican majority does not want to stop being so. But during that time, President Trump will have to remain on the defensive and will be weakened in many ways, something like a premature lame duck.
Although Paul Manafort is currently the most oft-mentioned name, analysts say the case of former adviser George Papadopoulos is more dangerous for Trump, notably because he has already pleaded guilty, is cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation, and because the linchpin of the defendant’s relationship with Russia was the promise from Moscow to bury Hillary Clinton with “thousands of e-mails.”
On Monday, The Washington Post reported that during the presidential campaign, Russian trolls flooded Facebook with “fake news” consisting of some 80,000 posts viewed by 126 million users, and Google acknowledged that Russian trolls uploaded more than 1,000 videos to YouTube as part of their campaign.
Groups tied to Vladimir Putin’s government have also been exposed as using social media to promote polarization among Americans through extremist points of view, with the goal of intensifying political unrest among citizens. Some of the pages created by Russians have recently been closed by Facebook, falling within the scope of the investigation of interference from Moscow.
At this point, we are talking about covering already charted territory. Even before Trump took office, the CIA itself concluded that Russia attempted to influence elections in the United States. Trump responded that he did not believe it, and that it was “ridiculous,” but evidence continues to grow.
There has been disagreement about the reasons why the Putin government would want to interfere in the U.S. election. One idea is that, more than wanting to help Trump, it wanted to avoid the election of Clinton, who drew up a clear policy of containment against Russian political expansionism. Another is that there was pro-Trump support: that an isolationist with an incoherent foreign policy in command of the United States would allow Russia to regain its lost role as a world power.
Russia has also been accused of interfering with elections in Europe from France to Germany, from the Balkans to the Baltic Sea. Moscow has denied this. But fear exists, so much so that Holland decided to count votes by hand in order to avoid potential Russian hacking.
If we think back to the Putin government’s support for right-wing populist parties in Europe – all opposed to the European Union – and its interference in various electoral processes throughout the old continent, we can conclude that there is a strategic pursuit: undermine the efficacy and cohesion of the Western alliance that has led to the current world order.
Putin is with the nationalists. In countries that are segmented – and even better, internally divided – it is easier to carry out a persuasive, if not dissuasive, agenda. It is easier to rise again to the level of a world power that was lost after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc and even easier to deal with adversaries or potential partners when they are divided than when they are united. And, incidentally, it is easier for Putin to convince his own people of the advantages of stability, despite leading to the consolidation of power in one man.
Let’s now move on to Mexico. It is not so outlandish to think that the elections in Mexico may be targeted by the Russian strategy. Mexico is an important country on its own. To give a simple comparison, its gross domestic product is four-fifths that of Russia. But Mexico is also a leader across all of Latin America and shares a long border with the United States. It would be naive to believe that if Russia meddled with the Balkan states it would not want to do so with Mexico.
It has been reported that the greatest number of hits to the website Votoextranjero.mx, from the National Electoral Institute, are not from Los Angeles or Chicago, but from St. Petersburg. One of two things is happening: either the vast Mexican community in Russia’s second largest city is beyond ecstatic with the elections, or there is a group of experts attempting to see how the systems by the Mexican institution in charge of organizing the elections operate. In other words, they are looking at what can be hacked and how to do it.
But perhaps the most effective method of trying to influence the elections is through propaganda. For the time being, the channel Russia Today is accessible on cable TV so the Mexican viewership “can learn about an alternative reality offered by the media monopolies.” It is also very active on the internet and in public relations projects. Just take a look around RT to see who its favorite political commentators are and where they stand. It is no surprise: right-wing nationalism disguised as leftist.
It remains to be seen if there are other types of activities on social networks, if we will have bots and “fake news,” bogus or bona fide activists, and the whole package that has been used elsewhere. You can bet on it.