Russia's intervention in the US election: Putin's hope to ignite a Eurasia-style protest in the United States - WP

11:44 Oct. 17, 2016

Putin's hope to ignite a Eurasia-style protest in the United States - WP

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens for a question while speaking to Russian journalists (AP photo)

The first step of the campaign was to hack the computers of the Democratic National Committee and senior party figures

In the fall of 2004 Vladi­mir Putin suffered a blow he has never forgotten. The fraudulent election of a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president, which Putin had directly and brazenly engineered, was overturned by a massive popular uprising. What came to be known as the "Orange Revolution" created a model for resistance to rigged elections in autocracies across Eurasia — in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan and, in 2012, Russia itself.

Most of the rebellions didn't succeed. But Putin developed an obsession with "color revolutions," which he is convinced are neither spontaneous nor locally organized, but orchestrated by the United States — and in the case of the Moscow protests four years ago, by Hillary Clinton herself.

That's the context in which Russia's intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election must be understood. Putin is trying to deliver to the American political elite what he believes is a dose of its own medicine. He is attempting to ignite — with the help, unwitting or otherwise, of Donald Trump — a U.S. color revolution.

Let's look at the way those revolts unfolded. In every case, they pitted an outsider political movement against an entrenched elite willing to employ fraud and force to remain in power.

The outsiders mobilized their followers to collect evidence of rigging on election day and, when they could, conducted exit polls and "quick counts" to obtain vote totals they could contrast with official results. They disseminated their findings through satellite channels and other foreign media. When the inevitable victory of the ruling party was announced, they called their followers to the streets for mass protests they hoped would cause the regime to crumble — or at least discredit its phony election triumph.

Of course, Trump's populist campaign is no more comparable to the pro-democracy insurgencies in formerly Soviet lands such as Ukraine and Belarus than Clinton's administration-in-waiting is to the Putin regime. But Putin's audacious goal is to create the illusion that they are. "He's trying to establish that our system is just as bad, just as corrupt, as his," says Brian Whitmore, a senior editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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