What You Need To Know:
✅ The Trump Administration has already proven to be one that is permissive of non-formal and non-traditional contacts, be it Russia or China;
✅ “This is an administration that doesn’t recognize the etiquette of American governance that we have seen in the past”- Mark Galeotti, Senior Researcher at UMV;
✅ “Trump’s White House looks like Putin’s Kremlin”-Mark Galeotti;
While it is clear that Russia was behind American electoral manipulation, Galeotti says many Russian professionals had no idea what a Trump White House would mean.
The Trump Administration has already proven to be one that is permissive of non-formal and non-traditional contacts, be it Russia or China, says Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at UMV, the Institute of International Relations Prague. With the increasing array of scandals that have plagued the new administration, Galeotti says the core problem is that decision-making is made in a non-institutionalized way and that there is no nice and neat narrative: “This is an administration that doesn’t recognize the etiquette of American governance that we have seen in the past.”
“Trump’s White House looks like Putin’s Kremlin,” adds Galeotti, in a sense that there is no clear division of the people both in and outside of the government. Though the researcher doesn’t think that the people within the Trump administration are Russian agents, he does not deny the ideological and business politics at work within the White House--with self-interested entrepreneurs, working for their own benefits.
And while it is clear that Russia was behind American electoral manipulation, Galeotti says many Russian professionals had no idea what a Trump White House would mean. “We are moving into a more worrying stage,” says Galeotti. “They have written Trump off as a long-term strategic partner.”
Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Mark Galeotti, Senior Researcher at UMV, the Institute of International Relations Prague in March 2017.
Mark, what is interesting at this stage? We can see a sign that they might be using unconventional ways to influence Trump’s administration, particularly when we talk about Russia, not just connected to political figures. So what do we know about that? What should we watch out for?
"What do we know about it?" The honest answer is that there is very little detail. The fact is that we have an increasing array of cases relating to a whole variety of different figures, whether, it's the former National Security Advisor [General Flynn], Trump’s own family, or whatever. People who clearly have had access and contacts that one wouldn't expect, let’s say a normal American administration and what it speaks to. I would say is that there is a certain culture at work in this administration, which is essentially very permissive. It’s permissive about people whom might have dubious backgrounds, dubious activities, but the point is, if they are useful, if they are flattering, and if they can bring business contracts with them, they can get through the door. And therefore, although I have never accepted this notion that somehow Trump is a Russian puppet or whatever, I think it is more that this is an administration which is open to being hired, shall we say, in very specific cases, whether it is the Russians or whether it is China or whoever else. The point is, that's the culture at work, it's a culture that is permissive of such non-formal, non-traditional contacts.
We recently had a couple of scandals like "Ukrainian MP reaching out to Michael Flynn". It is also confusing for the public as they just don't understand what makes sense, and what doesn't.
In some ways it would be a lot easier, as some say, it's clear that President Trump is being blackmailed by the Russian government, or something else that has a nice and clear assessment, but it's not. The real problem is, almost that sounds ridiculous to put it into this term, that this is an administration that does not recognize the etiquette of American governance that we have seen in the past. It doesn't ma tter if they have been Republican or Democrat White Houses, They have accepted a certain sense of "this is what you do, and this is what you don't do," particularly that anyone who is closely connected to the president has to be not just beyond reproach, but seen to be beyond reproach. Now we have a president who clearly, first of all, values loyalty, almost above everything else.
We had the case of Michael Flynn and the sense that "is he is being influenced?” Well not only had he taken Russian money through RT, he had also taken much much more Turkish money. And again the question becomes "OK, could he have been a Turkish agent of influence or whatever?" We don't know, but that's the thi ng, there are a lot of people that are making a lot of money out of their connectivity with politics. And we never know what the price tag is really, what that money is buying. Is it just simply buying 2 hours of someone's time to give a speech at a dinner, or is it actually buying access into the central policy-making circles of this White House?
You look very closely at how the Kremlin works and also how the world of Russian business and Russian crimes are connected. What could be the role of that?
Well this is something that particularly bothers me. And it is something that is very clear when we talk about the current war campaign -I don't like that term, political war campaign - that the Russians are waging against the west, and by the west it's everything from Ukraine just beyond the battle lines all the way through to the USA and beyond.
It is clear that the Russians have essentially adopted an approach to immobilize every single asset at their disposal. You might be a totally private Russian company or a private Russian individual, but from time to time, the state might come to you and say, "we want you to do x." That could be, to put some money into a political party in the country or, it might be as we saw, to provide a base for a Russian agent in New York as came out quite recently.
It is not very clear between the particular people that are close to Trump in Russia like some business or his former business partners or any other kind of connection, do we know who they are?
Well there are clearly social contacts and business contacts, particularly the Trump Tower mafia - I use mafia broadly - you know the people that worked in and out of his own tower in New York. I would want to focus on a couple of figures which I think are particularly significant. Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, clearly his oil interests mean that he already has a direct relationship with Russia.
And although he says he has divorced himself from his old Exxon contacts, it doesn't work that easily, and he must be no doubt be thinking, "Well what is he going to do when he is no longer Secretary of State?” So there is a direct case of a business contact. Exxon does have a very strong connection with Russia.
The second one I would point out is that there is a more ideological connection, and that is the Stephen Bannon connection. The man who is the 'Rasputin of the White House' these days. A guy who has a very radical political and social agenda, and it is clear, not only does he and his movement have all kind of connections with Russians ranging from, the ideologists of the Russian Orthodox church through to people who are much more Leninist in their views. This is clearly a man who looks at a figure like Putin, not as a direct example, I am not saying he wants Trump to become America's Putin, but nonetheless, he looks to an authoritarian leader for whom democratic structures are just simply a transmission belt for your instructions rather than some real controls. He is looking at countries like Russia for examples, so it is clear that we have both ideological, as well as business politics at work within the White House at the moment.
There was a big scandal concerning the dossier [written by a former MI6 intelligence agent] on Trump and the Russian government. There was this alternative, that we still don't know what is fake in that and what is not. The guy who is supposed to be the author of that document was a former agent of the British Security Service. So what is interesting for me, for instance, in the public part of this dossier there was nothing that we didn't know before. Most of the information was public. It's about h ow RT works, everybody who has been covering Ukraine for the last 3 years knows all about this story. Do you find anything interesting and what was special?
There was one sentence that I think that was really significant, and that was when they expressed with a very highly degree of confidence that Russia had been behind the electoral manipulation, which is basically what we knew, but, it's almost impossible to have really strong confidence of the original source of a cyber attack, if all you're going on is computer forensics, if all you're doing is following the virtual trail in cyberspace. There could always be one more layer. That computer in Moscow could actually have been a slave to a computer in Beijing Pyongyang or wherever. So if they are actually willing to go and say we have high confidence [which is a very technical term within the context of the US Intelligence community]…
They are pretty much saying, "We have alternative additional sources that say this." Now we have no idea what tдhis is. They cannot even hint at this, whether it's actually agents on the ground in Russia that say this is some other connection. So basically that line, told us what we needed to know, that there is actually true serious evidence demonstrating that it was actually the Russians who are behind it. But more generally, what can we sort of learn about this? We learn a lot more by looking at Moscow than we do about what is coming out of Washington. And what is interesting is Moscow has gone through multiple waves of opinion, at first when Trump was elected, yes the Clownish nationalists like Vladimir Zhirinovsky were all popping their champagne corks. Actually, the Russian professionals, the diplomats, and the national security professionals were quite taken aback and worried. They had no idea what a Trump White House would mean. And although Trump was saying nice things there and then about Russia, they knew it wouldn't necessarily mean it would last. And that Trump could change his opinions immediately.
So we had an initial period of concern, then we moved into a period into which they began to try to scope out Trump, began to see just a few provocations, a spy ship moving up and down the east coast, some cruise missiles deployed in violation of treaty, and other things just to more or less see "OK, lets just try to get a sense of where Trump lies.” And I now think we are moving into a third stage, [which for me is a more worrying stage,] they have more or less written off Trump as a long term strategic partner. They are not going to get what they want, which is some kind of grand Yalta 2.0 deal that divides Europe between America [and Russia] and that would more or less put Ukraine into Russia's sphere of influence. They are not going to get that, but what they have learned precisely is that Trump does not really care about foreign policy when it's not about bombing Jihadists, or building walls in Mexico. But more to the point that precisely that, this is likely to be an administration, which is able to be manipulated, which is up for all kinds of different forms of covert penetration and intrusion.
So do you see that they are the players? And who could be the other players globally? Putin wants the world to see that the world is all about the Russian-American relations.
Yes, I think that it is hard to know at this stage, because people forget that we are still very early in the Trump presidency. After all this is an administration that still has not filled its staff positions and such like. Nonetheless, I think we are beginning to see a few cases.