Russia, Russia, Russia

I’ve written a number of posts over the years decrying the malign behavior of Russia. They have interfered in elections in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and other countries, poisoned and killed Russian dissidents at home and abroad, jailed people on trumped up charges, invaded and taken land from Ukraine, used fossil fuels as a weapon, corruptly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while their population as a whole suffers, hacked into computer systems, and spread disinformation and dissension across the globe.

The US has placed sanctions against Russia in the past. There have also been charges filed against Russian operatives, including over a dozen resulting from the Mueller investigation. Russian personnel have been expelled.

The former administration was not very robust in carrying out sanctions against Russia that had passed through Congress, but the Biden administration did take action in the past week, sanctioning Russian individuals and companies, prohibiting US banks from trading in Russian bonds, expelling personnel, and strengthening cybersecurity. It’s also possible that other measures were taken that are not being announced publicly. This sometimes happen, especially in cyberspace.

Interestingly, the administration acknowledged something that had been suspected but never so clearly stated by the government. A Treasury Department statement on the sanctions states:

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Kilimnik was an associate of Paul Manafort, who was one of Donald Trump’s campaign managers in 2016. He gave internal campaign polling data to Kilimnik. This is the first time that there has been official acknowledgement from the government that that information was given to the Russian Intelligence Services. It’s already known that the Russians targeted certain groups and localities in their 2016 election interference operations. This data would increased their effectiveness, especially in an election where Trump lost the popular vote by a significant margin but won the electoral college by winning in a few key districts in three states.

This is what most people would call “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Although I wish Russia and Kilimnick had been held to account more vigorously and much sooner, I’m grateful that more is now being done. I also hope that the American people will be more attentive to the veracity of what they see on social media and even what they hear from some politicians who have spouted some of the lies that Russia planted.

The Russians want to divide the people of the United States. We must not let them do that. President Biden is trying to help all Americans to come together after the upheaval of the pandemic, its economic impacts, centuries-old racial/ethnic/religious divides, and environmental degradation. He is the duly elected president. There was not widespread fraud in the election. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat that has killed over half a million Americans, but we can fight it with masks, distancing, vaccines, therapeutics, and other public health measures. Climate change is real and needs to be addressed quickly and decisively to contain the worst impacts.

Don’t let Russia tell you otherwise.

Russia – again

People sometimes describe the torrent of daily news in the US as “trying to drink from a fire hose.” Last week, there was deservedly a lot of focus on the Democratic National Convention that officially nominated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to run for president and vice president in November.

I want to highlight a news story that is extremely important, but that did not get as much attention as it deserved. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published a one-thousand(!) page, bipartisan report on “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election Volume 5: Counterintelligence Threats and Vulnerabilities“. Yes, the link is to the actual report, just in case anyone is in the mood for a political horror story…

The report details dozens of links between Trump associates and Russian intelligence, including the relationship between one of Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian operative Konstantin Kilimnik. It makes clear that Russia interfered extensively in the election to aid Trump and that the Trump campaign knew it and aided in various ways.

It’s not that there wasn’t plenty of evidence in public before this. Prior investigations, reports, and court documents had already established the Russian interference, but this new report reveals even more, albeit with some redactions.

It still sickens me that the 2016 election was tainted by foreign interference, but I wish this report had been available sooner. Here we are, with the 2020 election only two months and a bit away, facing the continuing danger of Russian interference, as well as influence from other foreign countries. The US electorate expects our elections to be fair and free, yet we face foreign attacks as well as domestic shenanigans.

I hope that all US voters will take their responsibilities seriously. We need to make sure that we are receiving reliable, truthful information and that we cast our ballots in a safe and timely way. We must have this election be one of integrity so that everyone can honor the results.