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Don’t rush in to wrong explanations of Russian interference

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Vladimir Putin and the Russian state are ruthless. But, says Tomáš Tengely-Evans, so is Britain. The real story is about competition, cooperation and corruption under capitalism
Issue 2715
Russian oligarchs hobnob with the British establishment in the posh parts of London
Russian oligarchs hobnob with the British establishment in the posh parts of London

Vladimir Putin rules Rusia through deception, dirty money and the murder of opponents. And, according to the press, the same methods allow him to control US and British politics too.

An MPs’ report showed Russian oligarchs—powerful ­businessmen—launder their money through London and mingle with the British establishment.

Interference in British politics amounted to “serious distortions in the coverage” of Russian ­state-funded broadcasters and “bots and trolls” on social media.

But mainstream commentary on Russian interference overstates Putin’s reach worldwide and the stability of the regime, which is facing divisions and outbreaks of opposition.

Putin came to power in 1999 with the support of oligarchs, promising to restore order and Russian influence after the collapse of Stalinist Russia. To do it, he’s relied on force and fraud.

Genuine opponents, and insiders who’ve fallen foul of the regime, have been murdered.

In 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian spook who had defected to Britain, was poisoned with radioactive polonium in a London sushi restaurant.

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Two agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence were likely behind the poisonings of British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury in 2017.

Then Tory prime minister Theresa May described the attempted murders as an “unlawful use of force”.

But two years earlier British drones had assassinated Reyaad Khan and Rahul Amin, two of its own citizens who had joined Isis in Syria.

Then Tory prime minister David Cameron claimed “there was no alternative” while keeping secret the evidence used to justify the killings.

So force is only “unlawful” if perpetrated by the US and Britain’s enemies.

Russia has asserted itself militarily in the last decade, although its foreign policy is limited compared to the Cold War. Online propaganda and cyber warfare go with its military strategy, aimed largely on its “near abroad”.

This has included fake news websites backing pro-Russian politicians in Poland and a cyber attack on Ukrainian missile forces.

Cash and social media disinformation goes further afield to the US and Britain, but how effective it is remains unknown.

What oligarch money in London and spook operations do show is how, as Karl Marx said, ruling classes are a band of hostile brothers.

They do business together across borders while their states ruthlessly compete to get ahead of one another.

And in this system of global capitalist rivalry, incompetent and dangerous intelligence agencies fight for their business interests.

Lining up behind our own state and spooks is no solution.

There’s fakery on all sides

PR man Vladislav Surkov has specialised in deception. He was Putin’s chief adviser until he resigned over “policy differences” in February.

In 2009 Surkov reportedly wrote a novel, under the pseudonym Natan Dubovitsky, about a man who creates fake news for a corrupt politician. He then wrote the preface to one edition under his own name, denouncing its author as an “unoriginal Hamlet-obsessed hack”.

This sort of duplicity is central to Surkov’s politics.

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Surkov helped to set up Putin’s right wing United Russia party.

But he was also rumoured to have financed other parties to its left and right, such as the officially “social democratic” For A Just Russia.

Front groups provide different faces for the Putin regime—and show it’s worried about the possibility of real opposition springing up.

Fake news, front groups and intervening in another countries is a very British tactic.

For instance, the British state’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (Ricu) tries to build support for British foreign policy among Muslims. One front group, Faith Associates, helped set up training programmes to make sure mosques comply with the Islamophobic “Prevent” policy.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, British PR firm Bell Pottinger was paid £412 million to make and distribute fake Jihadist videos. The US and Britain then used the videos to find the IP addresses of those who watched them.

How the state locks up migrants during pandemic

At the time of the Covid-19 outbreak, the “regime of self-isolation” was imposed in the Russian Federation.

But a large number of migrant labourers from the “near abroad”—the neighbouring post-Soviet countries—mainly those from Central Asia, remained.

Many of them ended up in limbo.

According to Russian state legislation, citizens of other countries must be deported to their countries of origin if they don’t have a visa or other permission to stay in Russia.

Because of pandemic restrictions the borders of the Russian Federation closed, which meant that even the deportation of foreigners did not seem possible.

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Instead of supporting migrants, Russian authorities locked them up for months with no meaningful connection with the outside world and their families.

In this detention, inhuman conditions reign—disgusting food, lack of private space, the impossibility of personal hygiene and constant refusals to provide medical care.

In the city of Nizhny Novgorod people from the Central Asian republics are tired of putting up with this arbitrary treatment by migrant services.

Here, in a special detention centre for foreign citizens awaiting deportation, migrants staged a mass hunger strike and sit-in.

By court order they were supposed to be expelled from the Russian Federation within three weeks.

But this hasn’t happened for four to six weeks already, and in some cases eight to nine months.

The strikers’ demands are that they either finally be allowed to return home, or be released on bail.

Our group supports these demands.

We ask for help in disseminating information about what is going on in the Nizhny Novgorod special detention centre and about the situation of migrant labour in Russia in general.

Socialist Tendency, in the Russian Federation

Socialist Tendency is a socialist organisation based in Nizhny Novgorod. Their website (in Russian) is at

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