Opinion: Why the ‘Trump Dossier’ is no victory for Putin

Putin TrumpThere is no doubt whatsoever that Russia has compiled ‘information’ on United States President Donald Trump. Russian intelligence considers it a rightful duty to compile information on persons of relevance, especially when they are conducting significant business or maintain political relations with Russia. Trump qualified under that definition long before he even thought about running for president. Even I have been followed, during my numerous times in Russia, both openly and tacitly. I have had my computer hacked and hotel phone bugged. And my affairs in Russia have come nowhere near to the financial or political relevance of Donald Trump.

However, there has been a breakdown in America when it comes to understanding how Russia would use such information if it indeed had a dossier of this type. Americans may love exposing things through the media with a voyeuristic passion, bringing the high down low. That’s just the nature of the beast today in America’s Kardashian culture. But this dossier of alleged Russianq-quote intelligence on Trump has nothing to do with American celebrity culture. If it truly exists, this would have been done under the edict of ‘national security’ for Russian geopolitical interests. As such, the proper Russian intelligence behavior would be to deny its existence and hold on to anything it has until a time deemed strategically best. The least efficient usage of that compromising material would be to just embarrass him publicly before he is inaugurated, TMZ ‘gotcha’ style. Russians simply don’t work that way. Rather, keeping it secret and using it in a non-public but strategically effective manner for their national interests is the Russian way.

For example, the even more infamous Wikileaks affair against Clinton was an example of Russians trying to smudge the character and momentum of Hillary, assuming she was indeed going to win the election. Clinton’s positions have been decidedly anti-Russian (to the Russians at least) over the past half dozen years, vociferously and publicly. The email leaks were a rather limp attempt to just slow that political train down before it took office, to make her pause and understand that she should treat Russia with a bit less shrill judgment.

“The Russian system has plenty of deficiencies, but no outsider could possibly find out what kinds of discussions are taking place in Putin’s office, who is angry at who, or any of that intimate detail,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chair of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which advises the Kremlin. “Putin runs a very tight ship. No leaks. No rumors confirmed. He is, famously, very professional about it.” This estimation is totally true. Lukyanov is a very reliable source if you want opinions on Russia that you can consider astute and balanced: someone who is not hyperbolically pro-Kremlin but also not sheep-like anti-Russian either. Indeed, many of the more ‘famous’ Russian academics so often quoted and interviewed in the West are decidedly anti-Putin in their analyses, thereby effectively currying financial favor and scholarly status with Western think tanks and institutes.

As for the supposition that this dossier leak is a ‘victory’ for Putin regardless of its truthfulness, I hold the contrarian view: if Putin’s intelligence agencies do indeed have a dossier of compromising information on the President-elect, then the last thing Putin would consider a ‘victory’ would be the preemptive and uncontrolled leaking of that information all over social media by an unofficial q-quoteforeign agent that he did not manage. This would be a loss, not a victory. It would mean Putin lost control of both the process of how to use the information and the narrative of just how to release the information to particular audiences for the greatest benefit to Russia. The leak of the dossier to everyone in the world means it does not truly benefit Russian interests at all. Just leaking it and embarrassing the president-elect, with no real proof or ‘smoking gun’ evidence attached and no ulterior geostrategic purpose achieved, means this story will fade away and be replaced by some other titillating report. To a large degree, this has already happened. Thus, the Russians have lost what they hoped to be tremendous strategic leverage behind the scenes and down the road. Ergo, no victory for Putin.

Americans still trying to position it as a victory for Putin are simply not astute in the ways of real geopolitics and strategy. And that applies even for the supposed Russian experts here in America, who do so much advising today to media and governmental elites. The current state of ‘Russian expertise’ in America is extremely disappointing and dull. We currently live in times that have Washington DC and the Slavic Studies community obsessed with pushing a very narrow and very cliché orthodox narrative about the Russian Federation and its motivations. That narrative pushes the idea that the only thing Kremlin officials do is to sit around tables recklessly and illogically pondering ways to ‘surpass’ the United States with no real calculation for national interests. Appending that two-page summary to the formal presidential briefing is confirmation of how far this relationship-environment between Washington and Moscow has fallen. The United States Intelligence Community basically felt reluctantly compelled to discuss what was nothing more than a de facto TMZ gossip report. That fact alone signals that the immediate future of Russian-American relations will remain dark and stormy.

* Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Rising Powers.

Author: Matthew Crosston | Date: 24 January 2017 | Permalink

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4 Responses to Opinion: Why the ‘Trump Dossier’ is no victory for Putin

  1. cybersp00k says:

    I believe the author may have made the fatal error of mistaking an information operation for an intelligence operation. The dossier was likely known as false to the Russian services, but may still have been leaked as part of the ongoing information operation in play. I do agree that any legitimate dossier would be used quietly. The beauty of information operations to the Russians is that the information itself need not be true in order to have its intended effect.

  2. Jones says:

    Russia is notorious for their relentless and effective surveillance tactics deployed against foreigners, diplomats, or anyone deemed of “interest” to security apparatus. HUMINT collected and incorporated into dossiers would not be disseminated into media or social media domains without a specific purpose and end game. State sponsored (Intelligence) leaks happen by “design”, but sometimes by default if leaked by unauthorized parties.

    Targeted Leaks originating from state sponsors are usually denied outright or at minimum shielded by plausible deniability. – covert operations. If leaks are based on valuable intelligence acquired, every leak must count and be in accordance with achieving a specific objective. Once a leak enters the public, media or social media domain it’s power or effectiveness diminishes rapidly, given the 24 hour news cycle mindset.

    Moments – as important as they might be – do not always become “movements”. General leaks do not always lead to catastrophic failure of system(s), entity or person(s) – thorough there might be high initial impact, i.e., leak goes viral – for the moment – and people pay attention. However, specific and well designed leaks over a period of time can cause significant damage.

  3. Dr Matthew Crosston says:

    I partially agree, partially disagree, with cyberspOOk. There is no need to create a false dichotomy between an information operation and intelligence operation since in this particular case the British originator of the report was stating it was intelligence officials engaging in the information collection operation. That to me is not as material as the idea of HOW the information is ultimately used after being collected. Whether true or not true, whether hard core collected or just gossip floating around Moscow, the one thing everyone in Russia agrees on is they did not want such information ‘leaked’ by a Western source in a totally untimely manner and effectively accomplishing nothing strategically. It is this simple fact that makes me personally a skeptic about the common Western conceit that this sloppy affair was indeed engineered and managed by Russian politicos, if not intelligence agents. Quite simply, the Russians aren’t that sloppy when it matters to them.

  4. Dr Matthew Crosston says:

    Loved and agree wholeheartedly with the comments from Jones. Much obliged for the deepening context!

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