Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
After a year and a half of silence accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft and wire fraud.
He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet, used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.
There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.
There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.
There is a difference between being indicted and being convicted: a convicted person is proven guilty; an indicted person is protected by the presumption of innocence until convicted. To be convicted in a criminal trial, a person has to be physically present before the court because one has the right to face one’s accusers. A trial held in absentia is automatically a kangaroo court. The 13 Russians are Russian nationals residing in Russia. According to the Russian constitution, Russian citizens cannot be extradited to stand trial in a foreign court, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that they will face criminal charges in Russia based on Mueller’s indictment. Therefore, these 13 Russians have to be presumed innocent under US law—forever—even if they get to spend time in a Russian jail, convicted under Russian law.
It’s still possible that one of these Russians will at some point travel abroad, get snatched and shipped off to the US to stand trial, and be convicted of money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud. But the charge of working to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy would be rather hard to prove, mostly because there isn’t much of it to be found these days. The accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just ignored it and crapped in it anyway.
The reason the Outhouse of American Democracy is posted “No Russians!” is because Russia is the enemy. There aren’t any compelling reasons why it should be the enemy, and treating it as such is incredibly foolish and dangerous, but that’s beside the point. Painting Russia as the enemy serves a psychological need rather than a rational one: Americans desperately need some entity onto which they can project their own faults. The US is progressing toward a fascist police state; therefore, Russia is said to be a horrible dictatorship run by Putin. The US traditionally meddles in elections around the world, including Russia; therefore, the Russians are said to meddle in US elections. The US is the most aggressive country on the planet, occupying and bombing dozens of countries; therefore, the Russians are accused of “aggression.” And so on…
If (for whatever stupid reason) Russia is indeed America’s enemy, it stands to reason that the Americans would want to make it weaker rather than stronger. Working to strengthen one’s enemy seems like a poor strategy. And yet that is what has been happening: the last two US administrations—Obama’s and Trump’s—both have been steadfastly aiding and abetting Russia’s rise to greatness. Aiding and abetting the enemy is bad enough by itself, but it would also appear that they have been doing so unwittingly. Thus, if Mueller really had the health and beauty of American democracy in his heart, he would have indicted both the Obama and the Trump administrations for aiding and abetting the enemy through gross negligence. Here is how the indictment would read:
1. The Obama administration falsely accused the government of Syria of carrying out an attack using chemical weapons near Damascus on August 21, 2013 in order to find an excuse to attack and invade Syria. Chemical weapons were in fact used in that incident, but not by the forces controlled by the Syrian government. Since the Syrian government had no interest in either using chemical weapons or in maintaining its chemical weapons stockpile, this gave Russia an opening to negotiate an international deal under which Syria surrendered its entire stockpile of chemical weapons, which were destroyed, and international inspectors subsequently certified Syria as being free of them. This incident showed Russia to be a trustworthy partner, able to peacefully resolve crises through negotiation, raising its stature in the world, and the US to be a rogue state willing to use any means, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians, in order to justify its illegal use of force. Following in Obama’s footsteps, the Trump administration, soon after assuming office, used similar unverified accusations of a Syrian chemical weapons attack to ineffectually bomb a Syrian airbase using Tomahawk missiles.
2. In February 2014 the Obama administration organized and carried out a bloody coup in Kiev, staging a massacre using foreign mercenaries, falsely accusing the Ukraine’s constitutional government of carrying it out, overthrowing it, and installing a puppet regime managed by the CIA and the US State Department. The nature of this regime, which is comprised of oligarchs and criminals allied with neo-Nazi groups, and which has elevated to the status of national heroes certain perpetrators of genocide against Jews, Poles and others during World War II, has been kept hidden from the public in the US. But because Russia and the Ukraine are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally or religiously distinct, and have existed as a single entity through most of their history, most Russians understood what had happened. The chaos and mayhem that followed the putsch gave the Russian government an opening to hold a referendum in Crimea, which was briefly joined to the Ukraine, but which had been part of Russia since 1783, and to re-annex the territory. It also led to armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and the formation of two de facto independent republics there, making the Ukraine into a semi-defunct state that does not control its own territory. All of these developments led to a tremendous surge of patriotic feeling among Russians, who felt proud of being able to reclaim what they saw as rightfully theirs and felt threatened by seeing the Ukraine once again fall to the fascists. True to form, the Trump administration has continued Obama’s this policy of Making Russia Great Again by providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons and advice.
3. Although the Russian annexation of Crimea, based on an overwhelming victory in a popular referendum and a great showing of public support, was impeccably legal in upholding the Crimea’s right to self-determination (unlike NATO previous annexation of Kosovo), the Obama administration saw it fit to impose economic sanctions on Russia in retribution. These sanctions, together with Russia’s counter-sanctions on food exports from the EU, have finally provided the impetus for Russia to break with the past pattern of exporting gas and oil and importing just about everything else, and to embrace the strategy of import replacement. This has allowed Russia to become self-sufficient in many areas, such as oil and gas exploration and production technology, agriculture and many other areas. Although Russia experienced a period of considerable economic difficulty which saw the purchasing power of the population dwindle substantially, Russia’s economy has survived. The popularity of the national leadership did not suffer because most Russians now understand what they are fighting for and, given the barrage of negative news from the Ukraine, who their enemy is, and what would happen to them if they were to show weakness.
4. Although the Trump administration has mostly followed in Obama’s footsteps in Making Russia Great Again, the most recent round of anti-Russian sanctions, which the Trump administration did not impose but only announced, as required by an act of Congress, was inadvertently an act of pure genius. What Trump’s flunkies did was take the Kremlin directory and the Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, and put them together into a single list of people. If these sanctions were actually imposed rather than merely threatened, those having any dealings with the individuals on this list would suffer legal repercussions. The brilliance of this plan is in two parts. First, there have been some differences of orientation among the members of the Kremlin administration: some were more US-oriented than others. What this list did was make them look foolish in their hopes of ever appeasing the US. Before, the US had a few lukewarm champions inside the Kremlin; now it has zero. Second, Russia has had a problem with wealthy individuals moving their capital abroad, to Switzerland, to various offshore tax havens, and most notably to the United States, which is the money laundering capital of the world. But now Trump has threatened them with wealth confiscation. At the same time, the Russian government has extended a tax amnesty for those wishing to repatriate their capital. As a result, a flood of money is now reentering the Russian economy, giving it a major boost.
Once you put it all together, the charge against the last two US administrations for Making Russia Great Again by aiding and abetting it, unwittingly and through gross negligence, becomes compelling. There is, of course, no chance at all that anybody will be put on trial for it, but that may not be necessary. As shown by the #MeToo movement, it is no longer necessary in contemporary America to prove a crime; a mere allegation is now sufficient to end careers and to ruin reputations. You can play this game too: of each US policy or initiative announced against Russia, ask yourself: How is it going to help Make Russia Great Again? Because it probably will.