Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts

May this complex situation in Europe, geographically so much closer to Russia, be a case in point? Russian modus operandi is radically different from the Western ideals of transparency and fair play. Open sources of influence alternate with semi-official or clandestine channels, just like in the case of email leaks during the presidential campaign in the U.S. Therefore, when a new American foreign policy is shaped and decisions are taken in 2017, one thing needs to be remembered: A gift needn’t be a token of friendship.

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By Maria Juczewska l December 5, 2016

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“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts” is how we could describe mysterious hackers who had leaked the e-mails that possibly changed the outcome of the presidential election. The sources known to have served Russian interests in the past undoubtedly influenced American public opinion. Naturally, the voters deserve to know the truth about their policy makers. Thus, one can argue that the leaks were a positive phenomenon. However, the intentions behind them needn’t have been noble. They increased polarization among the members of American electorate. They undermined the position of America in the international arena. They may have given certain advantage to the side that orchestrated the leaks in possible future negotiations with the American President. After all, the information revealed did sway public opinion in Donald Trump’s favor. Arguably, it may have even made a difference in the final outcome of the election.

This is the reason President-elect Donald Trump should tread carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first heads of states to congratulate Donald Trump on his election victory. He expressed hopes of putting an end to the crisis in Russo-American relations. To careful students of history, the meaning of those words is clear – concessions. Observers of Russia point to three important expectations of the Kremlin in view of the impending changes in Washington. Namely, the increase of tension within NATO between the U.S. and its European allies, the revision of the U.S. military policy aimed at decreasing military presence in Europe, as well as a certain amount of business-like pragmatism, which could be detected in Donald Trump’s comments on foreign policy during the presidential campaign.

Certainly, supporting the candidate who enjoys less favorable opinion of the general public and the media in Europe makes it easier to drive a wedge between the U.S. and other NATO allies. Should that take place, a decrease of America’s military presence in Europe will ensue as a logical consequence. Especially when coupled with a “pragmatic” approach towards foreign policy. Meanwhile, Europe more and more needs NATO as a stabilizing force. The countries of Western Europe suffer as a result of the refugee crisis. Even in Germany, public opinion is increasingly critical of the liberal government. Slowly, but surely, they are starting to shift their sympathies towards more NATO-centric policies. The countries on the eastern NATO flank, in turn, are carefully observing the situation in Ukraine. They experience Russian subversion, which accompanies this conflict in the neighboring countries, on a daily basis.

It takes place on the Internet, in the social media, and via Russian news platforms or local newspapers traditionally sympathetic to the Russian cause (i.e. owned by former communist party members of those countries). Agents of influence, such as journalists or members of niche pro-Russian parties or think-tanks, also come into play. The residue of communism in the form of social connections and continuity of cadres allows the clandestine development of larger and smaller radical groups.

In Poland, for instance, the demonstrations organized in “defense of democracy” – and so duly reported in the U.S. media – assemble the most curious admixture of people. Next to regular people unhappy with the results of popular election (comparable to anti-Trump protesters in the U.S.), the marches are attended by former members of the communist party, post-communist politicians, agent-provocateurs used by the previous Polish government, and activists from all sorts of radical movements.

Last week, one of the organizers of the so-called “pro-democratic protests” in Warsaw was proven to be a member of the former military intelligence notorious for their ties to the FSB. Minute niche organizations appeal, in turn, to more radical tastes, like Neopaganism, Stalinism, even terrorism (support for Hezbollah or Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republic). A few of their members trained in paramilitary organisations even made it to the regular military forces, formally to serve Poland. Albeit, they all have one common denominator – admiration for Russia as the leader of pan-national movement that is destined to rule, at least in that part of the world. The result of subversive activities is chaos and a sense of impending danger. Even if extreme individuals are few and their activities are closely monitored by independent journalists, they still manage to fly mostly under the radar of the official state authorities.

May this complex situation in Europe, geographically so much closer to Russia, be a case in point? Russian modus operandi is radically different from the Western ideals of transparency and fair play. Open sources of influence alternate with semi-official or clandestine channels, just like in the case of email leaks during the presidential campaign in the U.S. Therefore, when a new American foreign policy is shaped and decisions are taken in 2017, one thing needs to be remembered: A gift needn’t be a token of friendship.


Maria Juczewska is an MA candidate in International Affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC where she is a research assistant to the the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Ms. Juczewska is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.

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