Relations between the United States and Russia have already been badly wounded during recent years, largely as a result of baseless allegations such as Moscow interfering in American elections, colluding with President Donald Trump, or regarding other international developments, from the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, to purported war crimes in Syria, to the alleged poisoning of British double-agent Sergei Skripal in England.
But the latest U.S. media effort claiming Russian military intelligence involvement in sponsoring Taliban assassins or “bounty hunters” to target American troops in Afghanistan appears to be aimed at killing off any remaining possibility for restoring relations between Washington and Moscow.
Even the concept of “bounty hunters” sounds like an outlandish reliance on Wild West folklore which in itself betrays the origins of the story as a figment of imagination rooted in the authors’ American parochialism.
Quite appropriately, however, we can extend the analogy further by referring to the U.S. media reporting on the Russian “bounty hunter” claims as “cowboy journalism”.
America’s supposed finest media outlets jumped on this yarn like a posse in bandwagon fashion. The New York Times “broke” the story on June 26 and was followed by others of presumed journalistic stature: The Washington Post, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and others.
No evidence has been presented to back up the explosive claims made against Russia and against President Trump that he was briefed about the intelligence allegedly implicating Russia in Afghanistan but did nothing about it.
The whole media frenzy has relied on unnamed sources and vague claims about money being found or transferred from bank accounts.
In less than a week since the story “broke” there is a palpable sense that the initial media frenzy has fizzled out, leaving a bitter aftertaste of nothingness and embarrassment for the journalists who pushed the fable with gung-ho grit.
The story has been roundly dismissed as a hoax by the Trump White House, the Kremlin and the Taliban. More politely, the heads of U.S. intelligence and the Pentagon stated there was “no corroborating evidence” for the media claims.
So, what was it all about?
Evidently, it was another shot in the Last Chance Saloon by the anti-Russia Washington political establishment, or deep state, to further undermine bilateral relations. The obsequious way in which supposed bastions of U.S. journalism parroted the disinformation is illustrative of the low standard of American media. As several critical commentators have noted, what we saw from the New York Times et al was not journalism, but rather stenographic dissemination of deep state disinformation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has remarked that the timing of the “provocative hoax” comes at a critical juncture in efforts to bring a peace settlement in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of U.S.-led war in that country. Trump is committed to withdrawing U.S. troops and, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Kremlin has been quietly cooperating with the American State Department to mediate a peace deal. The implication is that there are elements within the U.S. intelligence-military apparatus which have a vested interest in continuing the quagmire war in Afghanistan. The “bombshell” claims of a Russian clandestine assassination program against U.S. troops would thus jeopardize a political settlement in Afghanistan.
Secondly, while the U.S. reporting on the bounty-hunter scheme has been a self-inflicted disgrace to journalism, it has nevertheless succeeded, to a degree, in riling up anti-Russia sentiment in Washington. Lawmakers from Trump’s own Republican party have joined with the usual Democrat chorus to call for increased sanctions against Moscow.
Trump has been accused (again) of “treachery” and “treason” by being “infatuated” with Russian President Vladimir Putin. One Republican political action committee released a spoof advert this week in which Moscow thanks “Comrade Trump” for his “loyalty”.
This pathetic poisoning of relations is ludicrous and dangerous.
Another glaring factor is the forthcoming U.S. presidential elections which are only four months away. The media ruse, we can hardly say “reporting”, is evidently designed to aid Joe Biden, the Democrat rival to Trump. Biden reacted to the media claims against Russia with “shock, horror” and he denounced Trump for (allegedly) not being concerned about security of U.S. troops. Biden said if he is elected to the White House he will “stand up to Putin”.
The transparent manipulation attempt of public emotions and votes is almost laughable. It is gas-lighting as in the Cold War days of McCarthyism.
Like him or loath him, Donald Trump has been a thorn in the side of powerful domestic enemies since he won the 2016 election. We can describe those enemies as the deep state and their apparatus in the Democrat party working in conjunction with servile media surrogates. (No doubt the Republican party would be just as obliging if the shoe was on other other foot.) Trump has certainly been no friend to Russia. Bilateral relations remain as blighted as they were under the previous Obama Democrat administrations.
For various reasons, Trump’s domestic enemies are mobilizing in a desperate effort to block his re-election. That is what the whole Russia “bounty-hunter blockbuster” is all about. But in doing so, the relations between the U.S. and Russia are being kicked to the ground and lynched. That is an appallingly reckless consequence.
The grotesque irony is that Russia is accused of “interference”. American deep political forces are interfering in the nation’s democracy to control the elections, as they have previously done. A price will be paid in worse U.S.-Russia relations and greater international tensions.