The following article is part 4 in a six-part series on Russia’s transition from communism to capitalism during the 1990s. Links to previous posts: introduction, part 1, part 2, part 3. It is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of my book, Grand Deception: the Truth About Bill Browder, the Magnitsky Act, and Anti-Russia Sanctions. The book’s previous incarnation was banned last summer by some of the same actors we’ll be discussing today. This post should prove relevant today, in light of hysterical rebukes of President Trump’s recent summit with his Russian counter part in Finland, particularly regarding the role and trustworthiness of the so-called “intelligence community.”
Now, why does the west applaud Gorbachev and Yeltsin? Do you think that the West wants Soviet people to live in luxury, be well fed? Not remotely! The West wants the Soviet Union to break up. Gorbachev and Yeltsin get a pat on the back because the West thinks they are destroying the country. – Alexander Zinoviev, March 1990 on French TV channel Antenne 2 during a debate with Boris Yeltsin
Western commentators usually focus on the period from 1991 to 2000 and blame the administration of Bill Clinton for mismanaging their aid to Russia. However, blaming the Clinton administration is a bit like reading a book from the middle rather than from the beginning. To understand the U.S. government’s role in the Russian tragedy, we have to go at least ten years back, to the beginnings of the administration of President Ronald Reagan. We must also distinguish between the legitimate U.S. government, and an illegal, parallel structure of power operating within it. For a long time, this “secret government” could not be discussed in polite society because its existence was deemed a wild conspiracy theory.
But that all changed in the fall of 1986 when an American supply plane got shot down over Nicaragua and Reagan’s illegal arm sales to Iran became exposed. These events brought to light the “Iran-Contra” affair. A full congressional investigation was launched and its proceedings revealed the existence of a parallel power structure operating unlawfully within legitimate government structure. For the first time, the actions of this network, also referred to as shadow government, deep state or the Enterprise, came out on record and could no longer be dismissed as mere conspiracy theory.
In his special report titled “Secret Government,” journalist Bill Moyers described the organization as, “an interlocking network of official functionaries, spies, mercenaries, ex-generals, profiteers and super-patriots who for a variety of motives operate outside of the legitimate institutions of government. Presidents have turned to them when they can’t win the support of the Congress or the people, creating that unsupervised power so feared by the framers of our constitution.” Late Senator Daniel Inouye characterized it as “a shadowy government with its own air force, its own navy, its own fundraising mechanisms and the ability to pursue its own ideas of national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself.“1
For the purpose of our analysis it is important to keep in mind the existence of this network as well as William Casey, the highest Reagan administration official directly associated with it.
Reagan Administration Cold Warriors Formulate The Policy…
When Reagan took office in 1981, he appointed William Casey as Director of Central Intelligence (DCI).2 Casey was Reagan’s election campaign manager, but he was no ordinary party apparatchik. He had close ties in the political, financial and intelligence circles and counted among the most powerful people in the U.S. establishment.3 It was Casey in fact who put forward the former CIA director and key Iran-Contras co-conspirator George H. W. Bush as the Vice President on the Republican election ticket. Reagan made Casey a member of his government, which caused some consternation in Washington since this was the first time in history that DCI would also be a cabinet member. Casey was charged with the mandate “to build up C.I.A.’s ability to make military and political action outside the United States.“4 This mission was important enough to justify a 17% rise in CIA’s budget every year through the 1980s.5
Casey was a staunch anti-communist with very hostile views of the Soviet Union. This antagonism affected his work and at times caused serious tensions within the government and intelligence community, particularly at CIA’s Office of Soviet Analysis (SOVA). Casey systematically demanded the most hardline interpretations of Soviet affairs in CIA’s intelligence reports, even when evidence didn’t support his case.Analysts who resisted this pressure were intimidated and sidelined as communist sympathizers. Casey’s anti-Soviet bias went so far that State Secretary George Schultz later reported that he came to distrust all intelligence documents related to the USSR. Senator Daniel Moynihan went further, outright accusing the intelligence agency of lying, “repeatedly and egregiously.”6
The Soviet economy was one of the CIA’s focal points of interest. The agency closely tracked Soviet economic developments and produced an annual report about it for the US Congress’ Joint Economic Committee. Already in the late 1970s, the CIA recognized serious economic problems in the USSR. Its 1977 report noted that, “the combination of slowing economic growth and rising military outlays poses difficult choices for the leadership over the next several years.“7 Conditions continued to worsen over the years and by the time Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, economic growth had faltered to nearly zero. Gorbachev was keenly aware of the need for a drastic reform of the system, but he was facing a minefield of economic, political, and social problems that had compounded for decades and defied any straightforward solutions. A report by the Directorate of Intelligence pointed out that Gorbachev’s reforms could not “simultaneously maintain rapid growth in defense spending, satisfy demand for greater quantity and variety of consumer goods and services, invest in the amounts required for economic modernization and expansion and continue to support client-state economies.“8
Some six months into Gorbachev’s term, the CIA’s newly created Societal Issues branch of the SOVA published a comprehensive report titled “Domestic Stress on the Soviet System,” detailing the many issues affecting the Soviet society. The report noted that USSR was handicapped with an apathetic labor force plagued with rising criminality and alcoholism, and that its political system, parasitic bureaucracy and moribund leadership all obstructed economic growth and reforms. It emphasized mounting pressures from the Soviet people’s aspirations and the system’s inability to provide them any real venues of fulfillment.
The CIA understood that these tensions were potentially a threat to the stability of the regime itself: “these tensions could eventually confront the regime with challenges that it cannot effectively contain without system change and the risks to control that would accompany such change.”9 This report was so important to Reagan administration’s Soviet policy that its lead author, Kay Oliver, personally briefed the President about its findings and implications: that the Soviet system was unsustainable, that it needed drastic social and economic reforms, and that such reforms might destabilize the regime and cause the Communist party to lose political control over the country.
Western observers were aware that if Gorbachev pursued the necessary reforms in earnest, he would jeopardize communist party’s control of the country and risk his own political suicide. Consequently, part of the foreign policy establishment thought that Gorbachev was merely posturing to buy time and get concessions and aid from the west. In 1987, NSA’s Lieutenant General William Odom noted: “It seems more and more clear that Gorbachev himself does not intend systemic change. … If what one means by reform is a significant improvement in the standard of living for Soviet citizens and increased protection of their individual rights under law, that kind of reform cannot go very far without bringing about systemic change – the kind of change that Gorbachev cannot want.”
But the doubters would soon have to reconsider their mistrust of the Secretary General: in the fall of 1988 Gorbachev, who was now under growing pressure from the old guard communists, called for multiparty elections and moved to outflank the hardliners by seeking his own appointment as president. It became clear that his reforms were for real and he meant business. However, Gorbachev was by now clashing with so many vested interests that a major conflict within the communist party leadership was building up. The circumstances compelled him to speed up the reforms, and his measures became visibly more hasty and erratic, generating an uncomfortable level of uncertainty that would have an adverse effect on the economy. As a result, in 1988 the economy again took a turn for the worse.
The USSR’s growing vulnerability presented a golden opportunity for the American cold warriors to vanquish their great geopolitical rival. For the hardcore anti-communist zealots and their financier overlords, this was too great an opportunity to ignore and they resolved to take an active role in managing the looming fallout. As Reagan’s National Security Council Special Assistant Jack Matlock said, “What you had to do was find a policy that would protect you if [true reform] didn’t happen, but would take advantage of it if it did. And that’s what we devised. It was a policy with no downsides.“10
Since that time, some elements of that policy had leaked out into the public. Russian sources revealed an alleged 1986 CIA document titled “Change the Constitutional and Political System in Eastern Europe and the USSR.” The document spelled out the key measures of the US policy. These included recruitment of collaborators from among influential representatives of the state apparatus, integration of public and financial institutions into political and economic system of the state, and “setting control over financial flows and removing assets from the economies of developed countries.“11 As the events unfolded, they largely corroborated the authenticity of these leaked documents. So did various other American official sources.
Preparing The Ground in The Soviet Union
The collapse of the USSR unleashed a wave of jubilation within the ranks of the American leadership, public servants and opinion makers. In their triumphalist rush to take credit for defeating the scourge of communism, many of them spoke openly, even boastfully about their actions, revealing rather a lot about what had actually taken place. One such zealot was the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius. For a journalist, he was as close to the belly of the beast as a journalist could be. A graduate of Harvard and Cambridge, his Washington reporting covered the U.S. Department of Justice, the Senate and the CIA. His writing on the CIA’s activities particularly became subject of derision for its credulous tone and PR-ish bias. Veteran CIA operative Melvin Goodman called Ignatius “Washington Post’s long-time apologist-in-chief for the CIA…“12 This detail about Ignatius is relevant to our analysis because it indicates his allegiances and close connections within the intelligence community.
Shortly after the August 1991 anti-communist coup in Russia,13 Ignatius penned an article in the Washington Post exalting the role of western “pro-democracy” operatives in bringing down the Soviet regime. Gushing over “the great democratic revolution that has swept the globe,” Ignatius makes a surprising revelation about the makings of this revolution: “Preparing the ground for last month’s triumph14 of overt action was a network of overt operatives who during the last 10 years have quietly been changing the rules of international politics. They have been doing in public what the CIA used to do in private – providing money and moral support for pro-democracy groups, training resistance fighters, working to subvert communist rule.“15
Ignatius may be a tad disingenuous in insisting that these activities were overt as opposed to covert. Things like training resistance fighters and working to subvert Communist rule could not have been done overtly. Perhaps just for effect, Ignatius merely misspelled the word covert by omitting the “c” – kind of like if I characterized his assertions as rap.
Ignatius singles out the work of the pro-democracy activist Allen Weinstein who began to organize Soviet dissidents already in 1980. Weinstein “quickly became connected with the network of pro-democracy activists…Soon he was sponsoring conferences for dissidents, arranging visits for them to the United States and otherwise making trouble.”16 Early on, Boris Yeltsin and his aides became drawn into Weinstein’s “transatlantic hospitality suite.” Weinstein remained in close communications with Yeltsin’s circle, particularly during the critical August 1991 events. “When Boris Yeltsin’s aides were trying to rally support for their resistance in Moscow on Aug. 19,” writes Ignatius, “they needed to broadcast their defiant message to Russia and the world.” One of them faxed Weinstein in Washington, requesting that the American President issue a public statement of support for Yeltsin. Promptly, George Bush called Yeltsin to express his support and then went on television to describe their telephone conversation. Weinstein’s ability to engage the President of the United States on such a short notice was indeed an incredible feat of power networking for a humble pro-democracy activist.
Of course, Weinstein was not the only operative “making trouble” against the USSR. Ignatius also credits William Miller of the American Committee on U.S.-Soviet Relations, George Soros of the Open Society Foundation, John Mroz of the Center for East-West Security Studies, John Baker of the Atlantic Council and Harriett Crosby of the Institute for Soviet-American Relations. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) headed by Zbigniew Brzezinski was the “sugar daddy of overt operations.“17 It had been active inside the Soviet Union for years – overtly, of course – financing various Soviet trade unions and the liberal “Interregional Group” in the Congress of People’s Deputies. The Interregional Group was the first legally organized opposition group in the Soviet Union and was subsequently identified as the prime catalyst of “democratic reforms” in Russia.
We can now vaguely discern how Boris Yeltsin, a communist party apparatchik from Sverdlovsk in Siberia, stumbled upon the whole plot of taking down the Soviet communist regime and privatizing Russia’s wealth. The populist leader was well known as an ambitious careerist willing to “trample anyone to get to his goal,“18 and had racked up an impressive track record of making trouble for the communist party. Among other things, Yeltsin preached about multi-party democracy to the Komsomol, the Youth Communist League, where Russia’s future oligarchs were recruited and groomed to take part in the privatization of Russia on behalf of their Western sponsors.
In 1987 Yeltsin’s troublemaking led to a collision with the Moscow communist authorities after he publicly criticized the party leadership for dragging their feet on reforms. Public criticism of the party dignitaries was a grave affront in the USSR. He was strongly reprimanded, barred from politics, and forced to return to Sverdlovsk to a simple business management function. During his exodus, but possibly even before that, Boris Yeltsin became closely associated with a circle of liberal dissidents and academicians led by Gennady Burbulis. Burbulis was the leader and one of the founders of the above mentioned “Interregional Group,” which was funded by the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. Burbulis became one of Yeltsin’s closest associates and helped him resurrect his political career. In 1991, he managed Yeltsin’s successful election for the Russian presidency (June 1991) and became the first Secretary of State in Yeltsin’s cabinet.
Almost as soon as Yeltsin became president in 1991, the advance guard of Harvardites and other Westerners started to arrive in Moscow. They spent time at a dacha outside the city to recruit their Russian collaborators and chart the course of events that would determine Russia’s tragic fate for the remainder of the decade.
We need not assume that everyone involved worked for the CIA or knowingly sought to harm Russia. In all likelihood, most of Russia’s reformers were earnest people yearning for change from an unsustainable, unsatisfactory system that was collapsing on itself. Without a doubt, many of them were seduced by the promise of western style democracy and capitalism which appeared so much better at satisfying people’s needs and aspirations. When Boris Yeltsin himself toured the United States in September of 1989, he was mesmerized with the glitz and abundance he saw in Houston and Miami. When his hosts took him and his entourage to a supermarket in Clear Lake in Texas, Yeltsin remarked with amazement that in Russia, even members of the politburo couldn’t dream of such abundance and variety of goods as were available to any middle class American.
This all must have made a profound impression on Boris Yeltsin and perhaps ignited in him the resolve to do whatever it took to make Russia also a land of wealth, abundance and technological advancement. If the Americans got it right, following their advice must have seemed as the right thing to do. But where Russian reformers saw the lure, they did not see the hook. The generous outward friendliness of the American leaders disarmed the Russians who thought that as they left communism behind, they would now be friends and allies with the Americans.
This illusion was probably reinforced by the real, sincere friendship of the majority of those Americans and other Westerners who went to Russia to share their know-how and help guide the reforms. But the people who were higher up in command of this project were neither altruistic nor friendly. Their mindset was entrenched in cold war animosities and their objective was to defeat, dismember, and loot Russia of its wealth, and leave it so weakened and impoverished that it could never again challenge American hegemony. William Casey’s deputy Robert Gates19gave us a glimpse of this mindset in 1986, declaring: “We are engaged in an historic struggle with the Soviet Union … [The Soviets] use conflict in the third world to exploit divisions in the Alliance and to try to recreate the internal divisions caused by Vietnam in order to weaken the Western response and provoke disagreement over larger national security and defence policy.“20
Gates accused the Soviets of targeting four areas of expansion: the middle-east oil fields, the isthmus of Panama Canal, the mineral wealth of South America, and the Western political and military alliance. In other words, the Reagan administration saw the Soviet Union primarily as a rival in a global struggle for resources. The same Robert Gates would later acknowledge that the CIA had conducted a campaign of economic sabotage against the USSR and took credit for bringing about the fall of communism, which he considered, “the greatest of American triumphs.”
- (Moyers 1987)
- The Office of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) was active from 1946 to 2005. The Director managed and coordinated the activities of all intelligence agencies, acted as the principal intelligence advisor to the President of the U.S. and the National Security Council and also acted as the head of the C.I.A.
- During World War II, William Casey served with the Army Intelligence and the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor of the CIA). Under President Ford, he served on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, an executive committee of the U.S. intelligence community. During Nixon administration, he headed the Securities and Exchange Commission. After that post he took charge of the Export-Import Bank, an independent Government agency created to facilitate exports of American goods and services. From 1976 to 1981 he was associated with the Rogers & Wells law firm which operated in New York and Washington.
- (Pace 1987)
- (Jeffreys-Jones 2013)
- (Jeffreys-Jones 2013)
- (Lundberg 1995)
- The report in question was published in September 1985, titled “Gorbachev’s Economic Agenda: Promises, Potentials and Pitfalls.” (Lundberg 1995)
- (Lundberg 1995)
- (Lundberg 1995)
- (Popov 2016)
- (Goodman 2017)
- This was actually a counter-coup as it was the communists who staged the initial coup.
- Ignatius is referring to the 19th August 1991 counter-coup where Yeltsin’s reformist faction prevailed over the Communist old guard that attempted to reassert Communist hold on power.
- (Ignatius 1991) Ignatius may be a tad disingenuous in insisting that these activities were overt as opposed to covert. Things like training resistance fighters and working to subvert Communist rule could not have been done overtly. Perhaps just for effect, Ignatius merely misspelled the word covert by omitting the “c” – kind of like if I characterized his assertions as rap.
- (Ignatius 1991)
- (Ignatius 1991)
- This is how Yakou Riabov, first secretary of the Sverdlovsk communist party and Yeltsin’s early political mentor described him in an interview featured in the documentary film, “Boris Yeltsin – the Formation of a Leader.” (Alfandari and Leconte 2001)
- Gates was the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence and specialist of Soviet studies William Casey’s second-in-command. His remarks are from a speech he delivered on 25th November 1986.
- (Jeffreys-Jones 2013)
Alex Krainer is a hedge fund manager and author. His book, banned by Amazon in September 2017 is now available in pdf, kindle, and epub formats at the following link “Grand Deception: Truth About Bill Browder, the Magnitsky Act and Anti-Russian Sanctions.” Paperback version is now available here (and on Amazon). Alex also wrote one book on commodities trading.
Originally published on the Naked Hedgie.
Beating Soros at his own game: Ex-Trump adviser to promote ‘right-wing revolution’ with foundation
President Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon has announced plans to spark a right-wing revolution in Europe. He wants to create a new foundation, promoting the ideology. Bannon says he aims to rival the impact of Open Society Foundations, set up by liberal billionare George Soros.
The Magnitsky Hoax?
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer hired by an Anglo-American investment fund operating in Moscow to investigate the apparent diversion of as much as $230 million in taxes due to the government. He became a whistleblower after discovering that the money had been stolen by the police, organized crime figures and other government officials. After he went to the authorities to complain he was unjustly imprisoned for eleven months. When he refused to recant he was both beaten and denied medical treatment to coerce him into cooperating, resulting in his death in jail at age 37 in November 2009. He has become something of a hero for those who have decried official corruption in Russia.
The Magnitsky case is of particular importance because both the European Union and the United States have initiated sanctions against the Russian officials who were allegedly involved. In the Magnitsky Act, sponsored by Russia-phobic Senator Ben Cardin and signed by President Barack Obama in 2012, the U.S. asserted its willingness to punish foreign governments for violations of human rights. Russia reacted angrily, noting that the actions taken by its government internally, notably the operation of its judiciary, were being subjected to outside interference. It reciprocated with sanctions against U.S. officials as well as by increasing pressure on foreign non-governmental pro-democracy groups operating in Russia. Tension between Moscow and Washington increased considerably as a result and Congress will likely soon approve a so-called Global Magnitsky Act as part of the current defense appropriation bill. It expands the use of sanctions and other punitive measures against regimes guilty of egregious human rights abuses though it is unlikely to be applied to U.S. friends like Saudi Arabia and Israel. It is also sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin and is clearly intended to intimidate Russia.
The tit-for-tat that has severely damaged relations with Russia is based on the standard narrative embraced by many regarding who Magnitsky was and what he did, but is it true? I had the privilege of attending the first by invitation only screening of a documentary “The Magnitsky Act: Behind the Scenes,” produced by Russian filmmaker Andrei Nekrasov. The documentary had been blocked in Europe through lawsuits filed by some of the parties linked to the prevailing narrative but the Newseum in Washington eventually proved willing to permit rental of a viewing room in spite of threats coming from the same individuals to sue to stop the showing.
Nekrasov by his own account had intended to do a documentary honoring Magnitsky and his employers as champions for human rights within an increasing fragile Russian democracy. He had previously produced documentaries highly critical of Russian actions in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine, and also regarding the assassinations of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London as well as of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow. He has been critical of Vladimir Putin personally and was not regarded as someone who was friendly to the regime, quite the contrary. Some of his work has been banned in Russia.
After his documentary was completed using actors to play the various real-life personalities involved and was being edited Nekrasov returned to some issues that had come up during the interviews made during the filming. The documentary records how he sought clarification of what he was reading and hearing but one question inevitably led to another.
The documentary began with the full participation of American born UK citizen William Browder, who virtually served as narrator for the first section that portrayed the widely accepted story on Magnitsky. Browder portrays himself as a human rights campaigner dedicated to promoting the legacy of Sergei Magnitsky, but he is inevitably much more complicated than that. The grandson of Earl Browder the former General Secretary of the American Communist Party, William Browder studied economics at the University of Chicago, and obtained an MBA from Stanford.
From the beginning, Browder concentrated on Eastern Europe, which was beginning to open up to the west. In 1989 he took a position at highly respected Boston Consulting Group dealing with reviving failing Polish socialist enterprises. He then worked as an Eastern Europe analyst for Robert Maxwell, the unsavory British press magnate and Mossad spy, before joining the Russia team at Wall Street’s Salomon Brothers in 1992.
He left Salomon in 1996 and partnered with the controversial Edmond Safra, the Lebanese-Brazilian-Jewish banker who died in a mysterious fire in 1999, to set up Hermitage Capital Management Fund. Hermitage is registered in tax havens Guernsey and the Cayman Islands. It is a hedge fund that was focused on “investing” in Russia, taking advantage initially of the loans-for-shares scheme under Boris Yeltsin, and then continuing to profit greatly during the early years of Vladimir Putin’s ascendancy. By 2005 Hermitage was the largest foreign investor in Russia.
Browder had renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1997 and became a British citizen apparently to avoid American taxes, which are levied on worldwide income. In his book Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder and One Man’s Fight for Justice he depicts himself as an honest and honorable Western businessman attempting to function in a corrupt Russian business world. That may or may not be true, but the loans-for-shares scheme that made him his initial fortune has been correctly characterized as the epitome of corruption, an arrangement whereby foreign investors worked with local oligarchs to strip the former Soviet economy of its assets paying pennies on each dollar of value. Along the way, Browder was reportedly involved in making false representations on official documents and bribery.
As a consequence of what came to be known as the Magnitsky scandal, Browder was eventually charged by the Russian authorities for fraud and tax evasion. He was banned from re-entering Russia in 2005, even before Magnitsky died, and began to withdraw his assets from the country. Three companies controlled by Hermitage were eventually seized by the authorities, though it is not clear if any assets remained in Russia. Browder himself was convicted of tax evasion in absentia in 2013 and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Browder has assiduously, and mostly successfully, made his case that he and Magnitsky have been the victims of Russian corruption both during and since that time, though there have been skeptics regarding many details of his personal narrative. He has been able to sell his tale to leading American politicians like Senators John McCain, Ben Cardin and ex-Senator Joe Lieberman, always receptive when criticizing Russia, as well as to a number of European parliamentarians and media outlets. But there is, inevitably, another side to the story, something quite different, which Andrei Nekrasov presents to the viewer.
Nekrasov has discovered what he believes to be holes in the narrative that has been carefully constructed and nurtured by Browder. He provides documents and also an interview with Magnitsky’s mother maintaining that there is no clear evidence that he was beaten or tortured and that he died instead due to the failure to provide him with medicine while in prison or treatment shortly after he had a heart attack. A subsequent investigation ordered by then Russian President Dimitri Medvedev in 2011 confirmed that Magnitsky had not received medical treatment, contributing to this death, but could not confirm that he had been beaten even though there was suspicion that that might have been the case.
Nekrasov also claims that much of the case against the Russian authorities is derived from English language translations of relevant documents provided by Browder himself. The actual documents sometimes say something quite different. Magnitsky is referred to as an accountant, not a lawyer, which would make sense as a document of his deposition is apparently part of a criminal investigation of possible tax fraud, meaning that he was no whistleblower and was instead a suspected criminal.
Other discrepancies cited by Nekrasov include documents demonstrating that Magnitsky did not file any complaint about police and other government officials who were subsequently cited by Browder as participants in the plot, that the documents allegedly stolen from Magnitsky to enable the plotters to transfer possession of three Hermitage controlled companies were irrelevant to how the companies eventually were transferred and that someone else employed by Hermitage other than Magnitsky actually initiated investigation of the fraud.
In conclusion, Nekrasov believes there was indeed a huge fraud related to Russian taxes but that it was not carried out by corrupt officials. Instead, it was deliberately ordered and engineered by Browder with Magnitsky, the accountant, personally developing and implementing the scheme used to carry out the deception.
To be sure, Browder and his international legal team have presented documents in the case that contradict much of what Nekrasov has presented in his film. But in my experience as an intelligence officer I have learned that documents are easily forged, altered, or destroyed so considerable care must be exercised in discovering the provenance and authenticity of the evidence being provided. It is not clear that that has been the case. It might be that Browder and Magnitsky have been the victims of a corrupt and venal state, but it just might be the other way around. In my experience perceived wisdom on any given subject usually turns out to be incorrect.
Given the adversarial positions staked out, either Browder or Nekrasov is essentially right, though one should not rule out a combination of greater or lesser malfeasance coming from both sides. But certainly Browder should be confronted more intensively on the nature of his business activities while in Russia and not given a free pass because he is saying things about Russia and Putin that fit neatly into a Washington establishment profile. As soon as folks named McCain, Cardin and Lieberman jump on a cause it should be time to step back a bit and reflect on what the consequences of proposed action might be.
One should ask why anyone who has a great deal to gain by having a certain narrative accepted should be completely and unquestionably trusted, the venerable Cui bono?standard. And then there is a certain evasiveness on the part of Browder. The film shows him huffing and puffing to explain himself at times and he has avoided being served with subpoenas on allegations connected to the Magnitsky fraud that are making their way through American courts. In one case he can be seen on YouTube running away from a server, somewhat unusual behavior if he has nothing to hide.
A number of Congressmen and staffers were invited to the showing of the Nekrasov documentary at the Newseum but it is not clear if any of them actually bothered to attend, demonstrating once again how America’s legislature operates inside a bubble of willful ignorance of its own making. Nor was the event reported in the local “newspaper of record” the Washington Post, which has been consistently hostile to Russia on its editorial and news pages.
A serious effort that a friend of mine described as “hell breaking loose” was also made to disrupt the question and answer session that followed the viewing of the film, with a handful of clearly coordinated hecklers interrupting and making it impossible for others to speak. The organized intruders, who may have gained entry using invitations that were sent to congressmen, suggested that someone at least considers this game being played out to have very high stakes.
The point is that neither Nekrasov nor Browder should be taken at their word. Either or both might be lying and the motivation to make mischief is very high if even a portion of the stolen $230 million is still floating around and available. And by the same measure, no Congressman or even the President should trust the established narrative, particularly if they persist in their hypocritical conceit that global human rights are best judged from Washington. They should in particular hesitate if they are considering tying policy towards Russia based on a presumption of guilt on the part of Moscow without really knowing what actually did occur. That could well be a decision that will bring with it tragic consequences.